Before a radio interview this week, the host sent a list of questions that might arise. The answer to an extraordinary number of them was, "Because they could." Because bad actors were reasonably sure no one (read: United States) would protest and even more sure no one would stop them.
- Why did Jordanian Palestinians join the protest calling for the overthrow King Abdullah II of Jordan?
- Why did Iran attack a US drone in the international waters of the Persian Gulf?
- Why is Mahmoud Abbas going ahead with the UN vote on observer status over pointed US objections?
- Why did the Emir of Qatar visit Gaza and give Hamas $400 million?
- Why did Ansar al Shariah attack the US Consulate/CIA Annex on 9-11?
- Why did Mohammad Morsi take on dictatorial powers in Egypt?
- Why is Iran using Sudan as its staging base for the export of arms to Gaza?
That is not to say there are no other answers, and indeed, there are many, but the abdication of American leadership in the Middle East/Persian Gulf region encourages those whose aims are inimical to the West to believe they can advance themselves with impunity.
This stands in odd contrast to the questions about Israel:
- Why did Israel bomb Gaza?
- Why didn't Israel take its ground forces into Gaza?
The answer to the first is, "Because it had to." The answer to the second is, "Because it didn't have to."
Because Israel Had To
Operation Pillar of Defense was not only retaliation for Hamas rocket fire -- although that would have been reason enough for a civilized country to go to war. The attack was a response to the discovery that Hamas had acquired perhaps 100 Iranian Fajr-5 rockets. These are the same type of rockets that someone destroyed in a Sudanese weapons factory in October, and their presence in Gaza was unacceptable to Israel.
By way of comparison: The other rockets and mortars in Hamas's arsenal made life difficult for more than a million Israelis across the southern part of the country -- the U.S. equivalent is 44,000,000 people. Every one of them would have 15 seconds to find shelter and shelter their children and elderly parents. Geographically, the radius of the other Hamas rockets superimposed on New York would cover Hurricane Sandy-land and more.
The Iranian Fajr-5 added Tel Aviv (Israel's commercial center) and Jerusalem (its capital) to rocket range -- over 1,200,000 residents in the cities, plus suburbs with over half a million more. The equivalent of an additional 75,000,000 Americans, give or take.
Of course, there are those who do not have a problem with Israelis facing attack at the whim of an enemy determined to kill as many civilians as possible. Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton acknowledged that, well, okay, rocket fire from Gaza is "reprehensible," but "let's be clear: The overwhelming majority of rockets fired from Gaza are like bee stings on the Israeli bear's behind." You wonder what he would think if it were 130 million Americans having to rush for shelter on 15 seconds' notice.
Because Israel Didn't Have To
Hamas tried desperately to lure Israeli troops into Gaza. Having trained for a ground invasion, laid mines and planted booby-traps, Hamas wanted nothing more than IDF trophies, dead or alive. Increased rocket fire (more than 1,500 rockets between November 14th and 21st -- an average of eight per hour or one every eight minutes) was intended to create not only an increase in Israeli civilian casualties, but irresistible pressure from the citizenry on the government to "do something."
Although the Israeli public strongly favored a ground incursion and the government mobilized the reserves, it did not happen. Why?
The Israeli Air Force removed the Fajr-5 threat and decapitated Hamas leadership without a ground offensive. More than 1,600 targets in Gaza were hit, including rocket launching sites, storage facilities and terrorist infrastructure. Thirty senior Hamas operatives trained in Iran were killed, unable to transmit their knowledge. Iron Dome's 85% success rate intercepting rockets aimed at population centers allowed the Israeli government to make decisions without the pressure of civilian casualties. And finally, knowledge that there were 75,000 soldiers mobilized and ready reassured the Israeli public that the government was prepared to do more if necessary.
While it misunderstood the nature of the Israeli public and underestimated the capabilities of the Israeli government, Hamas correctly assessed that the Palestinian people would sit quietly while they were used as human shields. An estimated 10% of Hamas rockets meant to be fired at Israelis fell back into Gaza and were responsible for deaths among Palestinians. That makes Hamas's loopy "victory celebration" and fulsome gratitude to Iran for the means to kill disgusting, though not unanticipated.
Israel, in the meantime, took measured steps to protect its people and eliminate the next threat. It conducted an almost flawless mobilization nearly ten times greater than the troubled one during the 2006 Hezbollah war. It successfully tested the most advanced anti-missile system in the world. It showed the limitations of Egyptian and Hezbollah support for Hamas and the limitations of Iranian "help" as well. Without subjecting the IDF to a ground invasion of Gaza. Because it could.
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center.