Differences between terrorism and counter-terrorism in the Middle East

Special to Israel National News: There is no cycle of violence in the Israel-Arab Palestinian conflict.

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Prof. Louis René Beres,

Louis René Beres
Louis René Beres
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To be sure, and in predictably short order, the easily captivating phrase, "cycle of violence," will be applied yet one more time to the Hamas-Israel conflict. Irrespective of the pertinent phrase-maker's actual intent, the practical result of any such application will be more-or-less the same. The result, therefore, will be to further validate a corrosively simplistic equation between terrorism and counter-terrorism in the Middle East, promoting a contrived sense of equivalence in the region between criminality and law-enforcement.

Such a potentially injurious outcome should not go unchallenged. Rather, now that Hamas and Israel are once again engaged in terrorism and counter-terrorism respectively, it should finally be understood that there has never been any authentic "cycle of violence" between the two warring parties. What has been ongoing, although usually in undulating waves of violence and anti-violence, is the cyclically gratuitous targeting of Israeli noncombatant populations by utterly willful murderers, followed more-or-less promptly by indispensable but also measured Israeli efforts at self-defense.

Alas, in some fashion, at least, it has been this way since May, 1948.

Ritually, Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), etc. - it actually makes little or no difference -  describe their calculated explosions of violence against assorted Jewish innocents as a "resistance to occupation." But this disingenuous characterization has no discernible grounding in fact. After all, one must inquire, where exactly are the Israeli "occupiers" in Gaza?  

They are, of course, long gone. Moreover, since their plainly well-intentioned departure years ago - under then Prime Minister Arik Sharon's "disengagement" -  Gaza has been entirely Judenrein, or "free of Jews."

What about the "West Bank," or what Israelis more correctly prefer to call Judea/Samaria? Here, as Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated as recently as August 22, 2016, the Palestinian Authority demands complete evacuation of Jewish communities as a sine qua non of any final status agreement. "What kind of demand is this?" asked Netanyahu understandably. "It is ethnic cleansing."

One should also recall that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO, forerunner of PA) was originally formed in 1964, three years before there were any "Israel Occupied Territories." What, exaxtly, were the Palestinian fighters attempting to "liberate" at that time?

It's not a hard question to answer.

Even now, in very late August 2016, by deliberately launching their rocket attacks upon Israeli soft targets from densely populated Gaza areas, Hamas still resorts to the illegal practice of human shields. Viscerally, and in ordinary speech, observers would call any such policy of hiding behind one's own women and children for safety "barbaric." In law, moreover, there is also a formal term for employing such exceptional tactics of barbarism. This term, not mutually exclusive with any pertinent behaviors of exceptional cowardice, is "perfidy."

What is the relevant background to all this? PA/ Fatah is allegedly more moderate than Hamas.  Nonetheless, supported by tens of millions in U.S. tax dollars, and trained in recent years in nearby Jordan by an American General, the UN "nonmember observer state" terror group states in its Internal Order Document (Article 17):  “The armed popular revolution is the only inevitable way to the liberation of Palestine.” Article 19 also deserves a generally wider reading: “The struggle will not end," it says unambiguously,  "until the elimination of the Zionist entity, and the liberation of Palestine.”

For all Arab terror organizations, "Palestine" still includes all of Israel. On all official Arab Palestinian maps, Israel is still expressly identified as "Occupied Palestine." According to several prominent and recurrent Hamas bulletins: "Haifa, Jaffa, and Tel-Aviv...all of Palestine, will be liberated."

During the eighteen-year period 1949-1967, Gaza was held illegally by Egypt, and the "West Bank" (Judea/Samaria) illegally by Jordan. In that time of egregious Egyptian and Jordanian lawlessness, the idea of independent Arab Palestinian statehood was never supported in Cairo or in Amman. Religiously, this complete lack of support has certain identifiable foundations in the Koran, which never mentions "Palestine," and which grants Israel (see Sura 26, verse 59) as an exclusive inheritance to the Jewish People.

Even as the Palestinian Authority sought the beginnings of  formal statehood via the UN General Assembly back in November 2012  (it was then that the GA elevated PA status to that of a "nonmember observer state"), PA's refractory stance still calls for continuing terrorism. From the standpoint of authoritative international law, there is no reasonable way to conclude that such a belligerent stance could ever be judged comparable to Israel’s straightforward commitment to oppose terror-crime.

To argue otherwise – that is, to suggest that there continues to exist some sort of “cycle of violence” in the Middle East – would mean to accept the following antecedent assumptions:

(1) a duly constituted democratic state, and a criminal terror organization are of an equivalent legal stature; and

(2) terrorist leaders and defenseless civilians are equally permissible targets.


Under the law of war of international law, the ends of an insurgency can never justify the means. Never.
In world politics and international law, there are always irremediably vital differences between criminality and law-enforcement. The once again-escalating "war" between Hamas and Israel is in fact a quintessential example of these critical differences. Going forward, they should not be disregarded.

There is more. Even if the incessant Palestinian refrain of an Israeli "occupation" were not entirely concocted, and even if the corollary claims of "stolen Palestinian land" could ever make any real historical sense, there could still never be any defensible legal justification for relentless Hamas policies of deliberate terror. Under the law of war of international law, the ends of an insurgency can never justify the means.

Never.

As long as Israel feels bound by pressures to travel along some sort of suicidal "Road Map," Hamas terrorists will emerge and reemerge with expanding enthusiasm and potentially growing destructiveness. These criminals will fight first for their own personal reputations (fame), and, ultimately, for their own personal immortality. Although still generally unrecognized, Hamas terrorists typically fear death more intensely than ordinary human beings. The "suicide" they expect to suffer as "martyrs" threatens little more than a momentary inconvenience.

What matters most to them is that they will soon be rewarded by entrance into the eternal blessedness of a martyr's paradise. For Hamas, all violence against Israelis is ipso facto sacred. For Hamas, the most compelling form of power is always the sacred promise of immortality.


Arab Palestinian terrorists are not militants. They are not revolutionaries. They are not freedom fighters...They are unambiguously cruel murderers...and cowards.
Arab Palestinian terrorists are not militants. They are not revolutionaries. They are not freedom fighters. Above all, their expected martyrdom is primarily a desperate strategy to defy personal death. Although any such strategy must appear hideously irrational to both Americans and Israelis, it can still seem entirely rational and reasonable to the would-be perpetrators themselves.

When packing explosives with nails, screws, and razor blades dipped in rat poison, Hamas operatives are unambiguously cruel murderers. And when choosing to kill their civilian victims at much safer distances, when they fire  barrage after barrage of rockets into Israeli nursery schools, summer camps, shelters, and hospitals, they are also cowards. To wit, a recent Hamas attack on Sderot, launched on August 21, 2016, was directed at an Israeli kindergarten.

Terror groups have no right to "retaliate" under international law, no more so than would any individual criminal in domestic society maintain such a right against municipal police authorities. On the basis of their own current actions against Israeli noncombatants, moreover, Hamas is an organization that recognizes no circumscribing boundaries in its relentless violence against Israeli civilians.

It takes this openly barbarous position in direct opposition to humanitarian international law, or the law of armed conflict.

It is a proper historical moment for absolute candor. There has never been any Hamas-Israel  "cycle of violence" in the Middle East. Accordingly, it is time to cease alleging any sort of plausible equivalence between Palestinian terror and  Israeli counter-terror. For the Palestinians, such reassuringly rhythmic allegations are not only wrong unto themselves, they are also destructive of any remaining hopes for peace and justice in the region.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES,  Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue, was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971). He publishes widely on terrorism and international law. More specifically, Dr. Beres is the author of many of the earliest major books dealing with nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, and also with Israel’s nuclear strategy. In Israel, he was Chair ofProject Daniel (2003). His latest scholarship has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Brown Journal of World Affairs; Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; Parameters; Journal of the U.S. Army War College; Oxford University Press; and International Security (Harvard). His opinion columns can be found at The Jerusalem Post; U.S. News & World Report; The Hill; The Daily Princetonian; The Washington Times; The New York Times; The National Interest; and The Atlantic. Professor Beres' twelfth book was published in April 2016 by Rowman & Littlefield: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442253254/Surviving-Amid-Chaos-Israels-Nuclear-Strategy

He was born in Zürich, Switzerland, at the end of World War II, seventy-one years ago today (August 31).