The Israeli retreat from Gaza -- now scheduled for August 17 -- wasn't George Bush's idea. It was Ariel Sharon's. Sharon didn't succeed in selling it to his military and intelligence chiefs or to the party and people who elected him, but he was very successful in selling it to national elites in Israel and America, and to the media in both countries. In time, President Bush decided to buy it too.
We can, perhaps, see why. The president has other things on his Middle Eastern plate: a stubborn, bloody war in Iraq; looming deadlines with regard to Iranian nukes; a deadly flow of international jihadists through Syria into Iraq and Lebanon; fanaticism and instability in oil-rich Saudi Arabia; and restless decay in populous Egypt, where the mass following of the Muslim Brotherhood is a looming danger.
On the Palestinian front, the moment of hope when Arafat died quickly faded, and was replaced by a weary recognition that Abu Mazen's incredible weakness made real progress impossible and continuing Palestinian violence inevitable. What was George W. Bush to do? Confront Palestinian terrorism directly, drawing the red line he promised to draw in his bold, no-peace, no-state speech of June 24, 2002? That would send the Al Jazeera crowd into overdrive and bring down the combined wrath of the Democrats, Old Europe, and the U.N., echoed and amplified by our own media.
This didn't seem a propitious time to take all that on. And there was Ariel Sharon with his Gaza withdrawal plan, offering an out -- offering the illusion of progress, and claiming that behind it he could establish a better Israeli defensive line and some temporary peace and stability. It was a tempting apple, and the president bit.
But Gaza isn't Eden, and this isn't the apple of knowledge. It's a Rohypnol-like apple of ignorance, and it is blinding us to the danger America faces -- a danger our Islamofascist enemies see clearly and are primed to take advantage of. We think Gaza is all about Israel and the Palestinians; our enemies know it's mainly about us. We think we are encouraging Israel to hand Gaza over to Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, local Palestinians with purely local ambitions -- ambitions that encompass the whole of Israel, perhaps, but nothing beyond it -- ambitions that have nothing to do with us.
Our enemies know that behind a Fatah fig leaf, we are handing Gaza over to Hamas, an international terrorist organization of global reach and ambition that is one of America's deadliest enemies. We think Hamas only attacks Jews. They know that Hamas is a main recruiting agent for Arab jihadists, not just from among the 2.4 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and from the much larger numbers of Palestinians scattered in strategic enclaves throughout the region and the world, but for other Arabs too. We think Hamas sends all these jihadists only to Israel.
They know Hamas sends a never-ending stream of them to Afghanistan, Chechnya, the Balkans, Kashmir, Lebanon and, most critically for us right now, to Iraq. And when our press insistently refers to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the master terrorist who directs the foreign jihadists in Iraq, as "a Jordanian," our enemies laugh. They know Zarqawi has always called himself a Palestinian, and is recognized as such, in Jordan and throughout the Middle East.
To see what Hamas control of Gaza will mean for us in Iraq, we have to see it as our enemies do -- not just Hamas, but its parent organization, the Brotherhood, and its longtime partners Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and the Wahhabi and Salafist movements. To do that, forget Israel entirely for a moment. Look only at the terror war against America, and at the geography of Islamofascism that supports it. Place Gaza in that context, and its strategic location jumps out at you. Control of Gaza gives Hamas and its partners direct access to the land border with Egypt, as well as access by sea to terrorist supply ports in Lebanon and Syria, and from them, overland, to the terror training camps in Syria, Lebanon, and Iran and to the ratlines from Syria into Iraq.
This is the reality we face: The "Palestinian democracy" we rattle on about is a mirage no desert-dweller is seduced by. Abu Mazen is president of nothing; his Fatah party no longer exists. It never was anything but a collection of competing terrorist gangs, but Arafat was a master manipulator who controlled them all by keeping the big carrots and sticks in his own hands and wielding them with ruthless cunning. With his death, Fatah splintered into a multitude of shifting groups and now they're not just competing -- they're at war, regularly breaking up each others meetings with gunfire and shooting each other down in the streets, along with hapless bystanders.
We pretend that with our help and a huge new infusion of Western cash the 58,000-man Palestinian security forces will be able to create order out of this internecine chaos, but this too is a mirage. It's the security forces that are doing most of the shooting, mostly at each other. As U.S. special envoy General William Ward, our no-nonsense military expert on the ground in Gaza told us last week, Palestinian security forces are "dysfunctional." Only about a third of them actually show up for work, and it doesn't make much difference when they do, because the chain of command that supposedly links them to their leaders is so broken that Abbas and his few remaining loyalists can barely get them to protect his headquarters in Ramallah, let alone the whole of Gaza and the West Bank.
What, then, of Abu Mazen's presumed popularity, you ask, the popularity that led to his easy victory in the first post-Arafat election, which so many American pundits of the right as well as the left praised as a birth of democracy, like the election in Iraq? That too is a mirage. The Palestinian election was nothing like the one in Iraq. Abu Mazen won the top job only because Hamas chose not to run, preferring to take control from the bottom up. Hamas ran in the subsequent municipal elections and swept to victory in almost every major Palestinian population center.
It was poised to do the same in the parliamentary elections, until Abu Mazen postponed them indefinitely, and invited Hamas to join him without an election. It hardly matters. Hamas is taking over, with or without elections or invitations, and most Palestinians are glad. Hamas is a disciplined terrorist organization, and they are sick of chaos and corruption. Besides, like their Islamofascist brothers everywhere, they believe that it is Hamas that is forcing the Israelis to retreat in Gaza, and America with her. They see it as another terrorist victory, a harbinger of more to come. Meanwhile, they are enjoying the sight of the great American Samson, stumbling about, "eyeless in Gaza." They think our acquiescence in the once-mighty Sharon's appeasement plan puts us "at the mill with slaves," and they are jubilant.
The good news is that unlike the Biblical Samson, we are not irrevocably blind, only seduced and blindfolded by a mix of propaganda, ideology, and wishful thinking that prevent us from seeing reality. If we tear off our blindfold and call a halt to the Gaza retreat before August 17, we will save ourselves and our friends in Iraq much anguish, and save our Israeli friends and perhaps our Lebanese friends too. And if we do it boldly, proclaiming our determination to defeat Islamofascist terror in Gaza as we are defeating it in Iraq and Afghanistan, we will bring a final American victory much closer.
Barbara Lerner is a frequent NRO contributor.
By Barbara Lerner
Reprinted with permission from the National Review Online