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The Fatal Label: Reducing Hamas in Gaza to "Terrorists"

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Sometimes a misdiagnosis can be fatal. Analyzing and then describing an illness wrongly results in faulty treatment that can cause severe problems while allowing the underlying real issues to flourish. In our personal lives we have all experienced this medial problem with friends and family members, and we have all seen the horrible results. This phenomenon extends into international politics as well. A glaring case in point has been Israel's mislabeling and misdiagnosis of Hamas after their 2007 takeover of Gaza as mere "terrorists."

It was a fatal mistake that was universal in its scope. The entire Israeli leadership from Ehud Olmert down referred to Hamas as terrorists. I have not heard or read one description from any Israeli spokesman or military officer that does not continue to do so to this day. All the security analysts and academics to a person have continued to describe Hamas as "terrorists" and Gaza as a "nest of terror." The original mistake continues.

Why was this a mistake? The reason is that it is reductive to the point of inaccuracy and has therefore prevented the Israeli security establishment and the rest of the world from understanding what Hamas wants and how to engage it on proper terms.

So what is Hamas in Gaza really? When they threw out Fatah in their 2007 coup they became a sovereign government, rulers of a tiny yet definable enclave. At that moment Hamas went from a terrorist group to a legitimate government -- and the sworn enemy of the State of Israel. If squatters via whatever means become owners of the building they are no longer squatters, they are proprietors. The Hamas foreign policy towards Israel was not hidden; there was no evasiveness or coyness in their pronouncements of their strategy. Their founding charter is based on the reconquering of all of Palestine via eliminating the occupying Jews. Hamas's Gaza in 2007 became a legitimate government, an identifiable enemy state on Israel's southwestern border committed to war.

Not understanding this is why missiles rain down on Hadera and Jerusalem today.

Imagine this scenario: Quebec separatists seize an island in the St. Lawrence seaway, declare a state and ally with Venezuela. They import thousands of Venezuelan missiles and start manufacturing their own. Opposed to the United States, which they believe was wrongly taken from France, they start firing missiles at Chicago. They dig a tunnel under the seaway and capture American citizens. How long would that go on?

Had the Israeli political and military establishment labeled Hamas in Gaza as an enemy state in 2007 the dynamics would have played out very differently. Instead of the cat and mouse game of smuggling missiles and hiding launch pads in residential areas there would have been no missiles smuggled. Much as the United States embargoed Russian shipping during the Cuban missile crisis, Israel could have starved the Hamas government in its cradle. Why allow an enemy state one missile? Hamas announced its foreign policy and that was a declaration of war on Israel. Why back away from that?

Defenders of Israel's strategy will say the world would not allow Israel to destroy Hamas. Really? Two things leap out as wrong with this defense. Firstly, Israel cares little for the world's opinion. If it did it would have left the West Bank long ago. The second is that by not recognizing Hamas as the legitimate government in Gaza Israel proclaimed to the world that Hamas was an annoyance, not something to be really concerned with. That was a major mistake. Had Israel recognized Hamas in Gaza it could have forced Hamas to conform to all international laws. America, England and even African nations have all acted against other sovereign states when they have been threatened. An Israeli appeal to the world's governing powers would have been far more effective as a state against a state, not a state against a terrorist group.

It is not too late to change. Israel should stop calling Hamas terrorists and start treating them as the sovereign enemy threat they are.

What would the practical effect of that be? Israel could do what the CIA has done for decades against threats (real and perceived) to American interests. Topple Hamas and install a Palestinian leader like Mohammed Dahlan. Gazans respond to the two c's: coercion and cash. Rulers topple other rulers in Gaza via the gun, not the ballot. Cash goes a long way in securing loyalty and governance. Within days Gazans would accept Dahlan and with the help of Israeli and perhaps Egyptian operatives they could remove the Hamas leadership and their Islamic splinter group extensions.

Gazans would not be surprised to see Dahlan in charge. He is forceful yet pragmatic.

That is what Putin would do, same for Xi and same for Sisi next door. We all love democracy but not when we are huddled in bomb shelters.

It seems simplistic but frankly nothing is as simplistic and downright stupid as referring to Hamas in Gaza as "terrorists." They are not. Give them the recognition they deserve and eliminate them once and for all.