Israel will be back at war in Gaza soon. This round will be as tragic as the last, and many readers are complicit in the tragedy. I am a former member of the fighting force that will execute that war, a retired fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force.
The catalyst for war will be the same as in 2014. It is not what most think. It is not an Israeli interest. It is not the Gazan people's interest. The catalyst is economics. Gaza is a failed economy. Youth unemployment is 60 percent. Destruction from last year's fighting is largely unrepaired. Borders with Egypt and Israel are nearly closed to commerce. Hamas' relations with the Palestinian Authority are dysfunctional. The situation is hopelessly similar to last year's, when popular Gazan frustration threatened to topple the Hamas government, prompting the time-tested survival tactic of war with Israel. War was devastating for Gazans, but a victory for the Hamas government. Hamas survived. It exploited the chaos to consolidate power, removing political rivals by assassination, execution and intimidation. It improved its international standing, successfully portraying Israel as the agent of Gazan suffering. Media presented lopsided body-counts as evidence of disproportional force -- a theme even Israeli allies adopted.
Watch the tragedy unfold again:
• Current phase: Hamas lays groundwork for surviving its next existential challenge, expending its meager resources on new assault tunnels and replenished rocket arsenals. It has spent almost no international aid money on reconstruction or relief for Gazans.
• Shooting phase: Gazans reach their imminent breaking point. Threatened, Hamas attacks, kidnapping and killing Israeli teenagers like last summer, or firing an anti-tank rocket at an Israeli school bus like the round before last. This coincides with rocket launchers on Israeli cities. The Israeli Air Force hits the launchers, affording Hamas pretext for a barrage of hundreds, then thousands, of rockets -- stored in civilian homes, launched from dense neighborhoods. Terrorists enter assault tunnels dug under the Israeli border through openings in civilian homes. Israelis enter bomb shelters.
• Tragic phase: The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) does the only thing it can -- attack the sources of fire. Israelis enjoy consensus on few issues but, whether we voted for the current government or not, its first obligation is common defense. We demand this as citizens, as people do in Canada.
These events produce a totem pole of beneficiaries. Hamas is on top. It survives and gains international standing. Far below, in second position, the Israeli government incurs international condemnation. Further down, the Israeli people, after weeks of rocket attacks, losing some number of its sons, facing the consequences of war in civilian areas, emerges from the shelters isolated, in a hostile world. At the bottom, the Gazan people suffer thousands dead and wounded, deepened economic distress planting seeds for the next vicious round. Every actor behaves as you would, except for Hamas: Gazan citizens are victims of Hamas authoritarianism, condemned to the cycle. Israeli citizens demand protection from their government. The Israeli government, a democracy serving at the pleasure of its citizens, provides it.
That is war, humanity's most hideous innovation, its ugliness is inevitable, and its horrific pictures will be on their way to your smartphone screen. I know them already. I know the view from the cockpit, rockets arcing through the night sky, slamming into our families' neighborhoods. I know the grainy images of Hamas launch teams, dashing through homes and hospital courtyards, preparing the next volleys. I know the decision-maker's doubt. Are the figures on the screen all combatants? How much time do I have to determine that? How long until launch? Will this volley take Israeli lives? I know the dilemmas: My family or theirs? My humanity or my responsibility? I know the nauseous limbo of munitions aloft, suspended briefly above the earth, unknowing fates below sealed. I know the dark flight home, thresholds crossed irreversibly.
We all know. We have struggled to change the game, but with all our rigor, sophistication and, yes, compassion, we have failed. Defense is a citizen's right. It is our responsibility. Hamas uses Gazan citizens as cover, making defense more tragic, but no less compulsory. Many will demand Israel desist. We cannot desist. Some acknowledge our right to self-defense, but demand proportionality. That demand is self-defeating. Hamas intentionally sacrificing thousands of Gazans must not condemn proportional numbers of Israelis. American forces hunting Al Qaida also produce civilian casualties orders-of-magnitude beyond their own. The Israeli Air Force exercises acute care for civilians intentionally sacrificed by their own government. Civilian losses are our failures, Hamas's successes. Many will get it backwards, condemning the party whose behavior mirrors your standards. They reward Hamas's brutal tactics, condemning thousands of Palestinian innocents.
Stop enabling the cycle. Enable solutions, like economic relief. I chair a non-profit organization that has provided $350,000,000 in loans to small businesses and micro-enterprises in Israel, many Arab-owned. This enables not only economic development, but the dignity of independence, and the optimism and confidence that underlie community building. Hamas does not allow us in Gaza. Enmity and hatred are values more dear to Hamas than Gazans' welfare. I believe economic empowerment can transform Gaza, primarily benefiting its people -- and secondarily benefiting Israelis. This is another Israeli consensus, including many who serve in war when called to, but aid our enemy's civilians when they can. They treat Syrian war wounded, perform pro-bono heart surgery on Iraqi children, construct schools and medical clinics in Muslim East Africa. Many readers, fed by years of bad information and miscontextualized commentary, find difficulty accepting that some leading protagonists of Gazan relief are Israeli. Some will buy into the compelling good-guys and bad-guys narrative they were sold on campus, in media and in UN reports. You enable a tragedy foretold, allying yourself with the only party with no interest in transformation for Gazans -- Hamas. If you really care about these people, look deeper than that narrative. You will be surprised at the partners you find.