“Oh, don’t be naïve. Hamas would chop your head off too.”
This and similar messages were plastered on billboards across the United States by JewBelong.org following the October 7 Hamas murders, kidnappings and atrocities in Israel’s Gaza border communities.
The billboards intend to shock Americans into recognizing that Israel is fighting their fight, too.
JewBelong cofounder Archie Gottesman warns that Hamas is “in a holy war against the Western way of life. They are an oppressive organization that will not stop with the Jews and Israel. … Standing up to the hate is crucial for all of us.”
Controversial though the group’s tactics may be, it’s hardly the only one ringing the #WestIsNext alarm bell.
“The Israel-Hamas war is about defending the ‘free world’ and standing up for civilization and decency against barbarism and monstrous depravity,” says Prof. Jonathan Rynhold, a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.
“The transnational ideology with which Hamas is associated poses a serious threat to the security and safety of all citizens in every free society. Israel must win or else jihadis will be emboldened to use similar methods against other members of the free world,” he warns.
Threat to the free world
Lt. Col. (res.) Shay Har-Zvi, senior fellow in the Institute for Policy and Strategy at Reichman University and former acting director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, sees the war between Israel and Hamas as a global confrontation between two axes.
“One is led by the United States, European states, moderate Arab countries and Israel; and the other is led by Iran and supported by Russia, China, Hamas, Hezbollah and other militias in the region” such as the Yemenite Houthis.
Agreeing with US President Biden’s assertion that “both Putin and Hamas are fighting to wipe a neighboring democracy off the map” to ignite and take advantage of regional instability, Har-Zvi says Russia is happy to see America’s focus shifting from Ukraine to the Middle East.
“Putin has even made statements supporting Hamas. This is why President Biden has supported us from the beginning despite criticism from radical elements in the Democratic party and within his own administration,” says Har-Zvi.
“He understands that the outcome of the war will have severe implications for the entire Middle East in the long run. If we succeed to eliminate Hamas, we could revive normalization negotiations with Saudi Arabia. If we don’t succeed, Hamas will try to take over Judea and Samaria, and that will endanger stability in Jordan and beyond,” he says.
Concerning moderate Arab countries, “There is a huge difference between strategic interests and constraints,” says Har-Zvi. “They are under pressure from the public to support Hamas and criticize Israel but they understand we must win this war.”
Gulf countries know, Rynhold says, that “whoever has their hands on the oil spigot has huge geostrategic power.”
They need Israel to help them avoid losing that power if Iran and its proxies were to join Hamas in a regional war.
“Regional war would change the whole balance of power. All US allies would weaken and Iran would be a stronghold backed by Russia and China.” And if they were to turn off the oil spigot, the world economy would grind to a halt.
“This is why the Middle East is really, really important to protecting the free world and why Israel is a critical piece of that puzzle,” says Rynhold.
Writer and North American history scholar Prof. Gil Troy, a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, adds that the free world “cannot afford to have Israel lose.”
“Don’t give evil the victory, don’t give Russia and China the victory, don’t give Iran the victory. Most important, the free world must recognize Iran’s role in all this and start strangling it economically — while bullying Qatar politically/diplomatically.”
Hamas = ISIS
Har-Zvi says Israel has two objectives: eliminating Hamas militarily and bringing back all the hostages, including four Israeli citizens held in Gaza for years.
Western leaders have given Israel the legitimacy needed to achieve these objectives by clearly equating Hamas with Islamic State (ISIS) in terms of ideology and war crimes.
“As Western leaders continue to fight to eliminate ISIS, they give Israel license to eliminate Hamas, and Hamas understands this,” Har-Zvi tells ISRAEL21c.
“If Hamas won’t be eliminated after what it did on October 7, it might encourage other groups to carry out terror attacks in the West.”
Rynhold notes that Western countries experienced instances in 2015 “when people who went to Syria to fight for Islamic State would come home and use what they learned in their own societies.”
There’s a real danger of this “contagion” spreading and inspiring other terrorist acts, adds Rynhold. “These type of things jump across countries; they trigger one another.”
Juliana Geron Pilon, senior fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization and a board member of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, believes Israel will win the war.
“But how decisively and how soon and at what cost? Hamas is like ISIS, and ISIS is not gone. If there are elements of Hamas continuing to affect the wellbeing of Israelis, it’s not over,” Pilon says.
“The continuing problem will have to involve Israel’s and the rest of the world’s understanding of how to be a bulwark against this brand of terrorism and asymmetric warfare that disregards morality and international law.”
Testing ground for the West
Rynhold says Israel is a testing ground for how Western armies will have to fight future wars in defense of democracy.
“If you create rules that don’t allow Israel to win, it sets a dangerous precedent and creates a battlefield favorable to the terrorists. A general normative standard will gain political traction that does not allow free societies to defend themselves effectively,” he says.
“If I apply a standard that says, ‘If you’re in a hospital, even if the other side has committed a war crime by storing its weapons there, you can’t attack it,’ then how can I win? And how can I win if a terrorist group uses human shields?
“I must have rules that distinguish me from the barbarians but that also allow me to win.”
Without such rules, “whenever the West is engaged in fighting any kind of terrorist, people will say, ‘This is against international law, this is undemocratic.’ You have to have a way of fighting that is realistic. You can’t expect your own soldiers to die in order to protect terrorists.”
The concept of proportionality, he says, is often misunderstood and unfairly applied.
“If you can’t kill more than the enemy, you’re unlikely to win the war. Proportionality isn’t a numbers game. It’s about the amount of force you use and risks you take with civilians on the other side to achieve a legitimate military objective. And that has to be decided by the commander in the field, not by someone talking to you on television.”
Little Satan, big Satan
All of the above explains why the United States is supplying arms to the sole democracy in the Middle East; why it sent two aircraft carriers to Israel’s northern Mediterranean coast; and why Biden’s senior energy adviser went to Lebanon and Qatar in an effort to contain cross-border attacks on Israel from Iranian proxies.
“Israel and America are the two covenantal, liberal, nationalist countries that are in the crosshairs against the enemies of freedom and democracy,” says Pilon.
Not everyone understands this danger, she adds.
“When Iran talks about ‘big Satan’ and ‘little Satan,’ that means the United States and Israel. But throughout the still relatively civilized world, there is historic and strategic ignorance. People don’t know what’s going on. Even influential policymakers I’ve spoken to, what they don’t know boggles the mind.”
Furthermore, Americans are wary of getting involved in foreign conflicts — especially following long, costly and fruitless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rynhold says.
However, “America learned after Pearl Harbor that you cannot isolate yourself. You can defend yourself when the threat is smaller and farther away, or wait till it’s bigger and closer to home and your potential allies have been defeated,” he says.
“President Biden understands that giving aid to stable, strong democratic allies can keep the threat farther away. If America loses its democratic allies it will have less power to defend itself and give the other side more.”
Tactically speaking, Har-Zvi adds, “there are some differences with the United States. They asked us to give humanitarian aid to Gaza, which is President Biden’s way of saying ‘Help us to help you. You need legitimacy to continue this war.’ It’s going to be a long war and we need that legitimacy from American and European leaders.”
West is next, or now?
So, is the West next?
“We aren’t next,” says Pilon, who is based in Washington, DC.
“We are here now. The war is right inside your heart and your mind and your immediate neighborhood and what you do on a daily basis. This is a war that tests all of us and our reactions. It flushes out the strengths and weaknesses of the moral fiber of the Western world.”
The anti-Israel, antisemitic, pro-terrorist reaction seen in media outlets and college campuses, she says, has actually had a positive outcome.
“Besides exposing tactics of disinformation and profound hypocrisy among the elite, it has also awakened people to the need to know more. They are reading websites and books about Israel because everybody is affected. We have no choice but to understand what is going on as honestly and accurately as possible.”
She and Troy emphasize that while Jews across the Western world are afraid, the threat goes well beyond them.
“The savagery of October 7 didn’t just target the Jews but civilization itself,” says Troy.
“Western civilization lives and dies by certain norms. When barbarians violate them repeatedly, gleefully, sadistically — and get away with it — we all suffer. The boundaries that contain barbaric behavior weaken unless the West responds strongly.”
Moreover, says Troy, “the decades-long lies reinforced in the last few weeks — that Hamas sadists are ‘freedom fighters’ and that hospitals and mosques filled with armaments are not legitimate targets and that Israel’s attempt to defend itself is genocidal — all these don’t just libel the Jews but try to undermine civilization itself.”
Pilon sums up: “As long as the Hamas war is still with us, we in the West are going to be a part of it.”