Tom Friedman: Ask What My Enemy WANTS Me To Do — And Do The Opposite October 11, 2023 Jesse Kornbluth: “Of the million words already written, I find the thoughts of Yale professor Timothy Snyder to be the most acute — and most worthy of your reflection.” TIMOTHY SNYDER ON THE HAMAS ATTACKS, IN THE CONTEXT OF LARGER EVENTS I want to share a thought about terror and counter-terror, prompted by the Hamas attacks and the dilemmas Israel faces. It is not based on regional knowledge but does draw from scholarly work on the politics of terror and insurgency. It is not so much a take on specific events as a general reminder of the larger shape such events can take. For the victim, terror is about what it is. For the terrorist, it is about what happens next. Terror can be a weapon of the weak, designed to get the strong to use their strength against themselves. Terrorists know what they are going to do, and have an idea what will follow. They mean to create an emotional situation where self-destructive action seems like the urgent and only choice. When you have been terrorized, the argument that I am making seems absurd; the terrorists can seem to you to be raving beasts who just need punishment. Yet however horrible the crime, it usually does not bespeak a lack of planning. Usually part of the plan is to enrage. Americans have fallen for this. 9/11 was a successful terrorist attack because we made it so. Regardless of whether or not its planners and perpetrators lived to see this, it achieved its main goal: to weaken the United States. Without 9/11, the United States presumably would not have invaded Iraq, a decision which led to the death of tens of thousands of people, helped fund the rise of China, weakened international law, and undid American credibility. 9/11 was a contributing cause to American decisions that caused far more death than 9/11 itself did. But the point here is that 9/11 facilitated American decisions that hurt America far more than 9/11 itself did. (On 9/13/2001, I dropped my planned lecture on east European history and spoke entirely about terror and counter-terror, along these lines. I was worried, but did not imagine then just how well the provocation would work. The invasion of Iraq was a disaster that arose from many sources; but one of them was the logic of terror — and indeed its exploitation by people who wanted a war in Iraq anyway.) In evaluating what Hamas has done, it is important to remember that the atrocious crimes are not (or are not only) ends in themselves. They are utterly horrible and deserving of every condemnation, but they are not mindless. Unlike Israelis, who are shocked and feel they must urgently act, Hamas has been working out this scenario for years. The people carrying out the bestial crimes follow a plan that anticipates an Israeli reaction. Classically, a terrorist provokes a state in order to generate so much suffering among his own people that they will take the terrorist’s side indefinitely. I won’t claim to know what Hamas expects from Israel, nor what Israel should do. That would be a matter for people with the languages and expertise to read and analyze the documents and the data. My point is that it is always worth asking, in such situations, whether you are following the terrorist’s script. If what you want to do is what your enemy wants you to do, someone is mistaken. It might be your enemy. But it also might be you. PS: I am conscious that the cool tone of this thread might seem jarring in the context of human suffering. I regret this. PPS. I anticipate the objection that Israeli state policy has been designed to provoke Palestinians. I agree that the strong can also terrorize the weak. Tom Friedman elaborates in this must-watch CNBC clip. And in the New York Times: Israel Has Never Needed to Be Smarter Than in This Moment I have covered this conflict for almost 50 years, and I’ve seen Israelis and Palestinians do a lot of awful things to one another: Palestinian suicide bombers blowing up Israeli discos and buses; Israeli fighter jets hitting neighborhoods in Gaza that house Hamas fighters but also causing massive civilian casualties. But I’ve not seen something like what happened last weekend: individual Hamas fighters rounding up Israeli men, women and children, looking them in the eyes, gunning them down and, in one case, parading a naked woman around Gaza to shouts of “Allahu akbar.” The last time I witnessed that level of face-to-face barbarism was the massacre of Palestinian men, women and children by Christian militiamen in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982, where the first victim I encountered was an older man with a white beard and a bullet hole in his temple. While I have no illusions about Hamas’s long-established commitment to the destruction of the Jewish state, I am nonetheless asking myself today: Where did this ISIS-like impulse for mass murder as the primary goal come from? Not the seizing of territory, but plain murder? There is something new here that is important to understand. Since I can’t interview the Hamas leadership, I’m drawing on my experience in the region, and here’s how I see it. While this operation was surely planned by Hamas leaders months ago, I think its emotional origins can be explained in part by a photograph that appeared in the Israeli press on Oct. 3. A few Israeli government ministers had gone to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for their first official visit ever, to attend international conferences in late September and early October, and it got a lot of coverage in the Israeli press. But having lived in both Beirut and Jerusalem, I was struck most by that unusual photo — an image that I knew would trigger completely different emotional reactions in both worlds. It was taken by the team of Israel’s communications minister, Shlomo Karhi, who was attending a U.N. postal conference in Riyadh, as they were conducting a prayer service in their hotel room for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. One of them took a picture of a colleague wearing a traditional Jewish prayer shawl and yarmulke while holding up a Torah scroll with the Riyadh skyline in the window beyond. For Israeli Jews, that picture is a dream come true — the ultimate expression of finally being accepted in the Middle East, more than a century after the start of the Zionist movement to build a modern democratic state in the biblical homeland of the Jewish people. To be able to pray with a Torah in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and the home of its two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, is a level of acceptance that touches the soul of every Israeli Jew. But that same photo ignites a powerful and emotional rage in many Palestinians, particularly those affiliated with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. For them, that picture is the full expression of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s supreme goal: to prove to all naysayers, indeed to rub their noses in the fact, that he can make peace with all the Arab states — even Saudi Arabia — and not have to give the Palestinians a single inch. As far as diplomacy goes, that has been Netanyahu’s life’s mission: to prove to everyone that Israel can have its cake — acceptance by all the surrounding Arab states — and eat the Palestinians’ territory, too. I have no idea whether the Hamas leadership saw that particular picture, but they have been fully aware of the ongoing evolution it reflects. I believe one reason Hamas not only launched this assault now — but also seemingly ordered it to be as murderous as possible — was to trigger an Israeli overreaction, like an invasion of the Gaza Strip, that would lead to massive Palestinian civilian casualties and in that way force Saudi Arabia to back away from the U.S.-brokered deal now in discussion to promote normalization between Riyadh and the Jewish state. As well as to force the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, which were part of the Abraham Accords produced by the Trump administration, to take a step back from Israel. The essence of Hamas’s message to Netanyahu and his far-right ruling coalition of Jewish supremacists and ultra-Orthodox is this: You will never be at home here — no matter how much of our land our gulf Arab brothers sell you. We will force you to lose your minds and do crazy things to Gaza that force the Arab states to shun you. Pay attention: Hamas did not send operatives to the Israeli-occupied West Bank (and it has plenty there) to attack Jewish settlements. It focused its onslaught on Israeli villages and kibbutz farms that were not part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. “These were the homes of the people of pre-1967 Israel, democratic Israel, liberal Israel — living in peaceful kibbutzim or going to a life-loving disco party,” the Israeli writer Ari Shavit remarked to me. For Hamas, “Israel’s mere existence is a provocation,” he said. In one kibbutz alone, Be’eri, at least 108 people, including children, were just gunned down. So how can America best help Israel now, besides standing behind its right to protect itself, as President Biden so forcefully did in his speech today? I think the U.S. needs to do three things. First, I hope the president is asking Israel to ask itself this question as it considers what to do next in Gaza: What do my worst enemies want me to do — and how can I do just the opposite? What Israel’s worst enemies — Hamas and Iran — want is for Israel to invade Gaza and get enmeshed in a strategic overreach there that would make America’s entanglement in Falluja look like a children’s birthday party. We are talking house-to-house fighting that would undermine whatever sympathy Israel has garnered on the world stage, deflect world attention from the murderous regime in Tehran and force Israel to stretch its forces to permanently occupy Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas and Iran absolutely do not want Israel to refrain from going into Gaza very deep or long. Nor does Hamas want the U.S. and Israel to proceed instead as fast as possible with negotiations to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia as part of a deal that would also require Israel to make real concessions to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which has accepted Israel as part of the Oslo peace accords. But for Israel to do what is most in its interests, not those of Hamas and Iran, will likely require some very tough love between Biden and Netanyahu. One must never forget that Netanyahu always seemed to prefer to deal with a Hamas that was unremittingly hostile to Israel than with its rival, the more moderate Palestinian Authority — which Netanyahu did everything he could to discredit, even though the Palestinian Authority has long worked closely with Israeli security services to keep the West Bank quiet, and Netanyahu knows it. Netanyahu has never wanted the world to believe that there are “good Palestinians” ready to live side by side with Israel in peace and try to nurture them. For years now he’s always wanted to tell U.S. presidents: What do you want from me? I have no one to talk to on the Palestinian side. That’s how Israel reached a stage where the increasingly costly — morally and financially — Israeli occupation of the West Bank has not even been an issue in the last five Israeli elections. Or as Chuck Freilich, a former deputy Israeli national security adviser, wrote in an essay in Haaretz on Sunday: “For a decade and a half Prime Minister Netanyahu has sought to institutionalize the divide between the West Bank and Gaza, undermine the Palestinian Authority, the P.A., and conduct de facto cooperation with Hamas, all designed to demonstrate the absence of a Palestinian partner and to ensure that there could be no peace process that might have required territorial compromise in the West Bank.” Lastly, I hope Biden is telling Netanyahu that America will do everything it can to help democratic Israel defend itself from the theocratic fascists of Hamas — and their soul brothers of Hezbollah in Lebanon, should they enter the fight. But Netanyahu’s side of the bargain is that he has to reconnect himself with liberal democratic Israel, so the world and the region sees this not as a religious war but as a war between the frontline of democracy and the frontline of theocracy. That means Netanyahu has to change his cabinet, expel the religious zealots and create a national unity government with Benny Gantz* and Yair Lapid. Unfortunately, Netanyahu is still prioritizing his coalition of zealots, whom he needs to protect him from his corruption trial and to complete his judicial coup that would neuter the Supreme Court of Israel. That’s really messed up. And it is a very important reason Israel was caught off guard in the first place. Netanyahu was so wedded to this personal agenda that he was ready to divide Israeli society like never before — and splinter his own army and air force in the process — to get control of the courts. I promise you that if and when there’s an inquiry into how the Israeli Army could have so missed this Hamas buildup, investigators will discover that the Israeli Army leadership had to spend so much time just keeping its air force pilots and reserve officers from boycotting their service to protest Netanyahu’s judicial coup — not to mention the time, attention and resources they had to devote to preventing extremist settlers and religious zealots from doing crazy things in Jerusalem and the West Bank — that they took their eyes off the ball. America cannot protect Israel in the long run from the very real threats it faces unless Israel has a government that reflects the best, not the worst, of its society, and unless that government is ready to try to forge compromises with the best, not the worst, of Palestinian society. *After this piece ran, Benny Gantz joined the cabinet. In 1988, Rabbi Meir Kahane wrote this “open letter to the world.” (A convicted terrorist, he was later assassinated. Religion is a brutal business.) Dear World, I understand that you are upset by us, here in Israel. Indeed, it appears that you are quite upset, even angry. Indeed, every few years you seem to become upset by us. Today, it is the “brutal repression of the Palestinians”; yesterday it was Lebanon; before that it was the bombing of the nuclear reactor in Baghdad and the Yom Kippur War and the Sinai campaign. It appears that Jews who triumph and who, therefore, live, upset you most extraordinarily. Of course, dear world, long before there was an Israel, we – the Jewish people – upset you. We upset a German people who elected Hitler and upset an Austrian people who cheered his entry into Vienna and we upset a whole slew of Slavic nations – Poles, Slovaks, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Russians, Hungarians and Romanians. And we go back a long, long way in the history of world upset. We upset the Cossacks of Chmielnicki who massacred tens of thousands of us in 1648-49; we upset the Crusaders who, on their way to liberate the Holy Land, were so upset at Jews that they slaughtered untold numbers of us. For centuries, we upset a Roman Catholic Church that did its best to define our relationship through inquisitions, and we upset the arch-enemy of the church, Martin Luther, who, in his call to burn the synagogues and the Jews within them, showed an admirable Christian ecumenical spirit. And it is because we became so upset over upsetting you, dear world, that we decided to leave you – in a manner of speaking – and establish a Jewish state. The reasoning was that living in close contact with you, as resident-strangers in the various countries that comprise you, we upset you, irritate you and disturb you. What better notion, then, than to leave you (and thus love you)- and have you love us and so, we decided to come home – home to the same land we were driven out 1,900 years earlier by a Roman world that, apparently, we also upset. Alas, dear world, it appears that you are hard to please. Having left you and your pogroms and inquisitions and crusades and holocausts, having taken our leave of the general world to live alone in our own little state, we continue to upset you. You are upset that we repress the poor Palestinians. You are deeply angered over the fact that we do not give up the lands of 1967, which are clearly the obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Moscow is upset and Washington is upset. The “radical” Arabs are upset and the gentle Egyptian moderates are upset. Well, dear world, consider the reaction of a normal Jew from Israel. In 1920 and 1921 and 1929, there were no territories of 1967 to impede peace between Jews and Arabs. Indeed, there was no Jewish State to upset anybody. Nevertheless, the same oppressed and repressed Palestinians slaughtered tens of Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Safed and Hebron. Indeed, 67 Jews were slaughtered one day in Hebron in 1929. Dear world, why did the Arabs – the Palestinians – massacre 67 Jews in one day in 1929? Could it have been their anger over Israeli aggression in 1967? And why were 510 Jewish men, women and children slaughtered in Arab riots between 1936-39? Was it because Arabs were upset over 1967? And when you, dear world, proposed a UN Partition Plan in 1947 that would have created a “Palestinian State” alongside a tiny Israel and the Arabs cried “no” and went to war and killed 6,000 Jews – was that “upset” caused by the aggression of 1967? And, by the way, dear world, why did we not hear your cry of “upset” then? The poor Palestinians who today kill Jews with explosives and firebombs and stones are part of the same people who when they had all the territories they now demand be given to them for their state -attempted to drive the Jewish state into the sea. The same twisted faces, the same hate, the same cry of “itbach-al-yahud” (Massacre the Jew!) that we hear and see today, were seen and heard then. The same people, the same dream – destroy Israel. What they failed to do yesterday, they dream of today, but we should not “repress” them. Dear world, you stood by during the holocaust and you stood by in 1948 as seven states launched a war that the Arab League proudly compared to the Mongol massacres. You stood by in 1967 as Nasser, wildly cheered by wild mobs in every Arab capital in the world, vowed to drive the Jews into the sea. And you would stand by tomorrow if Israel were facing extinction. And since we know that the Arabs-Palestinians dream daily of that extinction, we will do everything possible to remain alive in our own land. If that bothers you, dear world, well think of how many times in the past you bothered us. In any event, dear world, if you are bothered by us, here is one Jew in Israel who could not care less. Finally, because some of you wrote to applaud the piece by Joseph Cox yesterday, here is another. The Real Arab Nakba. You will be relieved to know I’m taking tomorrow off. Have a great weekend.