Outrage over aid-worker deaths is about saving Hamas, not civilians

by Jonathan Tobin
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All armies at war make tragic mistakes. But President Biden and Israel’s critics are cynically exploiting the incident as an excuse to shatter the alliance with the Jewish state.

(JNS) The growing chorus of voices on the political left that have been loudly demanding that Israel’s war on Hamas be stopped have been waiting for this. After months of seeking to leverage false stories such as one about a missile attack on a hospital, downplaying or denying the way Hamas embeds its terrorist forces in hospitals, schools and civilian homes, and flogging statistics about Palestinian civilian casualties that are clearly bogus, the anti-Israel lobby thinks that it finally has a way to force the Jewish state to stand down in Gaza.

A mistaken strike that caused the deaths of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers who were bringing food and other supplies into the Strip is being treated as not merely a tragic accident all too common in wars, but as an act of transcendent symbolism that proves that Israel’s tactics are too brutal to be allowed to continue.

That was not merely the substance of a torrent of unhinged comments from World Central Kitchen founder Chef José Andrés who, without a shred of proof, accused Israel of deliberately murdering the aid workers. It was also the substance of the threats directed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by President Joe Biden in a tense 30-minute call. Reportedly, Biden said that future military aid to Israel—vital for the resupply of Israeli forces in order for the war on Hamas to continue—would be linked to whether it satisfies his demands about ensuring that both civilians and aid workers are not harmed.

Backing away from Israel

Biden has been slowly but surely backing away from his initial support for the war and the goal of eradicating Hamas since the Palestinian terrorist group started it with unspeakable atrocities on Oct. 7. The administration has toyed at times with the idea of linking aid to halting the offensive, but never previously acted on the idea, despite the constant urgings of left-wing Democrats to do so. The aid worker incident thus is a turning point as this is the first time that Biden has directly said that he would impose conditions on military assistance.

This takes the dispute between the two governments to a very different and far more dangerous level.

It’s important to be clear about what is happening. While the deaths of the aid workers were the result of a terrible blunder by the Israel Defense Forces, the firestorm of criticism aimed at Israel in the days since the incident occurred isn’t really about their tragic fate, sad though it is.

Nor is it really rooted in a substantive argument claiming that the IDF is failing to take precautions to avoid civilian deaths or to anything to hinder the flow of aid into Gaza, including the area that is still controlled by Hamas. The world’s leading experts on warfare, including John Spencer, the chair of urban warfare studies at West Point, and historian Andrew Roberts, have already declared that not only is Israel upholding the laws of war in its Gaza campaign but has done so in a manner that has caused fewer civilian casualties in such a battle than any in modern history. The claim that Israel has engaged in an “indiscriminate” bombing campaign or is “over the top,” as Biden has claimed, simply isn’t true.

Biden’s hypocrisy

It is also breathtakingly hypocritical.

Mistakes in war always happen as U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—and famously before that, in Korea and Vietnam—proved.

On his first day in office in January 2009, President Barack Obama ordered drone strikes in Waziristan, Pakistan, which led to the deaths of as many as 20 civilians. That would be only the first of 540 strikes on diverse targets in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq in which more than 300 civilians would be killed during his two terms in office, though that number might be underestimated since the strikes were conducted in areas where reporting casualties was not as organized as it is in Gaza. Though Obama would later joke that he had discovered in the White House that “it turns out that I’m really good at killing people,” no one in the corporate press assumed that the Nobel Peace Prize winner was deliberately slaughtering civilians by the dozens as part of a “targeted killings” of terror suspects.

Biden has direct responsibility for killing civilians in error as well.

On Aug. 29, 2021, during the disastrous and humiliating U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, American forces conducted a strike on what they thought was a member of the ISIS-K terror group transporting bombs. They were operating under orders from Washington; however, it turned out to be a tragic mistake, and the missiles launched from MQ-9 Reaper drones killed 10 innocent civilians, including seven children.

While Biden issued a lengthy and passionate statement denouncing the deaths of the seven aid workers, he did no such thing when his own orders led to the accidental deaths of innocents. Instead, he let military officials make the statement about the error and take the fallout while he went to the beach for the weekend.

Of course, Obama and Biden didn’t intend to kill civilians while Americans were trying to take out terrorists. But it happened quite often for the same reasons that this week’s tragedy occurred. Even with the most sophisticated weaponry and satellite imaging of target areas, amid the fog of war, there are no guarantees that even missions fully vetted with great care and intended to take out only combatants will go according to plan.

Indeed, in December, the IDF conceded that about 20% of soldiers that had been killed during the current war were victims of “friendly fire” in which they were mistaken for foes by their own side. Many Americans have died under similar circumstances in wars fought by the United States.

Even when armies take special care to avoid accidents, anyone who enters a combat zone where bullets and bombs are flying is at risk of being killed or wounded. That is always going to be true whether or not those put at risk are combatants or non-combatants.

In the case of the World Central Kitchen victims, the problem, which remains ongoing, is accentuated by the fact that Hamas terrorists lurk near aid convoys since they steal most of what has been brought into Gaza for civilian use. Indeed, it is fairly obvious that if Hamas terrorists weren’t taking the food, fuel and other supplies that have flowed into Gaza with Israeli permission these past six months, there would be no talk about people starving there.

That doesn’t lessen the grief of the families of those who die as a result of errors. But it should put the situation in perspective. Their deaths—like those of everyone else who has been killed since Hamas attacked southern Israel in an orgy of murder, rape, torture, kidnapping and wanton destruction on Oct. 7—are the responsibility of the terrorists and their many supporters.

Letting Hamas win

Though Israeli military and political leaders have had numerous discussions with their American counterparts in which the counter-offensive into Gaza has been criticized, the latter has had no realistic suggestions about how Hamas terrorist forces might be eliminated other than by the methods the Jewish state has been employing. The notion that Hamas can be eliminated without Israeli troops taking physical possession of their last enclave in Rafah in the south and striking at the four remaining intact Hamas battalions there is risible. Therefore, Biden’s demand for “tangible steps” by Israel can only mean one thing: stop the war or conduct it in a manner that ensures that the goal of the complete defeat of Hamas and the end of its control of any part of Gaza cannot be achieved.

That means that if Israel is to continue receiving military aid, it must agree to a situation in which the war against Hamas simply cannot be won. Should Netanyahu decide that those conditions must be accepted, it virtually guarantees that the Islamist group will emerge from the conflict it began not only alive and well but as its victor, with undoubted primacy in Palestinian politics for the foreseeable future.

These conditions are the inevitable result not of the specific incident involving the aid workers but of an incessant campaign of incitement and smears directed at Israel even before ground troops entered Gaza after the Simchat Torah pogroms in 22 Israeli communities and at the Nova music festival.

Biden’s threats are the culmination of the opprobrium that has been directed at Israel from left-wing editorial pages and the genocidal chants from mobs supporting Hamas that have been heard on the streets of American cities and on college campuses. Indeed, so successful has been the effort to demonize the Israeli war effort that Biden said his own wife Jill had demanded that he do something to “stop it, stop it now.”

Political motives

His willingness to heed these calls to halt the Israeli effort to defeat Hamas goes beyond a desire for domestic peace in the White House. The entire left wing of the Democratic Party, including many so-called “progressives” in Congress, has been clamoring that he use the threat of aid cutoffs to end the war prior to the release of the more than 100 hostages still being held by Hamas, including five Americans. Isolated in the White House, Biden and his advisers truly believe that the reason he’s currently trailing former President Donald Trump in his battle for re-election is because he’s considered insufficiently hostile to Israel by the intersectional activist wing of his party that is ever more hostile to Zionism and the Jewish state.

When measured against the yawns and shrugged shoulders from the White House under Obama and Biden when civilians died as a result of their orders, it’s easy to see that the outrage about the aid workers has little to do with humanitarian concerns. Instead, it is about hatred for Israel that has taken root in left-wingers who have come to believe that Israel must not be allowed to defeat Hamas and that any civilian casualties that occur as a result of the terrorists’ actions are too many.

If Biden really wants to end the fighting in Gaza, then he should be directing all of his anger and threats against Hamas and its backers, not the Israelis. If Hamas surrendered and released the hostages—ranging from a baby to an 86-year-old man—the war would be over immediately. Instead, by threatening to trash the alliance with Israel and the mandate that it must live with Hamas terrorism, including the threat of more Oct. 7 massacres in the future, he has only strengthened the resolve of the Islamist murderers to stand their ground, secure in the belief that the United States will save them from the justice they so richly deserve for their crimes.

As much as we may all mourn what happened to the aid workers, the willingness of Israel’s foes and false friends like Biden to use this incident to end the war against Hamas should not be considered a manifestation of humanitarian sentiment. If their tragic fate provides the leverage that Washington uses to end the war, then the blood of the Israelis—and those in other nations who will fall victim to a revitalized international terror movement funded by Iran—will be on the heads of those who cynically exploited their deaths.

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