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Revenge, Retaliation or a Fight against Evil?

March 11, 2024

by: Ilse Strauss, News Bureau Chief

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“Over the top.” Taking to the White House podium early February, that’s how US President Joe Biden chose to describe Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

IDF troops operating in Gaza

The three-word phrase communicated a number of inaccuracies. To pick just one, the average civilian-to-combatant death ratio in conflicts since World War II is 4.5:1, which translates to a staggering four and a half innocent noncombatants killed for every soldier. Israel, however, has achieved an unprecedented 2:1 or less ratio in the Gaza conflict. While all civilian casualties are a tragedy, this figure stands as proof that Israel goes above and beyond to protect Gazans, which means that world leaders should commend the Israel Defense Forces’ capabilities instead of throwing around phrases like “over the top.”

Yet the biggest concern with Biden’s choice of words is neither the insinuating accusations nor the not-so-subtle charges but the fact that the entire premise of his situational assessment is flawed.

“Over the top” implies that Israel’s objective in Gaza is retaliation. It acknowledges that October 7 was horrendous. Of course it does! It also concedes that Israel has every right to respond to the heinous attack—as every sovereign country rightly does.

Yet it also communicates that Israel’s military campaign in Gaza is aimed at paying Hamas back in kind, and that when Israel has deemed the score settled and believes Hamas to have learned its lesson, Jerusalem will halt and life will return to normal. Moreover, “over the top” insinuates that Biden is of the opinion that Hamas’s wrist has now been slapped hard enough and that the Jewish state’s thirst for revenge should have been quenched by now. After all, 1,200 people murdered is atrocious, but surely 28,000 Gazans reportedly killed is sufficient payback?

Yet the Israel–Hamas conflict goes well beyond retaliation. In fact, vindication doesn’t even factor into the equation, argues Col. (ret.) Grisha Yakubovich. “This is an existential war,” explains the last Israeli mayor of Gaza City and the former head of the Civilian Department of COGAT, the unit responsible for implementing Israel’s civilian policy and security coordination in the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria. “It’s about confronting global jihad and an evil that threatens not only Israel and Jewish values, but the Western world, democracy and freedom as a whole.”

Evolution of Evil

In 1979, Palestinian sheikh Abdullah Yusuf Azzam bid farewell to his native village near Jenin and moved to Pakistan in a bid to help the Afghani mujahideen (holy warriors) fight the Soviet invaders. It was there, in the markets of Peshawar, that Azzam bumped into a bright young student by the name of Osama bin Laden, whom he took under his wing and nurtured in the “holy way of jihad.”

Azzam was killed in a car bombing in 1989, but when the planes crashed into the Twin Towers 12 years later, his fingerprints were so clearly visible on Bin Laden’s terror coup that the Palestinian sheikh from a village near Jenin was dubbed the father of 9/11, Al Qaeda and modern jihad.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Al Qaeda stood as the essence of extremism, the incarnation of evil, Yakubovich explains, yet radicalism has a way of breeding more radicalism until something even more malevolent is born.

What hatched in the wake of Bin Laden was a movement of fanatics that looked on their Al Qaeda brethren with contempt, viewing them as heretics and weaklings, Yakubovich continues. “With their black flag, orange jumpsuits and public beheadings, ISIS transformed jihadism into something unheard of,” he holds. “The kingdom of ISIS—inspired by the radicalism of the Palestinian sheikh from a village near Jenin—flourished in the plains of Iraq and Syria, and finally reached the Sinai desert, where fanatics and extremists swore allegiance to the black flag.”

Yahya Sinwar

Under Muslim Brotherhood-linked Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, ISIS rampaged through Sinai largely unchecked—and attracted every fanatic and extremist in the region to join their ranks. It was there, in the markets of El Arish and Port Said, that the ISIS holy warriors bumped into young Gazans who had left the coastal enclave because Hamas was simply not hard-core enough for them. ISIS took these Gazans—including the nephew of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar—under their wing and nurtured them in the “holy way of jihad.”

Yet radicalism has a way of breeding more radicalism until something even more malevolent is born, Yakubovich explains. And when Morsi fell and his successor, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, launched a large-scale campaign to rid Sinai of insurgence, the young Gazans returned to Gaza, carrying evil with them. It was there, in the markets of Rafah, Gaza City and Jabalia, that they bumped into Hamas, took the terror organization under their wing and nurtured them in the “holy way of jihad.” This evil had started with the Palestinian sheikh from a village near Jenin, transformed into the evil of Al Qaeda, morphed into something more radical still in ISIS and then came to roost in Gaza as a new level of fanatic obsession with a singular target in its crosshairs: Israel.

“That’s what we saw on October 7, evidence of a radicalized cruelty that not only kills but rather takes great delight in a systematic pattern of rape, torture and butchery. It wasn’t aspiration for a state but the evolution of evil that started with a Palestinian cleric, circled throughout the Middle East and then came full circle back to the Palestinians on Israel’s doorstep,” Yakubovich explains.

And that’s what makes this war an existential one, he holds. “Forget retaliation and revenge. We are fighting to send a clear message to radicalism breeding all over the Middle East that we will never give up. Evil will never win. We are fighting for us and our people, of course. But the Jewish state serves as the final frontier to Europe and beyond. In the bigger picture, we are defending the Jewish, Christian, Western world and the values you and I hold dear.”

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