Do Americans understand the Muslim view of war? Throughout the Muslim world, there were celebrations with people singing and dancing and giving each other sweets, celebrating Hamas’s victory over the Israelis. Hamas suffered serious losses. As Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, stated at the news conference in which he announced the ceasefire, many Hamas leaders were eliminated and their military capabilities were sharply degraded.
But Hamas was not defeated. It will clearly be able to rain down rockets on the Israeli civilian population again when it chooses.
What we call terror is a legitimate tactic of Muslim warfare — terror is how the Muslim prophet Muhammad subdued his enemies. He struck fear into their hearts, coercing them to surrender. Hamas is doing nothing more than following Muhammad’s guidance.
Ironically, at the same time as Barak was proudly announcing the ceasefire — and his colleagues Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman were chiming in — Israeli radio could be heard interrupting their speeches with Code Red alerts to the people of the south to run to their shelters: Hamas and its cohorts had continued firing rockets at Israel.
Why did Hamas fire these rockets during the ceasefire announcement? The last day of the Israel-Hamas fight was the most violent: Hamas apparently wanted to prove it had the upper hand going towards a cease fire, and that it could impose a cease fire on Israel on Hamas’s terms. That would erase the perception that Israel was trying to create of a Hamas crawling for dear life to the finish line, saved by the bell. To drive this point home, Hamas therefore fired rockets after the ceasefire to get the last shots, to thereby prove that Israel gave in to Hamas. For Hamas, this was all about managing perceptions as to which side needed the ceasefire more than the other. Moreover, this does not even touch on the additional point that Hamas is making that Israel did not launch a ground offensive because it was too afraid, concerned about the cost of doing so.
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How would ibn Hazm, the great Muslim theorist on war, understand the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas? He probably would have believed — as, most likely, do his modern day co-religionists — that the Israelis were afraid to destroy Hamas’s leadership.
Ibn Hazm wrote: “When at war, show your enemy no mercy, but when you have him at your mercy, you must give him breathing room but you dictate the terms.” The loser has no say in the terms; only the victor has.
The terms of this agreement allow Hamas to live another day, re-arm and fight again. To the Muslims, this is a sign that Israel does not have either the ability or the will to make them surrender. Israel and its allies have thus proven to the Arabs, Turks, Iranians, and other Muslims, that Israel is weak and, for whatever reason, is incapable or unwilling to do what is necessary to subdue its enemies.
The current agreement emboldens Israel’s and America’s enemies. It gives them the emotional fortitude to fight on. Unless Israel destroys Hamas’s leadership once and for all, it can expect many more years of terrorists showering death and destruction on its population. These Islamic terrorists are consequently inspired to think that America and other Western allies are easier targets for more Islamic fundamentalist terror.
Where does America fit into this picture? Muslims have a deep belief that all non-Muslims are united against the Muslims; people are either Muslims or non-Muslims. According to a classic Arabo-Islamic principle: “Unbelief is one nation”. That means that all Muslims belong to one “nation” and all non-Muslims belong to another, united against the Muslims. Many Muslims therefore have difficulty making a distinction between Americans and Israelis, both members of the same non-Muslim people.
Many Muslims also believe that America pressured Israel to accept this ceasefire. In Muslim eyes, this means that non-Muslim America did not stand by its natural non-Muslim ally, Israel. America as an ally is therefore unreliable. If America would not even support its fellow non-Muslim ally, how can Muslims, such as, say, the Sunni Saudis, rely on the US to protect them from their existential enemy, Shi’ite Iran? The Saudis can only conclude that they have no alternative other than to seek different, less feckless, allies such as China or Russia to protect them from the Iranian regime. America, they likely recall, refused to support its ally, the Shah, against Khomeini, and thus America lost Iran as a great ally. It also quickly abandoned its ally Egyptian President Mubarak. Will America lose the Saudis as well?
It hard to imagine that at least some of Israel’s leaders do not understand this Muslim mindset. That notion makes it even more difficult to understand why Israel stopped short of victory, unless Israel might possibly have decided to weaken Iran’s ally, Hamas, to such an extent that it could then address the Iranian problem without worrying about an attack from Gaza.
Until the early 1970s, the Israelis seem to have understood their enemy’s view of war; do they now? Being farther away, the Americans have had less of a need to do so. Will America ever understand the Muslim world they way it sees itself and make policy decisions more appropriate to, and in line with, that view? If America and Israel choose not to, they embolden their enemies, but do so at their peril.
Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.
About the Author: Harold Rhode, Ph.D., served from 1982-2010 as an Adviser on Islamic Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He is now a distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute. He is fluent in English, Hebrew, Arabic, Farsi and Turkish.
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