For 76 years, through combined military campaigns, sustained economic boycott, terrorist massacres, diplomatic isolation, and religious incitement, a changing constellation of pan-Arab and Islamist forces has been trying to destroy the Jewish state. So far they have failed. Israel fought off the bombardment from Iran and its proxies as it has the earlier assaults, thereby incidentally giving its friends and allies much to learn about new weaponry, tactics, and the pros and cons of moral restraint in battle.

But if anything is to be learned from the experience, it is that those acts of wars did not damage Israel half as much as the current ongoing Hamas operation. Those earlier forces, despite enjoying greater advantages than almost any aggressor in history, lost multiple wars on every scale of reckoning, whereas Hamas—with about 30,000 fighters backed by shadowed Iran—may yet have reason to claim victory even if it loses its entire armed force. What is to be learned from that?

Judith Miller’s recent Tablet profile of Yahya Sinwar shows how this mastermind of the Hamas October 7th attack was able to study Israel’s vulnerability while serving four consecutive life sentences in its prisons. Nicknamed the “Butcher of Khan Yunis” for his murder of competing factions of Palestinians and those whom he termed collaborators, Sinwar boasts of not caring how many more of them must be sacrificed in his goal to “rid Palestine of Jews for good.” This is not your run-of-the-mill terrorist but a psychopath who revels in sadism, including against his own people. Regardless, there is no denying his success.

Sinwar used his prison years to study Hebrew and the ways in which Israel could be defeated. The most obvious of these ways was his own release in 2011 as one of the 1,026 prisoners freed in return for the captured hostage Gilad Shalit. If a single hostage could bring the release of 280 murderers who had been convicted for killing 569 Israelis, Sinwar realized that exploitation of hostages could inflict much more damage than missiles.

But unlike other civilians being held for exchange, like Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, the Israelis captured and held hostage by Hamas were dragged off to Gaza to be publicly humiliated, sexually abused, and serially killed in a manner designed to torment an entire population, every one of whom feels each Israeli captive could be its own child or grandchild. Sinwar does not pretend to be managing the Israelis humanely, or to be bargaining for their release. He uses their suffering to excite families into demanding Israeli government concessions just as some have been doing. The worse the prisoners are treated, and the more of them are killed, the greater has been the pressure on Israel, and within Israel, to secure their release.

In their new book The Genius of Israel, whose release practically coincided with October 7, Dan Senor and Saul Singer describe the qualities that account for the achievements they first called attention to in its prequel, Start-Up Nation. As though privy to their analysis, Sinwar exploited those same qualities to try and break the country from within. In 2005, after Israel withdrew every last Jew from Gaza hoping for a cooperative accord thereafter, nearby Jewish settlements prided themselves on helping their new Arab neighbors to medical care and employment. Hamas, permitting Palestinian workers to take these jobs, had them scout those settlements and map the “safe rooms” that had been created for protection. This information, then relayed to Hamas lieutenants, guided the attackers who raped, burned, brutalized, pillaged, turned beauty to filth so that residents could never again imagine living in peace. These deliberate evils were meant to destroy the prospect of coexistence, which historically has been the prerequisite for Jewish survival among the nations.

The book’s chapter on “Thanksgiving every week” highlights Israel’s collective observance of Sabbath and festivals like Sukkot, the last day of which fell this year on October 7. In 1973, Arab armies attacked on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, but Hamas did them one better by attacking on a Sabbath that simultaneously marked the festival of the harvest and of the Torah, celebrated by the religious in their synagogues and by a mixed multitude at the large open air Nova music concert. Killing Jews in the act of rejoicing has the added advantage of turning Jewish holidays into days of national mourning—this by people who expect others to respect their observance of Ramadan.

Intertwined values of individual life and love of family—the foundation of Israeli Judaism—were the special targets of Sinwar’s murder-squads that killed children and parents in each other’s presence and photographed themselves violating even the dead to torture the nation with evidence of this desecration. Judaism takes the human body so seriously that every part of it must be brought to burial. Hamas intentionally left body parts so unrecognizable that forensic scientists had to labor for days to establish their identity. While Israel, to spare their families, will not reveal the most heinous acts done to women—and men—Hamas uses defilement of Jews as a tool of recruitment and promises the killers martyrdom if they are killed in the process.

People who have seen the films that Israel released of the Hamas mutilations report that hardest of all to watch is the glee of the Gazans celebrating their deeds. By inevitable comparison, whereas the Nazis in World War Two tried to preserve their code of military honor by concealing their mass murders from their home communities, Hamas correctly anticipated that dehumanizing Israeli victims would increase their honor among radical Islamists—including those who promote jihad in America.

Hamas’s highly ingenious scheme—plotted over sixteen years and executed with the aid of billions of dollars—ensured that Israelis would be blamed for the killing of Palestinians. When Israel withdrew entirely from Gaza, neither the allegedly moderate Palestinian Authority nor the openly terrorist Hamas undertook to build the infrastructure of autonomy. For Palestinian leadership in general, the main goal of destroying Israel has always eclipsed the building of a neighboring state, but Hamas proved itself the much greater belligerent with escalating rocket barrages that provoked retaliation. Credit for the policy of using civilians as human shields, introduced in 2009, goes to Hamas commander Nizar Rayan, who called on the local population to swarm the buildings and rooftops of Hamas command centers, knowing that Israelis would hesitate to order airstrikes against Gazan civilians. Rayan’s sacrifice of his own family in one of Israel’s retaliatory targeted strikes against him simply reinforced the Hamas cult of martyrdom.

Sinwar took this strategy to a new level by building a massive underground city that would suck Israelis into killing Palestinians. Armaments, missile launchers, and terrorist command posts were positioned under hospitals, schools, mosques, and residential buildings, forcing Israelis to kill civilians, whether by airstrikes or in any conceivable ground operation if they were ever to stop the attacks. Sinwar, whose life was saved by Israeli medical intervention during his time in prison, knows that Israel does not execute even convicted murderers of Jews. His goal in provoking Israel into retaliation was to create and keep worsening Gaza’s “humanitarian crisis” and the toll of civilian casualties, thereby eliciting liberal sympathy for the Palestinians and international calls for an advantageous ceasefire while, most crucially, demoralizing the Israelis who must sacrifice their soldiers in a war they would have done anything to avoid.

Has the genius of Israel met its match in the genius of evil? Other commanders in the history of war have been known to sacrifice tens of thousands of their soldiers rather than surrender, but no invader ever turned his enemy into his primary weapon. Sinwar intends never to surrender, hoping that Israel will be forced to kill most of the population of Gaza in order to stop Hamas. The genocide of Jews that he undertook to engineer has already been equalized to a genocide by Jews against the innocent, harmless Hamas electorate.

When Golda Meir famously told Anwar Sadat, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. But we can never forgive them for forcing us to kill their children,” she divulged Israel’s greatest weakness. Coexistence is to Judaism as conquest has been to Islam, requiring the former to seek accord from the latter. Hamas was first to fully to exploit this political contrast. Liberal democracies are generally loath to go to war, but a look at the Middle East map shows why Israel—when you can find it there—has the ultimate disincentive for military action against neighbors whose acceptance it seeks. As a minority by choice, Jews have always been at the mercy of imperial powers, of which Iran with its proxies is currently the most threatening. To succeed, the aggressor has learned—and demonstrated—that he must come in the form of a victim.

Meir was wiser when she said, “Peace will come to the Middle East when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.” The defeat of Hamas is the necessary precondition for that day, though not yet its guarantee.

And now that sizable numbers of pro-Hamas sympathizers and belligerents are already active in this country, testing its freedoms and liberal virtues, we are seeing whether Americans learn enough from the war in Israel in time to prevent the brewing war against them.

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