In a sign of the times, what has made news about the ceasefire talks is not that Hamas rejected the latest offer but the fact that yesterday the State Department finally said so.

“They gave us a written response that rejected the proposal put forward by Israel, that President Biden had outlined, that the United Nations Security Council and countries all around the world had endorsed,” said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller. Miller’s use of the word “rejected” made headlines. “The comment marked the first time that a US official had publicly gone so far,” reported the Times of Israel. “To date, only Jerusalem has branded the Hamas response as a rejection. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken two weeks ago criticized Hamas’s counter-proposal as including changes that are ‘not workable,’ but insisted the gaps were still bridgeable.”

On the one hand, this is progress. The Biden administration has in recent months mostly avoided displaying its impatience with Hamas. In the world of diplomacy, this type of definitive language is meant to exert pressure on the holdouts.

But on the other hand, so what? Hamas isn’t a normal government, bound by nation-state norms and treaties and diplomatic niceties the very practice of which confers a certain amount of legitimacy on those who play along. All of this theater keeps Hamas in a can’t-lose situation: the West’s obsession with a negotiated settlement to this war means Hamas is indispensable, and if Hamas is indispensable, it cannot be destroyed.

Up north, Hezbollah has found itself in similarly beneficial circumstances. According to Politico, “U.S. officials trying to prevent a bigger Middle East war are issuing an unusual warning to Hezbollah: Don’t assume that Washington can stop Israel from attacking you.”

To which I imagine Hezbollah responded: Don’t threaten me with a good time.

As if the implication wasn’t clear enough, the reporters spell it out: “The American message is designed to get the Lebanese-based Shiite militia to back down and de-escalate the brewing crisis along the Israeli-Lebanese border, a person familiar with the discussions said.”

In most of the world, the prospect of all-out war with a stronger state would be a sufficient deterrent. But Hezbollah isn’t a state. It simply controls one from within. It isn’t put off by bringing death and destruction to the Lebanese population; that is its mission. Same with Hamas: these are terrorist entities who survive by waging asymmetric warfare. They do not, themselves, want to be totally destroyed. But everything around them can burn.

Take, for example, the revelation a few days ago that Hezbollah is using the Beirut airport’s warehouses to store weapons and explosives, according to whistleblowers. The government, to the extent one exists, denied the charges. But witnesses say Hezbollah commanders are spending an unusual amount of time at the airport unloading and storing cargo distinct from traditional crates of goods. Officials offered journalists a tour of the facilities to prove the claims were false, but excluded most of the cargo area from the tour.

The accusations are also quite specific, the Telegraph reports: “The cache allegedly includes Iranian-made Falaq unguided artillery rockets, Fateh-110 short-range missiles, road-mobile ballistic missiles and M-600 missiles with ranges of 150 to 200 miles.

“Also at the airport it is claimed that there are AT-14 Kornets, laser-guided anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), huge quantities of Burkan short-range ballistic missiles and explosive RDX, a toxic white powder also known as cyclonite or hexogen.”

The whistleblowers appear to be genuinely and rightly concerned that war between Israel and Hezbollah is looming and the Beirut airport is therefore a literal tinderbox. To a normal state, that is a threat worth taking seriously. To Hezbollah, it is the point.

Back in Gaza, UN officials continue to slow-walk the delivery of food aid to civilians amid “an increase in attacks against aid trucks by desperate civilians and criminal gangs.” It’s not just dangerous for delivery workers: Hamas is killing clan leaders amid escalating feuds over distributing aid, which is seen as a proxy test for possible post-Hamas governance. A normal state government would not make the distribution of aid a capital offense. But again: Hamas is not a normal government, and it is not trying to mimic the administration of a nation-state. It cannot be voted out of office and it cannot be shamed by the international community’s huffing and puffing about Hamas “rejecting” offers of peace.

Of course, such groups can and will be engaged with as necessary. But the West is treating them as something they are not. They have neither the authority (they both answer to Tehran) nor the incentive to play a constructive role in world affairs. The Biden administration is either naïve about this or cynically pretending to be. Either way, this strategy can only end badly.

Photo: Alexey Sergeev

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