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Cal Thomas: Middle East conflict is like ‘Groundhog Day’

  • Tribune Media Services
  • Published Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, at 12 a.m.

In the film “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray wakes up each morning and relives the previous day.

A similar scenario is playing out in the Middle East between Israel and her enemies. The deadly “movie” always goes like this: Israel is shelled or attacked by terrorist groups, often called “militants” by the media, each one with the same goal: Israel’s elimination. After demonstrating considerable restraint of the kind that would never be tolerated by any other nation, Israel fires back.

Suddenly, the world awakens from its indifference. World leaders, who said little when Israeli civilians were wounded and killed, now urge “restraint” by “both sides,” as if a moral equivalence exists between victim and predator.

In the run-up to confrontation, it is reported that Hamas has placed weaponry among civilians, hoping that when Israeli airstrikes start it can show photos of dead children, bringing condemnation on Israel.

There are the hand-wringing and suggestions that Israel must “do more,” as George W. Bush said in his 2002 Road Map for Peace speech, to satisfy the “legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.” In the past when Israel has done more, such as releasing terrorists, or giving up land taken in war to buttress its security, Israel’s doing more has brought it less: less security, less peace and less approval from a world that largely wishes it would disappear. The spineless United Nations urges “all concerned” to “exercise maximum restraint,” ignoring Israel’s considerable restraint while facing intolerable provocations.

And so the process replays.

Bernard Lewis, the renowned scholar and expert on the history of Islam, was recently aboard a postelection cruise sponsored by National Review magazine, as was I.

Lewis noted that the Cold War featured “mutual assured destruction,” which served as a deterrent for both the United States and the Soviet Union from using their nuclear weapons against each other. Lewis said for Islamic nations like Iran (which sponsors Hamas in Gaza), “MAD is not a deterrent, but an inducement.” That’s because, he said, the Iranian regime believes in the apocalyptic end of days in which the 12th Imam – the Islamic “messiah” – will emerge in the midst of a nuclear war with Israel and “save” humanity with Islam the surviving religion.

Lewis argues for regime change in Iran, but urges the West to be cautious in the way it goes about promoting it. Iran, he said, is a nation with a long and proud history. He believes the West must not “give Iran a patriotic excuse” it could use to ignite nationalist passions. Young Iranians “hate their rulers,” Lewis said, and the message from the West, which should be conveyed to them via social media, should affirm Iran’s ancient history and Persian roots. That history, he believes, can be used to overcome the religious fanatics now running the country.

In the meantime, Israel is faced with an existential threat, partially of its own making. I argued against the unilateral ceding of Gaza to the Palestinians. It didn’t take a prophet to foresee terrorist groups using Gaza to launch attacks against Israeli civilians. If Israel invades Gaza again, there will be more pictures of dead civilians. But even if a ground effort is successful and Hamas is partially or entirely neutralized, that won’t solve the problem.

New terrorists will arrive. The cycle of war will repeat. It’s a real-life “Groundhog Day.”

Cal Thomas, a columnist with Tribune Media Services, appears in Opinion on Wednesdays.

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