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A man pulls his luggage while passing the rubble of a destroyed building which was hit by Israeli airstrikes, in Gaza City, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Terrorists in the Gaza Strip — the word "terrorist" fits people who take indiscriminate aim at civilians to achieve political goals — have fired some 1,750 rockets or more at Israel since Monday.

That's a number worth pausing over, and not just because it has had the effect of overwhelming Israel's Iron Dome missile defense. Gaza is often said to be sealed off and utterly destitute. Yet Hamas, which rules Gaza, seems not to have had too much trouble amassing this kind of arsenal, or too many qualms employing it in a way it knew was sure to incur a heavy Israeli response.

The usual rule in life is that if you throw the first punch you can't complain if you're counterpunched. The test of Western policy and public opinion is whether they will let Hamas break this rule.

That's a test the Biden administration has so far passed: Both the president and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have issued statements stressing that "Israel has a right to defend itself." Good. It's more than can be said for progressives such as Bernie Sanders, who blamed "the irresponsible actions of government-allied right-wing extremists in Jerusalem" for the fighting without adding a word of condemnation for Hamas.

Now let's hope the administration's attitude lasts. The tactics of Hamas are to house its arsenals in schools and mosques, set up headquarters in the basements of hospitals, and fire its missiles from sites next to crowded apartment buildings and hotels housing foreign journalists.

The idea is either to keep Israel from returning fire or, if it does, to reap the propaganda benefits from televised and tweeted pictures of wrecked buildings and human casualties and "disproportionate" Israeli-Palestinian death counts.

If past experience is anything to go by, an errant Israeli mortar or missile will mistakenly hit a civilian target, generating furious claims that Israel has committed war crimes, along with intense diplomatic pressure for Jerusalem to "de-escalate" and seek a cease-fire — at least until the next round of fighting.

In that case, the result would be a political victory for Hamas.

What can't be emphasized enough, especially among those who think of themselves as pro-Palestinian: If you want a Palestinian state to exist and succeed, you must also want Hamas to be humiliated and defeated. Hamas' sole aim for over 30 years has been to turn a difficult, but potentially negotiable, conflict into a non-negotiable, zero-sum holy war.

By the same token, if you'd like a more moderate cast of Israeli leaders, then the last thing you'd want is for Hamas to emerge emboldened and essentially unscathed in the current round of fighting. No Israeli government of any ideological stripe is going to concede territory for a Palestinian state that's likely to look like a larger version of Gaza today: one that terrorizes its neighbors while tyrannizing its people.

Israel made plenty of mistakes in the run-up to the current fighting, including heavy-handed policing in Jerusalem at Ramadan and inadequate policing in Arab-Israeli towns that have been hit by mob violence. But there is a vast difference in moral weight between Israel's miscalculations and Hamas' calculations, between blunders and crimes.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the U.S. does not have a vital national interest in creating a Palestinian state: It's on the "nice" but not "necessary" list of America's Middle East priorities. But we do have a vital interest in nurturing and sustaining an alliance of moderates and modernizers, people who can offer a plausible alternative to the forms of politics that have dominated the region and spread their pathologies worldwide: terror-sponsoring theocracies like Iran; military dictatorships like Egypt; cult-of-personality regimes like Turkey.

When it comes to Gaza, the goal of U.S. policy is to support Israel's efforts to defang, deflate and ultimately disempower Hamas, not just for the sake of Israelis living under threat but also for Palestinians living in fear. Moderates only thrive when the shadow of terror lifts.

The New York Times

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