Most commentators on the Hamas takeover of Gaza are missing the real story. They miss it for the same reason that they have missed the real story in Iraq. They miss it because they think they are looking at a civil war—Sunnis versus Shiites in Iraq, Hamas versus Fatah in Gaza—when the real story is a regional war, with Iran at its center.
The Islamist takeover of Gaza is really the first stage in Iran's new summer offensive against the West.
The Hamas takeover was not factional rivalry that spun out of control. It was clearly a deliberate, planned military campaign. In the Gaza town of Khan Yunis, for example, Hamas fighters destroyed the headquarters of the Fatah-controlled security forces by detonating a one-ton bomb buried in a tunnel under the building. This is more than a civil war: it is a carefully planned, well-executed revolutionary putsch against the Palestinian Authority.
What happened after the Hamas military victory is even more telling. Stories have been filtering out about Fatah supporters being rounded up into prison camps, of Fatah fighters being bound and thrown off of high-rise rooftops or subject to summary executions in the street. Having taken power by brute force, Hamas is making it clear that it intends to rule by fear. Summing up all of these events, a spokesman for Hamas declared, "The era of justice and Islamic rule have arrived."
This should all be familiar. The same kind of "justice" and Islamic rule arrived in Iran in 1979—and now Iran has finally managed to export its Islamic Revolution into the Sunni Arab world. Gaza is now an outpost of Iranian-inspired totalitarian Islamic rule.
And there is a good possibility that this won't stop in Gaza. Fatah is a leftover of the old era of the quasi-secular nationalist Arab "strongman." But Fatah's strongman Yasser Arafat is dead, both literally and metaphorically: his type is losing out, in the Muslim world, to the revived Islamist movement represented by Hamas. One side in this conflict is tired and dispirited—while the other is fanatically devoted and believes that it has the forces of history on its side.
While jubilant Hamas fighters stormed the last remaining Fatah redoubts in Gaza, Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas responded by calling for new elections. The overall sense coming from Fatah spokesmen is not one of defiance or resolve, but a sense of resignation and despair. "There is no future for us," one Fatah supporter told the New York Times, while a Palestinian Authority official concluded, “We Palestinians are writing the final chapters of our national enterprise.” It should be no surprise to hear that hundreds of Fatah officials have already fled to Egypt. Fatah is a sinking ship, and the rats who make up its crew are deserting it. At this rate, Fatah will ultimately lose, not only Gaza, but the West Bank as well.
Seeing Fatah thugs dragged into the streets and shot by a rival gang of terrorists may not cause us to shed any tears—it couldn't happen to a more deserving group of people—but we shouldn't be deceived into thinking of this as a purely internal, factional struggle. During the first Palestinian intifada, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, most of the people killed by Palestinian terrorists were other Palestinians—those who were considered "collaborators" or advocates of peace with Israel. It was necessary for Arafat to eliminate all Palestinian opposition, so that he could take over the Palestinian territories (with our help, alas) and use them as a base from which to attack Israel.
This time, it is Iran—the main financial, military, and ideological sponsor of Hamas—that is seeking to take over. So, too, in Lebanon, where Iran's satellite, Syria, is also using factional fighting as an excuse to liquidate opposition—as in the latest assassination of an anti-Syrian politician. Syria seeks to break Lebanon between a new Sunni Islamist uprising in the north and the Shiite Islamist Hezbollah militia in the south—all with the goal of reasserting Syrian and Iranian control.
Add to this the continuing Iranian support for insurgents in Iraq and new evidence that Iran is providing weapons and training to the Taliban in Afghanistan—an act of war against the United States, not to mention the entire NATO alliance—and we can see the whole regional picture. In Lebanon, Iran has used Hezbollah to establish a base against Israel on the north, which is now matched by Gaza as a base against Israel on the South. Iraq is under siege from both sides, with Syrian and Iranian support pouring in to both Sunni and Shiite terrorist gangs—while Iran has now begun to strike out eastward against the US and NATO in Afghanistan.
In short, Iran is bent on regional domination, and it is advancing on all fronts.
This is exactly the picture that emerged during Iran's last summer offensive: Hezbollah's rocket war against Israel in July and August of last year. The only thing that has changed in our strategic position since then is that things have gotten worse: Iran has been emboldened to make further advances, while a Democratic victory in the US election has reassured Iran and Syria that America will eventually retreat and abandon the region to their control.
If we're not going to surrender to this Iranian onslaught—if we're not going to forget the lessons of September 11 and allow terrorist-sponsoring Islamist regimes to metastasize across the Middle East—we need to start fighting back immediately.
Tired, discredited, and possibly broken by his failures in Iraq, President Bush seems to have given up on providing any leadership against the Iranian threat. Fortunately, we still have Joe Lieberman, who has established himself as the only political figure willing to lead in this crisis by declaring that we should start an air war against Iran in retaliation for its acts of war against US troops in Iraq. What is really new in Lieberman's declaration is that he has proposed the use of military force against Iran, not as potential future measure to pre-empt Iran's nuclear weapons program, but as an immediate act of retaliation in response to the war Iran is already waging against us.
Our enemy in that war is already on the offensive in the farthest-flung corners of its would-be empire, from the Mediterranean to the Himalayas—but it is vulnerable at the center. There is still time for an air war against Iran itself, targeting terrorist training camps, nuclear facilities, assets of the Iranian Revolution Guard, and the gasoline supply lines that keep the Iranian economy moving, all with the aim of bringing down the regime.
It's that—or surrender the greater Middle East to a nuclear-armed Islamist empire headed by Iran.