One of the most infuriating lines parroted by apologists of Israel’s aggressive campaign on Gaza is “should the Americans have accepted calls for ceasefire after Pearl Harbor or 9/11?” Never mind the fact that the US reaction to Pearl Harbor ended with the use of nuclear weapons, and that the US reaction to 9/11 has been nothing short of disastrous, few people if any are actually calling for a ceasefire with Hamas militants. Instead they’re calling on Israel to take a responsible approach to rooting out Hamas and end its brutal bombardment and siege of the Gaza Strip.
Many fewer people would be using the language of ceasefire if the Israelis were conducting targeted ground operations on individual terrorists, but their approach to “dismantling” Hamas, much like the US approach to combating al-Qaeda after 9/11, has been disproportionate to the point of overkill. Israel would do well to learn from America’s experience with the calamity that is the so called war on terror. US politicians sadistically calling for Israel to “finish them” and for America to increase its involvement clearly don’t care to take any lessons from the last 20 years. They should from their mistakes, and the Israelis should too.
The point of terrorism, as the Israelis must know, is not simply to wreak havoc but to provoke a reaction that causes greater, self inflicted damage. The 9/11 attacks, as a prime example, were meant not just to cause chaos by striking the political and financial centers of the Western world, but also to goad the US into an unwinnable war in the mountains of Afghanistan that would bankrupt America and lead to its slow demise.
In response to 9/11 the US fell directly into the trap laid by al Qaeda. It began its two decade engagement in Afghanistan, which in addition to leaving thousands of Americans and Afghans dead and wounded, radicalized millions in the Islamic world, and ultimately ended in the reconstitution of the pre 2002 regime of the Taliban.
Not only did the US presence in Afghanistan serve as recruiting tool for international jihadist groups and political Islam, creating a steady stream of security threats, it generated significant anti American sentiment globally and anti government attitudes at home.
The 9/11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan furthermore spawned US interventions in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, triggering a vicious cycle of radicalization and violence.
According to a study by Brown University the compounding effects of the response to 9/11 have added $8 trillion to the US national debt and caused 900,000 direct deaths. They have also destroyed America’s ability to claim moral authority in international affairs. And they have created a situation in which the US political class has paid an inordinate amount of attention to foreign policy, neglecting domestic issues at the expense of American citizens, leading to economic decline, societal polarization, and the reformation of the Republican Party under Donald Trump.
Should Israel continue its current policy in Gaza it is sure to suffer similar consequences.
Already Israel’s response to the October 7 attacks, its decision to bombard and besiege the entirety of the Gaza Strip in an alleged attempt to eliminate some 40,000 militants from a population of over 2 million, has produced more anti Israeli sentiment than any event in decades. The isolation of Israel internationally was precisely the intent of the attacks, and the Israelis are giving Hamas just what they wanted.
The Israeli response has without a doubt also been a boon for international jihadist groups, an added bonus for Hamas and an added threat for Israel.
But Israel still faces the question of what happens after it has eliminated Hamas. What happens after Gaza is decimated? And how long is Israel prepared to fight a conflict that is most assuredly not going to be resolved through war?
It would have been wise for the US to think long and hard about the potential consequences of its post 9/11 interventions, but it’s not too late for Israel. Even with more than 10,000 people reportedly killed in Gaza it’s still possible to reverse course. Doing so would help avoid the inevitable spiraling quagmire on the horizon, and might salvage some good will with the world.
Jack Stevenson holds a BA in history. He recently started a Substack called Foreign Entanglements.