Israeli Bid to Cast Hamas as ISIS Hurt by Gaza Deaths

After US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh Sunday, both posted a similar photo — but with contrasting descriptions.

(Bloomberg) — After US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh Sunday, both posted a similar photo — but with contrasting descriptions. 

Blinken said they talked about “the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel,” in his post to X, formerly Twitter. The prince said they were looking for ways “to stop the military operations that have claimed the lives of innocent people,” a reference to Israel’s bombing of Gaza. 

The disconnect isn’t limited to the Saudis. Just a few governments in the region have publicly denounced the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre of 1,300 Israelis. Instead, the focus of much of the rest of the world has shifted to civilian casualties in Gaza, where daily Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 3,000. Even allies like the US and UK have publicly called on Israel to protect noncombatants as it prepares for a massive ground invasion.

Israeli officials can’t believe it. They have spent every day since the attacks bringing foreign leaders and journalists to the unbearably grim sites of the killing, gathering testimonies from survivors and splicing together video of gruesome beheadings and eye-gougings recorded — often gleefully — by the perpetrators. 

The aim of these presentations is to get the world to agree that Israel now has not only license to destroy Hamas — designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union — but a collective responsibility to do so, just as the US won international support after the Sept. 11 attacks to eradicate al Qaeda and later against ISIS.


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“There are no two sides to this conflict,” said Lior Haiat, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry in a Zoom presentation that included two survivors on Monday. “If someone is not standing with us today, he is standing with monsters who murder babies and old people. If you are not standing against terror, you are part of terror.”

For Israel, the mobilization of 360,000 soldiers and demand that 1.1 million Palestinians in Gaza move south within 24 hours as it pounded the area from the air count as justified responses to unspeakable acts. 

“Let me tell you, Mr. Secretary, this will be a long war, the price will be high,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned Blinken Monday. “But we are going to win for Israel and the Jewish people, and for the values that both countries believe in.”

But elsewhere, Israel’s preparations are fueling more alarm than resolve. 

Hesham Al-Ghannam, a Riyadh-based political scientist and researcher, told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel: “I say that sweeping the occupation underneath the carpet and putting the blame on the victims, those who have been suffering this occupation, won’t lead to any peace but, on the contrary, it will perpetuate violence in this tormented region.”

Even as US President Joe Biden has publicly sided with Israel’s view that Hamas should be eliminated entirely, he’s repeatedly called on the government to limit civilian casualties. “The overwhelming majority of Palestinians had nothing to do with Hamas,” he said Friday. 

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told Sky News, “It is in Israel’s interest to avoid civilian casualties and Palestinian casualties, because Hamas clearly wants to turn this into a wider Arab-Israeli war, or indeed a war between the Muslim world and and the wider world. And none of us, including Israel, want that to be the case.” 

In the Middle East, Hamas isn’t seen as a global terror force the way ISIS and al Qaeda were. Instead, it’s often portrayed as an awful product of decades of oppression by Israel. 

Officials across the region — in Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere — say their populations are restive as they watch Israel pound Gaza. Their citizens display a high degree of support for Hamas, making it hard for them to even condemn the Oct. 7 attacks. They are pressuring the US for humanitarian aid to Gaza. 

Israeli officials chafe at what they see as hypocritical lecturing. 

“When the Americans went to Fallujah after 9/11, they didn’t ask questions about the humanitarian needs of Fallujah,” said Yaakov Amidror, who was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser a decade ago, speaking to foreign journalists. “The best example is the Second World War in which the whole free world fought against German Nazis, and no one asked about the humanitarian needs of the enemy. It’s a war against an enemy state.”

In Israel, there is a sense that no matter what has happened before — settlement building, military incursions — history turned a new page on Oct. 7 because of the level of savagery on display. The impact has been deeply personal in a small country where almost no one has been unaffected, and where many come from countries of pogroms and Holocaust.

The Israeli military on Monday brought a dozen foreign correspondents to see a 42-minute compilation of the horrors of Oct. 7, showing attackers stopping cars and shooting passengers, axing a dead body, burning a house and resting to drink water on a porch. The military’s chief spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said, “We see this as a war against humanity, not just Israel.”

In the coming days, visits by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and probably by Biden are likely to delay Israel’s invasion of Gaza. The more time passes, the wider the gap is likely to grow between the view held firmly by Israel and much of the rest of the world. 

–With assistance from Henry Meyer and Galit Altstein.

(Updates with Saudi analyst in tenth paragraph. An earlier version of this article was corrected to reflect the proper spelling of the German Chancellor’s last name.)

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