The goal of Hamas and its soul mates, Hezbollah and Iran, is the destruction of the state of Israel and its Jewish citizens.

Israel is defending itself in the Gaza war, even though pictures of dead and wounded Gaza residents on television, on the Internet and in the newspapers give the impression of Israeli aggression. Hamas has cynically helped create that impression by launching its rocket attacks from among civilians.

President-elect Barack Obama seems to understand this. That is why, once he takes office, he should move to stop Hamas from firing rockets into Israel and smuggling arms through its network of tunnels.

From what he has said, that’s what he’ll do. Obama and other sensible people will seek a two-state solution with Palestinians and Jews living in something that at least approaches peace.

Granted, his recent predecessors failed. Only Jimmy Carter, negotiating the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt, succeeded. But I’m betting on the new guy, a man who has already achieved something previously thought impossible.

The present violence began while America was celebrating a new chapter in its history, the election of the first African-American president. As this country looked forward, events conspired to drag Obama backward, into the decades-old struggle that started when Jews returned to their biblical homeland, first in a trickle and then en masse after World War II.

On Tuesday, Nov. 4, Election Day, Israeli forces entered Gaza to destroy a tunnel they suspected was to be used for abducting soldiers. Hamas used such a tunnel in June 2006 to kidnap Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who is still being held. The Israelis killed one Hamas gunman and wounded at least three others. Hamas fired back with rockets, Reuters reported at the time. Israeli airstrikes killed five more men, identified by Reuters and the Associated Press as militants, and Hamas blasted Israel with dozens of rockets. The barrage had been preceded by years of Hamas firing its rockets into Israeli communities. A truce in effect since June was shattered, and on Dec. 19, Hamas ended the cease-fire.

The outlines of another temporary truce may be emerging.

Israel agreed to halt fighting for three hours a day to allow food, medical supplies and other aid into the battered territory. This came after an Israeli attack on a U.N. school building used as a shelter killed 40 people, according to the United Nations. Israelis said Hamas was firing from the school, but Bloomberg reported that the U.N. Relief and Works Agency said it was “99.9” percent certain there were no militants in the school. Bloomberg quoted Mu’awia Hassanein, chief of emergency medical services in Gaza, as saying at least 630 Palestinians have died in the onslaught and 2,600 have been wounded. U.N. officials said as many as a quarter of the Palestinians killed were civilians, a figure Israel disputes as too high.

Possible terms of a cease-fire were outlined by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who represents the entities known as the Mideast Quartet — the United Nations, United States, Russia and the European Union.

Blair said that any cease-fire in the Gaza conflict will require “clear and definitive action” to halt the smuggling of weapons and money into the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.

“If there is strong action on that front, so that Israel feels it has achieved something — namely the end of the smuggling of weapons and finance to Hamas — then I think it is possible to resolve this reasonably quickly,” Blair told CNN. “If that doesn’t happen, if we’re not in that position, then obviously it’s going to go on.”

Obama has said little, a position that has drawn criticism from the Jewish right wing and the American left. When the Israelis blasted the Gaza school site, all Obama said was that “the loss of civilian life in Gaza and Israel is a source of deep concern for me.” But he reiterated that only President George W. Bush would speak for U.S. foreign policy until the inauguration.

That sounds like a political copout. Obama is overwhelmed with a recession teetering into a depression and with assembling a national security team that he can trust not to continue Bush administration policies. He’ll be pounded from the left and the right no matter what he does on Gaza, because he will almost certainly choose the middle of the road. But the very fact that he had to comment after the school bombing shows how difficult it will be for him to remain silent until inauguration day.

Based on everything he said during the campaign, Obama appears determined to stand up for Israel.

A memorable example of this occurred last July 23 when he visited Sderot, a frequent Hamas rocket target, during his trip to the Middle East and Europe. The moment is preserved on YouTube and should be viewed by anyone who doubts where Obama is headed on this issue.

Standing in front of a pile of spent rocket casings, he said: “I’m here to say as an American and as a friend of Israel that we stand with the people of Sderot and with all of the people of Israel.

“The Qassam rockets fired by Hamas deliberately and indiscriminately target civilians, and this terror is intolerable. Israelis should not have to live in danger in their homes and schools. … Israel must always stand up for its right to defend itself against those who threaten its people. To achieve true security I am deeply committed to helping Israel achieve a lasting peace with Palestinians who accept the state of Israel, renounce violence and terrorism and abide by agreements.”

He said he favored “a strong, secure state of Israel living besides a viable and peaceful Palestinian state.” He also condemned an “Iranian regime that sponsors terrorism, pursues nuclear weapons and threatens Israel’s existence. A nuclear Iran would pose a grave threat, and the world must prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

“I bring to Sderot an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. The state of Israel faces determined enemies who seek its destruction. But it also has a friend and ally in the United States that will also stand by Israel.”

Standing by Israel means standing up for its continued existence as a Jewish state. Hamas and its allies want every Jew in Israel dead or gone. That’s what the Gaza war is about, and that’s what Obama has promised won’t happen.

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