In my Times op-ed yesterday, I wrote that:
There is a fixed idea among some Israeli leaders that Hamas can be bombed into moderation. This is a false and dangerous notion. It is true that Hamas can be deterred militarily for a time, but tanks cannot defeat deeply felt belief.
Reuel Gerecht writes in to tell me that I'm completely wrong:
Actually, Islamic history teaches just the opposite. If you start with the Kharijites and move forward (and I can happily give you a list running from the Azariqa, the worst of the Khawarij, who very much resemble the most radical of the Sunnis today, to the 7ners, to the Qizilbash--my all-time favorites, to the Mahdists, to the Iranian death-wish believers of the Iran-Iraq war), it is military defeat that produces the fatigue and the spiritual deflation that leads to acquiescence (and, sometimes, reflection). I prefer "acquiescence" to "moderation". The latter arrives, but the English implies a certain thoughtfulness that shouldn't be underscored. Unless you throttle the ifratiyyun--the militants--on the battlefield, they will come back at you.
Now, whether the Israelis--and the Americans behind them--have the stomach and patience for this, is a different question. But decisive military defeat is history's great "moderator". (Just ask the Germans.) Unfortunately, as you have often said, the Middle East is a tough neighborhood, and Islam isn't a faith that has produced many men who are widely esteemed for their abiding love of peace and brotherhood with non-Muslims. (A Muslim Jeffrey Goldberg, a former prison guard of Jews who tries to understand the "other" with sincere curiosity and not a small amount of affection, seems surreal.) Israel's present fundamentalist enemies will surely be the most tenacious foes the Jewish State has ever had. Barring a '67-like trauma for fundamentalists (you want the Hamas and Hizbollah leadership to feel like Nasir), its hard to see this turning round. Perhaps the Palestinians will turn on Hamas. (If they do so, it will in great part be because Israel's tanks, planes, and foot-soldiers made a convincing argument.) The only way we are likely to know is next time at the urns. It's very hard imagining Fatah downing Hamas in a fight.