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How to prevent the next clash with Hamas

By Eric Cantor, Special to CNN
November 23, 2012 -- Updated 1726 GMT (0126 HKT)
Hamas gunmen line up outside the house of their late leader Ahmed Jaabari in Gaza City on Thursday.
Hamas gunmen line up outside the house of their late leader Ahmed Jaabari in Gaza City on Thursday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eric Cantor: There's a difference between the actions of Hamas and Israel
  • He says Hamas fires rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas; Israel defends itself
  • Cantor: Support from Turkey and Qatar encourages Hamas' aggression
  • He says for cease-fire to last, Hamas must stop terrorism, accept Israel's right to exist

Editor's note: Eric Cantor is the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives. A Republican, he represents Virginia's 7th Congressional District.

(CNN) -- We all hope the apparent cease-fire between Israel and Hamas will hold.

However, we must recognize that Hamas and its terrorist partners bear responsibility for instigating the latest round of this conflict and need to refrain from further rocket and terrorist attacks. Israel exercised its inherent right to self-defense only after weeks of unprovoked attacks against civilian targets. Having picked a fight like a playground bully, Hamas cannot now credibly claim to be a victim.

Israel, like the United States, places a premium on avoiding collateral damage and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on sophisticated weaponry to minimize to the greatest extent possible civilian casualties.

Eric Cantor
Eric Cantor

Hamas intentionally launches unguided rockets into densely populated areas to cause wanton destruction and kill as many innocents as possible. Hamas exploits their own citizens as human shields, locating rocket stockpiles in population centers, hopeful that images of dead Palestinians will rally the world to their extremist cause.

It is important to understand how this conflict started and how responsibly Israel has behaved, but also how future conflicts with Hamas can be prevented.

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Israel has made tremendous progress in reducing Hamas' capacity to threaten Israel and in restoring its deterrence. Israel's military operations in Gaza have been informed by impressively accurate intelligence and have been conducted with great precision and success. Significant stocks of long-range rockets have been destroyed, although remaining weapons stockpiles -- located in densely populated areas -- may require risky ground operations to secure should Hamas resume firing at Israel.

For any enduring cease-fire, the onus must be on Hamas to control its fighters, cease rocket attacks, abandon terrorism and accept Israel's right to exist -- conditions it has long refused to accept despite Israel's commitment to a two-state solution and persistent willingness to negotiate with its Palestinian neighbors.

After Israel-Gaza: Who won, who lost?

Odeh: Palestinian state 'overdue step'
Truce holds between Israel, Hamas
Hope and calm in Gaza after cease-fire

Israel's Arab neighbors have an important role to play. Egypt deserves credit for its efforts to craft a cease-fire, but initial inflammatory public statements and actions of its leaders unfortunately served mainly to legitimize Hamas.

If Egypt is serious about playing a positive role in the region, it will redouble its efforts to combat terrorist activities in the Sinai, police its border with Gaza, and prevent Iran and others from resupplying Hamas with rockets and other weapons. If Hamas rearms, it will be only a matter of time before the cease-fire breaks down.

Opinion: In Israel-Hamas clash, Iran casts a shadow

Despite President Obama's friendship with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, his recent behavior has been incredibly disappointing. Erdogan, not for the first time, this week referred to Israel as a 'terrorist state' and has solely blamed Israel for the conflict, despite Hamas' preceding campaign of terror.

Erdogan's anti-Israel positions are well known, but his inability to see in Hamas' behavior any wrongdoing whatsoever is deeply disturbing. Turkey and Israel for many years had a positive relationship. Their shared interests and democratic values should overcome the obstacles of Erdogan's personal views and provocative statements.

Israelis look fondly upon Turkey and its people, and they desire a better relationship with this important NATO country. Turkey can play an important role in the region, as it has done in Syria, but its ability to be a responsible partner is badly hindered by Erdogan's staunch defense of a terrorist group.

Opinion: Israel, face new reality: Talk to Hamas

The behavior of Qatar is similarly disappointing. Qatar's emir recently visited Gaza and promised $400 million in aid to the terrorist rump-state, and it's no coincidence that Hamas' escalation took place in the wake of the emir's visit and his promise of cold hard cash. Such efforts from Qatar, Egypt and Turkey not only legitimize Hamas' violent strategy and embolden its militant leaders, but also marginalize the official Palestinian Authority government of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Hamas' influence and ability to threaten Israel militarily is greatly enhanced by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Long a patron of Hamas, Iran provides significant resources and weapons to Hamas and other terrorists in Gaza. Indeed, the longer-range rockets fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are gifts of Tehran, provided for use against the Jewish state.

Any enduring solution must consider the pressing need to cut Iran's military supply lines to terrorists in Gaza. The conflict in Gaza -- as well as the one in Syria -- demonstrates that the threat posed by Iran goes well beyond its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Indeed, the most pressing challenge for Obama in his second term may be the dual task of thwarting Iran's push for nuclear weapons and combating its support for terrorism.

News: Gaza conflict leaves a 'cruel paradox' for Palestinians

The international community and especially the neighboring Arab and Muslim states, if they truly care for the Palestinians, should make clear that terrorism will never earn the Palestinians statehood and encourage all Palestinian parties to return to the negotiating table to seek a peaceful solution to this decades-long conflict.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Eric Cantor.

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