A colleague and I were waiting for an airplane at Ben-Gurion International Airport just outside Tel Aviv a couple of weeks ago. Suddenly, sirens sounded. We quickly, quietly followed escorts to a shelter.
There was no panic — and no surprise. Everyone knew that Hamas was launching missiles at the airport, just as they had been launching missiles at towns and cities throughout most of Israel. We were confident that the Iron Dome missile defense system, a joint Israeli-American project — and a spectacular feat of engineering — would protect us by shooting the missiles out of the air before they could hit their intended victims, the men, women and children in the airplanes taking off and landing. And so it did. And so it has continued to do in the days since.
Which raises the question: Why did the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Tuesday decide to ban flights to Israel for at least 24 hours? Was this really a safety issue based on the landing of a rocket about a mile from the airport and, coincidentally, the shooting down of a passenger plane over Ukraine?
Or was the FAA acting politically, attempting to put additional pressure on Israel as its troops go about the hard, bloody work of eliminating Hamas missiles and the "attack tunnels" Hamas has built to infiltrate terrorists from Gaza into Israel?
What we do know is that the FAA has handed a victory to Hamas — an organization designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist entity, one committed, in its very charter, to the "obliteration" of Israel, to killing Jews, and to waging "jihad."
But a Pyrrhic victory this is likely to be, at least for the Palestinians suffering under Hamas rule. Over recent days, Israel agreed to several ceasefires on humanitarian grounds. Each time, Hamas has declined. The FAA's action has now, no doubt, persuaded many Israelis that they have no choice: They must now destroy every missile hidden in Gaza before calling a halt to hostilities; they must thereafter do whatever is necessary to prevent new weapons from being smuggled in.
What's more, the FAA has now diminished the chance for a "two-state solution" to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Such proposals call on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank — as Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, a move that failed to give either Gaza or Israel peace, but rather transformed it into a launching site for missiles, the most sophisticated smuggled in from Iran.
Gaza is more than 50 miles from Ben-Gurion. The West Bank is just five miles away from the airport. At this point, it will be more difficult than ever for Israelis to contemplate turning over that land even to moderate Palestinians, knowing that before long Hamas may force them out and set up their missile launchers. The FAA may not understand all this but Hamas does.
Whatever the FAA's intentions, it has made a bad situation worse. It should now do whatever it can to limit the damage. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should tell the FAA to think very hard about whether to extend the ban one minute longer than absolutely necessary.