Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likened his country’s chief enemies — Hamas and Iran — to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Nazis in a fiery speech at the United Nations on Monday.
“ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree,” Netanyahu argued. “Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas.” There is no evidence whatsoever that Hamas, the Palestinian organization that runs the Gaza Strip and is in perpetual war with Israel, has any connection to ISIS, an Islamist terrorist militia that has conquered territory in Iraq and Syria.
The comparison “doesn’t hold up” but Netanyahu is using it to justify his recent war in Gaza, explained New York University professor Mohammad Bazzi, a former foreign correspondent in the Middle East. “It was important to make this comparison again at the U.N. to connect this idea that Israel faces the same type of threat from Hamas as Iraq and Syria and world face from ISIS.”
Fundamentally, Bazzi explained, they’re quite different: Hamas is a nationalistic movement focused on Palestine. ISIS is focused on growing a transnational Islamic state.
He added that Netanyahu is also trying to counter complaints from within the United Nations and human rights groups who strongly protested Israel’s actions in Gaza this summer. More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed and 18,000 homes destroyed by Israeli attacks during 50 days of fighting with Hamas in Gaza. The majority of Palestinian casualties were civilians. Six Israeli civilians and 66 Israeli soldiers were also killed.
In his address, Netanyahu not only condemned Hamas but put it on par with the Nazis, the German party responsible for the death of approximately 6 million Jewish people during World War II. “The Nazis believe in a master race, the militants believe in a master faith,” he said.
Netanyahu’s speech came as the United States is engaged in a bombardment of ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, reentering the Middle East after years of working to get out of it. The threats from ISIS and their beheading of Westerners have fueled new fears of terrorism and led to the creation of an international coalition of more than 40 countries working to defeat the group.
Israel has battled terrorism for much if its existence but, in his address Monday, Netanyahu sought to string together Hamas, ISIS and Iran. He accused the Iranian president of trying to manipulate the West into easing international sanctions while Tehran moves closer towards nuclear weapons. Netanyahu has been a vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s diplomatic talks with Iran. “To defeat ISIS and to leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is the win the battle and lose the war,” Netanyahu said to applause, warning of the power Iran would wield with nuclear capabilities. And borrowing from the playbook of former President George W. Bush, Netanyahu added: “Should the sanctions against Iran be lifted — as Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani requested in his address — “the world’s most dangerous regime in the world’s most dangerous region will obtain the most dangerous weapon.”
Netanyahu “called it the ‘Islamic State of Iran,’ which is a clever play. The official name is the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Bazzi added. “With this war on ISIS, there’s been a lot of calls to involve Iran on that.”
The Israeli leader also used his remarks to defend his country’s conduct during the fierce fighting in Gaza this summer and pushed back on allegations that civilians were purposely targeted.
“We deeply regret every single civilian casualty. The truth is this: Israel was doing everything to minimize civilian causalities,” he said. “Hamas was doing everything to maximize Israeli and Palestinian civilian casualties!”