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As strange and incomprehensible as the Middle East may be to most Americans, at least one concept, universal to mankind, is at play. People and nations have a right to defend themselves.

Yes, many influences are at play in the never-ending hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians, but the fact is that Hamas has been raining rockets on Israeli cities and Israel has a right not simply to respond, but to neutralize the threat. Thus, it has sent tanks and troops into the Gaza Strip. And once again in the Middle East, innocent people are dying along with the guilty.

The recent violence appears to have begun with the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers who were later found dead in the West Bank. Apparently in response, three Israelis abducted a 16-year-old Palestinian boy and, according to Israeli prosecutors, beat the teen in the head, strangled him into unconsciousness and then burned him to death in a nearby forest.

Such are the risks for Israelis and Palestinians.

It was in that toxic and combustible environment that Hamas began firing rockets into Israel. After determining that he could not eliminate the threat through air assaults, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the ground assault to begin Thursday. On Friday, he said it would be significantly broadened

The primary goal is to destroy what is thought to be a network of tunnels allowing militants to enter Israel while also degrading Hamas’ rocket capabilities. Both are legitimate goals. Indeed, Netanyahu would be derelict not to pursue them.

Importantly, the Israeli government says it does not want to reoccupy Gaza, which it left nine years ago. Nor is it seeking to overthrow the Hamas government, fearing the ensuing power scramble could make matters worse. Those are key factors for critics of Israel’s defensive action to remember.

Those critics include nations such as Turkey, whose prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has condemned Israel for its airstrikes and ground offensive, saying they harmed efforts to fashion a cease-fire. He’s right, no doubt, but at some point, a cease-fire is not the goal. How long should Israel be required to endure the rocket attacks before concluding that a cease-fire is not in the offing?

It is also important to remember that Israel promptly accepted a cease-fire proposal offered this week by Egypt – a proposal that Hamas immediately kicked away. Hamas didn’t get what it said it wanted in the proposal, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that what it really wanted – and what it always wants – is to prolong the hostilities with Israel.

Whatever else may be said about Hamas’ leadership, it is not naive. It understands that sending rockets into Israel will prompt a military response without changing anything except to cause more misery.

It’s a destructive, inhumane policy that can’t be condoned.