With the demise of Osama bin Laden, Israel and the Western world can breathe a collective sigh of relief.
After nearly a decade of dead ends and false leads, America finally succeeded in tracking down and eliminating al-Qaida's charismatic and evil founder, setting a commendable example of counterterrorism at its best.
By decapitating al-Qaida, the US military and intelligence services have made us all safer and more secure in a world that seems increasingly perilous.
For Israel, however, this development raises an interesting question: Will Washington now better understand and appreciate what we are up against in our own war on terror? In his televised address notifying the American people of the operation against Bin Laden, President Barack Obama said: "As a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies."
The next time Israel must strike at Hamas, let's hope Obama will take his own words to heart, and apply the same principles to the Jewish state's right of self-defense that he does to America's.
After all, the parallels between al-Qaida and Hamas could not be clearer. Both are Islamic fundamentalist extremist groups that employ violence and terror to further their goals, and have no qualms about murdering the innocent.
They are deeply anti-Western and anti-Israel, and share an abiding and inflexible opposition to any sort of peace or coexistence with the "infidels."
HENCE, IT should come as no surprise that even as much of the world was commending bin Laden's death, Hamas officials were openly criticizing it.
On Monday, Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, told reporters: "We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior." "We regard this," he said, "as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood."
Clearly, Hamas views bin Laden's group as fellow travelers in the all-consuming struggle against Israel and the West. With so much in common between the two, why should Hamas be treated any differently? Indeed, if the United States pursues an unrelenting war against al-Qaida, as it should, then one hopes it would appreciate Israel's need to do the same vis-à-vis Hamas.
Note that over the past decade, the US did not try to negotiate with al-Qaida, reason with it or reach a bargain. There were no mass releases of al-Qaida terrorists, no trading of prisoners, and no attempts to pass along soothing and reassuring messages.
Successive American governments realized that their country was at war with a foe that was ideologically and theologically determined to destroy them. With such enemies, the only possible and logical course is to defend oneself, as Americans well understand.
This point takes on added significance in light of the unity deal between Hamas and Fatah, which paves the way for a unified Palestinian government and the integration of Hamas gunmen into the Palestinian security services.
The prospect of a Hamas takeover of Judea and Samaria, in addition to Gaza, has suddenly become very real. Should such a development come to pass in the coming months, it would put the terrorist group in control of territory abutting Israel's coastal plain. This would be simply intolerable, and would almost certainly require an Israeli military response.
When and if that day comes, it would be nice to think that Washington will stand behind us, fully aware that when it comes to groups such as Hamas and al-Qaida, there is no room for appeasement.
As President Obama himself noted in his address on Sunday: "On nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qaida's terror: Justice has been done."
Israel and its victims of terror deserve no less.