Sunday, December 28, 2008

In proportion

In The American President, Michael Douglas' character is advised that a military response to a Libyan attack on an American military mission to Israel is "proportional." He replies something along the lines of, "Someday, someone is going to have to tell me the value of a proportional response."

Israel's response to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip has been notably disproportionate. I suggest that that is the right course for Israel to take.

Palestinian rocket attacks were renewed after a 6-month cease-fire between Israel and Hamas expired last week. While a number of authorities have suggested that both sides need a renewed cessation of hostilities, Palestinian forces opened a renewed fusillade within days.

This writer favored the unconditional Israeli evacuation of Gaza. I did not foresee--as the Israelis did not--that Hamas would monopolize Gaza, and that it would continue its unconditional refusal to recognize Israeli existence.

Many would suggest that Israel react to the renewal of Palestinian rocket fire--notably ineffective, given its volume--through limited responses aimed mainly at those who set off the missiles, with occasional strikes at specific leaders among Hamas and its allies. The trouble with that approach is that it does not work and, worse, that the "collateral damage" from such attacks arouses hostility among Palestinians and across the Arab world.

What to do? Should Israel ignore the attacks from Gaza? It is tempting to say yes, that the cost--a life here, damaged businesses there, some thousands of civilians suffering from PTSD or something like it--is not so great as to require response. Such thinking lacks intellectual discipline.

Hamas and its ilk do not simply oppose Israeli policy--they seek the destruction of the State of Israel. Perhaps they do not desire the extinction of Israelis (at least Jewish Israelis), but perhaps they do. In any event, it is clear that if Israel were to collapse many thousands--and perhaps many tens of thousands--of its citizens would die, and that the rest would be rendered destitute refugees in a diaspora that would dwarf the one in the Bible.

A "proportionate" response would do nothing to discourage further attacks on Israel. It would do nothing to keep Hamas and its allies from developing more deadly weapons, as they have already begun to do.

There is no guaranty that Israel's massive attack (which has continued today) will change Hamas' mind about its ultimate aims, or even its tactics. But nothing else has worked, and by bringing disproportionate damage to its enemies, Israel might--just might--begin to convince ordinary Gazans that Hamas' methods, if not its ultimate ambitions, are not worth the cost. Hamas is anything but democratic, but eventually even it must listen to those it seeks to govern.

Is it tragic that innocent people will die? Yes. But it is no more tragic if they are Palestinians than Israelis and, given that, tactics most likely (even if "most likely" is still considerably less than probably) to change Hamas' behavior are the right ones to use.

1 comment:

Leanderthal, Lighthouse Keeper said...

It's difficult to understand why Hamas started the rocket attacks again, unless it clearly wanted to provoke Israel into what Ehud Barak is calling war to the death.

The hard liners in Israel might have been looking for a chance to redeem its military after its poor showing in Lebanon.

There's troubling talk that Israel has been preparing for this for months, perhaps wanting to get it done before Bush is gone. But that still leaves the Hamas provocation as something against which a retaliatory attack can be justified.

I wonder what the US would do if Mexico or Cuba started lobbing bombs into US territory. Perhaps it might be restrained at first, but I doubt if it would take years of provocation before a massive response was undertaken.

Now I wonder if Israel just might extend the attack to Iran before Bush is gone, justifying it on the basis of complicity between Hamas and Tehran.

I also wonder how much, if any, of this Bush and/or Obama knew about this in advance. Obama is supposed to have been briefed on such stuff hasn't he? He has clearly been an outspoken supporter of Israel's right to defend itself.

Sometimes it's necessary to let bad actors know that though one is not vengeful one is provocable.