Friday, July 25, 2014
About that 'proportionality' thing
Sarah N. Stern
In the war in Iraq, the total number of civilian casualties has been conservatively estimated at 133,000. Conservative estimates for the war in Afghanistan of civilian fatalities are in the 21,000 range as of May 2014.
Nobody wants to see innocent civilians killed anywhere. Least of all, the government of Israel, which warns people to leave their homes by telephoning, dropping pamphlets, and issuing the warning of a light "knock on the roof" bomb to make it perfectly clear to "please evacuate a building, immediately."
War is an ugly and a horrible thing. I am positive that the United States did not set out as its objective before entering into Iraq and Afghanistan to kill as many innocent civilians as possible. When rockets were flying into London, Britain and the Allies carpet bombed Dresden, it was not the objective; but before the days of embedded journalists who take heart wrenching pictures of beautiful, wounded children or crying mothers, people actually fought wars to win them.
However, in the twisted, distorted morality of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, who is equally culpable of playing this "numbers game" and shouting "war crimes" at the United Nations, the Palestinian leadership has been encouraging people not to evacuate their houses as the Israeli government has warned them to, but have sent out statements to "Use your chests as brave weapons against the Israeli bombs" so that these people might become yet another morbid statistic.
All of this is cynically calculated, so that Israel can once more be condemned in the court of international public opinion for doing what any other nation would do under the same circumstances.
These circumstances include the incessant firing of bombs into Israeli civilian areas, aimed specifically at the major cities and population centers of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beersheba, Ashdod, Ashkelon and at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Hamas obviously knew that aiming missiles at Ben-Gurion would shut off all air traffic from Israel, and that was precisely what they intended to do. We know that according to Article 41 of the United Nations Charter, Israel not only has the right, but the responsibility to defend its civilian population. That, according to the 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, is the very reason why we have nation states, so that we do not have "bellum omnium contra omnes" ("a war of all against all"). It seems like most Western leaders of the world, including the entire European Union, plus Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and even U.S. President Barack Obama are clear about that fact, and have defended Israel's right to defend its civilian population against the indiscriminate use of force.
But once Israel begins to win, that "proportionality" argument never ceases to emerge. And folks such as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry seem to want to rush into the region to broker a cease-fire. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "I condemn this atrocious action. Israel must exercise maximum restraint and do far more to protect civilians."
What, might I ask, is Israel supposed to do to protect Palestinian civilians? Is it supposed to downgrade its weapons' trajectories so they do not go to specific targets, but like Hamas weapons, aimlessly go into residential neighborhoods? Is Israel supposed to dress its soldiers in nonmilitary uniforms, launch its rockets from under schools, playgrounds and hospitals, and hide them in private homes in residential neighborhoods? Is it supposed to dig tunnels, dress up like Palestinians and emerge to commit acts of terror?
Of course this is preposterous. It is however, no more preposterous than the absurd notion that Israel and the Palestinians are supposed to have parity in their collateral damage, or that when the body count, unfortunately begins to mount, we have to immediately "broker a cease-fire." Do we need to make sure that the Islamists have murdered over 154,000 Americans to even out the collateral damage that we inflicted in Iraq and Afghanistan?
We know that Hamas does not have the ability to defeat Israel on the battlefield, and that is why they are cynically using their own civilian lives to win the public relations battle.
In this time of asymmetrical warfare that is being waged by Islamist terrorist groups against democratic nation states, we have to either resolve to fight to defeat the enemy and win, or resign ourselves that all of us, not just in Israel, but throughout the free Western world, will be running into our shelters and sealed rooms every couple of years.
Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of EMET, the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy shop in Washington.