by Christopher Barder
Freeman Center For Strategic Studies
January 1, 2009
In an echo of the condemnations of the summer 2006 counterattack on Hisballah, Israel has again been condemned for its strikes against terrorist targets in Gaza. Let us be clear: there is no "occupation" of Gaza by Israeli forces; there are no settlements of Jews living there any more; terrorism is not a name for "freedom fighters" since by definition it means attacking civilian targets for political/religious or quasi political purposes and Hamas’s rockets are part of an assault against Israel’s existence. Hamas is not interested in conference induced peaceful solutions.
Article 13 of Hamas’s Charter declares: "Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion. Nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion. Its members have been fed on that…. There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with."
Israel has never targeted civilians; almost uniquely it has made provision to provide the other side’s people with medical and other humanitarian relief despite their constantly polling a minimum of 50% in favour of attacks on Israeli civilians. It has maintained warnings even to the extent of leaving voicemail messages to Gazans not to stay near arms placements (in their homes or elsewhere) because of future attacks. This limits the element of surprise to timing, as opposed to tactical operations, to some degree. Some of these practices may be regarded by some hard-nosed military personnel elsewhere, as excessively diligent, especially if they do not recognise the necessity of "purity of arms" doctrines. It has been well observed that "Western armies are engaged in asymmetric warfare against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, yet no such statements are made with regard to these legitimate battles in the war on terrorism."1
Certainly, the targeting has been a product of remarkably precise intelligence gathering, absolutely belying the accusation of knee-jerk retaliatory responses or callous disregard of "collateral casualties".
As Dr. Lerner has put it, "There is a straightforward answer to those who claim that Israel is carrying out a ‘massacre’ or ‘holocaust’ in Gaza: Don't insult the IDF.
If the IDF wanted to carry out a ‘massacre’ or ‘holocaust’ in Gaza there would be tens of thousands dead - not hundreds. Gaza City alone is full of residential buildings full of civilians that Israel could have leveled overnight. And if the purpose of the exercise was to level residential buildings full of civilians, the IDF could line up artillery and sweep neighborhoods instead of wasting Israeli taxpayer's money on expensive airborne attacks.
Simply put: it is silly to assert that when the IDF kills several hundred in expensive pinpoint attacks that Israel is trying to carry out a ‘massacre’ or ‘holocaust’.2
According to the European Jewish Press "The European Union urged an immediate halt to Israeli air strikes and Palestinian attacks in and around Gaza, and condemned the ‘disproportionate use of force’."3 In Britain the Prime Minister shifted position overnight against Israel; and the Liberal Democrats, not represented by the extraordinary Dr. Tonge this time, opened up with Ed Davey, the foreign affairs spokesman, branding the bombings "disproportionate" and "unacceptable".4 Well might the world be described as calling for an end to violence, but it never leant on Hamas in any serious manner when it was sending missiles against school buses and houses, it supported boats running Israel’s very limited blockade, and it never forsook the Hamas regime diplomatically with any serious definite action – so in fact "violence" refers to surgical strikes by Israel, whose right of self-defence and deterrence is seen as at best equivocal and at worst, near non-existent.
A British intelligence report made it clear that Hamas freely uses Britain in a major way. "The media empire of Hamas includes a satellite television station, newspapers, a radio station, internet sites in eight languages, and book publishing. With these tools, Hamas disseminates the message of extremist Islam and incites to violence and terrorism to a range of target audiences in the Palestinian Authority, the Islamic and western world, and to Arab/Moslem communities in the West."5 On May 20, 2008, The New York Times reported that France has been having a dialogue with Hamas, including the leadership.6 So much then for the effectiveness and sincerity of the EU condemning the Hamas organization as a terrorist one.
Israel has appeared the villain despite Khaled Abdel Shaafi, director of the United Nations Development Programme in Gaza, denying that there is a humanitarian crisis. In December 2008, he told Canada's Globe and Mail, that, "This is not a humanitarian crisis... It's an economic crisis, a political crisis, but it's not a humanitarian crisis. People aren't starving."7 It is therefore hardly surprising that when, finally, perhaps sadly belatedly, Israel hits back, it runs the serious risk of yet another public relations disaster. This must be avoided if at all possible and all in a position to do so must try and influence media reporting in order to establish the truth and the validity of Israel’s case, which, boldly put, may be equated with it.
It has been pointed out that Israel must have a security doctrine capable of dealing with the threats of a war of attrition on the northern border where Hisballah are talking of attacking in sympathy with Hamas, and with the Hamas threat. That means striking hard and not simply in a parallel and so proportionally limited manner – which would be counterproductive for Israel’s purposes and damaging to peace in the region in the longer term. At its weakest such a doctrine would recognise that Israel cannot be hermetically sealed against every projectile permanently.8
"Israel does not have to be dragged into a war of attrition with Hizbollah. Israel’s test will be the intensity and quality of its response to incidents on the Lebanese border or terrorist attacks involving Hizbollah in the north or Hamas in the south. In such cases, Israel again will not be able to limit its response to actions whose severity is seemingly proportionate to an isolated incident. Rather, it will have to respond disproportionately in order to make it abundantly clear that the State of Israel will accept no attempt to disrupt the calm currently prevailing along its borders. Israel must be prepared for deterioration and escalation, as well as for a full scale confrontation. Such preparedness is obligatory in order to prevent long term attrition. The Israeli home front must be prepared to be fired upon, possibly with even heavy fire for an extended period, based on the understanding that the IDF is working to reduce the period of fighting to a minimum and to create an effective balance of deterrence.
This approach is applicable to the Gaza Strip as well. There, the IDF will be required to strike hard at Hamas and to refrain from the cat and mouse games of searching for Qassam rocket launchers. The IDF should not be expected to stop the rocket and missile fire against the Israeli home front through attacks on the launchers themselves, but by means of imposing a ceasefire on the enemy.
By instilling proper expectations of the IDF response among the civilian population, Israel will be able to improve its readiness and the resilience of its citizens. Still, the IDF’s primary goal must nonetheless be to attain a ceasefire under conditions that will increase Israel's long term deterrence, prevent a war of attrition, and leave the enemy floundering in expensive, long term processes of reconstruction."
The above is anything but a best outcome assessment. But it is incumbent upon Israel that life in southern Lebanon and Gaza not be tenable on an every day level if aggression against Israel from those places occurs. That is the minimum necessary deterrence required to protect its citizens.
It has been observed that Hamas’s supposed isolation has not stopped weapons imports; that all Hamas targets have been civilian by design; that it could have had a truce; that it has no intention of living peacefully with Israel. Nonetheless an "expert" like Ian Black has written in the Observer of an exact moral and practical equivalence: "It is a depressingly familiar scenario, a cycle of provocation and reprisal that periodically escalates into full-blown war. There is no simple account of events leading up to the current confrontation that does justice to the amassed sense of grievance on both sides. But two specific events have played a decisive role: the decision earlier this month by Hamas to end a six-month ceasefire and elections in Israel due in February."
We must be clear. A military endeavour must precede any talks where hostilities have not been prevented by good will or negotiation by any means before; and appeasement has never worked when it comes to calming Arab loathing of Israel, whether inculcated by education or social indoctrination. Israel’s case should be respected as cast-iron. Hamas has not isolated its factories and foundries from its civilians and in exposing them to danger it has acted deliberately provocatively towards Israel and illegally by every convention. That Hamas has not been suitably condemned, by the West, for humanitarian violations against its own population is revealing – and must be demonstrated by Israel.
The fog of war must not allow Israel to be condemned when it has patiently endured being the victim. Not this time. No more false accusations of a disproportionate response again; because to be proportionate means to cause fear of further aggression and this Israel must instil in its hating foes once and for all.