Because I haven’t had the time to write anything of my own, and because he’s already done a better job than I would have done, allow me to associate myself with Damon Linker’s recent column on the current Israel-Gaza war, which he dubs, The Stupid War:
Note that I didn’t say The Immoral War. With Hamas and smaller jihadi groups hurling rockets at Israeli cities from the Gaza Strip, Israel is clearly justified in responding. . . And though the lopsided body count — over 150 Palestinian dead compared to zero Israeli casualties — is striking, it’s not Israel’s fault that its Iron Dome defensive shield has been so effective at protecting Israeli citizens from the more than 800 missiles that have been launched at the country in the past two weeks. If militants in Gaza had better weaponry or Israel was less adept at protecting itself, many would be dead on the Israeli side.
So yes, Israel is morally justified in defending itself against incoming missiles. But that tells us nothing at all about whether the war is wise. And it most certainly is not.
Why not? Because the only reason the war is happening at all is because of Netanyahu’s political miscalculation, and because there is no realistic and concrete aim to be achieved:
Instead of responding like a statesman to the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers, by announcing the facts of the case right away and seeking to dissipate the predictable rage, [Netanyahu] went out of his way to encourage it, hoping he could marshal it for political purposes.
He was wrong. And that appalling error of judgment is what has brought us The Stupid War, which will accomplish absolutely nothing beyond creating yet more suffering, mostly on the Palestinian side. What can Israel possibly hope to gain from its ferocious bombing campaign? It certainly doesn’t seem to be stopping the volley of Hamas rocket attacks into Israel. Does Netanyahu expect Palestinians to be cowed into submission? You can’t send an effective realpolitik threat when your opponent considers the status quo worse than any bombing campaign Israel dares engage in.
And what if Israel went farther and all but leveled the Gaza Strip and killed thousands of Palestinians? They might be cowed into submission then, but at the cost of inspiring worldwide condemnation the likes of which Israel has never seen. Even Netanyahu surely knows better than to turn Israel into one of the world’s foremost pariah states in this way.
So what can Israel possibly hope to achieve?
Maybe a brief suspension of Hamas rocket attacks. Maybe. But soon enough, the region will find itself in a new, even more volatile status quo, weighed down even more heavily by anger and injustice, grievance and fear. Israel’s air strikes can lead nowhere but more provocation, more retaliation, and more tragedy for all sides.
And that’s why this war is so stupid.
Indeed, if the Swedish Academy gave a Nobel Prize for political idiocy, Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance over the past month would make him a shoo-in.
The only thing I would add is that Operation Protective Edge shouldn’t be called The Stupid War. Operation Cast Lead and Operation Pillar of Cloud were similarly campaigns that Israel backed itself into without a clear plan or objective, and which reached predictably equivocal and unsatisfying conclusions. The Second Lebanon War might be characterized similarly. Netanyahu has some real competition for his Nobel. And no doubt will have more competition in the future.