- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Gaza and Self-Defense

Jonathan Chait explains [1] why the latest Gaza military operation has made him less “pro-Israel” in certain respects:

Viewed in this context, the campaign of Israeli air strikes in Gaza becomes a horrifying indictment. It is not just that the unintended deaths of Palestinians is so disproportionate to any corresponding increase in security for the Israeli targets of Hamas’s air strikes. It is not just that Netanyahu is able to identify Hamas’s strategy — to create “telegenically dead Palestinians” — yet still proceeds to give Hamas exactly what it is after [bold mine-DL]. It is that Netanyahu and his coalition have no strategy of their own except endless counterinsurgency against the backdrop of a steadily deteriorating diplomatic position within the world and an inexorable demographic decline.

Chait is right about this. This is why I’ve found the predictable defenses of this operation to seem even more hollow and bankrupt than they seemed when they were being used to defend the use of force in 2008-09 or in 2006. The use of force isn’t just excessive. Force is being used with the knowledge that it will mostly kill civilians, whose deaths can then be perversely used to blame the entire conflict on the other side alone. At the same time, those deaths aren’t given the same weight or importance as the deaths of other innocents elsewhere, because the conventional “pro-Israel” view holds that all people in Gaza more or less deserve whatever happens to them.

The current operation grew out of the government’s deception [2] about who was responsible for the kidnapping of the three Israelis, but even if the original claim had been entirely true it wouldn’t have warranted the massive overkill and collective punishment [3] that have been going on for the last few weeks. Not only is the operation creating far greater evils than the ones it is supposed to remedy, but it is also difficult to identify what the purpose of the operation is. Waging war that inflicts disproportionate harm would be bad enough, but to wage a war that doesn’t seem to have any discernible strategic goal–or indeed any purpose besides raining devastation on a largely defenseless population–is inherently wrong. It’s not self-defense, and it makes a mockery of the idea of self-defense to claim otherwise.

20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "Gaza and Self-Defense"

#1 Comment By collin On July 30, 2014 @ 12:35 pm

Thanks for the take, as I have simply given up any hopes of peace here. This invasion seems like both sides are waging a propaganda battle as Israel is hailing Netanyahu as the Conquering Hero and all those bombing pictures on Al Jazeera will become a giant fundrasising and recruiting tool for Hamas. This is not going to end well for either side.

#2 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 30, 2014 @ 1:05 pm

Well,

there you go. “deception”. I think this admission which was in my mind obvious from the start to one simple reason. Hamas is not shy and never as been.

When they have engage in some act, they so state and they state why. They never did so, and anyone who understands the region in the slightest, understands, that random without cause is just not part of the game plan – there is always this peculiar accountability and why such action was taken.

I wouldn’t be surprised to discover this was not a lone cell, or any cell, but a random act, even a robbery. It is unknown if the details will ever come to light fully for several reasons:

1. The entire affair has become obliterated by Israel’s actions

2. It was not handled as it should have been handled – a criminal act, requiring investigation, evidence gathering and in this case, an opportunity to change the nature of Israeli and Palestinians relations by encouraging and cooperating in a joint investigation of a criminal act. That is my position on the rocket launches as well.

I think it is consistent with my views in response to 9/11. This becomes especially vital when it involves non-state actors, in which clean lines help establish organizational authority and clean purposes which avoid unnecessarily muddying the waters with side issues as well helps to foster community cooperation and at the very least diminishes making more enemies, that tearing down homes is bound to make.

#3 Comment By Peter On July 30, 2014 @ 1:48 pm

Do the tunnels change anything? I am genuinely curious to know what you would recommend to Israel about how to cope with a Hamas regime that devotes what scarce resources it has to building tunnels into Israel for attacks instead of spending its concrete and money on projects for its own population.

Likewise, while I sympathize with Chait’s frustration, he at least has the honesty to acknowledge the Palestinians’ rejectionist role in the rise of the Israeli right. How do you cope with the fact that the Palestinians seem to be in no way ready to accept a workable two-state solution?

I assume you are a good-faith interlocutor on this issue, despite the fact that you only critique one side. I know you see yourself as correcting an imbalance in American discourse, but at some point you have to address the weaknesses of the Palestinian position.

#4 Comment By James Canning On July 30, 2014 @ 2:23 pm

@Peter – – One might ask whether Hamas does itself a good service, putting so much effort into building those tunnels. Proving Israel’s claim that steel and concrete are “war materials”.

#5 Comment By philadelphialawyer On July 30, 2014 @ 2:55 pm

Tunnels? Please. Those tunnels come out in Israel, right? That being the case, how difficult are they really to find? And it seems to me that these tunnels have hardly led to any real losses for Israel. Indeed, until the latest assault on Gaza began, when did the tunnels ever matter at all? And, since Israel has no intention of making any fundamental changes, what is to stop the tunnel digging from resuming once the latest “incursion” is over? People held in what amounts to an open air concentration camp are going to use every tool at their disposal, including digging tunnels. Like prisoners condemned for life, what else would anyone expect? And what do they really have to lose, given that, no matter what Hamas does, Israel will find some excuse for periodic bombings and invasions.

The tunnels, like the pathetic “rockets” before them, and the kidnappings too, are a fig leaf.

Chait says this:

“It is not just that the unintended deaths of Palestinians is so disproportionate to any corresponding increase in security for the Israeli targets of Hamas’s air strikes,”

which I find to be preposterous. Not only do the strikes do nothing at all to “increase security” for Israel, which is in no danger anyway, but the deaths of the Palestinians are NOT “unintentional” at all. Israel knows that the consequences of its actions will be the deaths of lots and lots of civilians. And yet it engages in those actions anyway. At some point, the easily foreseeable results of one’s action become intentional results. We are well beyond negligence here, or even recklessness. We are now at the stage where civilians are being intentionally killed by Israel.

#6 Comment By Michael Tracey On July 30, 2014 @ 3:02 pm

@James Canning — Gazans use those tunnels to transport construction supplies into the territory. Israel besieges and blockades the Strip; they must acquire these materials somehow, in order to maintain any semblance of a civil infrastructure.

#7 Comment By Patrick D On July 30, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

Peter,

Speaking for myself, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and whoever else you care to mention, is irrelevant to the vital national interests of the United States. The “special relationship” with Israel is a strategic liability to the United States’ pursuit of its rather limited interests in the region, and increasingly, the rest of the world.

The proper goal is not to bring a balance to American discourse over their conflicts but highlight the pointless and damaging nature of United States’ relationship with Israel that drags our country into this conflict in the first place.

#8 Comment By Aaron On July 30, 2014 @ 3:25 pm

@Peter, you write, “I am genuinely curious to know what you would recommend to Israel about how to cope with a Hamas regime that devotes what scarce resources it has to building tunnels into Israel for attacks instead of spending its concrete and money on projects for its own population.”

I am not going to speak for Mr. Larison — he is more than capable of speaking for himself, and even if I correctly prognosticated his response it’s safe to say that he would still say it better…. but I can say this:

The tunnels are a legitimate military target. They’re also right on the border, and most of them were detected by satellite. There is no need for the deep incursions and bombardment of Gaza to eliminate the tunnels. Israel could have an active campaign to identify and destroy Hamas tunnels that might allow entry into its territory, and in fact should have such a program in place, but that can be achieved with minimal intrusion into Gaza.

Tunnels are not a new development. Over the years, Egypt has managed to identify and destroy many tunnels without entering Gaza.

Also, one of the primary purposes of tunnels out of Gaza is to allow for the smuggling of goods that cannot be imported into Gaza. While it’s possible that some building materials were diverted for construction of some of the tunnels, those tunnels also allow for the unauthorized import of other banned materials including fuel and construction materials. With due consideration of the assertion that the tunnels are built at least in part with diverted materials, they may actually have allowed a considerably greater quantity of building materials into Gaza than were consumed in their construction. Also, when consumer goods are made scarce by an embargo, it’s possible for the people to view smuggling efforts that allow them access to fuel and consumer goods to be a net good, even if a theoretical something else might have been built with the materials used to construct the tunnels that allow for the smuggling.

As for your statement, “the Palestinians seem to be in no way ready to accept a workable two-state solution”, that’s not actually consistent with the facts or with the results of opinion polling of the Palestinian people. Perhaps you say “Palestinian” where you mean “Hamas”, but there’s a big difference. Right now it doesn’t much matter, as there’s little reason to believe that Netanyahu now supports or ever has supported “a workable two-state solution”.

#9 Comment By balconesfault On July 30, 2014 @ 3:43 pm

@Peter The problem is that even those of us who are Israel supporters see their current position as horrible for the long term future of the nation.

The original sin is allowing the settlements in the occupied territories, and then committing the Israeli military to defending those settlements. Security for them demands that the Israelis are increasingly running an apartheid state, where basic everyday movement for a Palestinian from place to place requires time commitment that we would find absolutely intolerable.

The world is increasingly going to respond poorly to an apartheid run by Israel (who ironically was one of the last supporters of apartheid South Africa) … and at some point the country is going to be caught in an economic vice where they’ll either need to grant voting rights to people who live in Palestine, and have their government permanently and irreversibly changed by the new voting base, or they’ll face increasing isolation.

One can be sympathetic to the Israelis and still realize that they’ve committed themselves to a course which has virtually no way of ending well for them.

#10 Comment By Clint On July 30, 2014 @ 4:37 pm

Sadly,this appears to be another excuse for Israel to “mow the grass” again.

#11 Comment By steve in ohio On July 30, 2014 @ 4:44 pm

I know Fox News doesn’t provide both sides, but their commentators all seem to say that one cannot expect Israel to sit idly by while Hamas is firing countless missiles into Israel. If true, I would agree. Also Hamas has broken all past cease fires. What is “the rest of the story”?

#12 Comment By Ken Hoop On July 30, 2014 @ 5:03 pm

This not exactly a rhetorical question.

Does Rand Paul still stand by his assertion it is improper to tell how to fight a war a recipient of trillions of dollars in US aid and arguably (ref ‘Whose War’ by Pat Buchanan in these pages) tens of thousands of US lives and limbs in blood as well as treasure?

#13 Comment By Daniel (not Larison) On July 30, 2014 @ 7:55 pm

Steve wrote:

” know Fox News doesn’t provide both sides, but their commentators all seem to say that one cannot expect Israel to sit idly by while Hamas is firing countless missiles into Israel. If true, I would agree. Also Hamas has broken all past cease fires. What is “the rest of the story”?”

When the Israeli response is counter-productive–and certainly more harmful to Israeli interests than ineffectual rocket strikes–maybe the best option among many bad ones is to do nothing.

Doing a counter-productive “something” is always worse than doing nothing.

#14 Comment By Bob Jones On July 30, 2014 @ 8:16 pm

@steve in ohio,

Well, one cannot expect Hamas to sit idly by while Israel fire countless rockets into its territory and urban centers, thus killing countless civilians, not can one?

Also, Israel has certainly broken its fair share of cease fires as well.

So what is the rest of the story?

#15 Comment By A.K. On July 31, 2014 @ 8:26 am

Steve –

Israel initiated this latest round by raiding homes, arresting hundreds of people, and demolishing homes in an attempt to “search” for the teens that they knew were already dead. Hamas didn’t fire rockets. Israel then launched airstrikes into Gaza, killing several Hamas members. Hamas launched a few rockets, killing no one. Israel responded by wailing about terrorism as they rained bombs onto Gaza killing hundreds. They continue to cry “terrorism! rockets!” as they kill innocent people in hospitals and U.N. shelters.

So yes, strictly speaking Hamas shouldn’t be firing rockets. Also, in an idealized Utopia the Palestinians wouldn’t be living under perpetual military occupation oppressed by a nation that gets 3.5 billion per year plus extras like 250 mill for Iron Dome plus unconditional diplomatic support from the strongest country in the world. But yeah sure I guess the truth is somewhere in the middle and both sides do it and if only they would both try harder etc.

#16 Comment By AnotherBeliever On July 31, 2014 @ 9:16 am

Netanyahu claims the campaign will continue until the tunnels are destroyed. That is a concrete objective. Some media outlets are suggesting this could be accomplished within days. That would be nice, but “the campaign will be over soon” is one of the most common and least true phrases ever uttered in war zones.

Leaving that aside, are the air strikes actually destroying the tunnels? I don’t know. However, it seems their main targets are above ground, and I question their judgment in target selection and engagement. Urban combat precludes strikes which are not calculated to destroy essential enemy capabilities and minimize civilian casualties. This means in many cases that you don’t return fire. Is it worth eliminating a hasty rocket launching site in an area crowded with civilians, when the firer is likely to have used up his battery and moved on by the time the rounds hit?

Yes, you will make mistakes and civilians will die, that’s war. But when facilities sheltering civilians from your strikes are struck multiple times, and people on the ground state that they have passed those coordinates up a dozen times, something has gone wrong.

And think beyond next Tuesday. What will the shell shocked residents of Gaza think and feel about your nation for decades to come? Take it from someone who’s spent some time in interesting parts of the sunny Middle East, the best tactics on earth won’t avail you absent strategy. And you don’t have the luxury of being located on a separate continent, buffered from your enemies.

#17 Comment By Peter On July 31, 2014 @ 9:53 am

@balconesfalt

I agree completely about the settlements. They are a massive obstacle to peace as well as facilitating radicalism among Israelis. They need to go.

@Aaron

I’m not an expert on the technology and logistics behind discovering and destroying the tunnels. However I’m skeptical that Israel knows where they all are as easily as you make it sound, considering Hamas surprised and killed some soldiers the other day out of one of those tunnels. And while it’s true that the tunnels into Egypt are for smuggling, the tunnels into Israel are not. They are for attacks on Israelis.

As for the two-state solution, Israel has certainly done much to make it harder to achieve, which I deplore. The lack of trust on both sides seems to be a large barrier to making progress. I believe that the Fatah leadership is ready for a two-state solution. But I’m not convinced that the leadership has done enough to prepare the Palestinian people for the inevitable compromises that a two-state solution will require. Polls show Palestinian support for two states hovers around 50%, but when questions about specific details come up the opposition rises considerably. Another poll from last month (before the violence) shows that some 60% of Palestinians believe their government should be focused on reclaiming all of historic Palestine. Those aren’t reassuring numbers if you are an Israeli, especially since it would only take a plurality of the population to elect a group like Hamas to power, as happened in Gaza.

Again, I don’t place all the responsibility on the Palestinians. If it sounds that way it’s because I was pushing back against Larison’s one-sidedness. Absolutely Israel has done much wrong, and sadly I think realistically the road to peace there is very long.

#18 Comment By Duncan On July 31, 2014 @ 10:10 am

Steve wrote:

” know Fox News doesn’t provide both sides, but their commentators all seem to say that one cannot expect Israel to sit idly by while Hamas is firing countless missiles into Israel. If true, I would agree. Also Hamas has broken all past cease fires. What is “the rest of the story”?”

Oh, don’t worry about Fox on this story — you’ll hear the same line on NPR. But it’s false. First, the missiles fired into Israel are not “countless,” they can be and have been counted. Even if they were “countless,” they’d be remarkably ineffective, doing very little actual damage. I saw an item yesterday about an Israeli mother and her daughter being treated for “shock,” and while I don’t mean to minimize the trauma of living where missiles are being fired, neither one of them had any visible injuries, which can’t be said for Palestinians under Israeli attack. This can’t be credited to Iron Dome, either; it’s probably as ineffective in stopping incoming missiles as the Patriot missiles were during the first Gulf War (which means, roughly zero percent effective). So Israel’s response is disproportionate, to put it gently. If Gaza were to respond proportionately to Israeli violence, on the other hand, the civilian casualties would be much greater than they are.

Second, it appears to be [4], not Hamas, who usually breaks ceasefires and truces. But again, you’d hear the falsehood, the propaganda, as readily from “liberal” media as you do from Fox.

#19 Comment By Duncan On July 31, 2014 @ 10:16 am

Peter, I think your comments are pretty one-sided themselves; you missed quite a bit of Aaron’s rebuttal.

This bit was interesting: “Another poll from last month (before the violence) shows that some 60% of Palestinians believe their government should be focused on reclaiming all of historic Palestine.” Well, if the reverse is considered a legitimate Israeli goal, and it is, why shouldn’t it be for the Palestinians?

“Before the violence” is disingenuous, by the way: Israeli violence against Palestinians is ongoing, daily; the spike in its level whenever Israel decides to “mow the lawn” shouldn’t distract us from that reality.

#20 Comment By Aaron On July 31, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

@Peter: I have not disputed that the tunnels are a legitimate military target, but with that in common can we agree to work from the facts? You say, “… Hamas surprised and killed some soldiers the other day out of one of those tunnels…” — are you seriously asserting that the fact that Israel located and was destroying the tunnel is evidence that they could not find the tunnel? Also, when you tell us what the Gaza tunnels are for, what’s your actual evidence that tunnels into Israel aren’t used for smuggling? Where can I find a list of the terrorist attacks you are suggesting resulted from the use of the tunnels?

As for whether you think the Palestinian government “has done enough to prepare the Palestinian people”, or for that matter if you believe that Israel has a similar failing, your opinion and $2 will buy you a cup of coffee. With due respect to your feelings, if the P.A. is ready for a viable two-state solution, Israel should be jumping at the opportunity — and unfortunately, as you appear to recognize, [5] as [6] it is not. Do you believe that his references to the West Bank as “Judea and Samaria” are meant to prepare the Israeli people for a Palestinian state?