Monday, January 05, 2009
Victor Davis Hanson: The Gaza Rules
Victor Davis Hanson, Tribune Media Services Inc.
Friday, January 2, 2009
The Israelis just struck back hard at Hamas in Gaza. In response, the United Nations, the European Union and the Arab world (at least publicly) expressed their anger at the killing of more than 300 Palestinians, most of whom were terrorists and Hamas officials. For several prior weeks, Hamas terrorists had been launching rockets daily into Israeli towns that border Gaza. The recent volleys of missiles had insidiously become more frequent - up to 80 a day - and the payloads larger. Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists were reportedly supplying their own training and expertise.
These terrorists point to the Lebanon war of 2006 as the template for provoking an Israeli counter-response that will bog down the Israeli Defense Forces in the streets of urban Gaza and ensure that Palestinian civilians are harmed on global television.
Watching both this week's war and the world's predictable reaction to it, we can recall the Gaza rules. Most are reflections of our postmodern age, and completely at odds with the past protocols of war.
First is the Middle East doctrine of proportionality. Legitimate military action is strangely defined by the relative strength of the combatants. World opinion more vehemently condemns Israel's countermeasures, apparently because its rockets are far more accurate and deadly than previous Hamas barrages.
If America had accepted such rules in, say, World War II, then by late 1944 we, not the Axis, would have been the culpable party, because by then once-aggressive German, Italian and Japanese forces were increasingly on the defensive and far less lethal than the Allies.
Second, intent in this war no longer matters. Every Hamas unguided rocket is launched in hopes of hitting an Israeli home and killing men, women and children. Every guided Israeli air-launched missile is targeted at Hamas operatives, who deliberately work in the closest vicinity to women and children.
Killing Palestinian civilians is incidental to Israeli military operations and proves counterproductive to its objectives. Blowing up Israeli noncombatants is the aim of Hamas' barrages: the more children, aged and women who die, the more it expects political concessions from Tel Aviv.
By this logic, the 1999 American bombing of Belgrade - aimed at stopping the genocide of Slobodan Milosevic - was, because of collateral damage, the moral equivalent of the carefully planned Serbian massacres of Muslim civilians at Srebrenica in 1995.
Third, culpability is irrelevant. The "truce" between Israel and Hamas was broken once Hamas got its hands on new stockpiles of longer-range mobile rockets.
Yet, according to the Gaza rules, both sides always deserve equal blame. According to such morally equivalent reasoning, World War II was only a tragedy, not a result of German aggression. Once the dead mounted, it mattered little what were the catalysts of the outbreak of fighting.
Fourth, with instantaneous streaming video from the impact sites in Gaza, context becomes meaningless. Our attention is glued to the violence of the last hour, not that of the last month that incited the war.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 to great expectations that the Palestinians there would combine their new autonomy, some existing infrastructure left behind by the Israelis, Middle East oil money and American pressure for free and open elections to craft a peaceful, prosperous democracy.
The world hoped that Gaza might thrive first, and then later adjudicate its disputes with Israel through diplomacy. Instead, the withdrawal was seen not as a welcome Israeli concession, but as a sign of newfound Jewish weakness - and that the intifada tactics that had liberated Gaza could be amplified into a new war to end the Zionist entity itself.
Fifth and finally, victimization is crucial. Hamas daily sends barrages into Israel, as its hooded thugs thump their chests and brag of their radical Islamic militancy. But when the payback comes, suddenly warriors are transmogrified into weeping victims, posing teary-eyed for the news camera as they deplore "genocide" and "the Palestinian Holocaust." At least the Japanese militarists did not cry out to the League of Nations for help once mean Marines landed on Iwo Jima.
By now, these Gaza asymmetrical rules are old hat. We know why they persist - worldwide fear of Islamic terrorism, easy anti-Westernism, the old anti-Semitism, and global strategic calculations about Middle East oil - but it still doesn't make them right.
Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. To comment, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page B - 9 of the San Francisco Chronicle