Thoughts On “Pillar Of Defence”

On Wednesday I was so wrapped up in Irish news that I missed Israel re-starting large-scale military operations in Gaza. The following is an expanded version of my thoughts that I shared on social media throughout yesterday, so forgive me if it is a bit all over the place.

It is the same old thing from Israel: Air attacks on terrorist targets, and no real care for collateral damage. Israel is still following the “Inflict pain on population, they’ll blame Hamas” strategy, trying to hit rocket sites while inflaming the local population against those firing them. But it doesn’t really work, as the surge in recruitment for Hezbollah after 2006 and Hamas after Cast Lead (the Emir of Qatar just promised to start pumping money into Gaza) showed.

It is undeniable that Israel is getting attacked from Gaza. But is the response proportionate?  Israel have been looking for “easy” wins ever since the 2006 Lebanon disaster, to re-establish their deterrence credentials in the region and placate a population displeased with the result of the 2006 war. They could easily decide to send troops into Gaza again, if they haven’t already by the time I publish these words.

Israel just has a problem with restraint. It has right to defend itself certainly, but always goes too far.

The upcoming Israeli elections and mooted attempts to upgrade Palestine’s UN status, give me hope that this is just an enhanced sabre rattling exercise from the PM, designed to appease an electorate that errs on the side of aggression when it comes to relations with everyone outside of their borders. I hope both sides pull back (Hamas’ UN plans lead nowhere good right now), but I have a gut feeling they won’t. It didn’t take much for Israel to commit to full scale war with Hezbollah in 2006, and this operation strikes me as much the same.

But I just don’t see how further escalation is to Israel’s advantage. It will get the votes out I’m sure, but what about three years from now? Ground war in Gaza brings no long term benefit to Israel, it simply emboldens Hamas and those who support that organisation.

For those who don’t know, I have come to believe a Palestinian state of some kind is not only a requirement, but an inevitability. Not because of international opinion, or Hezbollah or anything like that. It is because Palestinians are starting to outnumber everyone else in Israel.

Israel can either take the firmest hand in creating that Palestine state now, or the Palestinians will create it themselves at some point. Numbers are numbers. Crude to say, but Palestinians are just outbreeding Israelis. Realities have to be dealt with.

That state doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) happen overnight. Palestine has to be made ready to stand on its own in terms of governance, resources, employment, appropriate levels of militarization. Israel will have to face that reality, that the Jewish population will be, or maybe already is, the minority. Steps should start being taken to prepare Palestine for independence.

Israel isn’t going anywhere either of course. Nor should it. But trying to make Palestinians leave by inflicting misery is a losing strategy, just as it has been for generations. One of my favourite maxims is that “Strategic Bombing Doesn’t Work”. The same principle applies here. Subjecting a civilian population to attacks in order to try and break their will and affect their political opinions has failed consistently in history.

Israel presses on with making Gaza a prison camp and building settlements, and will probably keep doing so without international intervention (that simply won’t come). Until they get the sharp, vicious shock of a real, popular, Palestinian uprising. Five years, a decade, half a century from now. It’ll come on the present course.

For the international world watching, you should realise by now: Israel doesn’t care about dead babies. Further, Israel doesn’t care what you think about that. Israel was killing babies before most of us were born. Israeli military leaders have been well quoted on their aim of inflicting distress and pain on the civilian populations of target countries. For them, the fact that the rockets reign down still on Israel gives them carte blanche, with the impotence of international law, that empty formula, to do as they please. The rockets missing or being intercepted doesn’t matter to Israel. As someone I interact with through the blog put it “If someone fires a gun at you it’s not your fault if they miss, you are entitled to fire back. War is not about fighting fair.”

It’s a generalization I know, but so many of my pro-Palestinian-ish friends refuse to even recognise that rockets are fired at Israel. I don’t mean that they dismiss them as unimportant or argue about proportionality. They don’t even mention them, ever. They’ve picked their bad guy and I find that a disturbing way to formulate foreign policy views. Israel and its supporters do have the selective blindness themselves of course, when it comes to civilian casualties, but even they tend to at least acknowledge in their defences of Israel that such things happen.

And, naturally, Hamas doesn’t much care for Israeli babies either. One side is lucky enough to have Iron Dome.

Ah, Iron Dome! Makes a proportionate response 90% more appropriate! Someone should tell Israel that of course. The technology to intercept and destroy most of the missiles coming at Israel is a wonder, and something that I hoped would lead to greater proportionality when it came to reprisal strikes. I’ll admit, its interception rate for this conflict has actually been below my expectations (if you believe the IDF, around one in three interceptions), but these kind of systems can improve over time.

While Israel has right to defend itself, it would be untrue to say that it faces a catastrophic danger from neighbouring rocket strikes. That ties into proportionate responses. But Israel remains locked on their ever-present strategy that is questionable from a moral standpoint (if that matters to you) but is also increasingly questionable from a practical standpoint. Is Israel really making life better for itself with this new violence? I cannot really claim that it is, barring the most unlikely successes in their stated aims.

I also doubt any foreign country will get involved, any more than they did last time. Israel would almost love another war on the scale of 67/73. A conventional conflict where they could slaughter neighbours armies with ease, show off the power of their air force on a foe who can’t just run and hide in a rathole somewhere on the Lebanese border. Not like the wars of the last few decades. Israel has never adapted properly to an asymmetric foe like the ones it faces today. This latest escalation might be another roadmark on the painful path to that level of warfare. Lessons have to start being learned sometime. All the drones and air superiority they want isn’t going to get rid of all rocket sites. 2006 proved that.

Egypt won’t do anything but condemn, even with the new regime. Turkey is too involved in their own messy conflict in Kurdistan to play the moral high ground card. Same as Syria and Jordan and everyone. It is just not in their interests to get involved. Money is one thing, but when the shots start firing, the Arab world has shown time and again that it prefers to stay out of it.

And, as always, the Gaza situation illustrates why international law is meaningless. Words on paper, nothing more. I say that without abject condemnation as well. International law has always been flimsy and subjective. Just stating facts. I usually sneer at people who use “international law” to condemn Israel. What’s the point? It clearly doesn’t apply to the west, as Iraq showed, does it?

On the Israeli/Palestine discussion: I don’t care what happened, regards territorial changes pre-1950. Israeli’s are there now, and aren’t leaving. “Who has the better historical claim?” is a nonsense approach to the problem. We should be asking “How best to divide for the future?”

For those following the war: Always take everything both sides say in Gaza with a massive grain of salt. Both lie and distort. Doesn’t mean people on ground are wrong when they talk about death toll or civilian targeting, but don’t instantly believe them like so many seem to. “Retweet and forget” is all too commonplace in this day and age.

Speaking of Twitter, the IDF twitter account is like the evolution of propaganda happening before my eyes. The leap of the propaganda battle into the social media realm happened a while ago – after all, who can forget the flame war between ISAF and Islamic militants in Afghanistan? – and this is just the latest extension of it. This might be the first war where one of the participants coined its hashtag.

It might be bizarre seeing armies tweet insults at each other, but this is the world we live in now.

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3 Responses to Thoughts On “Pillar Of Defence”

  1. Paul says:

    That’s a excellent article. Takes account of both arguments! Well done

  2. David Betz says:

    According to BBC a few hours ago Israel has struck 1,350 targets in Gaza and 94 Palestinians have been killed, half of them civilian. I don’t think that your claim that ‘Israel doesn’t really care about dead babies’ really stands up to the empirically observable statistics on the bombing campaign which show it to be just about as calculated and precise as it is possible for a bombing campaign to be. Why do you use such hyperbole then?

    You could argue that no bombing campaign can be just–many critics of Israel do–but you don’t. You acknowledge they’ve a right (moral and legal) to defend themselves and to act to stop rockets raining down on their citizens. Good! I do not think, however, that you are correct in the way that you are approaching proportionality as a matter of jus in bello. The principle of military necessity is more than adequately sufficient to justify the targeting of rocket sites. Once you have determined that an attack is militarily necessary then the question of proportionality is really one of using no more force than is required to achieve that. I don’t see the problem there for Israel.

  3. Pingback: Happy Third Birthday To Me | Never Felt Better

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