Friday 30 April 2010

Proportionate Response

I am reading another of Daniel Gordis' books which I am finding fascinating. I am becoming something of a fan of his, as I find I can really identify with what he is writing, and thoroughly enjoy his style of expressing himself. In his most recent book, Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War that May Never End (John Wiley & Sons, 2009), Gordis raises two particular issues which have struck me. They are points that I have thought a good deal about over a long time, and which don't really seem to get much airtime in the press.

The first point that he makes, is that the current war of terror that Israel continues to fight does not threaten Israel's existence. I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. I abhor the fact that a sovereign nation and its citizens should be subject to constant barrages of missiles that are fired on a daily basis. I don't know any other country in the world which is forced to endure such bad behaviour in an attempt to frighten people, or that would tolerate it. There is no doubt that the intentions of the people who are firing the rockets are to destroy Israel. What they are doing, however, is sowing fear amongst innocent Israelis and causing risk to life and limb. On the occasion that they have succeeded in getting a rocket to hit a built-up area, significant damage has been caused and lives have been lost. This atrocious situation, whilst intolerable to any country, cannot be interpreted as threatening the future existence of the State of Israel. It absolutely does not.

The second point that he makes is that Israel cannot win the war of terror that is currently being waged. He draws a parallel with the war that the US is fighting in Afghanistan. This is not a regular war between sovereign nations and their armies. The war of terror is conducted by "civilians" who use residential neighbourhoods for the purpose of storing weapons, and for firing on the enemy forces. This achieves a number of objectives. Firstly, it ensures that public opinion stays with the "civilians", as public opinion these days always seems to favour the underdog. Secondly, it plays on the senses and conscience of civilised humans who do not wish to kill or hurt civilians, even in the heat of a battle against terrorists. All the while that the war is being fought in the midst of civilian neighbourhoods, they know that civilised nations will be reluctant to fire back.

On his statement that Israel cannot win this war, I am forced to disagree with Daniel Gordis. I think that it is absolutely possible for Israel to win the war of terror just the same as I believe that the US forces could easily eradicate the Taliban in Afghanistan. All that is required in Israel's case is for a few heavy-duty bombs to be dropped on Gaza. Thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, would be killed, but the war of terror would be over. Israel has the necessary fire power and the ability to do this. It is just that Israel chooses not to exercise this option at the current time. So why, when Israeli citizens are under constant rocket attack on a daily basis, do Israeli military and political leaders choose not to put a permanent stop to this? The answer is contained in the first point above, which is that Israel's existence is not threatened. It is all about ensuring that responses to attacks are proportionate, particularly where the lives of innocent civilians are at risk. There can be no doubt that if Israel suddenly came under an attack which threatened to wipe the whole country off the map, every possible military option would be exercised. Until this happens, we need to ensure that our reactions and responses are measured, well thought-through and proportionate to the threat that we confront. This will ensure that the "collateral damage" will be kept to a minimum.

There are many who do not agree with this approach. They believe that the Palestinians deserve the full wrath of the Israeli army in view of the constant indiscriminate attacks on civilians. It is true that, when these missiles are launched in the direction of Israel, the perpetrators do not know or care if they will hit civilian areas. They would prefer it if their missiles did strike civilians to inflict as much death, damage and suffering on the Israelis as they can. In addition, they seem to give no consideration to the threat that they place their own civilian population under by firing from residential neighbourhoods. So why is it necessary to show respect when so much disrespect is received in return? Why should our attacks be measured when they throw their full military capability at us? What is the value of our military strength if we do not exercise it when our citizens are in danger?

Despite the attitude shown by our enemies who are quite happy to endanger and kill innocent civilians (theirs and ours), I am pleased that our army and our people make efforts to avoid this. I recognise that, at times, this approach costs us and even puts lives in danger. It does, however, ensure that we maintain our humanity. It is important for me that the army that represents my interests retains humanity, and does not sink to the despicable levels shown by the Palestinian militant groups. In short, I like the fact that each Israeli soldier operates within a framework which expects him or her always to behave like a mensch.

In addition to running the risk of losing our humanity, the experience that we have endured with the recent Goldstone Report also indicates how the army's behaviour is under the scrutiny of the international community. Unfortunately, even attempts to behave in the most correct manner possible seem to incur the wrath of the Israel-haters. Imagine what the reaction of the international community would be if the IDF went into Gaza in a more heavy-handed manner.

Even though the Goldstone Report has inflicted damage on Israel's public image in a most abhorrent manner, there is greater damage that could be caused to the Jewish state. The international reaction that I most fear is not in the form of Goldstone-type reports. More than this, I fear the impact that severe economic sanctions may cause. Israel has built itself into an economic miracle over 62 short years. This economic achievement could never have come about if it had to rely in its minuscule local market of 6 million people. Closing the international market to Israel's exports including technology, agricultural and other goods would decimate the Israeli economy. This, in turn, would weaken Israel's military strength and many other important aspects of the country that rely on its exports. The implementation of harsh economic sanctions will almost certainly spell the end of Israel as we know it.

If, in the eyes of the international world, Israel was to take the proverbial sledgehammer to kill the ant, this could spell the end for Israel. Even her allies may be coerced into a situation where they are forced to support severe economic sanctions. Israel would not be able to withstand such international pressure and would most probably collapse within a short period of time. In order to protect her future, and that of the Jewish people, Israel is forced not only to consider her moral stand, but also the level to which the international world is willing to continue to support her actions. Proportionate response is what it is all about, not only for the conscience of Israel and the Jewish people, but also to maintain the support of the key international players. To seem, it may seem as if "proportionate response" forces Israel into a situation of having to endure the never-ending attacks without being able to put a stop to them, until such time as something more severe happens which "justifies" a harsher response from Israel. This is precisely how the recent war in Gaza started.

It is tough for me to accept that members of the international community find the necessity to examine the level of response by Israel, and to measure whether it is proportionate or not. This all the time knowing that if their countries were being bombed on a daily basis and the lives of their citizens put at risk, the proportions would be much greater. But the rules in the Middle East are different, and the proportions are different. Like it or not, this is something that Israel needs to accept and live with. For me, what is more important than facing up to the international community is being able to face up to ourselves. In this respect, I feel we are doing a good job. One has to take into account that no national army under the same pressure as the IDF can be without its renegades or individual behaviours which run contrary to its commands. As such, no army's actions are perfect. When, however, all things are considered, I am extremely proud of the achievements of the IDF. The views of the international community can do little to change my views in this regard.

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