Friday, January 16, 2009

A few thoughts relative to Israel and Hamas and why Israeli tactics work

Israel hinted this morning that its military action against Hamas may soon be winding down. So, before it fades from the headlines, I thought I would venture a few thoughts and questions.

Smuggling tunnels

These seem to be as much a focus of Israeli military action as rocket sites and individual Hamas leaders. Since the only other country bordering Gaza is Egypt one must assume these tunnels go under the wall that Egypt built to keep out the Palestinians. The treaty between Israel and Egypt requires Egypt to patrol and keep that border secure, specifically to prevent weapons from entering Gaza. Clearly, either Egyptian officials are incompetent, or are being bribed to look the other way, or they are actively complicit in aiding the Palestinians in acquiring rockets and other munitions. Why does no one ever point a finger at Egypt and its responsibiities?

Proportional response

This hoary proposition raised its head during the Hezbollah battle in 2006 and we have heard it occasionally in this one. The allegation is that Israel is over the top in responding to Hamas's repeated rocket barrages. These have been going on for years and I have heard various figures, 5,500 or 6,500 such attacks. I wish someone making this accusation would actually follow it up with examples of what would be considered a proportional response: an equal number of killings, an equal number of rocket attacks (with appropriate pro rata adjustments for the accuracy of the Israeli rockets), or what. People should be banned from using this expression until they can explain clearly what it means in reference to Israel's wars.

Collective punishment

We are repeatedly assured that Israel is guilty of collectively punishing the Palestinians for the sins of Hamas. Without getting into the obvious issues of an enemy that hides itself amongst the non-combatants and the problem posed by considering the election results that brought Hamas to power (80% voted for Hamas), one wonders why no reflection is ever made of the impact of terrorist activity perpetrated by organizations like Hamas, aided and abetted by those who support them, but are not of them.

When suicide bombers blow themselves up on buses, subways, aircraft, and in buildings, shopping areas, restaurants, night clubs, etc., they are inflicting collective punishment on the larger society that is victimized by such activity. Airline travel is a horror show today mainly because of Palestinian collective punishment (highjackings) in the 1970s. The cost of the Olympic games is about double because of the requirement to keep Israeli atheletes safe so that there are no repeats of the collective punishment dished out by Palestinians at the 1972 games in Munich. When the head of the Canadian Islamic Congress decrees that every Israeli citizen over the age of 18 is a legitimate target for murder by Palestinians he is talking about collective punishment.

Hezbollah's so-called victory

The conventional wisdom is that Hezbollah came out the winner in the 33 day war with Israel in 2006. It won only in the sense that it was not destroyed. Israel lost only because it set unwinnable goals for itself at the beginning and had to change course part way through. The fact is that Hezbollah was handed a terrible beating by Israel. It lost about one-third of its trained fighters.

What military organization in the world could effectively carry on a war with losses of 33% of its soldiers in the first 30 days? That would would be the equivalent of the United States losing 500,000 soldiers in its invasion of Iraq (it only committed 150,000 to that venture). Total U.S. losses in three and one-half years of combat in WWII amounted to 400,000.

This is why we have only seen a couple feeble attempts by perhaps rogue elements in Hezbollah to attack Israel this time out. Hezbollah certainly has the fire power, but it doesn't have the will.

Some of my friends like to argue with me that Israel's tactic don't work. Well, they worked to forge peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and they have now caused Hezbollah to have second thoughts about taking on the Jewish state.

Within the limiting context of what peace is achievable in the Middle East, I would say they work.

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