Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How Israel Loses Even While It Wins

Israel's disregard for Gaza'a civilians is not only immoral, it is against its own best interests.

In the end this war is all about deterrence: making the enemy think twice about attacking Israel, knowing how fierce Israel's retaliation will be. Ehud Barak has admitted that this - not removing Hamas' military capabilities - is the real goal. According to Haaretz,
Barak believes Operation Cast Lead has achieved its main objectives, first and foremost bolstering Israel's deterrent power.
(Ironically, it now appears to be the political level, headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, arguing to "let the IDF win": i.e. totally destroy Hamas.) Barak's position is, in fact, long standing IDF doctrine, dating back to Ariel Sharon's command of unit 101 in the early 1950s. "For every Israeli civilian killed we will kill 10 Arab civilians," was its unofficial motto, as it undertook reprisal raids against "fedayeen" raiders into Israel from, then Egyptian controlled, Gaza. The policy didn't work then, and it won't work now - even if the IDF has now upped the us to them ratio to somthing approaching to 1 to 100.

The reason is not that there is no deterrence effect. Certainly some people are deterred, and the Hamas leadership will think twice and plan more carefully in the future. But there is a countervailing effect as well: an increase in bitterness, hatred of Israel that motivates, and a hopelessness and dispair that leads to an "I no longer care if I die" attitude. Over the 60+ years of Israel/Palestine conflict this Palestinian bitterness has overcome the deterrence effect every time. As long as Israel continues to sow bitterness, all its deterrent power will do it no good.

This was brought home in the following story from the New York Times. Commenting on the fact that an estimates 100,000 Gazan's have now fled there homes, the Time writes:

Palestinians interviewed in Gaza on Monday cited another reason for their flight: Israel soldiers, they said, are firing rounds of a noxious substance that burns skin and makes it hard to breathe.

A resident of southwest Gaza City on Monday showed a reporter a piece of metal casing with the identifying number M825A1, which Marc Garlasco, a military analyst with Human Rights Watch, identified as white phosphorus, typically used for signaling, smoke screens and destroying enemy equipment.

In recent years, experts and rights advocates have argued over whether its use to intentionally harm people violates international conventions.

[IDF] Major Dallal would not say whether Israel was using white phosphorus, but said, “The munitions we use are consistent with international law.”

Still, white phosphorus can cause injury, and a growing number of Gazans report being hurt by it, including in Beit Lahiya, Khan Yunis, and in eastern and southwestern Gaza City. When exposed to air, it ignites, experts say, and if packed into an artillery shell, it can rain down flaming chemicals that cling to anything they touch.

Luay Suboh, 10, from Beit Lahiya, lost his eyesight and some skin on his face Saturday when, his mother said, a fiery substance clung to him as he darted home from a shelter where his family was staying to pick up clothes.

The substance smelled like burned trash, said Ms. Jaawanah, the mother who fled her home in Zeitoun, who had experienced it too. She had no affection for Hamas, but her sufferings were changing that. “Do you think I’m against them firing rockets now?” she asked, referring to Hamas. “No. I was against it before. Not anymore.”

That last line explains all you need to know about why Israel's current "deterrent" policy is self defeating.


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