Day after day the advice rains down on Israel: Restrain yourself, pull back, look at the cost in human lives, show respect for global opinion. It comes from all the usual places — the UN, the European Union, Oxfam, Russia, The Globe and Mail.
It may sound wise, but there’s a problem: Israel has already proven itself the most restrained nation in history. It has set an all-time record for restraint.
Try to imagine any other state receiving randomly targeted rockets from a sworn enemy and refraining from violent response. Russia’s foreign minister has urged Israel to end its Gaza campaign because of “the suffering.” Can one imagine how long Russia would keep its bombers on the ground if Georgia fired rockets onto Russian soil? France, as the current head of the EU, deplored “disproportionate use of force.” Is France prepared to hold its fire if Belgium starts lobbing explosives across its border? Would Russia or France tolerate 5,500 missiles exploded on its soil? That’s Israel’s record.
The Globe and Mail made it clear from the start that Israel was up to no good. “ISRAEL’S SHOCK AND AWE” said the front-page headline. The motive, according to the sub-head, was to re-assert Israel’s power to intimidate. The article, by the deplorable Patrick Martin, said “Few people expected Israel to deal such a blow, with such carnage, against a group whose repeated rocket attacks posed no existential threat to the powerful country.”
On the other hand, he decided two paragraphs later that “It should come as no surprise,” since Israel has favoured deterrence since 1948. So Israel is wrong to do something unexpected and wrong to do what everyone expected.
Israel, the world’s most endangered democracy, has once again been cast as a cruel aggressor, its tormentors as victims.
The Israelis are fighting an enemy of a kind that few of us can even imagine. Who, for instance, stores missiles in a place of worship? When Israeli aircraft bombed a Gaza City mosque on Wednesday, having learned rockets were stored there, their bomb set off a chain of secondary explosions. Those were the rockets. Sometimes Israel notifies civilians of an impending attack, so Hamas responds by placing civilians on the roofs of targeted buildings. This follows the policy articulated last winter by a Hamas representative in the Palestinian parliament: As human shields, he said, women, the elderly and children excel, “as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: We desire death as you desire life.”
In September, 2005, when the Israelis moved out of Gaza, the new regime could conceivably have seized the chance to demonstrate that a peaceful two-state policy will work. It was possible. Palestinians are a talented people, as they demonstrate whenever they migrate to countries offering opportunities rather than victimhood. And it was obvious that Gaza’s only hope for prosperity depends on co-operation with Israel in trade.
But a few months later, Hamas defeated Fatah in the Palestinian election. Hamas wasn’t even vaguely interested in improving the lives of 1.5 million Gaza residents now under its control. It raised an army of 16,000 and built 50 kilometres of tunnels to Israel and Egypt. It began smuggling in rockets from Iran. In June, 2007, during a violent Palestinian vs. Palestinian struggle, Hamas killed or frightened off Fatah’s supporters. Rockets flying toward Israel, targeted at population centres, soon became Gaza’s foreign policy.
Until now, Israeli casualties have rarely been heavy, but psychological and economic damage has been severe. People are frequently sent running to bomb shelters, which depresses business, disrupts schools and produces widespread stress. The latest rockets from Gaza have a 40-kilometre range, meaning they can reach 900,000 Israelis.
This week, Israel destroyed many Hamas rocket sites. Even so, a quick cease-fire (if forced on Israel by the West) will allow Hamas to reorganize itself, restock its armoury and begin anew the campaign to destroy Israel. That’s what it knows how to do. It has no other significant program.
Israelis have not gone to war just to silence the rockets for a few months. They want (at least their supporters hope they want) an end to Hamas rule and the destruction of all its weapons. That won’t resolve the argument between Palestinians and Israelis, but it will demonstrate that Israel’s passivity can’t be taken for granted. It will open up the possibility of a relatively democratic Gaza. It will severely disappoint Hamas’s sponsors, Iran and Syria.
In this war, the Israelis are fighting on civilization’s side against a terror state. What can we do? Understand.
Photo: People protest against Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip, in front of a banner with a picture of Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, at Amman stadium in Amman, Jordan, on Jan. 2, 2009. The banner reads “Gods will is greater than the enemy’s folly”. Credit: Majed Jaber/Reuters.