Latest update: January 17th, 2013
Now that the dust has settled in Gaza following Israel’s Pillar of Defense operation, it is easy yet again to feel sorry for the Palestinians. After all, as anyone already knows who clings desperately to The New York Times, the still-lingering images are so evidently palpable and painful. And the Arab suffering – the grievous suffering. Wasn’t it disturbingly “one-sided” and “disproportionate”?
Once again, however, the disjointed images must be examined in meaningful context. Once again, these images deceived. Examined in an appropriately historical and legal perspective, they would become recognizably stark misrepresentations.
Yes, of course the people of Gaza (together with those Israelis still forced to live under terrorist rocket attacks) are victims of regional violence. But their particular victimization was not caused by an outside enemy. Rather, Palestinian suffering remains the foreseeable result of a relentlessly cruel, insensitive, and flagrantly criminal Hamas leadership. This is true in legal as well as “merely” ethical terms.
Israeli resort to force in Gaza has never been gratuitous or contrived. Unlike their terrorist foes, Israelis genuinely regret every indispensable resort to arms. Unlike these bitterly recalcitrant enemies, Israelis receive no inherent joy from the killing of others.
Somehow, in the seemingly endless Palestinian holy war against Israel, every sham is conveniently glossed over with a shimmering patina. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and related terror groups operating from Gaza always take calculated steps to ensure that Israeli reprisals will kill or injure Palestinian noncombatants. By carefully placing elderly women and young children in those specific areas from which lethal rockets are intentionally launched into Israeli homes, hospitals, and schools, Palestinian leaders openly violate the most elementary expectations of the Law of War.
The systematic use of “human shields” – the same practice originally championed by Hizbullah in Lebanon – is more than an expression of immorality or cowardice. It also represents a very specific crime under international law. The correct jurisprudential name for this notably egregious crime is “perfidy.”
Now, after a plainly inconclusive end to Pillar of Defense, several major Palestinian terror groups will begin to prepare for eventual mega-terror attacks on Israel. Such unprecedented attacks, possibly in cooperation with certain allied jihadist factions, could include chemical and/or biological weapons of mass destruction. Over time, especially if Iran should agree to transfer certain portions of its growing inventory of nuclear materials to terror groups, Israel could even face Palestinian-directed nuclear terrorism.
It is a conceivable threat that I have been writing about for more than forty years.
It is important to remember that nuclear terror assaults against Israel could be launched from trucks and ships, not only by rockets and missiles.
Should Israel negotiate directly with Hamas to reduce these risks? To what end? Hamas, after all, is still in the dubious process of mending fences with the Palestinian Authority/Fatah, and neither of the two major Palestinian factions can speak authoritatively for other more or less murderous terror splinter groups.
With whom should Israel negotiate?
What government on earth could reasonably be expected to sit back passively and allow its unprotected population to face a preventable mass slaughter? Would we in the United States sit by quietly, as rockets rained down upon American cities from terrorist sanctuaries – safe havens situated somewhere on our northern or southern borders? Could we imaginably allow such carnage to continue with impunity? Would capitulation and surrender be the proper or excusable reaction of a sovereign state that is sworn to protect its noncombatant populations?
In Pillar of Defense, Israel accomplished an impressively high rate of Iron Dome interceptions against incoming rockets from Gaza. Still, it would be a serious mistake to extrapolate from such relatively limited success to dealing with the much more complex strategic threat from Iran. Should Iran be permitted to become operationally nuclear, which now seems very likely, that Islamist regime could subsequently send ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads against Israel. Here Israel’s core ballistic missile defense (BMD) interception system, Arrow, would require a fully 100 percent rate of success. Of course, any such perfect reliability would be effectively impossible to achieve.
Though it is something that is both unrecognized and unacknowledged (what else is new?), Israel has always been willing to keep its essential counterterrorism operations in Gaza consistent with the established rules of humanitarian international law. Palestinian violence, however, has been persistently in violation of all civilized rules of engagement.
About the Author: Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.
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