This is against my better judgment, but here we go: Israel and Palestine

  • March 19, 2009
  • Abu Muqawama
  • Israel, Palestine

Although this blog steers clear of all things Israeli and Palestinian, the New York Times asked me -- in light of the civilian deaths in Gaza -- to consider proper rules of engagement for conflicts in which civilians are caught up in urban combat.

The recent Israeli campaign to end rocket fire originating from Gaza left 1,300 Palestinians dead and many wondering about the morality of such seemingly “disproportionate” operations. Questions of morality in warfare, though, are notoriously difficult to referee and inspire more emotion than sober thought.

A related question to ask — and one more accessible to traditional tools of measurement — would be one concerning effectiveness. In pursuing military options that carry with them such a high human cost, did the Israel Defense Force achieve operational successes at the expense of Israel’s long-term strategic interests?

In modern conflict against violent nonstate actors like Hamas, Hezbollah or guerrilla groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, it may be in the best interests of the dominant military actor to adhere to rules of engagement that go beyond the laws of land warfare and international conventions. As the United States military has discovered in both Iraq and Afghanistan, civilian casualties have a direct effect on the effectiveness of operations in the strategic sense.

Traditionally, Israel — much like the United States — has subscribed to a Jominian concept of warfare that privileges the destruction of the enemy’s fighting forces above other considerations. In the Clausewitzian model, though, the supreme question of war has to do with whether or not military force served its purpose in advancing national political aims.

The time may arrive when Israel decides that highly kinetic, enemy-centric military operations do not necessarily serve Israel’s longer-term strategic aims. Instead, Israel may want to adopt lessons learned from the United States experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and place a higher emphasis on the prevention of civilian casualties at the expense of lethality and force protection.

I wrote this before I had a chance to read some of the disturbing testimonies of Israeli soldiers who fought in Gaza.

What’s great about Gaza — you see a person on a path, he doesn’t have to be armed, you can simply shoot him. In our case it was an old woman on whom I did not see any weapon when I looked. The order was to take down the person, this woman, the minute you see her. There are always warnings, there is always the saying, ‘Maybe he’s a terrorist.’ What I felt was, there was a lot of thirst for blood.

Ha'aretz and other Israeli newspapers promise to run more of these stories in the days to come.

[A] reserve officer who looked at the transcript Wednesday said: "This is not the IDF we knew."

Okay, I may live to regret this, but take it away, comments section. Please, though, avoid anything that could reasonably be interpreted as anti-Jewish or anti-Arab.* I would very much like to keep this discussion about the issues I discuss in the Times piece -- with a similar level of sobriety -- without descending into hate speech. Thanks.

*Regarding some of the comments thus far, I'm not trying to get into an argument over semantics here. "Anti-semitic", "judeophobic", whatever... You guys and girls are all adults and know what I'm talking about. Let's just keep the conversation lively without descending into ugliness.