Proportionality? Why?

During this and each previous armed conflict between Israel and Gaza, Israel has been accused of a non-proportional response to Hamas’ rockets and mortars.

This is usually “proven” by lopsided “body counts” in which Israel suffers minimal casualty numbers, while Hamas and Gaza suffer much larger losses.

I have been puzzled for some time as to what would constitute a “proportional” response by Israel.  Should they simply design and build rockets identical to those of Hamas and their friends, and fire them indiscriminately at Gaza every time a rocket is fired at Israel?  Or should they fire mortars back every time a mortar is fired at Israel?  That, of course, would be the epitome of “proportionality”.

However, being curious, I did some research into the concept of war and its objectives.

Generally, a country goes to war to achieve a concrete objective.  In the case of Nazi Germany, the objective was world domination. In the case of Hamas, the objective is the elimination of the state of Israel.  This is no secret, it is written explicitly and often in the Hamas charter, and their leaders reaffirm it at every opportunity.

In Israel’s case, quite clearly, the objective, which has NOT been reached at any point in Israel’s existence, is the cessation of hostile actions against Israel. More specifically, the objective with Gaza and Hamas is to stop the firing of rockets and mortars against Israel, and to stop terror attacks emanating from Gaza through tunnels, border incursions, suicide bombings, etc.

So, why do we worry about “proportionality”?  What is it about the concept of “fairness” in warfare that drives many to lament the use of force to achieve a worthy objective?

What do some of the world powers and recognized authorities on war (e.g. Clausewitz) state as goals for warfare in their “doctrines”?

From Wikipedia (, these are a few selections to illustrate my points:

“United States Principles of War”

  • Objective – Direct every military operation toward a clearly defined, decisive and attainable objective. The ultimate military purpose of war is the destruction of the enemy’s ability to fight and will to fight.
  • Mass – Mass the effects of overwhelming combat power at the decisive place and time. Synchronizing all the elements of combat power where they will have decisive effect on an enemy force in a short period of time is to achieve mass. Massing effects, rather than concentrating forces, can enable numerically inferior forces to achieve decisive results, while limiting exposure to enemy fire.


“British Principles of War”


  • Concentration of Force

Concentration of force involves the decisive, synchronized application of superior fighting power (conceptual, physical, and moral) to realize intended effects, when and where required.

  • Economy of Effort

Economy of effort is the judicious exploitation of manpower, materiel and time in relation to the achievement of objectives


  • Selection and Maintenance of the Aim

A single, unambiguous aim is the keystone of successful military operations. Selection and maintenance of the aim is regarded as the master principle of war.


Principles of war in the Soviet Union and Russia


  • surprise, decisiveness and active seeking to secure the initiative
  • full use of all means of combat
  • coordination and interaction of all types and branches
  • decisive concentration
  • simultaneous attack in depth
  • firm and continuous command and control
  • inexorability and decisiveness during the mission
  • Concentration – Decisive concentration of the essential force at the needed moment and in the most important direction to achieve the main mission.
  • Depth – Destruction of the enemy throughout the entire depth of their deployment.
  • Morale – Use of political and psychological factors to demoralize opponents and break their will to resist.


In addition, Clausewitz stated (among many other things) the following:

Strategic Offense

  • The strategic offensive pursues the aim of the war directly, aiming straight at the destruction of the enemy’s forces

Clausewitz also included in the essay general principles of strategy by saying that Warfare has three main objects:

  • (a) To conquer and destroy the armed power of the enemy; always direct our principal operation against the main body of the enemy army or at least against an important portion of his forces
  • (b) To take possession of his material and other sources of strength, and to direct our operations against the places where most of these resources are concentrated
  • (c) To gain public opinion, won through great victories and the occupation of the enemy’s capital
  • use our entire force with the utmost energy
  • the decisive point of attack
  • never to waste time
  • surprise plays a much greater role in tactics than in strategy
  • pursuit
  • forces concentrated at the main point
  • an attack on the lines of communication takes effect only very slowly, while victory on the field of battle bears fruit immediately
  • To cut the enemy’s line of retreat, however, strategic envelopment or a turning movement is very effective
  • be physically and morally superior
  • stores of supplies, on whose preservation operations absolutely depend


I have left off many points contained in the linked/quoted article. The reader is encouraged to read the entire article.

As we can see, our Western allies, who I suspect have more “moral” principles of war than do any of Israel’s enemies, clearly embrace a doctrine of the use of overwhelming force to achieve their objectives in the least possible amount of time, with the fewest possible friendly casualties.

So, what does it all mean?

It means, simply, that the war is designed to get the other party to do something you want them to do. Your objective should be clear and unambiguous, as in the case of Israel, which has declared repeatedly that their goal is the achievement of “quiet” from Gaza. They want the rockets, mortars, and terror attacks to cease.

To that end, the concept of “proportionality”, as imposed by politically correct politicians and human rights activists, clearly has no application in modern (or any) warfare.

In the interests of reaching the objective, it is clearly advantageous to utilize overwhelming force to destroy and demoralize the enemy to the point that they cannot or will not resist anymore. The Allies did this in WWII with mass bombings of Germany and Japan, and finally the atomic bombings in Japan. While massive numbers of civilian casualties were sustained on the side of the enemy, even larger numbers of casualties on our side were avoided by utilizing overwhelming force and forcing the enemy to surrender.

Israel has NOT achieved this objective, in spite of wars with Gaza in 2009 and 2012, nor has it achieved this now, in 2014, since Hamas is still in power, still threatening Israel with more rockets and attacks, and, in spite of their apparent willingness to implement a ceasefire, they are still advocating the eradication of the Jewish state and Jews worldwide.

This is not a victory.

I understand the constraints under which Israel has to operate.  They are subject to boycotts, pressure from their putative allies, withholding of necessary military supplies (e.g. Hellfire missiles held up by the US State Department, presumably at the direction of President Obama), and they are subject to world opinion, which inexplicably supports groups like Hamas against Israel.

In spite of those constraints, Israel must find a way to reach the majority of residents of Gaza and convince them that war against Israel is a zero-sum game.  If they pursue war, Gaza will be destroyed, they will not have access to the world, and Israel will cease to supply them with humanitarian aid, electricity, gasoline, oil, etc.  If Egypt wants to supply those things, that is fine, but not Israel, as long as Gaza is in a declared state of war with Israel.

Proportionality is clearly not an answer.

In war, you either go all out, or go home.  Half measures do not work, they simply embolden the enemy, as we see in Gaza, where Hamas is already declaring victory because Israel didn’t and couldn’t do what was necessary, even though clearly they have the military capability to do so. When your forces are overwhelmingly concerned with avoiding civilian casualties, at the expense of the lives of your own forces, an army simply cannot prevail decisively, and decisive victory is required to stop aggression.

So, we will repeat this exercise in a few years, once Hamas and their proxies have had the opportunity to re-arm and increase their support among the “useful idiots” of the world.

I can only hope that, at some point, the concept of proportionality will evaporate and Israel will apply the massive force necessary to bring Hamas to its knees, or rally the population of Gaza to the point that they install a more reasonable government, amenable to actual peace with Israel and the Jews.

About the Author
John Poris was born in the USA, spent a "gap year" in Israel after high school, then returned to the US to study. He completed a degree in Near Eastern Studies and Languages at the University of Michigan before making Aliyah in 1977. He was a member of kibbutz Grofit for 4 years, served in the IDF (Nahal), then returned to the USA for engineering school, then advanced degrees in Engineering and Business. He is divorced, and currently lives in Florida.
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