Salo Aizenberg
Salo Aizenberg

The four absurd criticisms of Israel’s war conduct

Much of the media and many experts and observers have succumbed to what can be described as a complete loss of rationale thinking when it comes to evaluating the current Israel-Hamas war. Israel’s critics have invented an entirely new set of illogical rules of war for Israel that one can only conclude is aimed at leaving the Jewish state defenseless and allowing the terrorist group Hamas to attack freely. There are four key themes that are propagated in articles, interviews, social media and by well-known comedians, all of which are simply absurd.

Using the Ratio of Deaths to Decide Which Side is Right or Wrong

It has been noted repeatedly that the ratio of deaths in Gaza to Israel is about 20:1. To those pointing out the disparity it therefore follows that Israel’s war conduct is unjust, while Hamas’ is not really of much concern, because, well look at the numbers. This thinking is infantile, as the stronger side in war usually inflicts more casualties on the weaker side, and ignores intent. If one reviewed the statistics for WWII the conclusion would be that Germany was in the right and the allies the evil aggressors.

The other conclusion that can be drawn by the focus on casualty ratios is that somehow Israel’s actions would be acceptable if more Israelis died. As Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan put it, “many commentators seem to be suggesting that it would be better if more Jews were dead to balance the books.”[i] If Hamas succeeded in a rocket attack that resulted in a large number of Israeli deaths, perhaps due to an Iron Dome failure, would Israel’s actions suddenly be more acceptable to its critics? They never answer this question that exposes the ridiculous nature of their thinking.

The military campaign to eliminate ISIS in Syria and Iraq demonstrates the incredible hypocrisy in how Israel’s conduct is treated versus the rest of the world. The battle against ISIS was conducted in part by the Combined Joint Task Force, a U.S.-led coalition which included Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE and UK. The task force reported that airstrikes from 2014 through 2019 led to 1,257 civilian deaths which were characterized as unintentional. Other credible estimates cited by The New York Times shows at least 7,500 civilians killed.[ii] Few coalition soldiers were killed resulting in a casualty ratio far above the current conflict in Gaza; in fact no one bothered to even calculate the ratio. While civilian deaths were lamented, the general international attitude was praise for the final destruction of ISIS.

Urging Israel to Act “Proportionally”

The concept of proportional use of force is inane, as no country’s military operates on the principle of responding to aggression with no greater force than is used against it. To highlight the absurdity of the criticism some have jokingly suggested that Israel simply fire rockets into Gaza to respond in exact proportion against Hamas.

The actual concept of “proportionality” in war states that: “Launching an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is prohibited.”[iii] This is not what critics of Israel mean. They actually expect that Israel should “go light” on Hamas because Israel is stronger. A recent comment by television host Trevor Noah encapsulates this preposterous thinking: “I just want to ask an honest question: If you’re in a fight where the other person cannot beat you, how hard should you retaliate when they try to hurt you?” Writer Bari Weiss replied: “Just so we have this straight: A country should accept a terrorist group launching deadly rockets at its civilian population because a comedian thinks that the terror group won’t win?”

In fact, all military leaders seek to employ greater force than their enemy to ensure victory, which is obvious and should require no further explanation. The concepts of “overwhelming force” and “shock and awe” were implemented by the U.S. in wars in the Middle East and are regularly adopted by armed forces around the world to defeat their enemy. Somehow Israel is seen as immoral due to its greater power and is expected to use a lower amount of force against Hamas under some invented notion of “proportionality” that critics seek to apply only to Israel. Israelis interviewed on foreign television should refuse to answer the question on proportionality, act perplexed and ask the interviewer to explain what they mean with an example.

Decrying Israel’s Iron Dome Compared to Gaza’s Lack of Defenses

Incredibly, Israel has been castigated for having a rocket defense system since Gaza does not have similar defenses for airstrikes. The bizarre notion is that it is inherently unfair that one side in a conflict has better defensive measure than the other. Under this thinking Israel should not aggressively respond to Hamas’s rocket fire since Israel can “deal with it” — ignoring the 12 civilian deaths, significant property damage and human trauma, tens of millions of dollars of cost for the Iron Dome interceptors, and the fact that rocket fire has caused 70% of the Israeli population to enter bomb shelters numerous times.

An article in The Washington Post even suggested that Iron Dome perpetuates the conflict as it allows Israel to avoid resolving the conflict through negotiation; the article does not suggest that the pathway to peace is for the international community to disarm Hamas.[iv] Not mentioned by Israel’s critics is that Hamas has neglected to construct shelters to protect its own people, yet has spent immense sums of money to build hundreds of miles of underground tunnels for its military forces. Not mentioned is that Israeli airstrikes are a response to Hamas rockets and if Hamas stopped firing rockets and disarmed its rocket stocks Israel would not engage in retaliatory airstrikes. As one Twitter post put it, Gaza’s Iron Dome system is “don’t fire rockets at Israel.”

In no other conflict in history has the lack of defensive measure been cited as a reason for one party to refrain from meeting their military objectives or to “go easy” on the enemy. The media has never decried the lack of defenses against U.S. drone attacks and human rights organizations never complained that civilian areas where ISIS embedded itself did not have bomb shelters against coalition air attacks. Once again the only conclusion from this absurd viewpoint is that if more Israelis died its actions against Hamas would be more justified. As Colonel Richard Kemp explained, “Even if Iron Dome was 100% effective, Israel would still have to respond. No country ever has or ever will accept a concerted attack on its civilian population or territory, which has severely disrupted daily life as well as the economy. In these circumstances — even without any civilian deaths — it would be the duty of any government to act decisively to end the attacks.”[v]

Civilian Deaths Automatically Mean Israeli War Crimes

It is universally acknowledged that civilian deaths are a tragic and unfortunate consequence of all wars, but when caused by Israel they are treated as automatic war crimes even when Hamas continues to fire rockets. In September 2009 German Col. Goerg Klein called an airstrike on Taliban fighters who hijacked two tankers, but the attack resulted in 90 civilian deaths including children. Klein was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing as the civilians were not killed knowingly. Even the obscure Falkland Islands war between U.K. and Argentina in 1982 led to three civilian deaths in a war that was hardly necessary. In April 2021 Turkish shelling in Syria resulted in three civilian deaths and recent examples abound worldwide. There is understanding by the media and analysts that civilian deaths are a feature of all conflicts, but when caused by Israel they are obsessed over in great detail as war crimes.

In an editorial discussing civilian casualties caused by U.S. drone strikes in the Middle East, which number by estimates at over one thousand, The New York Times conceded, “no matter how precise the weapons, how careful the planners and how skilled the fighters, mistakes, faulty intelligence, even calculated decisions often led to civilians being killed” and that “There is no such thing as combat without risk.”[vi] In describing civilian deaths in the war against ISIS the Joint Task Force released a statement saying: “Although the coalition takes extraordinary efforts to strike military targets in a manner that minimizes the risk of civilian casualties, in some incidents casualties are unavoidable.”[vii]

In March 2017 The New York Times reported on American-led airstrikes in Mosul that flattened almost an entire city block and killed an estimated 200 civilians. The article quotes Iraqi commanders who “welcome the more aggressive American role, saying that coalition officers were too risk averse under the Obama administration” and that “fighting for the dense, urban spaces of western Mosul requires more airpower, even if that means more civilians will die.” Jim Mattis, the U.S. Defense secretary responded that “every battlefield where an enemy hides behind women and children” could lead to civilian casualties. He added “We go out of our way to always do everything humanly possible to reduce loss of life or injury among innocent people.” The Iraqi general, commenting on civilian deaths, said “We feel sad for them” but called the deaths “an unfortunate outcome in a nasty war.”[viii]

Such common sense understanding is totally missing when it comes to Israel despite significant evidence that Israel goes to great lengths to minimize civilian casualties from its “roof knocking” policies to precision guided attacks. As of this writing, after ten days hostilities, about 220 Palestinians have died in Gaza, and according to Israel well over a hundred are combatants and at least twenty were killed by Hamas rockets which fell short. While Israel has been accused of wanton destruction of property and lives, the death toll over this time period in a population of nearly two million is remarkably low, and compares favorably versus coalition actions in Mosul where over 6,000 civilians were killed.

How long would any nation tolerate the majority of its population in bomb shelters before demanding overwhelming force? Which nation would instruct their military to “go light” on their terrorist attackers because the attacks can be repelled? Which Defense Secretary would instruct their generals to only respond to the enemy “proportionally”? Which nation would be vilified for their better defense systems? When will the “international community” focus its efforts on forcing Hamas to stop firing rockets and stop spending international aid on military infrastructure as a condition for any future aid to Gaza? To what does Colonel Kemp attribute the absurd conduct of war expected only of Israel and no other nation in history? “Willful ignorance, in other words malice.”

 

[i] https://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/306469

[ii] https://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/PRESS-RELEASES/Press-Release-View/Article/1770907/combined-joint-task-force-operation-inherent-resolve-monthly-civilian-casualty/ also see https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/30/opinion/drones-civilian-casulaties-trump-obama.html

[iii] https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_rul_rule14

[iv] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/05/14/israels-iron-dome-defense-system-protects-israeli-lives-it-also-perpetuates-israel-gaza-conflict/

[v] https://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/306469

[vi] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/30/opinion/drones-civilian-casulaties-trump-obama.html

[vii] https://www.defense.gov/Explore/News/Article/Article/1040266/cjtf-oir-announces-civilian-casualty-assessment-for-november/

[viii] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/27/world/middleeast/mosul-iraq-isis-civilian-deaths-us-airstrikes.html

 

About the Author
Salo Aizenberg owns and manages Downtown Investment Advisory, an investment firm based in White Plains, NY. Salo is also an author and writer, having published "Hatemail: Anti-Semitism on Picture Postcards" which was nominated as a finalist for the National Jewish Book Awards, and other insightful articles about the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
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