Opinion

In defense of Israel's 'disproportionate' response in Gaza

It's war. Victory requires a superior military advantage.

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It seems that whenever Israel responds to violent overtures from groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, leaders of the international community are quick to assign equal condemnation to Israelis and Palestinians regardless of whether one is legitimately acting in self-defense.

Whether it is due to a latent anti-Semitism, the desire to avoid inflaming fundamentalist Arab passions, or simply an unrealistic belief in equality, world leaders are focusing too much on buzzwords.

In the case of Israel, the buzzwords are the "disproportionate" and "excessive" use of force – terms used in the 2006 Lebanon war and most recently spoken by French President Nikolas Sarkozy and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in response to Israel's Gaza offensive.

This is a particularly puzzling criticism of Israel. Would the international community truly prefer a proportionate or equal response? If Hamas launches three crudely-fashioned rockets into Israel, should the Israeli government respond with three equally-crude rockets? If three Israeli Defense Forces are kidnapped by Hezbollah, should the IDF respond by kidnapping an equal number of Hezbollah foot-soldiers?

The notion of "proportional" response lacks both merit and logical support for several reasons. In war, there are winners and losers, and the only palatable means of victory come from a disproportionate use of force. Victors are inherently more skilled in combat, tactics, and in the effective deployment of (generally superior) technology.

It does not make sense to demand one technologically or militarily superior belligerent to refrain from fighting to their full potential, simply because they are able to enact "disproportionate" damage on a weaker foe.

Should the United States have refrained from using the atomic bomb because Japan did not yet possess one? Would it have been better to extend Lend-Lease to Nazi Germany as well as Britain so that neither side would gain the advantage? Simply put, a militarily superior force should not limit itself due to the international community's desire to root for the underdog.

The notion of "proportional" responses is further baffling in that such occurrences actually prolong conflicts.

One need only look to the warfare in World War I. Equally-manned belligerents, using the same tactics, the same weapons, and the same defenses resulted in both sides being bogged down in interminable trench-warfare. No side could gain the upper hand and thus the conflict continued in an endless back-and-forth.

The cold war is another example of a proportional conflict. Both Russia and the United States maintained near-parity in regard to weapons, manpower, and political influence, and neither could emerge as sole superpower. As a result of its drawn-out nature, the conflict spread beyond America and Russia to encompass the entire Eastern and Western worlds. For an international community so concerned with peace, condemning "disproportionate" response, thereby accepting endless symmetrical warfare, appears hypocritical.

To be sure, discretion is the better part of valor, and that makes genocide a line that is unacceptable to cross. The use of retaliatory military force must not be reflexive. If peaceful solutions fail, however, the use of force is a viable option that may have to be employed.

Certainly, an indiscriminate carpet-bombing or use of nuclear weapons on Gaza would be an unacceptable and excessive use of force, but if care is taken to minimize the loss of civilian life, then states should be able to respond as they see fit.

In the 2006 Lebanon war, as well as the current Gaza offensive, this proportionality argument has no place. In neither case did Israel decide to launch unprovoked, unnecessary air and ground assaults on a whim as a way of boasting its military might. In both cases, Israel's actions came as a response to provocations from groups bent on its destruction.

Hamas should garner no international sympathy simply because it made the poor decision of engaging an enemy of far-superior military might. The international community must further realize that both belligerents do not always need equal blame placed upon them.

Israel's superior military power comes with responsibility, however. In the wake of the Gaza offensive, Israel should be active in supplying humanitarian aid to affected civilians, and to help moderates such as Mahmoud Abbas regain influence in the area.

Hamas is owed nothing, of course. But in order to further peace negotiations, civilians and moderates must be given any support necessary from Israel.

With the latest Gaza offensive, world leaders must condemn Hamas for abandoning its truce with Israel and recklessly endangering Palestinian citizens, while supporting Israel's right to defend itself, not offering platitudes condemning a "disproportionate" or "excessive" use of force.

Allan Richarz is is a writer and teacher currently working near Tokyo.

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