Dumb Bombs are Sometimes Smart

As we enter the New Year things seem bleak. Little did we know that the bombs would begin to fall so soon after the ball dropped.

Israel’s war against Hamas has been highlighted by images from smart bomb aerial attacks on YouTube. For your eyes only: an IDF strike on a Hamas government complex.

As part of its PR campaign, Israel’s posting a series of videos online to showcase how it uses its smart bombs with the greatest degree of accuracy. The way these smart bombs have been publicized, you’d think they were trying out for American Idol.

Smart bombs alone however are not a convincing argument for war. “Life-saving weaponry” remains as strangely oxy moronic as “army intelligence”.

While it’s imperative to acknowledge Israel’s right to self defense, the question of “how much” force Israel should use is an important one to consider. Even utilitarian arguments are sometimes under-girded by serious ethical considerations. Quantity is often a question of quality, too. (25% of the casualties so far have been civilian)

Though Israel is in its right to defend itself, its ground offensive will in all probability result in heavy casualties. As with the  South Lebanon invasion in 2006, Israel will be marching into enemy territory.  A radicalized civilian body, and terrorist outfits hidden in the narrow souks of Gaza, will probably spell tragedy for Israeli soldiers. And for Gazans? Over 500 have been killed so far–and the death count mounts.

What about proportionality?

Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz writing in the Wall Street Journal (“Israeli’s Policy is Perfectly ‘Proportionate'”) has this to say:

The claim that Israel has violated the principle of proportionality — by killing more Hamas terrorists than the number of Israeli civilians killed by Hamas rockets — is absurd. …There is no legal equivalence between the deliberate killing of innocent civilians and the deliberate killings of Hamas combatants. Under the laws of war, any number of combatants can be killed to prevent the killing of even one innocent civilian.

His summation:

Until the world recognizes that Hamas is committing three war crimes — targeting Israeli civilians, using Palestinian civilians as human shields, and seeking the destruction of a member state of the United Nations — and that Israel is acting in self-defense and out of military necessity, the conflict will continue.

The problem with Dershowitz’s rendering is that it’s too glib. He overlooks the fact that in targeting the very-congested Gaza Strip, large numbers of civilians are bound to be killed.

Even if Hamas fighters are hiding amongst civilians, Dershowitz’s claim remains a bit of a red herring. Civilians are to be found virtually everywhere in a country with only 60 kilometers of border. Gaza City alone has a million and a half residents. Can smart bombs really minimize damage given the packed-like-sardine nature of the Strip?

There are lots of “ins and outs and what have yous” that need to be addressed. A grad buddy of mine  remarked that history, culture, and social and political inequalities play into any serious analysis of the Israel-Hamas War. To my mind, the argument that “because Israel has not done enough for the Palestinians to redress grievances, Hamas should be allowed to shoot mortars into Israel” surely does not wash. But what of proportionality? Can one quote a line or two of international law, as Dershowitz does, and claim justification for more than a hundred civilians killed under the rubric “collateral damages”.

How about the claim that Israel is actively seeking to undermine the political-economic interests of Palestinians?

If it’s any basis for comparison, West Bank Palestinians under PA leadership have recently had an economic surge. “Israeli and Palestinian officials”, says the Guardian, “report economic growth for the occupied territories of 4-5% and a drop in the unemployment rate of at least three percentage points.” Does Israel then deserve any credit for this uptick in economic prosperity? And if Israel can aid on the economic front, would it be so bold to suggest bilateral political progress is not far away?

Analogizing Israel’s situation to that of Mexico shelling the U.S. on its borders, says my friend, is inappropriate Is it really a fair comparison to say that Hamas, a sovereign power with no control over its borders, no army in place, overseeing an impoverished, highly congested, unemployed and hungry third world population is anything like Mexico? Isn’t it more like the Cherokee rebellion?

The war continues to be conducted from the air. The ground troops are moving in. Defense Minister Barak is on all the major networks plugging the campaign. And the IDF continues to upload aerial photographs onto video sharing sites.

All said, no good faith measure can ever be implemented if the world continues to make moral equivalencies out of the plight of Palestinians. Though it is bad, it is no genocide. No Darfur.  Poor governance, graft,  indoctrination of children, glorification of suicide bombings and a plethora of celebrated martyrdom techniques are reason for pinning a good chunk of the blame on Hamas. The conspiracy goes both ways.

That is the reason dumb bombs are sometimes smart.

*Here are some links to other sites commenting on Israel’s Post Modern War, including My Media Musings, Okie Campaigns, Modern Mitzvoth, Alas A Blog and Pajamas Media.