For years, Israelis have embraced a theory of “deterrence” with respect to the Gaza Strip. The idea is that if Gazans feel enough pain, they will refrain from attacking Israel. But this kind of strategic deterrence simply doesn’t work. Furthermore, deterrence without any possibility of a political settlement ensures that this madness will go on indefinitely.
In explaining the Israeli theory, Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, said last week that “if the terror organisations do not cease their fire, we will be prepared to toughen our response as much as necessary, until they say ‘enough!’ “ Interior Minister Eli Yishai proclaimed, “We must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”
It’s not hard to believe that’s what the Israelis have in mind. Using their strategic military advantage, they have bombarded Gaza during the last week from the air, ground and sea. The majority of the more than 100 Palestinians killed so far have been noncombatants, including children. At least nine Palestinians representing three generations of the Dallu family were wiped out when Israel shelled their Gaza City home.
Israel has said its goal is to attack those who are launching missile attacks. But its actions seem almost certain to produce a new crop of militants eager to launch a new round of attacks.
Some security strategists and “just war” theorists argue that deterrence can be morally acceptable in cases in which it doesn’t directly affect the lives and welfare of the civilian population. But when deterrence becomes indistinguishable from collective punishment, it is far harder to justify, and far less likely to achieve its intended result.
Israel’s recent military actions have been shockingly disproportionate, aimed at densely populated areas in which besieged Gazan civilians have no place to escape the overwhelming and exaggerated Israeli firepower.
The cost in terms of both human lives and deepening hatred continues to escalate. What makes Israel’s “strategic deterrence” approach most unworkable is that it is being employed without a comprehensive plan that includes a political component. By refusing to politically deal with those in power in Gaza, Israel is seeking a solely military solution to what is mostly a political conflict.
Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari, who successfully delivered on a 2011 prisoner exchange with Israel, was assassinated last week along with his son after a 24-hour lull in the conflict that was based on an unwritten understanding. Immediately before his assassination, Jabari was said to have been preparing a reply to an Israeli offer for a long-term ceasefire. Many have seen his killing as a sign that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, perhaps with the upcoming Israeli elections in mind, is not interested at the moment in de-escalating the conflict.
The Israeli military operation is taking place just before the United Nations General Assembly will be asked to recognise Palestine as a non-member state that lives alongside Israel. In 1947, the Jews of Palestine and Tel Aviv celebrated a similar resolution recognising their own statehood, but today’s Israeli leaders seem bent on denying Palestinians the right to have their own independent state.
Perhaps the worst part of this deterrence strategy is that it places no importance on the long-term relationships between Israel and its Arab neighbours. After being forced from their land in 1948 and again in 1967, and pushed into a mere 22 per cent of the original boundaries of Palestine as established by the British, Palestinians are intent on not retreating further. This means that Israelis and Palestinians will need to find a formula to live side by side going forward.
A relentless and aggressive policy that harms innocent people doesn’t serve the long-term good and should not be condoned by the international community, including the United States.