20 July 2006 - Thursday

Dusting off the pundit hat

Are Israel's recent actions just?

I have mixed opinions. After a few days of consideration, I believe that attacking targets in Gaza and Lebanon is justifiable; that is, a case can be made that it meets the minimal requirements of just war theory. Both Hamas and Hezbollah were committing acts of war against Israel, and both represent continuing threats to Israeli citizens. The only way to accept the validity of either's struggle against Israel is to deny Israel's right to exist -- which denial would be a legal and moral as well as a factual fantasy. Therefore, Hamas and Hezbollah are waging a war for unjust ends -- and furthermore, they are using manifestly unjust means; both groups are guilty of deliberately and consistently targeting civilians for death. (I sympathize with Derek Catsam and Jason Kuznicki. It is clear which side has chosen war and theocracy over peace and liberalism.) While Israel is killing civilians as well, I have seen no evidence that it is targeting them, though Hezbollah and Hamas often blend in with the noncombatant population and use its infrastructure. And I think there is a "reasonable chance" of Israeli success, in the sense that one can imagine retaliation saving many lives that would be endangered by total Hamas and Hezbollah impunity.

But a just war is not about killing guilty people. It's about protecting innocent people. So even if going to war is otherwise justifiable, it may not be wise in the long run. That distinction is lost on our hawks and adventurists, who may appeal to just war criteria but who seem to have little respect for unintended consequences.

I am not convinced that the Israeli attacks, as they are being conducted now, are wise, especially in Gaza. Hamas was an exceptionally weak government, but now the Israeli assault seems to be increasing Hamas' popularity and strength among Palestinians. I am afraid that Israel has interrupted and discredited the efforts of non-Hamas moderates like Abbas. Furthermore, the fact that Israel has responded to the capture of its soldier by killing civilians (even if in a "collateral" way) tends to blur the distinction between legitimate military operations and the terroristic targeting of noncombatants -- a distinction that I believe must be kept as clear as possible if there is to be any hope for the region. ... I say this despite recognizing that the unintented deaths of innocents do not automatically render a war unjust. I insist, however, that the political consequences of such deaths must be weighed.

I think Israel actually has a better case in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a more distinct military threat; that is, it is possible to imagine Hezbollah fighters and weaponry being isolated and neutralized, which seems unlikely to happen to the many terror groups in Palestine. The endgame in Lebanon is easier to visualize. (I think the rescue of the captured Israeli soldiers is unlikely though not impossible in either location.) On the other hand, the campaign may be increasing Lebanese public support for Hezbollah, and it may threaten the fragile Lebanese government, both of which could actually turn southern Lebanon into a worse threat to Israel.

Many Americans believe that any failure to respond to terrorism (or perhaps even the possibility of terrorism) with force amounts to appeasement. What we tend to forget is that terrorists often seem to want their victims to respond with force. Military retaliation tends to bring more attention to the terrorists, reinforce the state of fear, and create public resentment of the stronger power in other countries. When innocent Palestinians and Lebanese die as "collateral damage," their friends and neighbors often rally against those who killed them. Nothing boosts support for Hamas more than the funeral of a child killed by an Israeli missile.

| Posted by Wilson at 10:49 Central | TrackBack
| Report submitted to the Power Desk