Friday, January 30, 2009

Question for critics of the blockade of Gaza

Given Hamas' stated goal of eliminating Israel and imposing a single Islamist state across Palestine, what is the optimal number of long range rockets and other heavy weaponry that Hamas should have?

This is a serious question, not a rhetorical talking point. I’m convinced the answer is zero. It strikes me that any other answer accepts, implicitly at least, that it is tolerable for Hamas to have the ability wage a war of extermination. One might argue that the humanitarian damage of a tight blockade outweighs the damage inflicted by a few Qassams, but I cannot imagine how anyone would reasonably expect the Israeli government to accept such a benefit-cost calculation. Would anyone care to explain to Olmert and Livni how to calculate the acceptable number of Israeli civilian deaths from Hamas' attacks?

Critics of the Israeli war against Hamas invoke disproportionality, but this implies a strange ethical eye-for-an-eye calculus in which one loss for Israel calls for one but only one loss for the Palestinians. The implicit logic of the critics first would have Israel end the blockade, and then begin making small proportionate retaliations, since Hamas is currently weak and incompetent. And then as Hamas increases the quantity and effectiveness of its weaponry, Israel can escalate its responses proportionally.

The moral calculus invoked by Ban Ki-moon and others is bankrupt, and the resulting condemnations of the Israeli response are similarly flawed. The concern ought not be that Israel has overreacted, it’s that the blockade and recent incursion may prove to be an underreaction. We ought to be worried that we heading for the day when the appropriate Israeli response will not be a harsh incursion into Gaza, but a nuclear attack on Gaza, which is what WMDs in the hands of Hamas would imply.

So long as Hamas calls for what is effectively genocide, the tolerance and forbearance of the international community for it is both immoral and strategically senseless... thus potentially terribly destructive.

Photo: Iranian missile test. It would be nice to open the Gaza borders; with a supply of these coming in the Israel-Hamas military balance would be much more proportional and hence fairer, right?

Maybe if Israel stopped occupying the land Palestinians live on Hamas would lose its support and no longer be in a position to shoot rockets at Israelis... Happy, free people are less likely to support violent extremists.

Of course, as long as both parties base their world-view on religion, not reason and reality the place will continue being crazy forever.
Thanks for the note, Knud.

I don't agree that Israel largely bases its worldview on religion; it's a secular (albeit Jewish) state.

But more importantly, issues of who lives where have to be negotiated, and it will be a tough negotiation. But negotiation is impossible when one side's openly avowed objective is to exterminate the other.

Also, Israelis did indeed abandon Gaza; it was after Israel left that Hamas came to power there, first by election and then by coup. And that's when the rocketry really accelerated.

As for the superiority of reason and reality over religion, you are exactly right. I'm still hoping for you'll write your book on the subject.
Charles, what can I say...except spot on. NV

The state may be secular, but both sides of the conflict argue that the land is "holy" according to their religion and that is clearly their main motivation for fighting.

Negotiation is hard when both sides refer to higher powers and ancient text when it comes to what they find not negotiable.

I agree that Israel left Gaza for a while, but I seem to remember that sealed the place off too.

I am *this* close to thinking both sides deserve the misery they are in for denouncing reason for religion, but then I remember the kids born into indoctrination on both sides and not knowing any better. How can we reach them and teach them?

Refreshing to be able to discuss this with no party retreating to the trenches. If only this was the case in the real debate...
There's very good article by Wlater Russell Mead in the latest Foreign Affairs ( podcast available here). He does a good job outlining the difficulties of getting a negotiated peace. An essential point -- negotiation requires that each side, however grudgingly, accept the other's existence. Each side requires that the other agree to its security. Given that, what can Hamas bring to a negotiation? Why would Israelis ever bother to sit with them?

Hamas ' ultimate goal is one that makes negotiation impossible; that they favor extermination of Jews ought to make them anathema to anyone desiring a settlement of this issue, whether one is pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian.

Again, Israel "sealed" Gaza (although it seems to have been too porous wrt weapons) *after* Hamas kicked out Abbas' Fatah.

As a thought experiment, what would be world reaction (or yours) if an Israeli government announced a new policy of exterminating all Palestinians? I conjecture this would be seen as utterly unacceptable, and Palestinians would be seen as justified in doing *anything* to avoid this -- so why is it in the least accepatble for Hamas to avow this sort of policy... simply because they are currently weak?
Fully agree with the post.
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