Those Boring Gaza Rockets

We are at war. While I have always shied away from purely political posts on Cross-Currents, wartime has its own exigencies. Some of our readers will be hearing from friends and acquaintances critical of Israel’s actions. Some of us have already heard from them. Where is the parity? How do you justify inflicting so much pain and suffering in response to a few oversized firecrackers that only land on the “unpopulated South” of Israel (so claimed a major Muslim talking head in England), or rarely hit their target, or “only” killed three people ר”ל.

Yossi Klein Halevi is uniquely situated among Israeli commentators. His credentials and instincts belong to the left, which he once called home, while his years of living in Israel have moved his political sensibilities a bit further to the right. He is also a wonderful writer, and a traditional Jew. He understands the concerns and assumptions of those on the left, and addresses them effectively, which is something that many of us cannot or will not do.

While some of us may have good talking points with which to respond, I have seen nothing that comes close to the following article, from Friday’s Globe and Mail. It calmly and rationally makes the case for the reasonableness of Amud He-Anan, as well as dismisses the parity argument as erroneous. Hamas’ strategy in sending rockets into Israel is to create terror, not death. In that, they have been successful, and must be contained.

It might be the article you want to give to friends.

In the past year, until the escalation of recent days, more than 800 rockets fell on and around Israeli towns and villages in the area bordering Gaza. Few foreign journalists have paid attention, and it’s hard to blame them. After all, there were no fatalities from those rocket attacks and, of the 30 or so Israelis who were wounded, few were seriously hurt. Even in the Israeli media, the reports of non-lethal rocket attacks have tended to become routine, almost banal.

Yet, for hundreds of thousands of Israelis, daily life has become defined by sirens and explosions. Routines are determined by proximity to safety: When a siren sounds, residents of southern Israel have 15 seconds to find shelter. Dozens of homes, factories and schools have been hit by missiles in the past year. Thousands suffer from varying degrees of trauma.

The purpose of firing primitive rockets into civilian neighbourhoods is not necessarily to kill or injure but to terrorize. The relative ineffectiveness of the rockets is, in some sense, the point: By waging low-level terror, Hamas embitters the lives of Israelis while preventing a resolute Israeli response, exposing Israeli helplessness. At what point does the Israeli government decide to defend its terrorized citizens and risk war – when a rocket hits a school bus?

The rocket attacks erode the public’s faith in the government’s ability to defend it. They weaken Israeli deterrence in an increasingly dangerous region. And the lack of drama – and, with it, the lack of media attention – ensures that, when Israel finally loses patience and retaliates, as it did this week, much of the world blames Israel, not Hamas, for escalating tensions.

Israelis know there’s no definitive military solution to the Gaza problem. If Israel were to topple the Hamas regime – at enormous cost to both Israeli and Palestinian lives – its replacement would likely be another radical regime.

The problem is, at least for now, there’s no political solution, either. Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist; under Hamas rule, Gaza’s children are taught to see Jews as satanic and their state as illegitimate. Hamas’s goal isn’t a two-state solution but a one-state solution, over the ruins of Israel.

And so we come back, inevitably, to containment, which means periodic escalation, followed by uneasy truce. “It seems that we’re going to have to invade Gaza every four years,” a friend, an academic, a man of the left, said to me in a fatalistic tone. The modest goal of containment is to achieve some respite for Israelis in the south, by restoring Israeli deterrence. In today’s increasingly unstable Middle East, patches of normalcy may be as much victory as anyone can hope for.

Yossi Klein Halevi is a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

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18 Responses

  1. Baruch Gitlin says:

    I usually skip politically oriented articles on Cross-Currents. I don’t read Cross-Currents to learn more about American politics or Israeli wars, and frankly, I feel I can usually find better coverage of the same issues elsewhere. But seeing that Rav Alderstein posted this, I figured it would be worth reading, and was not disappointed. I think this article by Yossi Klein Halevi hits the nail right on the head. Sometimes, one has to simply acknowledge a bad situation for what it is, and deal with it in the most practical way possible. It’s frustrating to have to acknowledge that a problem can only be managed, not solved, but I believe this is clearly the case in Gaza. I think it’s worth noting that the United States took much the same approach to the cold war, and while various presidents were derided as defeatists (namely Truman, who instituted the “containment” policy), the policy succeeded in its goals of avoiding global war and preventing Communist aggression from defeating the free world, until finally, the world changed, and the problem disappeared.

  2. SA says:

    So, Mr. Gitlin, you are prepared to accept a certain “manageable” amount of trauma, injury and even death befalling your fellow Jews in Eretz Yisrael. Forgive us if those who live here are not as prepared to accept this approach. “Haba lehargecha hashkem lehorgo” is part of our mesora.

  3. Charles Hall says:

    Thank you for this. I would go further: No person who identifies with the political left (as I do in the United States) should be identifying with, defending, apologizing for, or crying tears in mourning for a group of anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynistic religious fanatic thugs who target innocent civilians. And the targets are the citizens of a free country that has a rule of law and treats its minorities with dignity and respect. In a lot of world conflicts it is difficult to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys. That is not the case here.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    Baruch Gitlin, the world didn’t change on its own. Reagan took some steps in national defense that ultimately bankrupted the USSR. Had he been content to take the old path of detente, results would have been poor.

  5. Reb Yid says:

    YKH has certainly moved more than “a bit to the right” of his erstwhile leftist beginnings.

    He’s firmly in the center-right camp, and is always on the conservative side of “point-counter-point” foreign policy debates on this issue (see the recent ones where on a weekly basis he has argued with Yehuda Kurtzer, Steven Cohen, Eric Yoffie and even Jeffrey Goldberg [hardly a leftist], etc. in the JEWISH WEEK. The fact that he work for Hazony’s Shalem Center, clearly a center-right entity, speaks for itself.

    As far the content of his article…this may be satisfying to some on the right, but for many others it is hollow. Behind it is the erroneous premise that Israel, by striking back, is somehow deterring Hamas from further attacks (as well as Hamas incorrectly believing that it is deterring Israel by launching ever more potentially damaging rocket attacks).

    If that premise was proved erroneous during the last Gaza invasion, it has gotten even worse this time around, as both sides appear to be more emboldened than ever. One can argue, in fact, that this is precisely what its leaders desire, for a variety of political, strategic and ideological reasons.

  6. Charles Hall says:

    I’ve just created a petition on the White House petition site in support of Israel. Please spread the word:

  7. Mr. Cohen says:

    There was never any logic in Israel’s evacuation from Gaza to begin with.

    Jews were expelled from their homes by their fellow Jews,
    so those homes could be used as bases for terrorists to attack Israel.

  8. Charles Hall says:

    I’ve just created a petition on the White House petition site in support of Israel. Please spread the word!

  9. Tal Benschar says:

    So, Mr. Gitlin, you are prepared to accept a certain “manageable” amount of trauma, injury and even death befalling your fellow Jews in Eretz Yisrael. Forgive us if those who live here are not as prepared to accept this approach. “Haba lehargecha hashkem lehorgo” is part of our mesora.

    Instead of addressing your comments to Mr. Gitlin, maybe you should be addressing them to the government of Israel. For years they have tolerated low-level rocket attacks, and this latest action was only in response to an intensification of those attacks. Maybe they have political reasons for doing so, maybe not, but to criticize someone for taking the position that Israeli governments of both political sides seems to have taken seems to me misplaced. If “those who live here” feel differently, they should be addressing their complaints closer to home.

  10. Esther says:

    YKH works for the Shalom Hartman Institute, not Hazony’s Shalem center.

  11. Baruch Gitlin says:

    To SA – I have lived in Israel for 19 years, I’ve had to pull over the road or go into shelters several times this week, my son is scheduled to be drafted in the next year, and I lived through all the mishegos and violence of the Second Intifada. You’re certainly welcome to disagree with me, but I think I have as much right to my opinion as you do.

  12. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    First of all, can people call RYA by his correct name, Adlerstein, not Alderstein. Adler + Stein, what can be so complicated about that?
    Second, Esther and Reb Yid, he was formerly affiliated with the Shalem Center and I don’t know when he switched. He is a centrist who unfortunately supported the disengagement of 2005, but he was not originally a leftist. He was a supporter of Rav Kahane in his youth and later wrote a book explaining how he distanced himself from that position.
    Finally, I disagree with him and many others in saying there is a military solution to the Gaza situation. It is simply to fight to total victory and unconditional surrender as in WWII. We must be deaf to all calls for a cease-fire until achieving our objectives. In the end the American people will support us and the UN and EU and Russia and the Arabs can go to their eternal disgrace where they belong.

  13. cvmay says:

    Petition is not simple to sign & register as an ‘Israel Supporter”

  14. YM says:

    I think that YKH is incorrect in thinking that Israel can go into Gaza every few years and “mow the lawn”. I don’t see Hamas being persuaded to accept anything except the shortest-term cease fire without an end to the blockade of Gaza, and that is without their Hamas making any concessions to Israel other than stopping their bombing for a year or two. Without a willingness to at least pretend that they are considering a re-occupation of Gaza, Israel is without a credible threat toward Hamas; Hamas is not threatened by Israel killing a lot of Palestinians because they think they are martyrs to a more important cause.

  15. Mordechai says:

    I just wanted to share with readers some ideas from an excellent post on jpost I found regarding the absurd expectation from the EU that Israel use “proportionate force”:

    What does proportional self defense mean?

    We can only fire the same kind and number of rockets into Gaza as they fire into Israel?

    Israel has to wait until the Arabs kill more Jews so they can catch up to our kill totals before we can fire again?

    Do we have to target more open fields?

    Do we have to give the Arabs an Iron Dome system?

    Do we have to stop using our Iron Dome System?

    What does proportional self defense mean and why do we have to let them set the pace?

  16. Raymond says:

    While I personally think that the endless missiles fired upon Israel ARE meant to murder Jews, for the sake of discussion I will temporarily assume that the assumption is right, that those missiles deliberately miss their targets so as to cause only terror rather than outright murder. To my mind, it should not make that much of a difference. True, that destruction of property is not quite the tragedy that the loss of human life is, but property is still an extension of who we are, and we therefore have every right to defend our land. I remember reading one explanation of why Ya’akov went back to get small, seemingly insignificant items, even at the danger of his life and the life of his family, because he treasured everything G-d gave him. If such a stance is good enough for perhaps our greatest forefather, surely it is good enough for us more ordinary Jews, too. Us Jews tolerating all this missile bombardment just because it ONLY affects our land and our property (which is not even true in any case, since Jews do get murdered), is symptomatic of the ghetto mentality that still resides in too many of our Jewish people. We Jews need to have far more self-respect than that.

  17. Bob Miller says:

    Are defensive wars fought to make a statement or to eliminate the threat for good?

  18. Tal Benschar says:

    What does proportional self defense mean and why do we have to let them set the pace?

    The “proportionate” argument is one of the most misleading bits of misinformation out there. Under international law, “proportionate” means that one may not use more force than necessary to achieve a certain military objective. Taht’s it. If the only way to achieve a certain objective is to use massive force, and taht force will result in massive casualties it is still legitimate.

    Israel’s taking out rockets which are continually fired at it is certainly a legitimate military objective. It is entitled to use as much force as is necessary to achieve that. If circumstances are such that that causes thousands of civilian deaths, then so be it.

    I should add that the “circumstances” here are caused by the enemy. If you hide or store rockets in a civilian apartment building, and the only way to remove them is to air-bomb the building, then it is the fault of the party storing the bombs there, not the fault of the party bombing the building. This point is not emphasized enough — Hamas is the cause of these civilian deaths, because it stored rockets in close proximity to these civilians. We should be saying that again and again — Hamas is responsible, period.

    (Supposed an armed robber grabs an innocent child, holds her tightly in his hand. If he then starts shooting at a crowd of people, the police would be perfectly within their rights to shoot him to protect the crowd. They might well harm or even kill the innocent child-hostage. They should certainly try not to. But if they have no choice — especially if the armed robber is harming others — would anyone put the moral blame on the police, as opposed to the robber-hostage-taker?)

    Hamas killed these children. The blood is on their hands. Say it again and again. Some won’t get it, some don’t want to, but some will.

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