Who Believes in Mermaids?
According to the latest CNN poll, 57% of Americans think that Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip are fully justified, while 39% think that Israel’s actions are “too much.” One might interpret those figures optimistically: It is doubtful support for Israel is higher in any other Western country. On the other hand, I would be more than a little dismayed to learn that 39% of Americans believe in mermaids or the tooth fairy, and I fail to see any plausible distinction between that belief and the claim that Israel has been employing excessive force.
But it gets worse. Over half of Democrats are within that 39%. And to judge by their recent statements and actions, it appears that the president and secretary of state are among the believers in mermaids. Fox News caught Secretary of State Kerry in an unguarded moment sarcastically speaking of Palestinian civilian casualties in heavy fighting in Gaza’s Shejaiya neighborhood, “It’s a hell of a pinpoint action, a hell of a pinpoint action.” Once he knew he was back on camera, Kerry quickly reverted to message; Israel has a right to defend itself; he was just reacting to the tragedy of innocent lives lost; war is hell.
But the anger in his voice directed at Israel, when he did not know he was being filmed, was as unmistakable as it was unjustified, for he could have known little of how many of those killed were actually civilians or of the circumstances of their deaths. Kerry promptly dispatched himself to the Middle East – uninvited, as former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren noted undiplomatically – with the acquiescence of President Obama, who expressed his own “serious concerns” about rising civilian casualties.
Gazan casualties, however, are a measure of precisely nothing except Hamas’s callous disregard for the lives of those living in Gaza and its cynicism about the ease of manipulating the Western media. Any civilians killed in Gaza have died only because Hamas locates its prime military assets in civilian neighborhoods and fights from among civilians. For good measure, it encourages, sometimes forcibly, civilians to remain in those neighborhoods, even when they have been given ample warning of pending Israeli strikes. In both international law and morality, the responsibility for civilians killed as collateral damage from legitimate military action rests solely on the shoulders of those who place their military assets in close proximity to civilians.
Kerry’s sarcasm about Israel’s “pinpoint” actions aside, what Col. Richard Kemp, former High Commander of British expeditionary forces Afghanistan and someone with a lifetime of experience in asymmetric conflicts, said of the IDF in Operation Cast Lead, remains true today: No army in the history of warfare has done more to minimize civilian deaths.
That the IDF is employed in legitimate military actions is beyond cavil. U.S. satellites, using infrared imagery have identified sixty tunnels from Gaza into Israel, from which hundreds of Hamas fighters could have emerged in a coordinated attack and slaughtered hundreds of Jews living close to the border. Bombs under kindergartens and other high casualty targets have already been discovered in some of those tunnels.
So great is the threat posed by those tunnels that the toughest question put to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a recent press conference was: How could you have even contemplated accepting a ceasefire before the IDF had succeeded in blowing up more than a few of the attack tunnels that constitute such a mortal danger? He had nothing to answer other than that he counted on Hamas to reject the ceasefire – likely true. As is so often the case, Canadian Prime Minister Harper put it best: Self-defense is “not merely an Israeli right, but an Israeli obligation.”
The United States has no national interest in stopping the fighting before Israel has destroyed all the attack tunnels and seriously degraded the network of tunnels sheltering rockets and rocket launchers under Gaza City. The United States has, or should recognize that it has, a dog in this fight – i.e.. that a quasi-terrorist state should be thoroughly defeated and that its aggressive launch of nearly 2,000 rockets at Israel’s civilian population and attempted cross-border attacks should be rewarded with an unambiguous defeat. Pressuring Israel to stop short of that goal is a betrayal of Israel, the West, and ultimately the people of Gaza.
Daniel Pipes has frequently pointed out that only the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan paved the way for those two countries to leave beside their authoritarian pasts and join the democratic world. And Professor Mordecai Kedar of Bar Ilan University argues that Egypt’s Anwar Sadat was only willing to make peace with Israel after the thoroughgoing Egyptian defeat in 1973. Despite the element of surprise – in stark contrast to 1967, when Israel destroyed the Egyptian and Syrian air forces in the first hours of fighting – and Egypt’s initial success in crossing the Suez Canal, the war ended with Egypt’s Third Army completely surrounded and with no alternative to surrender. Only then did Sadat realize Egypt and its allies could not defeat Israel militarily and embark on the path to peace. In short, a thoroughgoing defeat often benefits no party so greatly as the defeated because it forces a re-examination of failed ideologies.
Even from a humanitarian standpoint, letting Hamas cynically play on Western heartstrings to save itself will only encourage more warfare and civilian casualties. Not that President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry cannot sleep at night out of worry over less than 400 Gazan women and children. They have managed to sleep quite peacefully, thank you, and play numerous rounds of golf, while passively looking on as 170,000 human beings have been killed in Syria and many millions turned into desperate refugees.
The best thing we can do for loved ones who have developed unsavory habits – gambling, drinking, etc. – is letting them bear the natural consequences of their actions. Rocketing civilian populations of your far more powerful neighbor and plotting mass terror attacks is precisely such an unsavory habit. By seeking to secure a ceasefire before Hamas has suffered a richly deserved defeat, Obama and Kerry are only ensuring that it will live to fight another day, and that hundreds more Gazan civilians will be killed.
There is a name for that in the psychological literature for those who out of an excess of sympathy facilitate self-destructive behaviors of their loved ones: enablers. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry should not be Hamas’s enablers.
Written prior to Secretary of State Kerry’s farcical ceasefire proposal and President Obama’s intense pressure on Israel to accept it.