December 30, 2008

What Would a Proportionate Response Look Like?

“If someone was sending rockets on my house where my daughters were sleeping at night, I would do everything to stop it, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.” – President-elect Barack Obama

Now that Hamas’s long war against Israel is matched with a short war in Gaza, protests are erupting everywhere from the blogosphere and Arab capitals to the United Nations, and they began on the very first day. "blogger Glenn Greenwald calls the Israeli retaliation to more than a year of rocket attacks a “massively disproportionate response.” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay “strongly condemned Israel’s disproportionate use of force.” The Israeli counterattack is, indeed, disproportionate, but it could hardly be otherwise. “At last count,” J.G. Thayer wrote, “one Israeli and two Palestinians (sisters, ages 13 and 5) died from rocket attacks. So a proportionate response, one presumes, would have required Israel to kill a single Palestinian and two of its own citizens.”

There were, I suppose, other “proportionate” responses available aside from killing one Palestinian and two Israelis. The Israel Defense Forces might have launched thousands of air strikes against targets in Gaza to match the thousands of Qassam rockets fired at the cities of Sderot and Ashkelon. It’s unlikely, however, that this is what Israel’s critics have in mind.

So what do they have in mind? What would a legitimate and “proportionate” response actually look like? Surely they don’t believe Israel should scrap its sophisticated weapons systems, build Qassam rockets, and launch those at Gaza instead.

The “disproportionate response” crowd doesn’t seem to mind that Israel struck back at Hamas per se. They aren’t saying Israel should only be allowed to negotiate with its enemies or that any use of force whatsoever is wrong. They’re clearly saying Israel should use less force, inflict less damage, or both.

One problem here is that it’s not at all clear how they think Israelis should go about doing it. The weapons used by each side can’t be the same. No one has ever said Israel ought to put its superior weapons systems in cold storage until Hamas can develop or purchase something similar. Presumably Israel is allowed to use its superior technology as long as the casualty count on each side is proportionate.

But how would that work in practice? A single Israeli air strike is going to kill at least as many people as Hamas can kill in twelve months. Does that mean Israel should be given a “license” of one air strike per year to use in the war? If IDF commanders want to take out a target where they expect five Hamas leaders or fighters to be killed, do they have to wait until five Israelis are killed first? If the Israelis endure rocket fire until one civilian is killed, do they get a “kill one Palestinian terrorist” coupon?

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 30, 2008 9:50 PM

What will get Palestinians and millions of other decent arabs eager for peaceful co-existence to disown and isolate these cancerous, irreconcilable deadenders so their children have a future worth living?

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at December 31, 2008 12:07 AM

"If someone was sending rockets on my house where my daughters were sleeping at night, I would do everything to stop it, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing."

The funny part is that Israel now has the support of a US President with solid left-wing credentials.

Why do all solutions the moon bats propose always require Jews to wait for their death?

Posted by: Leauki Author Profile Page at December 31, 2008 3:32 AM

So what do they have in mind? What would a legitimate and “proportionate” response actually look like?

They don't know.

The point of the exercise is not to come up with an appropriate way to penalize Hamas for it's actions- that's the last thing the critics want. The point is to make the Israelis stop, and establish a precedent that what they're doing is unacceptable in the eyes of the global community.

So the next time Hamas starts something, the Israelis will have to do something else, and Hamas' friends in the media will start the criticism again, and get whatever the Israelis are doing taken off the list of acceptable tactics, lather, rinse, repeat... until the Israelis have no options left.

There's some interesting discussion of the situation (and Greenwald) over at the Volokh Conspiracy-

Posted by: rosignol Author Profile Page at December 31, 2008 5:31 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/31/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at December 31, 2008 8:03 AM

The rocket and mortar attacks have been ongoing since 2001/2002, with number of attacks greatly increasing since late 2005, when Israel pulled out of Gaza.

In terms of proportionality, broadly conceived there are two or three conceptions of proportionality that people appear to be using.

Firstly and more commonly, there is a conception of "proportionality" wherein the meaning applied is little or nothing more than a numerical, empirical reduction: e.g., Hamas has fired a rocket, hence Israel can now be allowed to fire a rocket or some equivalent thereof. That itself is a simplistic example of a simple concept, but that captures the essence of this informal usage.

Secondly, there are variously debated conceptions of proportionality as used within a long tradition of just war theory, both as applied to jus ad bellum (justifications for going to war in the first place) and jus in bello (justifications for using specific tactics and strategies within the conduct of the war, after the decision to go to war has been made).

Whereas the first sense of the term would effectively reduce to farce and a comedy of errors (at least so within most any, real-world scenario), the second set of conceptions as applied to jus ad bellum and jus in bello justifications seeks to come to terms with all the real-world complexities while also seeking to apply moral considerations that are commensurate with all those real-world complexities. (The Israeli vs. Sunni and Shi'a Muslim conflict is arguably the most complex conflict on the face of the planet due to the various ideological, social, cultural, racial/ethnic, historical, political, religious, propaganda/media driven, etc. aspects of the conflict.)

Israel, currently, is being disproportionate only in the first, simplistic sense of the term, a sense that does in fact reduce to farce and tragi-comic conceptions given the real-world complexities involved. Nonetheless, to reject that simplistic conception is not remotely the same thing as rejecting the second set of real-world considerations.

Rather pedantic and put in very general terms only, but proportionality within jus ad bellum and jus in bello considerations reflects a viable set of conceptions. Is is the Sunni and Shi'a Muslim militant actors who are overtly seeking the elimination of Jews and Israel as a whole; by contrast Israel is seeking to secure its borders and its citizens. It is the former - Iran, Syria, other state actors, Hamas, Fatah, Palestinian Islami Jihad, et al. - who are and long have been the aggressors. By contrast, Israel needs to secure its borders and its citizens, within both short and long term considerations.

Posted by: Michael_B Author Profile Page at December 31, 2008 11:40 AM

It seems to me that some people are confusing Proportional Response with Handicapping, as in Handicapping a fast racehorse with extra weight to even the odds in a race against lesser horses.

While this makes for brisk action at the betting window and a thrilling race, it is probably not the best way to go about defending your borders.

Posted by: Lindsey Author Profile Page at December 31, 2008 2:37 PM

Really appreciate your insight into the middle east. As a fellow Oregonian and Totten, I follow your travels with much interest. I'm not sure how you've avoided the head-choppers; considering
some of the risks you take. Anyhow, do you think
the Israeli's finally take out Iran's nuke plant as an escalation of this Gaza flare-up?
Thanks and keep your head down.

Posted by: rico22 Author Profile Page at December 31, 2008 7:35 PM

There's an excellent post on the following blog:

It's an account of time spent in Israel of a young Jewish mother. Worth a read.

Posted by: Brigit Author Profile Page at December 31, 2008 10:37 PM

Ah, the usual whining about the "disproportionate" response by Israel from the usual "peace" protestors and terror-enablers on the Left. Funny, I didn't hear these Leftists whining about "disproportionate" when Russia invaded Georgia. You see, Georgia "had it coming to them" because of their flirtations with the West. Yet today the same Leftists hanging Georgia out to dry whine about "disproportionate" Israel. I guess Hamas and the paleos don't deserve it like Georgia did. Laughable.

Posted by: Carlos Author Profile Page at January 2, 2009 12:35 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Read my blog on Kindle


Recommended Reading