By lex, on December 30th, 2008
It seems to me that all this talk about “proportionality” in the ongoing brawl between Israel and Hamas misses the point. This has nothing at all to do with proportionality, nor even the relative merits of their various arguments, and everything to do with the mutual aspirations of the antagonists. These aspirations overlap in a ven diagram of violence.
Hamas knows it is too militarily weak to follow its dream to its oft-stated end, and push every last Israeli into the sea. Their only hope of achieving eventual victory is to inflame Arab opinion against Israel while stoking Western guilt (and stacking Western gelt) to more thoroughly isolate Israel from its core of civilized support. They deliberately allowed the truce between the two parties to expire because they calculated that doing so, and launching missiles into southern Israel, would prompt precisely the kind of retaliation that Israel delivered – a retaliation that would thrust Hamas back into the spotlight of world attention. The Israeli “blockade” of Gaza certainly wasn’t doing it, and what with the increasing misery of those trapped in the Gaza slums ever since the unilateral Israeli withdrawal, the broader Palestinian people might eventually conclude that electing Hamas to lead the Palestinian assembly had not led to the kind of change they were hoping for. Their strategy has worked, although there were some tactical failures – the Israeli information operations campaign convinced them that they had a little more time than they in fact did, and Hamas militants were everywhere caught in the open on the first day. This is only a minor setback for what is, after all, little more than a death cult.
The Israeli government, for its part, judged that the opportunity to destroy significant elements of Hamas’ combat power in the soft political middle of a US presidential transition was too good to pass up. They’d get at least three weeks to try and isolate, fix and destroy those who had repeatedly vowed to kill them. Domestic political calculations must also be in play – national elections are in February – but while the Israeli government must know that they cannot bomb Hamas into complete submission, each dead terrorist means one less to fire rockets into Sderot.
Arab heads of state will issue their ritual denunciations of Israel, and the UN will denounce both parties, while throughout the world, anyone with a passing interest will adopt their preferred pose. Meanwhile, the fighting will continue because each combatant is getting exactly what they want within the very different constraints of their moral systems: the hope of killing more “juice” on the one hand, and the hope of saving more of them on the other.