A depressingly-familiary story — with the breaking of the southern cease-fire by the Gaza faction of Hamas, Israel has responded by shelling locations where the Hamas attackers have been shooting rockets over the border. Innocent civilians have died on both sides. This gives both international critics of Israel, and international critics of Palestine, platforms upon which to base their attacks. It also shores up Hamas’ political base among Palestinian constituents and rallies the Israeli public around the Kadima party. Everybody wins except for the people whose homes are blown up or whose loved ones die.
It’s not clear to me what the counter-attacks are going to do. Weapons technology has advanced to the point that some of the rockets Hamas is using can be made from spare parts and all that has to be smuggled in to Gaza are the warheads and the fuel. Precision targeting is not high on the attackers’ list of priorities. So as a functional matter, Israel will never take away Hamas’ ability to initiate these kinds of attacks.
But it’s a good questions as to what else Israel can do about them. This is an act of war by one state actor on another. Doing nothing is not an option. Why? To move people and other targets out of range would be to effectively cede territory to the Palestinian Authority (Gaza Strip division), which would advance and place new rocket-launching loci further along their path of advance. So the attacks must be responded to in some way.
Israel’s critics have pointed out that the counter-attacks have hurt lots of people who are not involved in the attacks. The reason for this is Hamas’ insistence upon launching the attacks from the middle of crowded civilian population centers. And it is in the nature of war that innocent civilians suffer — and indeed, they often suffer disproportionately to the warriors when the war is fought in their own neighborhoods. Military technology is not sufficiently advanced to allow for utlra-surgical remote strikes that could kill only the rocket launchers themselves and not the civilians in whose midst they have planted themselves.
Is all of this intended to be a moral pass to Israel? Yeah, it is. The difference is that Hamas fires indiscriminately into Israeli territory, not caring who they hit. Their intent is to provoke a reaction from Israel, and a civilian victim is every bit as effective as a military victim for that purpose. Israel’s responsive strikes are at least targeting the Hamas attackers, who in turn lack the decency to fire from somewhere that military activities are isolated from civilians. Israel is not lily-white and totally without blame. But it’s on the moral upside of this issue. May the violence end soon.