At Large

Report From an ‘Asymmetrical’ War

Once again, Iran's proxies in Gaza set off an early sign of something much bigger.

By 3.13.12

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The moral asymmetry between Israel and its enemies has been strikingly on display in the latest flare-up between Gaza terror groups and Israeli forces.

By Monday afternoon the Israeli air force had reportedly killed 19 terrorists in pinpoint strikes on Gaza targets -- mostly rocket-launching crews -- and two Palestinian civilians as collateral damage, a 15-year-old boy and a 12-year-old boy. According to UN data cited by Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, the typical ratio when armies fight terror groups is 3:1 -- three civilians killed per every terrorist killed by the military forces.

By contrast, the over 200 rockets fired from Gaza at Israel since Friday have been aimed solely at civilian targets. Most have been lobbed at cities -- Ashkelon, Ashdod, and (my own) Beersheva -- in the hope of killing and maiming as many men, women, and children as possible.

The far larger of the two groups doing the firing, Islamic Jihad, is, as noted by the Israeli army spokesman, "an arm of the Iranians. It is completely funded and supported by Tehran when it comes to weapons and resources." A senior officer said Iran was directly encouraging Islamic Jihad to keep up the shelling.

If the casualties sown by this barrage have so far been relatively few -- two seriously wounded and several lightly wounded, with a larger number of shock victims -- it's because Israel has invested greatly to try and keep it that way. Its state-of-the-art, $200-million Iron Dome missile defense system has so far downed about 90 percent of the rockets that were headed for populated places.

Again by contrast, the Gaza terror groups have essentially recklessly endangered the Gaza population by initiating the conflict. Yes, technically Israel fired the first shot -- by assassinating terror leader Zuhair al-Kaisi on Friday. Al-Kaisi was behind a terror attack on southern Israel last August that killed eight, and was actively planning another, imminent attack.

For the Gaza terror groups, that preemption of a mass murder is an act requiring "revenge" -- or the firing of hundreds of rockets. Which, inevitably, means Israel has to strike back. And the sole thing that has protected the Gaza population from greater losses is Israel's supreme effort so far to restrict its strikes to military targets. (Update: on Monday night it was reported that the terrorists were using Gaza civilians as human shields.)

Given that this is a conflict between a democratic country and terror groups, these moral asymmetries might not seem so notable. But, as mentioned, Israel's main antagonist in the conflict, Islamic Jihad, is actually a proxy of a country -- Iran. Last week in Washington, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was trying to press home the idea that Iran's is a fundamentally terrorist regime whose attainment of nuclear weapons would be a catastrophe.

And seemingly President Obama acknowledged at least the latter point when he told AIPAC: "Iran's leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

The problem is that, two days after saying that -- as Charles Krauthammer put it -- "the Obama administration acquiesced to yet another round of talks with the mullahs [that] don't just gain time for a nuclear program about whose military intent the IAEA is issuing alarming warnings [but] make it extremely difficult for Israel to do anything about it (while it still can)…."

For those who care to look, the current round of fighting in southern Israel-Gaza is a microcosm not only of Iran's war on Israel but also on the West in general and the most fundamental norms of respecting human life. For Israelis, though, it's hard to believe that -- even when lip service is paid to them -- such points are getting through to the right places. And that creates even more unease than the incoming rockets.

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About the Author

P. David Hornik is a writer and translator in Beersheva, Israel, blogging at PDavidHornik.typepad.com.