Monday, January 05, 2009

Why would Israel want civilians to die?

For the many who are claiming either that Israel is indiscriminately killing civilians, or are actively targeting civilians, they are strangely silent on the question of - why?

There are many reasons why Israel would want a minimum of civilian casualties, or, ideally, none at all:

* Simple morality. Israelis never rejoice when enemy civilians are killed.
* Civilian casualties undermine the justness of the battle against terrorists.
* Civilian deaths add untold pressure on Israel to cut the operation short.

The only reasons ever given by Israel's critics to support their contention are easily discarded:

* The most common is the genocidal reason: "Israel wants to destroy all Palestinians so they can re-occupy Palestine/because they hate them/because they hate Goyim/because they want to rule the world." These people are beyond reason, of course, but the simple question they cannot answer is that if Israel wants to kill so many innocents, why is it doing such a poor job? Why did they wait so long? Why are there more Palestinian Arabs alive today then there were a week ago? This argument is most often a projection of the accusers' own feelings towards Jews.

* The "fairness" argument: "There is a 'large' number of Palestinian civilian casualties, which is much higher than the number of Israeli casualties. It is not fair.." This argument implies that Israel should wait until hundreds of Jews are purposefully dead before defending itself in a way that is likely to accidentally kill hundreds of civilians in the quest to stop the attacks, a manifestly stupid argument. A government's highest priority is the safety of its citizens, which is - for any country - a much higher moral priority than the safety of its enemy's citizens. Certainly Israel should do everything necessary to minimize enemy casualties - but not at the expense of its own people's lives. Once we establish the clear facts that Israel does not purposefully target civilians, and that it spends great amounts of time and money to minimize civilian casualties while still effectively trying to defeat the enemy, then that is all one can reasonably expect, and there is no moral concept of "fairness" in war any more than there is in any other field.

* The empirical evidence argument: This is a favorite of human-rights advocates, saying that they have evidence that Israel has a reckless disregard to human life, or uses weapons that are not calibrated to minimize civilian deaths (or are designed to maximize civilian deaths, as the case might be.) The problem here is that the arguers are no more privy to the minds of the generals than anyone else is, nor are they experts in war tactics, intelligence or strategy. Neither am I, but given the first three points mentioned above, and since it is clear that increased civilian casualties is counterproductive to the war effort, this "evidence" doesn't fit any possible motivation. This means that the premise must be false, and that there are some hitherto unknown reasons for that specific form of weapon at that place and at that time. It may be because of intelligence that the observers are not privy to; it may be because the "civilians" are really not civilian, or - very possibly - it could be a mistake, or which there are tragically many in the heat of battle.

The upshot is that unless someone can give a reason for the IDF to target or disregard civilian deaths that makes strategic sense, it is absurd to jump to the conclusion that it was the result of negligence or maliciousness a priori. That thinking does not fit the idea of a disciplined army; it does not fit with published IDF standards; it does not fit the psyche of the Israeli public; it does not fit the philosophy of the government. Beyond that, it is highly counterproductive to the success of any operation. It is, simply put, nonsensical.

It is frustrating, and insulting, for Israelis and admirers of Israel to see that these "human rights" advocates are so glib with accusing Israel of wanton disregard for human life. Anyone who does a modicum of research sees that the IDF and IAF calibrate the size of explosives to be the smallest necessary to take out a target, that they go to extraordinary lengths to inform civilians (via leaflets, phone calls, text messages, sound bombs - and inevitably terrorists) to leave an area that is going to be targeted, that major decisions like bombing places of worship go through an entire bureaucracy before being made. Not only that, when mistakes are made - as they inevitably are, especially when the enemy tries new tactics - the IDF will take that into account and do everything possible to ensure that they are not repeated.

The contrast to the terrorists cannot be starker - Hamas and its supporters are eager to kill as many civilians as possible, by their own tacit or explicit statements. Their motivation is stated daily in TV shows and weekly in mosques - to cleanse Palestine of the Jews (which they are generally careful to translate into English as "Zionists.") To give a small example, a poll last March showed that 84% of Palestinian Arabs, and some 91% of Gazans, supported the terror attack that massacred 8 students at Mercaz Harav.

Numbers like these are inconceivable among Israelis when referring to Palestinian Arab civilians, yet the "human rights" advocates are so even-handed as to assume that both sides have the same motivation to attack innocents.

But none of them can give a reason why.