“After a long night of air strikes that Israel says hit up to a hundred and fifty targets across the Palestinian territories, remarkably, there appear to have been few casualties.” A reporter in a flak jacked walked through the rubble of a large building. “This was a Hamas Interior Ministry building. Like a lot of the targets hit overnight, it was deserted. Nobody was hurt here. But what local people are saying is that these air raids were designed to spread fear and panic. There’s a lot of residential buildings in this neighborhood, and right next door, a United Nations school.” A Palestinian man shown with his family, who spent the night in a shelter, says, “My children are afraid and crying.”
“Israeli civilians have also been suffering,” the narrator says, over pictures of rocketed homes. “Hundreds of rockets have been fired from Gaza since Wednesday. People have been leaving their homes to seek refuge in shelters.
Even hospitals have been moving their patients.” This is the BBC this morning, being uncharacteristically balanced. But they don’t mention that continuously, for years, the people of southern Israel have been running to shelters to hide from the rockets that have never stopped. During those years, people in Gaza have rarely had to hide from Israeli attacks.
Israel, for security reasons, has blockaded Gaza since Hamas, which is still recognized as a terrorist group, drove out the Palestinian Authority in a bloody civil war in 2007. The blockade allows all essential supplies to enter the territory, and life there, if not normal, is not that of a “refugee camp,” as Gaza is still sometimes absurdly called. Hamas remains officially sworn to destroy Israel and has never sought to coexist. A devastating ground war four years ago left 13 Israelis and a hundred times that number of Palestinians dead, and this could be repeated now.
How is it that 150 air strikes last night caused almost no casualties? Because Israel issues warnings and drops leaflets so buildings will be empty when struck. It warns civilians to stay away from Hamas operatives, notifies people when particular targets will be struck, and has even told Hamas militants to stay underground.
Of course, there are exceptions. Israel assassinated the Hamas military commander—by the way, you can’t be glad that Osama bin Laden was killed and at the same time feel sorry for his Hamas equivalent—with an attack on his car that also killed some civilians. But Israel goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, while Hamas directly targets civilians in Israel. Three were killed on Wednesday in their home, which was nowhere near any military target. Rockets have hit Tel Aviv and now apparently near Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the Egypt that used to be the enemy of Hamas is now part of the same Muslim Brotherhood, Syria’s vicious civil war is spilling over into the Golan Heights, Lebanon is unstable and half-run by Hizbollah, Jordan has street demonstrations that could destabilize it too. The Arab Spring has made Israel less safe, and Iran’s nuclear centrifuges spin.
The timing of Israel’s action is open to question. Presumably it was waiting for the American election to be over before taking steps many considered overdue. The elections coming in Israel in January are also not irrelevant, since now Benjamin Netanyahu—who, to his country’s detriment, stupidly stuck his nose in American politics by supporting Romney—will get to appear strong when he faces the voters.
But Bibi has never led, just followed, and in this new action in Gaza he is following public opinion in Israel that cuts across the political spectrum. Imagine if drug cartels joined together, took over northern Mexico, and started firing rockets on a regular basis into San Antonio and La Jolla, swearing to liberate those territories. U.S. forces would be deployed on day one.
I had two uncles who fought in World War I, and they were glad when Armistice Day came. But they also told me that their commander, General Pershing, had wanted to go on to Berlin. He made speeches after the war, saying, “They never knew they were beaten in Berlin. It will all have to be done all over again.” Without comparing Hamas to Germany, there may be a lesson here.
I don’t want to see a repeat of the last Gaza war, which was a humanitarian disaster without really being a military success. I don’t want to see my Israeli friends’ children in harm’s way in Gaza, and I don’t want to see Palestinian children killed. I hope it can be done with surgical precision. I don’t want to see the Middle East in flames. But if it is possible for Hamas to be effectively defeated, perhaps this is the time. If so, it really needs to know that it is beaten, or it will all have to be done all over again.