Many, including Scott earlier this morning, have referred to the Gazan invasion as “Israel’s 9/11.” I respectfully disagree. I think Pearl Harbor is a more apt analogy.
Hamas’s invasion was no mere act of terrorism. It was, rather, an act of war carried out by what is effectively a state. Prime Minister Netanyahu got it right when he said, immediately after the invasion was launched, that Israel was at war.
The difference is important. If the invasion was just another in a long series of terrorist outrages, then selective reprisals, as in the past, are the presumptive response. In other words, doing again what hasn’t worked before–destroying a few military installations and taking out a handful of political or military leaders. War is different. A war ends only when one side internalizes the fact that it is beaten and loses the will to continue.
When I say “one side,” I don’t mean military or political leaders, who face their own imperatives and may or may not ever choose to give up. I mean the civilian population (acknowledging that in Gaza it is not easy to tell who is a civilian, but that doesn’t matter for this purpose). Why did the Allies fire-bomb Dresden? Not to achieve some discrete military objective, but to horrify the German people and convince them that continuing the war would lead only to further catastrophe. Likewise with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In total war, the situation in which Israel finds itself, destroying the will of the civilian population to resist is the ultimate military objective.
So I believe that Israel needs to rethink its horror of civilian casualties. Will the “international community” howl? Of course. Elements of that community are still howling about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more than 75 years later. But so what? What has the international community ever done for Israel? Israel’s objective should be to inspire fear in its enemies, not admiration in the European Union.
The fact that Hamas holds something like 100 Israeli prisoners of course makes the situation excruciating for Israel’s leaders. One hopes that they can be extricated before the ultimate devastation is unleashed on Gaza. But the reality is that Israel does not control the fate of the prisoners. Gaza does. Israel will do its utmost to retrieve them, but in the end it should focus on what it does control: wreaking such destruction that the survivors and their descendants will never again even think of making war on Israel.
UPDATE: This morning, Israel declared war on Hamas. It’s a start.