I believe that the air attacks being carried out by Israel on various targets in the Gaza Strip and the incursion by the Israeli army into the Gaza Strip are justified. I also believe that these air attacks and land offensive will serve no purpose at all, other than help Ehud Barak and the Labour Party in the forthcoming Israeli elections.
Ever since the cease fire between Hamas and Israel came to an end on 19 December 2008, Israel has been targeted by Hamas which started to fire around 80 rockets per day into Israel. Most of the rockets did not cause much damage and so far, only a handful of Israelis have died as a result. However, the number of people killed in Gaza has exceeded five hundred. Clearly the Israeli response to the rocket attacks is not proportionate. Why then do I say that Israeli is justified in its actions?
Imagine for a moment that you own a fertile piece of land in a desolate part of the world. You land adjoins a barren piece of land. A tall barbed wire fence separates your land and the barren land. The people who own the barren land don’t like your presence in the neighbourhood. They have a nasty habit of throwing stones into your land, a few stones every day. Mostly they don’t do any damage, but once a month or so, a worker in your land gets hit by a stone. Once in a while, your neighbours cut through the barbed wire fence and creep into your land at night and uproot a few fruit trees before returning to their barren land, all this in order to make you abandon your fertile property. How should you respond? If your response has to be strictly proportionate, you can only throw stones into your neighbour’s barren land, something which will distress your neighbour a lot less than you are distressed by the stones thrown into your land. You can also creep into your neighbour’s land at night and uproot his fruit trees, except that your neighbour does not have any fruit trees! So, you post guards on the periphery of your land, mount powerful search lights at certain vantage points and instruct your guards to shoot dead anyone caught in the act of throwing stones into your land. Intruders who enter your fertile land are also to be locked up for a year before they are released. Once this new policy comes into effect, your guards do manage to kill a few stone throwers and catch a few intruders, but the stone throwing and intrusions don’t cease. This is mainly because there is a total difference in values between you and your neighbour and your neighbour is willing to sacrifice the lives of his people in order to cause trouble for you. He just does not want you in the neighbourhood, though you have every right to be there. Soon the number of fruit trees you lose to your neighbour’s men goes up. Your workers start to quit. You start making a loss. Unless you manage to stop the stone throwing and the uprooting of fruit trees, you will have to vacate the neighbourhood. What do you do then? There is no police force worth the name in your part of the world. You have no choice but to send a team of armed men into your neighbour’s land and capture or kill everyone who has thrown stones or intruded into your land and teach your neighbour such a lesson that he does not try to harm your property ever again.
Now imagine for a moment that you acquired your fertile piece of land after a prolonged litigation. You won the legal dispute and the loser was your neighbour who owns the adjacent barren piece of land. They are many in your town who say that the court ruling was unfair, though the bulk of the local residents support the judicial ruling and are happy for you to occupy your piece of land. Does this additional piece of information make you change your mind? Do you now think that the neighbour has the right to throw stones into your land or intrude into your land and uproot your fruit trees? The answer is a clear No. Instead, what your neighbour ought to do if unhappy with the court ruling is appeal to a higher court. If further appeal is not possible, your neighbour ought to get public opinion on his side and in the meantime, try and make his barren piece of land as fertile as possible.
Israel is in the position of the owner of the fertile land. Its neighbour is Hamas, an organisation whose charter calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian Islamic State. I have always believed that the creation of Israel through an UN resolution was absolutely fair. If you believe that the creation of Israel by the UN in 1948 was correct, it naturally follows that Israel has the right to defend its territory and pre-empt any possible attack that may pose an existential threat to Israel. I have many good friends who ardently believe that the creation of Israel was unfair. All those friends tell me that Israel’s Gaza offensive is totally unjustified.
It must be admitted, most of what followed after the fair and legal creation of Israel was neither fair nor legal. Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and its Arab minority has almost always been very, very unjust. In particular, I don’t think that Israel was justified in placing an economic blockade on the Gaza Strip in reaction to Hamas’s election victory. Though no one likes the idea of fundamentalists of the Hamas variety on their door step, Israel had no right to make life unbearable for the people in the Gaza Strip. Also, it must not be forgotten that Hamas is largely a creation of Israel. If Israel were not so desperate to undermine the secular Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Fatah, fundamentalist Hamas would not have come into existence.
The Gaza Strip is not a sovereign state, but Hamas runs it as if it is. As per the UN resolution which created Israel, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem ought to form an independent Palestinian state. However, East Jerusalem is illegally occupied by Israel and the West Bank is under the control of the Fatah. Hamas won the Palestinian Parliamentary Elections in January 2006 and came to power. After infighting broke out between Hamas and Fatah, Hamas was evicted from the West Bank in mid 2007. For good measure, the Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas declared Hamas to be an illegal force. I don’t think Mahmud Abbas was right in doing so and I do think that Hamas got a raw deal in being evicted from the West Bank, considering the fact that they won 74 seats to the ruling-Fatah's 45 in the Parliamentary elections in January 2006. Most probably Israel played a key behind-the-scenes role in all this.
However, despite all these drawbacks on the part of Israel, the random launching of rockets into Israel with the intention of killing civilians cannot be justified. Hamas’s attacks on Israel are not just a reaction to the economic blockade. Instead, it arises out of Hamas’s determination that Israel should not exist as a state. The range of Hamas’s rockets has been increasing in range and accuracy by the month and soon there may be a day when Hamas is able to target any part of Israel at its will. When faced with such a situation, Israel is perfectly entitled to defend itself against such attacks and do all that is necessary to prevent such attacks in future.
The forthcoming elections in Israel and the need for the ruling Labour Party to show itself to be as tough on Hamas as the Likud Party, has definitely influenced Israel’s decision to attack the Hamas in Gaza. Nevertheless, Israel’s right to defend itself is so fundamental that it is entitled to do so even on election’s eve.
All of what I have stated above begs the question whether India is entitled to respond against Pakistan in a similar fashion in response to the Mumbai attacks. The answer is yes, though, considering the fact that Pakistan is not the Gaza Strip and it possesses nuclear weapons, India would be foolhardy to do so.
Israeli air strikes have led to heavy civilian casualties. It is not easy to watch visuals of civilians, including young children being killed, and say with a straight face the Israel’s actions are justified. However, Israel’s actions are indeed justified. Hamas has intentionally mixed up its military infrastructure with civilian infrastructure in Gaza. Hamas seems to enjoy a high degree of civilian support in Gaza. If a near-sovereign state supported by its population launches attacks on another sovereign state using equipment and men who are mixed up with civilians, the ensuing retribution will cause civilian causalities. Hamas is as much to blame for the civilians killed in the air strikes as are the people of Gaza who voted for an organisation whole sole objective is to remove Israel from the face of this earth.
Will Israel succeed in its objective? In 2006, Israel launched an offensive against the Hezbollah in Lebanon and was fought to a standstill. Hezbollah’s survival made it a lot more popular and Israel’s aura of invincibility was badly dented. Hamas is no Hezbollah. It is not as tough or as capable as Hassan Nazarallah’s organisation. Also, unlike in 2006, this time Israel seems to be successfully avoiding battles in dense population centres where die-hard Hamas fighters could take a heavy toll of its fighters. If Israel’s only objective is to stop the rocket attacks altogether, it will not succeed. If its aim is to only make Hamas pay a price for the rocket attacks, it may succeed. However, Hamas will continue to exist as an organisation even after this offensive is over. It will also retain its ability to launch attacks on Israel, as before. Its popularity in Gaza Strip and the rest of the Arab world may even go up. In short, the Israeli offensive will most probably do nothing other than help the Labour Party and Ehud Barak win the next elections.