Monday, December 29, 2008

the question of asymmetrical warfare

In the comments on his blog, Freddie writes:
Should a 5 year old Palestinian girl be responsible for that? And does that responsibility, forced on her, carry a death sentence? That's what you're arguing, if you are indeed justifying these attacks. To be clear, that's the mainstream position; most people believe collateral damage is a sad but necessary aspect of war. And, indeed, the same argument cuts against the Palestinians-- even if I thought military aggression against Israel by the Palestinians was wise, beneficial or justified (and I think none of these things), I wouldn't allow it to justify killing innocent Israelis. That's, I know, an idealists take. But I can't stomach the moral consequences of collateral damage otherwise; I think it's as stark a question as I put it above.
Not to bandy about this Israel question too much with Freddie--not every question needs answering, nor will every question ever be answered in this debate--but the topic of asymmetrical warfare is one so close to the issue at hand that I have to make at least an attempt at a response.

First of all, I don't like it any more than the next guy. Civilian casualties should be avoided at all costs--and does Israel make every attempt to do so? I doubt it. Does Hamas make it quite difficult for Israel to avoid said casualties? Of course. It's part of the guerrilla/terrorist strategy. It's been used before in other arenas--Vietnam comes to mind. Beirut.

But what's to be done? I ask this in the comment section:
I'm not sure how one responds at all to terrorist attacks... There isn't really symmetry in combating such tactics (I suppose firing back rockets quid pro quo into Gaza might be, but that's just silly) which is why the entire notion of a "war on terror" is such utter, inexcusable nonsense, and why this debate is so difficult.
So perhaps the entire question of asymmetrical response is the wrong one--perhaps we'd be better off asking "What is symmetrical warfare when one side is using terrorism and the other is using a conventional military?"

How ought Israel respond to the rocket attacks? It's not quite the same as the Irish terror assault on the UK. After all, the IRA wasn't out to totally annihilate Great Britain, whereas the Hamas Charter states quite clearly that they will accept nothing less than Israel's complete destruction. Either this is rhetoric (with evidence to the contrary) or this is a real problem in negotiating peace.

I'm not saying I agree completely with Israel's response. I think they continue down this drunken path of half-measures followed by massive assaults followed by half-measures followed by shock and awe followed by....well, you get the picture. There is very little consistency in their approach, and then they lay into Gaza with this monstrous assault. It's confusing. It's hard for the rest of us to understand or follow--and it may very well be politically driven, as Freddie suggests. Politics are so often interfering with any coherent response, as Israel replaces government after government after government...

But Israel has to do something...and I'm at a loss to what that may be. What is the proper, or symmetrical, response to these terrorist attacks? I fear that Democracy has made it more difficult for Israel to deal with her neighbors. The new Democracy in Palestine (and the newly elected Hamas government) will only make things more difficult there...


Will said...

It's possible that there is no appropriate military response to Hamas's latest provocation. This isn't a particularly palatable option, but sitting back and absorbing punishment may be the most humane alternative when you're a) not taking any casualties and b) your retaliatory options all risk massive collateral damage.

E.D. Kain said...

But Will, how can you ask people to "sit back and take it"? The collateral damage is not in numbers but in terror invoked. I would not want to sit back while randomly falling rockets littered my home town, would you?

Will said...

I agree it's not easy to do, but given the scope and intensity of Israeli military retaliation, I think "sitting back and taking it" is probably the most humane alternative.