The objective reading of the facts should be the starting point of any serious analysis of the recent events in Israel. It is this objectiveness that prevents biased discourses and convenient interpretations from interfering in the understanding of the situation. Following the reports, the fact is that the attacks from Gaza started as a response to the arrest of hundreds of Palestinian suspects of involvement in the kidnapping and murder of the three young Jews Eyal, Naftali, and Gilad. The Israeli military operation Protective Edge is a direct result of these attacks.
It is important to understand that the goal of the current military operation is not the establishment of lasting peace. This is the goal of the negotiations that the Israeli government erroneously refuses to resume. According to Israel’s political and military leadership, the Operation Protective Edge has two main goals. Benny Gantz, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Moshe Ya’alon define the first one as the “restoration of Israel’s deterrence power”. The second is to bring back the country’s relative safety and calm in the short term. We could plausibly disagree, criticize or analyze these goals, but not deny or manipulate them.
I agree with those who argue that military operations carried out by Israel do not promote the full normalization of the Israeli life in the long run. Strategically, it is clear that in order to obtain stability, the Israeli government should strengthen the Palestinian moderates, put an end to settlement expansion in the occupied territories, and resume peace talks with Mahmoud Abbas. However, the suggestion that the political process is the best path to long-term stability does not mean that Israel should refrain from reacting militarily to attacks from Gaza in the short term. There is an urgent need for reaction and the numbers show that military operations carried out by Israel significantly reduce the number of missiles launched towards its territory in the years that follow the operations. One must understand that the fact that there is no political peace plan does not mean that Israel should remain passive in face of hundred of missiles launched towards its population. That is the inconsistency in the argument of those who use the mistakes committed by the Israeli government in the strategic-political arena to completely delegitimize the military operation against the attacks perpetrated by terrorist groups. The naivety or idealism of those individuals does not allow them to realize that the short and long term processes, although related, should be implemented in parallel.
Another severe incoherence in arguments commonly made is to agree with the military operation and to consider inadmissible that there will be civilian casualties. Unfortunately, these two positions are incompatible. For several reasons that include the use of human shields by Hamas and Israeli intelligence shortcomings and operational inaccuracies, the truth is that any military operation in Gaza implies civilian casualties. In fact, there is no middle ground when it comes to military operations in Gaza: either one is in favor and accepts that there will be civilian victims or one opposes the whole operation altogether. This is the harsh reality we deal with. This is the moral dilemma we face. If one opposes the military operation, there must be consistency in the rhetoric employed. An opposition requires an alternative response to the attacks coming from Gaza in the short term. And let’s talk frankly. Considering the parties involved in the conflict, there is no sustainable solution other than a military operation. Hamas continuous refusal to accept a ceasefire only endorses this view.
In the case of support for the military operation, the central question becomes how many civilian casualties are necessary to preserve the moral legitimacy of the operation? One, two, twenty, a hundred, a thousand? An answer to this question is necessary so that arguments do not become vague. Moreover, for any analysis of the Israeli military operation to be coherent and well-grounded, moral aspects should be considered. Put it as a question: which of the following options would you agree with?
1) A military operation becomes immoral when the first civilian dies. In this case, there would be no military operation and an alternative solution should be proposed to stop the attacks from Gaza in the short term.
2) A military operation becomes immoral when the number of civilian casualties surpasses the benefits that the operation will bring about. In this case, it becomes necessary to define the acceptable number of civilian casualties in relation to the operation goals.
3) A military operation becomes immoral when it targets civilians. In this case, it becomes necessary to investigate the intention and the ability of both sides to avoid the killing of civilians.
4) A military operation becomes immoral when the military power of the parties involved is disproportionate. In this case, there would be no military operation and we go back to the same problems previously stated.
It is certainly difficult to find moral comfort amidst a war. In some sense, the very concept of ‘just war’ sounds paradoxical. Still, if we are willing to criticize the positions of our representatives, we have to make the difficult thoughtful exercise to imagine what we would tell them to do in a cabinet meeting. “And you? What do you think should be done right now?” Well, here’s my answer. In the case of the military operation Protective Edge, I believe that the most reasonable position is (2) as stated above. I understand the need for an Israeli reaction to the attacks against its population. I am willing to condone a military operation that endangers the lives of Palestinian civilians if it decreases the possibility of Israeli victims – this is the moral price I am willing to pay. Do not get me wrong. I would rather assume this position than oppose the military operation altogether. In practice, the opposition would be the same as condoning the attacks from Gaza and possible Israeli casualties. Most people do not understand that in both cases there would be blood on their hands. However, the military operation must have clear limits. Considering the devastating effects and the ineffectiveness of land incursions into Gaza held in previous operations, I believe that if Israel resort to this measure it must keep it very limited; otherwise it would become an immoral and counterproductive offensive. Considering that Hamas has not accepted the cease-fire proposed by the Egyptian government and accepted by Israel, I think that the military operation should continue with surgical airstrikes. By surgical airstrike I mean one where civilians are notified to evacuate the place and when the target is sufficiently important for the terrorist group that a limited number of civilians causalities would be acceptable. If information about the target is inaccurate, that is, if there is some uncertainty over his presence at the aimed place and/or it is believed that he is just “one more” within the terrorist organization, the airstrike should not take place.
It is indeed hard to make this thoughtful exercise. Try it. What advise would you give? It does not take much time to realize that there are so many elements to take into consideration; that it is easy to get lost in the complex net of tactical information, strategic goals, political implications, numbers, opinions, analyses, and so on and on. Even so, I believe that the current military operation is legitimate and moral as its goals are self-defense and the restoration of security in the short term. It will become an immoral operation if it is not followed by a political peace plan and if the death of civilians becomes arbitrary in relation to the operation’s goals. I agree that the Israeli government has used the rhetoric of ‘self-defense’ to perpetuate the occupation and to strengthen the doctrine of “no partner for peace”. I am a harsh critic of this attitude and I hope it does not lead us to another military operation in the future. Still, I understand that whenever Israel is under attack, there is no alternative to the military action in the short term. With all the grief we might feel, that is the reality. And it is with this reality that we must deal.
Bruno Lima holds a B.A. in Political Science, Sociology & Anthropology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is currently a graduate student of Political Science at the same institution. His main areas of interest are political psychology and nuclear strategy.