Let Them Eat Rockets

The international community is expressing outrage over the relatively small number of civilian casualties reported in the first 11 days of Israel's operation in Gaza.  War, apparently, must now mean zero civilian casualties.   If anyone is killed, they seem to be saying, war crimes are committed.

Of course, anyone has the right to object to Israel's invasion.  But these critics are conveniently silent about Hamas' deadly objective when it fired 7,000 rockets and mortars into Israel over the past few years, and the recent torrent of projectiles it launched to end the six-month ceasefire, precipitating the current conflict.

The goal of the Hamas rocket fire was not only to terrorize a significant percentage of Israel's population, but also to kill or maim Israeli civilians. But because most of these rockets did not cause casualties, Israel's critics do not consider them a serious threat.

The fact that more than 15 percent of Israel's population is now within Hamas' rocket range, or that the rockets are more precise with a more lethal payload (thanks to Iran), also seems to be of little concern.  

That Israel has taken great pains to minimize civilian casualties in the current fighting, going so far as to contact Gaza residents by phone and warn them to evacuate from targeted areas, also does not matter.  Critics vilify Israel for being less than 100 percent effective in its attempts to only hit armed Hamas men. 

But with or without these critics, Israel is unusually sensitive about conducting wars with minimal civilian casualties, often to its detriment.  As analyst Max Boot points out, this has made Israel's wars more challenging and more costly to wage.

Take, for example, the alleged Jenin "massacre" during the second intifada. In reality, there was no massacre.  But the international community willingly bought into a Palestinian fraud. In fact, the number of Palestinians killed in the Jenin incursion was one-tenth of the number the Palestinians claimed; there were 50 not 500, and they were almost all fighters. 

Meanwhile, the Israeli Defense Forces lost two dozen of their own men in that operation. The reason for Israel's high casualty rate was its careful measures to avoid civilian casualties.

Israel's care for the sanctity of human life, even in war, is something completely absent among Israel's foes.  Hamas educates and trains their children to kill themselves to achieve the greater good of killing the "Zionist enemy."

In fact, contrary to what we see on television, Hamas does not grieve for children accidentally killed by Israel in the heat of battle.  Rather, this is part of the Hamas war strategy. The Palestinian children who die in conflict with Israel are fodder for Hamas' propaganda machine.  This is why Hamas uses civilians as shields -- both to protect their fighters and weapons caches, and to play the resulting civilian casualties for all they are worth.

National Public Radio's Juan Williams recently complained on Fox News Sunday that the ratio of Palestinian deaths to Israeli deaths was too high so far in the war. This argument implies that the war would be fairer if more Israelis died. International law holds no requirement for the casualty count to be equal on each side of a conflict. The U.S. lost more than 400,000 soldiers in World War II, while Germany lost more than 7 million soldiers and civilians (75 percent were soldiers). Was that death ratio unfair to Germany?  

The reality is that war is ugly. But sometimes, it's necessary. How would we in the United States respond to thousands of rocket attacks from Mexico or Canada?  Of course, we do not face such a prospect, which makes it easier for some to be critical of Israel for retaliating.

Calls for Israel to withdraw are equally hypocritical. The best way to win a war is to win quickly and decisively. When wars are protracted and indecisive, there may be fewer casualties in the short run, but many more will come with renewed fighting at a later date. 

If Israel weakens Hamas in the current operation, but withdraws under international pressure and Hamas resumes firing rockets at Israel, there will undoubtedly be more war.  The only way to permanently stop the rockets will be to end Hamas' control over Gaza.  If the Palestinians in Gaza are ever to have a chance for better lives, this is a critical first step for them as well.

When Israel ceded control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians as a measure of goodwill in 2005, the Palestinians had an opportunity to demonstrate what they could do with political sovereignty. Instead, in 2006 both Gazans and West Bank Palestinians cast their lot with Hamas, an organization known primarily for suicide bombings against Israel, voting to give them 60 percent of the seats in the Palestinian legislature.

Less than two years later, Hamas engineered a bloody coup in Gaza in the summer of 2007, slaughtering more than 200 Fatah men in the process.  Hamas then began making intense preparation for its next war with Israel.  Indeed, this conflict was planned.  Hamas smuggled deadly rockets and other weaponry into Gaza via tunnels between Gaza and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.  Hamas is now firing rockets at the Israeli cities of Beersheba, Ashdod, and Ashkelon. 

Hamas unquestionably knew that Israel would respond with force to the renewed rocket fire. Hamas also knew what this war would mean for the Palestinians living in Gaza.  But Palestinian misery has never been a concern for Hamas.  By continuing to provoke Israel, their message to the Palestinians is simple:  Let them eat rockets.

Richard Baehr is the Jewish Policy Center's newest distinguished fellow and chief political correspondent at The American Thinker.