Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Deterrence and Proportionality

Guy Bechor is a knowledgable but slightly contrarian interpreter of Middle East affairs. He thinks Israel has re-established its deterrence in the region.

The calm of this summer would indicate he's right. If we're back at war in three months he'll have been proven wrong. The outcome retrocatively determines the veracity of the endless chatter about the proportionality of Israel's methods of war waging. If military measures achieve the goal they were intended for, it's a bit hard to say they weren't proportional. If they don't, they must have been less than proportional.


Alex Stein said...

"If military measures achieve the goal they were intended for, it's a bit hard to say they weren't proportional."

I don't agree with this. Lets take a hypothetical: Israel goes to war in Gaza again and this time the goal is unequivocally to depose Hamas. In the process, Israel kills 1000 civilians needlessly, but manages to deposte Hamas. Would this be proportional? Of course now. Meeting the goal of the original measures does not give an army carte blanche.

Anonymous said...

the problem is that you have definitive proof for what is less than proportional but can never ever even have 1 % of certainty as to proportionality. Even if the other party should admit defeat or surrender unconditionally you could forever go on arguing that that could have been had by inflicting less pain by risking less of the lives of your own and so on and so on

Perversely enough the criticism of successful operations (and I think that if it should be - heaven forbid - only the calm of a summer it's success) holds the promise of so many headlines that there is no way to stop it


Yaacov said...

Good point, Alex. I think however you're missing the fundamental distinction between going to war and being at it. Invading Gaza to topple Hamas would require demonstrating that Hamas poses an immediate danger large enough to justify the attempt. While Hamas in clearly an ugly regime, I'm not certain that case could be made at the moment. The operation earlier this year, at any rate, was clearly not intended to topple Hamas, rather to stop the rockets. They seem to have been stopped, thus demonstrating the proportionality of the operation.

In October 2001 the US indeed set off to topple the regime in Afghanistan. I don't have the faintest idea how many Afghani civilians died in that operation (I don't remember anyone suppying reliable numbers at the time), but had it been 1000, I expect most people would have seen that as a reasonable number, given the thousands who had just died in 9/11, in an operation planned by the guests of the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan.

Not to mention more than 60,000 innocent French civilians killed by the Americans and British in 1944, becasue they were in the way as the Allies were toppling the German regime of the time.

marek said...

While in general I tend to agree with you, your statement "They seem to have been stopped, thus demonstrating the proportionality of the operation." is logically wrong. What was demonstrated was that the operation was big enough to convince Hamas to stop.
But perhaps a smaller operation would suffice too? Obviously it would be unacceptable to experiment in order to find the smallest effective size of a military action which then could be termed "proportional". Although Israel did try smaller operations and other actions as well. It doesn't seem that there is a meaningful way to determine the proportionality of such an action.

Yaacov said...

Silke and Marek both make the same point: if a degree of force worked, perhaps a somewhat smaller degree might also have sufficed?

The first thing to recognize is that we're all agreeing that the measure can't be know until - at the earliest - it has been given to be tested. Which means that something like, oh, 100% of the punditry during the operation about how Israel isn't acting with proportionality must be misinformed. You can't say that until it has been tried.

The second is what Marek admits, and the IDF report detailled. Military force isn't the first thing you try if you've got other options. Though the Americans didn't wait very long or try too many alternatives before attacking Afghanistan in 2001, and they were probably right. (The did send some warning to the Taliban, which were rejected). And then you've got to use some degree of common sense. You see what didn't work, and you up the level in a reasonable way. In the case of Israel in Gaza this process went on for years, so I don't see what the gronds might be for saying that the single measure which finally worked was all wrong. (Hoping it really works for a long time; so far it has only been about 5 months).

Avigdor said...

Yaacov, why put ourselves in a box of "proportionality". Most people don't understand what this means, leading to an open-ended sea of interpretation. Literally, the "proportional" response to Hamas would be to fire thousands of unguided, non-targeted rockets back into Gaza.

There is a wide range of options that Israel had. From only firing at the rocket teams and rocket sites to toppling Hamas with 50,000 troops and going house to house to destroy every tunnel and weapons storage facility.

Not even the super lefty Europeans will say that targeting the rocket teams is wrong. Can you say that targeting Hamas government facilities was "proportional", however? It becomes a weaker argument.

Israel loses legitimacy because it creates this web of morality it has to jump through, and which others then hold it to in every single scenario. Any other nation would fight until Hamas was completely destroyed, and no one would question this.

Maybe it's time to give "proportionality" a rest and speak plainly. Any organization or foreign goverment which launches an attack on the State of Israel should expect complete extermination.