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The Utility of Force in Gaza

12:54 PM, Dec 30, 2008 • By JOHN NOONAN
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As Israel continues its retaliatory strikes against the Hamas stronghold in Gaza, so the left increases its collective j'accuse, specifically bemoaning the use of 'disproportionate force.'

The manner in which a nation conducts war, and achieves victory, can be as important as the war itself. Compare the conquests of the British Empire to that of the Mongols under Genghis Kan. Tactics and the utility of force matter, a point that hasn't been lost on modern, Western militaries.

The highly professional Israeli Defense Force, however, is nothing like the Mongol Horde. The IDF's campaign against Hamas is both legal and justified under ever major treatise on warfare, from the Geneva Convention to Thomas Aquinas' jus ad bellum. Israel is on firm ground here.

Observations that the action against Hamas constitutes a limited war, and should be conducted as such, are correct -- to an equally limited point. One of the principle problems with limited warfare is the frequent inability of the side with superior firepower to bring its force to bear in a manner quick enough to prevent the smaller, more agile force from responding, adjusting, and relocating. Israel's tactic of swift, sweeping air raids against Hamas' centers-of-gravity appears to have largely neutralized this trend.

For the left, this leads to clumsy fumbling over terms like 'disproportionate force.' In today's highly technological battlefield, disproportionate force (or killing a mosquito with a cannon) has as much to do with types of weapon platforms as it does numerical superiority. The Israelis, with their air-delivered precision-guided munitions, are using a scalpel -- not a broad sword. And it's a method that we've used ourselves frequently -- during the Clinton years as well -- in places like Serbia and Iraq. There's no clause in the Law of Armed Conflict or Geneva Convention which states that your enemy must first have an air force before you use your own, nor are there any rules that restrict Israel to using weapons that are of equal or lesser caliber than the ones which Hamas uses against Israeli civilians.

So this is a strange phenomena that leaves critics of Israel forced to create their own rules of warfare to better fit their narrative. It's an odd play for a crowd noted for their championing of global solutions and treaties to local problems.

For more, I highly recommend Noah Pollak's The Juicebox Mafia on Gaza.