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November 26, 2006

Hope

Something wonderful may be starting in Gaza and Israel; probably NOT given past history but well worth hoping for.

Predictably, hours after the ceasefire began, another rocket attack on Israel was launched.  It is no news that there are those for whom peace would be unthinkable.  But what happened next was less predicable and more important.

  • Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly sent 13,000 security forces to the border to prevent such attacks.  At this minute, they appear to be succeeding.  I hope they still are when you read this post.
  • The various major Palestinian factions including Islamic Jihad have said they are honoring the truce.  Islamic Jihad has often been a holdout in previous truce attempts.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: “The state of Israel is a very strong country.  It is strong enough to fight terror and it is strong enough to show restraint in order to give an opportunity for the cease-fire to come into full comprehensive and practical effect.” (as quoted in the NY Times).

There would be no ceasefire, no matter how tenuous, were Israel not strong and not willing to use it strength even in the teeth of condemnation from much of the world and even some in Israel.  According to the same NY Times story, 1,100 rockets have been fired into Israel since the Israelis left Gaza last year, a withdrawal which was mistaken as a sign of weakness.  The rocket fire has killed four Israelis.  Israeli strikes into Gaza in retaliation for the rocket fire and the abduction of one of their soldiers have killed an estimated 400 Palestinians, many but certainly not all of them militants, and cost three Israeli soldiers their lives.

This was a terrible price to pay for both sides.  In order to strike back at those who launch rockets at civilians from civilian territory, Israel had to disregard inevitable civilian casualties in responding both in Lebanon and in Gaza. It had to become more like its enemies.  Many of the Palestinians who died and were injured or who lost their homes were non-combatants; many probably prayed that the terrorists wouldn’t use their neighborhoods as launching pads but weren’t strong enough to stop them; some were certainly women and children as were some of the Israeli casualties.

Terror attacks like the bombs in Baghdad and the missiles fired into Israel are called “asymmetric warfare.”  The terrorists say: “You have more guns, planes, etc than we have but we are willing to sacrifice or even target civilians.  We’ll use your regard for life against you.”  It’s a terrible lesson that the only effective response is also asymmetric  - see the compared casualty figures above.

A population which realizes that the price of sheltering terrorists or allowing missile attacks from its streets is even greater than the very real danger of defying terrorists eventually will (I hope) force the terrorists to stop using it as a shield.  It also takes a very brave leader – as Abbas may have become – to organize internal resistance to local terrorists.  That MAY be what is happening in Gaza tonight. 

Let’s hope the ceasefire is still holding in the morning or both sides will pay an even higher price.

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