This past week saw an intensification of violence in the Gaza Strip, which left 116 Palestinians and three Israelis dead. Israel claims that it is acting in self-defense and that the incursions into Gaza are necessary to stem further rocket attacks, but maybe it’s missing the point.
Israeli ministers maintain that the best way to hold Hamas responsible for rocket attacks is to use a military solution. Israel uses its powerful army to target both Hamas’ infrastructure and its leaders. The same strategy was used when Israel struck the office building of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh over the weekend. From a tactical point of view, it makes sense: Armed with smart bombs, F-16s and other high tech weaponry, Israel can easily destroy crucial buildings in Gaza.
But haven’t we heard this before?
On March 20, 2003, George W. Bush announced the launch of two cruise missiles aimed at an office building in Baghdad where Saddam Hussein was rumored to have been. In the following two weeks, the United States launched a campaign of unprecedented scope and intensity which came to define the military doctrine of “Shock and Awe.” This strategy aims to render an enemy paralyzed by destroying anything that may prove useful to him, particularly the chain of command and infrastructure. While “Shock and Awe” no doubt played a major role in achieving a military “mission accomplished” just a few months later in May of the same year, rebuilding of a state with most of its infrastructure destroyed has proved remarkably challenging.
When the goal is military domination, a strategy like “Shock and Awe” is effective. However, when it is achieving a viable and peaceful state, the results can be disastrous because the strategy incinerates the very apparatuses of state that provide order: police, paychecks, food and water. In Iraq, the United States found itself with a nearly ungovernable country. There was no longer a functioning police force, as most of the stations were destroyed. In addition, civil servants and police officers were not receiving their paychecks. The weakness of the state allowed extremists to move in and promote instability. Only recently has the United States military moved away from viewing the situation in Iraq as a purely military problem.
Israel waged its 2006 Lebanon War using a strategy similar to “Shock and Awe.” The Israeli Air Force destroyed hundreds of buildings, bridges and homes, leaving Lebanon in shambles. Although some rockets were destroyed, today Lebanon is no more stable and citizens of northern Israel are scarcely any safer.
While effective in military terms, the U.S. and Israel’s use of overwhelming military force is counterproductive from the standpoint of maintaining regional stability. Infrastructure is not just for a military purpose, it is necessary for the development of civil society. As the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate suggested, the war in Iraq had actually increased anti-American sentiments and bolstered the global jihadist movement. In the case of Lebanon and Gaza, a distinction between military and civilian infrastructure is not easily made. Israel aims to limit the effect its strikes have on civilians. However, this aim does not exonerate Israel from all wrongdoing. In 2006, Israel destroyed Gaza’s main power plant, cutting off the power to 1.4 million people. Hamas is not free from blame either, as many of the civilian casualties result from the fact that it ensconces its military wing within the civilian population. Whether or not this blending of civilian and military infrastructure is intentional on the part of the Hezbollah and Hamas, it does not change the fact that a large scale attack on infrastructure, leading to the destruction of a police force, the lack of water, or lack of power may cause a humanitarian crisis, and a humanitarian crisis can lead to political instability.
As the violence intensifies in Israel and Gaza, there is great danger for a regional conflict to spiral into a wider-spread warfare. One only has to look at Michael Oren’s latest column in the Washington Post titled “It’s the Middle East, Stupid” (3/2) where he advises, “Though the waning Bush administration is focused on trying to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty, shore up Iraq and flex its muscles at Iran, it should not downplay the danger that a seemingly limited border skirmish could rapidly escalate into a regional catastrophe.”
While the Middle East may be precariously close to an explosion of conflict, the United States has the opportunity to weigh in on Israel, before the conflict escalates as one of its closest allies. The United States has the ability to prevent a wider-scale conflict, by reining in Israel. On Saturday, Condoleezza Rice discussed the need for the violence to stop. On Monday, Israel had abruptly withdrawn many of its troops from the Gaza Strip.
To argue that Israel has the right to use all of the means available to defend itself is to forget that all of its adversaries are not equal. The United States supplies Israel with weapons for a variety of reasons, but one is to provide a counter balance to the many nations that surround Israel and threaten it. But, are we to say that Israel has every right to use the same weapons that it would use against a Syrian Tank advance on the offices of Hamas? Did Gaza’s power plant have the same defenses as Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981?
As U.S. Citizens, we must think about the way the weapons that we sell to Israel are used. While the U.S. must respect Israel’s sovereignty, that is of little importance to a Palestinian whose house is destroyed by a bomb that reads “Made In the USA.”
Sam Yellen is a junior in Pierson College.