- If I could pose one question to a group of senior American and European government officials, it would be the following: Is there any action at all that you would deem legitimate for Israel to take to defend its population against Palestinian attacks - and if so, what?
The answer to the first half of the question would probably be yes, because in principle, both America and Europe agree that countries have the right to defend their citizens. But the second half would be a poser - because both the Europeans and the Americans have proven over the last four months that when it comes to Israel, they oppose translating this principle into practice.
During this period, Israel has tried a wide variety of tactics in response to the war of attrition that has been the Palestinians' answer to unprecedented Israeli concessions at the negotiating table. Yet every one of these tactics has been unequivocally denounced by the US and the European Union.
Initially, Prime Minister Ehud Barak opted for the simplest tactic of all: telling soldiers to just shoot back when fired upon. But since Palestinian gunmen made a practice of stationing themselves in the midst of crowds of civilians, and since even the most sophisticated weapons are rarely perfectly aimed in the heat of battle, this tactic resulted in the deaths of many civilians as well as gunmen. The result was universal excoriation of Israeli brutality, and the implicit message that it would be preferable for IDF soldiers to simply let themselves be used for target practice.
Barak then decided to try targeting property rather than people. In response to Palestinian attacks, he began ordering the IDF to destroy buildings belonging to the organizations responsible, after first warning the people inside to leave and giving them several hours to do so. Highly sophisticated weapons were used to ensure, as far as possible, that no innocent bystanders were hurt. And the result? Israel was again universally condemned, this time for having used heavy weaponry such as combat helicopters - even though the main purpose of this hi-tech weaponry was to prevent civilian casualties.
Israel has also made extensive use of economic pressure. This has included barring Palestinians from working in Israel, in order to keep potential terrorists out, and not transferring money to the Palestinian Authority, to deprive it of cash with which to buy weapons to use against Israel (according to IDF intelligence, the PA has been engaged in massive arms smuggling for the past several months).
Keeping enemy aliens out and freezing enemy assets are both completely standard wartime measures, even though they undoubtedly hurt the innocent as well as the guilty. Nevertheless, Israel has been universally assailed for taking these actions.
Then, finally, Barak came up with one tactic that hurts only the guilty: the targeted killing of known terrorists. These killings have produced almost no civilian casualties, because the IDF can choose the time and place of the attack, and it tries to choose times and places when no innocents are nearby.
This usually necessitates picking a time when the terrorist is not actually engaged in military activity. In theory, there is nothing wrong with this: The rules of warfare permit taking an enemy by surprise; they do not state that you can open fire only when the enemy is actually shooting at you. But again, the normal rules apparently do not apply to Israel: Rather than applauding a tactic that prevents civilian casualties, both America and Europe have objected vociferously to the targeted killings, with the European Union even terming them "executions without trial" and declaring them a violation of international law.
But if all of the above tactics are completely unacceptable, just what tactics would America and Europe consider legitimate - other than for Israel to let its citizens be sitting ducks, without lifting a finger to protect them?
If America and Europe want to exert an influence on Israel's actions, they owe the government a straightforward answer to this question. There has never been an Israeli government that would not prefer to use tactics acceptable to the West, if such tactics exist.
But the evidence to date seems to indicate that there are no such tactics - that in practice, Europe and America are unwilling for Israel to take any measures in its own defense. And if this is the case, then the government has no choice but to simply ignore world opinion and do what it thinks best. For no Israeli government - and indeed, no self-respecting government in any country - could agree to sit by and do nothing while its citizens are subjected to daily shooting attacks.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post