Equal rights for enemies?

The Baltimore Sun

KANNAMACHI, Japan - It seems that whenever Israel responds to violent overtures from groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, leaders of the international community are quick to assign equal condemnation to Israelis and Palestinians regardless of whether one is legitimately acting in self-defense.

Whether it is the result of latent anti-Semitism, the desire to avoid inflaming fundamentalist Arab passions or simply an unrealistic belief in equality, world leaders are focusing too much on buzzwords.

In the case of Israel, the buzzwords are the "disproportionate" and "excessive" use of force - terms used in the 2006 Lebanon war and most recently spoken by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in response to Israel's Gaza offensive.

This is a particularly puzzling criticism. Would the international community truly prefer a proportionate or equal response? If Hamas launches three crudely fashioned rockets into Israel, should the Israeli government respond with three equally crude rockets? If three Israel Defense Forces troops are kidnapped by Hezbollah, should the IDF respond by kidnapping an equal number of Hezbollah foot soldiers?

The notion of "proportional" response lacks both merit and logic. In war, there are winners and losers, and the only palatable means of victory come from a disproportionate use of force. Victors are inherently more skilled in combat, tactics and the effective deployment of (generally superior) technology.

It does not make sense to demand a technologically or militarily superior belligerent to refrain from fighting to its full potential simply because it is able to enact "disproportionate" damage on a weaker foe.

Should the United States have refrained from using the atomic bomb because Japan did not yet possess one? Would it have been better to extend lend-lease to Nazi Germany as well as Britain, so that neither side would gain the advantage? A militarily superior force should not limit itself because of the international community's desire to root for the underdog.

The notion of "proportional" responses is further baffling in that such occurrences actually prolong conflicts.

One need only look to the warfare in World War I. Equally manned belligerents, using the same tactics, the same weapons and the same defenses, resulted in both sides being bogged down in interminable trench warfare. No side could gain the upper hand, and thus the conflict continued in an endless back-and-forth.

To be sure, discretion is the better part of valor. The use of retaliatory military force must not be reflexive. If peaceful solutions fail, however, the use of force is a viable option that may have to be employed.

Certainly, an indiscriminate carpet-bombing or use of nuclear weapons on Gaza would be an unacceptable and excessive use of force, but if care is taken to minimize the loss of civilian life, states should be able to respond as they see fit.

In the 2006 Lebanon war as well as the current Gaza offensive, this proportionality argument has no place. In both cases, Israel's actions came as a response to provocations from groups bent on its destruction.

Israel's superior military power comes with responsibility, however. In the wake of the Gaza offensive, Israel should be active in supplying humanitarian aid to affected civilians, and to help moderates such as Mahmoud Abbas regain influence in the area.

Hamas is owed nothing, of course. But in order to further peace negotiations, civilians and moderates must be given any support necessary from Israel.

World leaders must condemn Hamas for abandoning its truce with Israel and recklessly endangering Palestinian citizens, while supporting Israel's right to defend itself - not offering platitudes condemning a "disproportionate" or "excessive" use of force.

Allan Richarz is a writer and teacher working near Tokyo. This article originally appeared in The Christian Science Monitor.

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