Sunday, August 3rd, 2014 https://adamkhan.net/rambles/in-gaza-israel-should-acknowledge-its-terrible-tactic
n the current Gaza conflict the human cost of Israel’s tactic of massive air strikes—killing, injuring and rendering Gazans homeless en masse—is enormous, so that when considering its morality, as all Israelis and supporters must do, only if Israel can be almost certain that it will succeed in halting Hamas’s attacks on Israel for some decent stretch of time, thereby putting an end to hostilities, can it be justified.
Israel set the precedent for this tactic, for pressuring people to in turn pressure hostile regimes or organizations, in the 2006 war with Hizballah. The Hizbullah-dominated Beirut suburb of Dahieh was carpeted first with leaflets then with bombs, and Israel has enjoyed quiet on the Lebanese border ever since. Now known as the Dahieh Doctrine, publicly espoused in 2008 by then IDF Northern Command Chief Gadi Eisenkot, the doctrine has occasionally been publicly articulated by strategists such as Gabi Siboni at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies think tank. As one centrist Israeli pundit, Yaron London, put it: “Our neighbors must be held fully accountable for their leaders’ acts.”
Both history and logic suggest that hitting the enemy population can work when the battle is fundamentally defensive.
Although loaded terms like “collective punishment” and “state terrorism” are not entirely inaccurate descriptions of the doctrine, it is hardly new—it was used most famously by the Nazis in bombing Britain during the Blitz and by the Allies themselves when bombing Dresden, which killed almost 25,000 people, and, in the most extreme example, the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force the Japanese to surrender. So, it’s been done before and sometimes works, though these attacks remain controversial to this day. Moreover, it seems there is a pattern for when it does and does not work. It did not work against the British. In fact, it must naturally fail against those who are fighting a defensive war; they know that if they are cowed into surrender, they will lose everything anyway. But it will almost surely succeed against those who know they are fighting an offensive war; they know that if their side stops its attacks, the attacks against them will also stop. If Israel is confident that it is fighting a defensive war, it can be confident that the Dahieh Doctrine will work.
And Israel’s position is indeed fundamentally defensive.
That said, as of this writing Hamas continues to fight, to lob rockets into Israel. But this is because the doctrine’s second act has not taken place. Yediot Ahronot columnist Ron Ben-Yishai wrote yesterday:
“I recently visited Khan Younis and saw what Gazans have not yet seen and will only see after a ceasefire. The destruction is enormous, not only in Gaza City and nearby neighborhoods, but all over the Gaza Strip. I saw the Dahieh neighborhood of Beirut in 2006, after the Air Force had been there, and I can say that that was a drop in the ocean compared to what is happening now in Gaza. People will have to work for at least a year to have a roof over their heads and access to running water and proper sewage facilities. But to make this sink into the consciousness of Gazans there needs to be a ceasefire.”
Yet well-meaning Israel defenders still claim the Dahieh Doctrine is a fiction?
Well, now there is a unilateral Israeli ceasefire, Gazans will soon see, and so will we. Did the Dahieh Doctrine succeed or not? Will the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel splutter out within a few days of a ceasefire? It will work. But what a price.
But Israel has not directly acknowledged its application of the Dahieh Doctrine. The Israeli citizenry seems unaware of it, tending to believe that the massive destruction was necessary for the more immediate reason of protecting Israeli ground troops from attack during the presumed forthcoming incursion. Defenders of Israel tend to deny it, arguing that the Dahieh Doctrine is a fabrication used by anti-Israel propagandists. Yet the very distribution of leaflets before bombing, a practice held up by Israel as an illustration of its humaneness, itself demonstrates that the doctrine, this encouragement of democracy among neighbors down the barrel of a gun, is in use.
Israelis should, it seems to me, acknowledge the doctrine. Otherwise the enormity of the deeds will fester in the country’s psyche. Indeed it is already doing damage. Israelis seem unmoved by the civilian deaths in Gaza, not quite in denial about them, but straining logic to decry responsibility for them. Recently B’Tselem wanted to take out an ad to list the Gazan civilian war dead on elevision by name. The Israel Broadcasting Authority refused. B’Tselem appealed and the Attorney-General sided with IBA. This seems wrong—indeed the IBA itself should be making this broadcast. Golda Meir once quipped that she can forgive the Arabs for killing our children, but not for making us kill theirs. But Israelis cannot blame anybody but themselves for not caring about having killed theirs. If the government acknowledged that it’s terrible but it’s our only way because we’re not going to go in and govern them ourselves, then Israelis could acknowledge the enormity of what they have done, and begin to atone. If it was deemed the difficult but necessary thing to do, the populace can take it. As for the rest of the world, it sees the carnage anyway—at least this would provide some rational justification for it. Without acknowledging the application of the Dahieh Doctrine, Israel’s narrative—“We’re absolutely not targeting civilians”—seems strained.