An apartment building in the Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi after it was hit by a Hamas rocket. Three were killed in the attack
Over the last week, the BBC's reporting from Gaza has been consistently referring to Israel's "ferocious, vicious and devastating attack". It has also described Gaza as one of the world's most densely populated urban regions. Were that so, the death toll would be much higher than the number accounted for. The killing of Ahmad Ja'abari, the commander of the Hamas forces responsible for the rocket attacks, has also been criticised as Israeli provocation and an "extra-judicial" execution. Listening to mainstream media in the West, one gets the sense that it was peevish for Israel to react to rockets being launched daily at its population, forcing over two million citizens to always be in range of a bomb shelter. After all, according to the BBC, the rockets have terrible aim and there have been few Israeli casualties. The fact that rockets fell on kindergartens and schools when the children weren't there because the IDF instructed to close the schools is, of course, irrelevant. Israel is expected to understand that Hamas has to let off steam, to compete with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and to show that it is no less militant than Hezbollah. For responding to the rocket attacks, Israel is told it is being "disproportionate". Israelis find themselves in a state of cognitive dissonance.
There is a point at which a population gets fed up with being targeted by rockets. Ultimately, the prime duty of government is to provide security for its citizens. If it doesn't do that, its other achievements are irrelevant. In 2011 there were 630 rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza and Israel did not respond. That was up from 230 in 2010. In 2012 before the latest Israeli offensive there were 797 attacks with 3 killed and 32 injured. Rocket attacks since 2004 have killed 61 and wounded 1719 Israelis. Before the killing of Ahmad Ja'abari on November 14, there were incessant rocket attacks. These included four cross border attacks on Israeli patrols in which a number of soldiers were killed near the fence. Israel responded, killing several members of the Hamas teams on the border. Hamas responded with rocket and mortar fire. (For every rocket, there are a few mortar shells.) In the week before Ja'abari's death, more than 100 rockets were fired. At that point Ja'abari was targeted.
There are few conflicts where dozens of soldiers warn residents by telephone that they are going to bomb a house and allowing them (and the terrorists) time to get out, or where soldiers abort missions when the terrorists herd civilians onto the roofs as human shields. Were Israel to employ the same level of tolerance for civilian casualties as the British and American armies did in Iraq and Afghanistan, there would be many more civilian casualties in Gaza. The average ratio of civilian to military casualties in conflicts since World War II has been (including Iraq and Afghanistan) three civilians to one soldier. In Israel's actions in Gaza, the ratio has been one civilian casualty for two military deaths. As for Ahmad Ja'abari, there is no doubt that his elimination was called for in the light of the ongoing attacks that he was responsible for. The Israeli strategy does not assume that such targeted killing can stop terrorism altogether. But such killings can create confusion, send a message of deterrence and make the other leaders go into hiding, thus reducing the effectiveness in preparing and carrying out terrorist operations.
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