It’s Important to Minimize Civilian Casualties, but Excessive Caution Leads to More Death on Both Sides

Yesterday, the IDF closed in on the city of Khan Younis, Hamas’s main center in the southern Gaza Strip, beginning what Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi has described as the “third phase” of the operation. Two days beforehand, giving a speech in the United Arab Emirates, Vice-President Kamala Harris declared, “Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating.” Such comments echo those of other U.S. officials, in what seems like a coordinated effort to hamstring the Israeli offensive in southern Gaza.

But how many “innocent Palestinians” does Vice-President Harris believe to be the right number to be killed? The laws of armed conflict in fact help provide a way of answering that question, as Shlomo Brody explains, through the oft-misunderstood doctrine of proportionality. Moreover, he argues, excessive restraint poses dangers of its own, a lesson Israel might have learned during the second intifada, after buckling to similar U.S. pressure:

In September 2003, the Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin gathered with all of his senior men in a three-story Gaza apartment building. . . . Yet Israel didn’t strike. Fearful of dozens of civilian casualties along with the local and international protests that would ensue, Prime Minister Sharon, at the urging of the army chief of staff Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon, called off an attack using a massive bomb to topple the building.

An alternative plan was hastily proposed to shoot a smaller missile to destroy the third floor, where intelligence officials speculated the meeting was taking place.

They guessed wrong. The meeting, it turned out, was on the first floor. . . . Within a few days, sixteen Israeli citizens were dead and another 75 wounded by two Hamas suicide bombers.

Israel’s decision not to act cost the lives of many innocent Israelis. Fears of “disproportionate” accusations led Israel to shirk its primary moral responsibility, which is to protect its own citizens from being murdered by terrorists.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hamas, International Law, Kamala Harris, Military ethics

Israel’s Retaliation against the Houthis Sends a Message to the U.S., and to Its Arab Allies

The drone that struck a Tel Aviv high-rise on Thursday night is believed to have traveled over 2,000 kilometers, flying from Yemen over Egypt and then above the Mediterranean before veering eastward toward the Israeli coast. Since October, the Houthis have launched over 200 drones at Israel. Nor is this the first attempt to strike Tel Aviv, only the first successful one. Noah Rothman observes that the Houthis’ persistent attacks on Israel and on international shipping are largely the result of the U.S.-led coalition’s anemic response:

Had the Biden administration taken a more proactive and vigorous approach to neutralizing the Houthis’ capabilities, Israel would not be obliged to expand to Yemen the theater of operations in the war Hamas inaugurated on October 7. The prospects of a regional war grow larger by the day, not because Israel cannot “take the win,” as President Biden reportedly told Benjamin Netanyahu following a full-scale direct Iranian attack on the Jewish state, but because hostile foreign actors are killing its citizens. Jerusalem is obliged to defend them and the sovereignty of Israel’s borders.

Biden’s hesitancy was fueled by his apprehension over the prospect of a “wider war” in the Middle East. But his hesitancy is what is going to give him the war he so cravenly sought to avoid.

In this context, the nature of the Israeli response is significant: rather than follow the American strategy of striking isolated weapons depots and the like, IDF jets struck the port city of Hodeida—the sort of major target the U.S. has shied away from. The mission was likely the furthest-ever carried out by the Israel Air Force, hitting a site 200 kilometers further from Israel than Tehran. Yoel Guzansky and Ilan Zalayat comment:

The message that Israel sent was intended to reach the moderate Arab countries, the West, and especially the United States. . . . The message to the coalition countries is that “the containment” had failed and the Houthis must be hit harder. The Hodeida port is the lifeline of the Houthi economy and continued damage to it will make it extremely difficult for this economy, which is also facing significant American sanctions.

Read more at National Review

More about: Houthis, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy