HAMAS/ISRAEL WAR - President Biden provided Israel with the most important advice Israel has received: do not repeat America’s mistakes made after the 9/11 terrorist attack. Although President Biden did not elaborate on the nature of those mistakes, history reveals all too clearly the errors that were made. Americans were justifiably horrified by the magnitude and cruelty of the 9/11 attacks. Americans wanted vengeance and President Bush delivered. The United State invaded Afghanistan and, later, Iraq.
The results from these invasions were horrendous. Nearly 7,000 American soldiers perished in the conflicts. And, for what purpose? The Taliban has regained control of Afghanistan. The United States dramatically enhanced Iran’s regional power by removing the Iraqi check on its power. Sadam Hussein’s Iraq had stood as an enemy to Al Qaeda and our invasion removed this threat to Al Qaeda. The image of America occupying Afghanistan and Iraq conjured memories of Western colonialism and the subjugation, humiliation and impoverishment that came from colonialism. The United States invasion of Afghanistan led to approximately 70,000 Afghan deaths during the 20 years of conflict. In Iraq, a staggering 300,000 Iraqi deaths resulted from the invasion which lasted 7 years. These bloody and protracted wars further alienated many moderate Muslim countries, as well as the hearts and minds of their citizens.
As emotions calmed, the United States leadership began to realize that Al Qaeda intended to drag the United States into costly, unwinnable wars, erode the image of the United States internationally and bring publicity and coverage to the underlying grievances of those that Al Qaeda purported to represent. Al Qaeda got what they wanted. Al Qaeda could never have had the illusion that it could win militarily against the United States, or even be able to deliver another 9/11-like blow because America had awakened to the threat. But, America did became entangled in protracted conflicts that lost American lives, drained wealth and tarnished our international image. Sadly, Al Qaeda accomplished its intended purposes.
Israel now repeats these mistakes. Few dispute that Israel must eliminate Hamas. But will Israel’s withering attack on the people of Gaza that has now killed over 11,000 persons be effective? Israel has committed many, many blistering and brutal attacks on the people of Gaza over the past 16 years. As the intensity and lethality of Israeli attacks have increased, the power of Hamas has increased. Indeed, Israel had bombed Gaza so frequently that the Israeli attacks on Gaza had begun to develop a routine pattern: Israel and Hamas trade fire, Hamas fire increases to the tipping point, and Israel responds with overwhelming violence. This pattern had become so predictable that Israel called these attacks “mowing the grass” to keep Hamas at bay. The point is obvious. Israel’s reliance on violence has proven ineffective in bringing a cessation to Hamas attacks.
Israel failed to learn this lesson from its actions in Lebanon. In 1983 Israel invaded Lebanon and caused massive civilian loss of life and unconscionable levels of property damage. Hezbollah arose from this massive loss of life and property and the partial Israeli occupation that followed. From 1983 to 2006, Hezbollah and Israel followed a pattern similar to the Hamas/Israel pattern: small conflicts escalating to larger conflicts and finally an eruption of overwhelming violence. In 2006, Israel launched a massive invasion of Lebanon, killed thousands of innocents, and caused cataclysmic property and infrastructure damage. Israel met with stiff resistance from Hezbollah, and Israel eventually retreated. Despite Hezbollah having provoked the Israeli attack, many Lebanese credited Hezbollah for saving thousands of Lebanese lives by repulsing the Israeli attack. The outcome of the 2006 Israeli invasion has been Hezbollah’s evolution into a far stronger military than Israel battled in 2006. In sum, Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon gave neither peace nor security and produced an even stronger opponent.
In the month since the Hamas attack on Israel, Israel has killed (in proportion to Gaza’s population) nearly three times the number of Afghan deaths from the US Afghanistan invasion that lasted over 20 years. In this same time, Israel has killed (in proportion Gaza’s population) nearly two-thirds the number of Iraqi deaths from the US invasion lasting over 7 years. The overwhelming disproportionality of Israeli killing lays bare any notion of Israeli efforts to minimize civilian loss. Now Israeli policies of deprivation of food, water, medicine, and other essentials to millions of civilians will drive this civilian death toll even higher. Not only do these Israeli actions constitute further violations of the Geneva Convention and other international laws, but Israel’s horrific violence serves to undermine the very security that Israel seeks.
Israel had a far less deadly way to remove Hamas. Israel could bring Gazan civilians into Israel in an orderly process that would allow for Hamas personnel to be identified and removed. Once the population relocated temporarily, Israel could far more effectively battle Hamas. Israel considered this less deadly alternative but chose a path that has inevitably led to the killing of thousands of innocents. In this way, Mr. Netanyahu could fulfill his promise to attack so harshly that the violence would "reverberate for generations.” Such a confession by Mr. Netanyahu makes him clearly culpable for violation of international law. The leaders of both Hamas and Israel must face repercussions before the ICC. The Israeli government and Hamas remain locked in a race to the bottom. From the body count, Israel is winning this unholy race.
As a matter of conscience, Israel ought to cease its cruel and relentless violence against the people of Gaza. The Israeli conscience has been strained to the breaking point by the reality of the massive civilian casualties, the reckless indifference shown for civilian lives and the unspeakable agony inflicted upon persons completely powerless over Hamas. Even discounting moral qualms over the Gaza violence, Israel must learn from history that these attacks alone will not give security. In the absence of a political process to follow, the overwhelming Israeli violence will produce what it always produces – a more powerful resistance that arises from the ashes Israel has created.
Hamas can have had no illusion about defeating Israel militarily. Hamas can only hope to provoke a deadly, illegal, and morally repugnant response from Israel. In this, Hamas has succeeded. Hamas has also sparked renewed calls for a resolution of the indigenous people’s plight, which had been ignored during Israeli efforts to find peace with surrounding Arab countries. The mayhem that has descended upon the region will once again force Israel to re-examine its treatment of the indigenous people and find a solution that allows those people to live in peace, dignity, and freedom. For Israel to prevail in this conflict, Israel must find this solution.
(J. George Mansour was born and raised in Missouri and has long been a student of political science and international relations. Mr. Mansour is now based in Austin Texas, where he remains an active investor in a variety of businesses.)