Disproportionality, collateral damage, and Israeli objectives in Lebanon

By | August 1, 2006

Is Israel’s bombing campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon “disproportionate?” Is Israel to blame for the civilian casualties? What does Israel hope to accomplish?


Many have accused Israel of waging a “disproportionate” response to Hezbollah’s July 12 incursion into northern Israel. If Israel’s current campaign were intended to be a quid pro quo for that incursion, then the accusation might be reasonable. The reality, however, is that the July 12 incursion was merely the last in a series of attacks that has lasted for over twenty years. Even before July 12, Hezbollah had fired thousands of missiles into Israel since the 1980’s. The threat of those missile attacks recently increased when Syria and Iran started supplying Hezbollah with longer range missiles, and when Hezbollah made it clear that they intended to use them. It is impossible to imagine that any other country would be accused of a disproportionate response for attempting to put an end to over two decades of frequent missile attacks over a legitimate, internationally recognized border. Of course, it’s also impossible to imagine that any other country would be expected to sit back and let one of its neighbors shoot missiles at it for over two decades.

Collateral damge
Israel has been criticized because of the number of civilian casualties resulting from its bombing campaign. Typically, critics claim that since there are so many more Lebanese than Israeli civilian casualties, Israel must be targeting civilians. Critics also claim that attacks on infrastructure (e.g., airports, roads, bridges) prove that Israel is targeting civilians. Consider, however:

  1. Israel has enough bomb shelters for every person in the country. Lebanon doesn’t have bomb shelters. Hezbollah prevents them from being built (well, except for the shelters they’ve built for their own leaders, of course).
  2. Israel puts its army bases in remote locations, away from civilians, so that attacks on those bases will not put Israeli civilians at risk. Hezbollah launches missiles from inside civilian villages. Hezbollah stockpiles missiles and weapons in buildings where civilians live and work.
  3. Israel leaflets villages that are Hezbollah strongholds for several days before they attack, warning civilians to leave. Hezbollah prevents civilians from leaving leafletted villages.
  4. Syria and Iran are actively supplying Hezbollah with weapons and missiles. In a war, one of the ways you defeat an enemy is by cutting off his supply lines.

In short, many civilians are being injured and killed in Lebanon because Hezbollah wants many civilians to be injured and killed. It makes for good PR, not to mention the fact that the dead women and children are martyrs and thus go straight to paradise. It’s a win-win situation!

If a bank robber takes a hostage, and the hostage gets killed when the robber starts shooting at police and they shoot back, whose fault is the hostage’s death — the police or the robber? Most civilized people understand that the blame lies squarely with the robber. So why do so many civilized people blame Israel for the deaths of the hostages taken by Hezbollah?


Israel wants to destroy Hezbollah’s stockpiles of weapons and missiles, but as soon as the campaign is over, Syria and Iran will replenish them. Israel wants to put Hezbollah militants out of commission, but the death and destruction shown nightly on al-Jazeera are better than any recruitment video Hezbollah could produce. Israel wants its kidnapped soldiers back, but no Israeli bombing campaign has ever convinced an enemy to return prisoners.

This campaign will not achieve the goals which Israel publicly claims to be working toward. There are a lot of smart people in Israel, so it seems unlikely that they haven’t figured this out. What, then, is their real goal?

The real goal

Israel has waited patiently the UN to force Hezbollah to disarm and for the Lebanese army to take control of southern Lebanon, as called for in Security Council Resolution 1559 (2004).  By waging a military compaign instead of continuing to let Hezbollah lob missiles at northern Israel without response, Israel hopes to force the international community to step in.

This may seem counterintuitive: why would Israel think that by bombing Hezbollah in Lebanon, they would force international involvement in the conflict?  It’s very simple: the Arab world equates Israel with the United States, the United States needs the goodwill of the Arab world to continue its compaign against terrorism, and the longer Israel bombs Lebanon, the more Arab goodwill is squandered.

Critics are claiming that Israel doesn’t want a peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, because such a deployment would force Israel to stop its bombing campaign.  In fact, the entire point of the bombing campaign is to force the deployment of a such a force.

When Hezbollah’s missiles were endangering only Israeli lives, the world didn’t care.  Now, because Israeli’s bombing campaign could damage the war on terror and thus endanger the lives of Westerners, the US, NATO and the UN are suddenly tripping over each other trying to be the first to figure out how to put a peacekeeping force on the ground.  Mark my words: Israel’s bombing campaign will stop on the day they have concrete assurances that such a force will be deployed.

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