Military action, however morally justified by the provocation, should have a realistic purposethat is, to improve the long-term security of the nation conducting itand not be undertaken out of blind emotion. The Israeli public is justifiably demanding military action to round up the militants that perpetrated heinous suicide bombings against innocent civilians. But to achieve this goal, the Israeli military has used excessive force that has attacked innocent Palestinians and their property. The Israelis have used artillery in urban areas, bulldozed houses of families of suspected terrorists, and caused wanton and excessive destruction in the Jenin refugee camp. Not only are those actions morally questionable, but they are likely to be counterproductive.
For all the smoke and fire, the Israeli offensive has had limited accomplishments. Suspected militants, including a senior advisor to Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman Yassir Arafat, have been either apprehended or killed. The Israeli military offensive has captured several places where homemade bombs were built, however, it has captured or destroyed very few heavy weapons. Thats because the Palestinians have only small numbers of such weapons and they are not the cause of Israeli woes. Getting young Palestinians to commit suicide in order to kill many more Israeli civilians is more difficult than getting the materials and know-how to make the crude explosives that they strap to themselves to accomplish their dastardly act. And the former has not been hard to get lately.
Unfortunately, it will become even easier to sign up Palestinians for suicidal attacks if Israel continues its military crackdown with the excesses shown to date. Ariel Sharons bull in a china closet military campaign will merely act as a recruiting poster for suicide bombers in a further radicalized Palestinian community. The Israeli militaryby far the most powerful in the Middle East region and accustomed to handily winning wars against conventional armieswill find a war without frontiers and a potent and strengthening enemy that it cannot defeat.
In the long-term, Israel will find that the only hope to reduce or eliminate such suicide attacks is to remove the source of the Palestinian frustrationthe lack of an independent homeland recognized as a state. Unfortunately, excesses against civilians by both the Israelis and the Palestinians have caused the level of hatred to spike and dramatically diminished the chances of reaching a long-term solution to the problem. In fact, Sharons actions have played right into the hands of the Palestinian radicals-who, like most terrorists, actually want an overreaction by the party they attack in order to recruit more members.
Similarly, Osama bin Laden would like the United States to overreact in the wake of the September 11 attacks. President Bush-like the Israelismay be about to fall into the enemys trap. The president has expanded the war from one against al Qaeda to one against all terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and the axis of evil. He has imposed financial sanctions on all groups on the U.S. Department of States terrorism listand may eventually conduct military operations against themdespite the fact that many of those groups do not focus their attacks on the United States. He is, in effect, unnecessarily stirring the hornets nest. Furthermore, if Bush launches an attack against another Islamic countryIraqafter the United States attacked Afghanistan and is perceived by the Islamic world to be sponsoring Israels war against the Palestinians, bin Laden may have a field day recruiting radicals Islamists who would now be willing to turn to acts of terror. In addition, the United States cannot afford a wider war on terrorism or the axis of evil because it takes attention and effort away from the vital need to fight the enemy at the gatesal Qaeda.
Like Israel, the U.S. government has a right to takeand probably could not avoid takingmilitary action against a foe that has attacked its homeland. But that military action should be focused on taking out the al Qaeda terrorist network, which still has 10 of 12 of its top leaders and potent capabilities around the world. It is vital that the United States not get sidetracked on a small, poor nation, which was severely impaired by the Gulf War and which does not sponsor terrorist groups that focus their attacks on the United States. Iraq, even if it has or acquires weapons of mass destruction, would have no incentive to attack a nation halfway across the world if that nation did not regularly intervene militarily in the Persian Gulf region.
Both Ariel Sharon and George Bush need to learn that excesseseven in justifiable warscan reduce rather than enhance their nations security.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
Full Biography and Recent Publications