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Commentary

Lessons from Israel: Bush Must War


     
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The Israeli government, properly outraged by suicide bombers targeting Israeli civilians, has launched a robust military campaign to root out the Palestinian militants and their weapons. That military action, with its concomitant excesses, is likely to fail and make Israel less secure in the long-term. Similarly, President Bush’s military campaign against al Qaeda is justified, but may fail if excesses—for example, attacking all “terrorist” groups or any of the “axis of evil” nations that have no demonstrated link to September 11-begin to occur.

Military action, however morally justified by the provocation, should have a realistic purpose—that is, to improve the long-term security of the nation conducting it—and 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. That’s 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 Sharon’s “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 military—by far the most powerful in the Middle East region and accustomed to handily winning wars against conventional armies—will 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 frustration—the 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, Sharon’s 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 Israelis—may be about to fall into the enemy’s 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 State‘s terrorism list—and may eventually conduct military operations against them—despite 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 country—Iraq—after the United States attacked Afghanistan and is perceived by the Islamic world to be sponsoring Israel’s 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 gates—al Qaeda.

Like Israel, the U.S. government has a right to take—and probably could not avoid taking—military 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 excesses—even in justifiable wars—can 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.

New from Ivan Eland!
NO WAR FOR OIL: U.S. Dependency and the Middle East

The grab for oil resources has been a major factor behind many conflicts and military deployments because of its perception as a strategic commodity. This book debunks the notion that oil is strategic and argues that war for oil is not necessary to secure the flow of petroleum. Learn More »»






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