Israel recently launched its deadliest attack against the Palestinians in more than a year. In a muscular raid against two Palestinian refugee camps in the Gaza strip, the Israelis used heavy armor and helicopter gun ships allegedly to attempt to seize weapons and arrest Palestinian attackers, which had fired mortars at nearby Jewish settlements but had injured no settlers. The Israeli incursion killed 14 Palestinians, including three unarmed youths, and injured 83 people, including 40 under the age of 18. But the Israelis made no arrests for the mortar attacks and seized no weapons. Israel and its imitator, the United States, have both launched an aggressive war on terrorism that is liable to undermine their long-term security.
Amnesty International has cited numerous incidents of Israeli use of excessive force in populated Palestinian areas, including a 2,000 pound bomb dropped by an F-16 on a densely populated neighborhood in Gaza City to kill a Hamas activist. The July 22, 2002, aerial onslaught killed seven other adults and nine children, injured 70 others and destroyed six neighboring homes. Palestinians are regularly condemned by the American government and media for suicide bombings of Israeli civilians in Israel and Israeli settlers in Palestinian areas. But if we define terrorism as the intentional harming of innocents for political gain, the routine Israeli use of excessive force should also fall into that category.
The Israelis know that the use of heavy firepower in populated areas to target a few activists will kill or injure substantial numbers of innocents. The Israelis are especially culpable when other more surgical methods are availablefor example, the use of raids by special forces to apprehend Palestinian activists. Even targeted assassinations of militantsa questionable tacticwould kill fewer civilians than the blunt method Israel is using. Thus, Israels policy seems to be only a slightly more subtle retaliation for the Palestinian killing of innocents. Instead of blatantly targeting civilians, a military target is found in a densely populated area and then excessive force is applied.
Amnesty International has also criticized the Israeli military for destroying vast tracts of cultivated land, water and electricity infrastructure and thousands of Palestinian homes. The organization also notes that the Israelis have quarantined entire Palestinian towns and cities for long periods of time, employed Palestinians as human shields during military operations, targeted medical personnel and blocked medical assistance, used torture on Palestinian detainees, seized Palestinian land to expand infrastructure for Jewish settlements and failed to protect Palestinians under attack from Jewish settlers. To mollify influential domestic pressure groups in the United States, those unacceptable Israeli tactics are routinely ignored by President Bush, the Congress and the American media.
The sad part is that such aggressive Israeli behaviorand the American subsidies of military and economic aid that encourage and underwrite itactually worsens the Jewish nations long-term security outlook. Even worse, such excessive Israeli responses to security problems are now being imitated by the U.S. government. The Bush administration invaded Iraqa nation that had nothing to do with the September 11 attacksand is consciously adopting tough Israeli-style tactics in its occupation.
Israel and the United States are both superpowersregionally and worldwide, respectivelythat have recently seen reduced threats to their existence from other nation states. Israel has made peace with Egypt and Jordan and has seen Iraq vanquished, Libya reformed and Syria severely debilitated by the demise of its Soviet benefactor. And the end of the Cold War has drastically reduced the chance of a massive nuclear attack on America. So the main remaining threat to both countries is now terrorism, which they are only inflaming by their excessive responses to it.
Thus, the two countries are falling right into the trap of their adversaries: militant Palestinian groups in the case of Israel and al Qaeda in the case of the United States. For example, after the recent Israeli attack on the refugee camps, a leader of the Palestinian Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades noted that it would act as a magnet for recruiting anti-Israeli suicide bombers. Furthermore, according to data from Tel Aviv University, anti-Semitic violence worldwide spikes during periods of Israeli and U.S. military offensives. Similarly, excessive and unrelated U.S. military interventions, especially in the Islamic nation of Iraq, have acted as a recruiting poster for the Islamic jihadism responsible for the September 11 attacks.
Anti-Israeli and anti-U.S. terrorism will not go away until the root causes of both are removed. Israelif nothing else, to end violence that is debilitating its economyshould make the concessions needed to negotiate a comprehensive peace settlement with the Palestinians. For its part, the United States should terminate its one-sided support for Israel and become neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. America should also end profligate meddling in other nations' business around the worldespecially in the Middle Eastthe primary cause of anti-U.S. terrorism. With their main nation-state adversaries defanged, both Israel and the United States now have the luxury of being able to take the bold steps needed to increase their security even further.
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.
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