Now there is a new Israeli military doctrine: go nuts. The Israeli commentator Ofer Shelah put it more elegantly: ‘In the face of enemies who have opted for a strategy of attrition and attacking from a distance, Israel will present itself as a “crazy country”, the kind that will respond (albeit after a great deal of time) in a massive and unfettered assault, with no proportion to the amount of casualties it has endured.’ ~Paul Wood
One of the reasons why I keep coming back to the war in Lebanon two years ago is that, even more than the operations themselves, all of the arguments supporting the operation in Gaza are the same as they were in support of the campaign in Lebanon. In both cases the idea of proportionality in warfare has received a fair amount of abuse. According to Hanson, it is a “phoney” doctrine, and James Robbins all but dismisses it as irrelevant. Those are among the most extreme examples, but their sentiments are quite typical. This is revealing and important, and it repeats the pattern we saw in 2006. Faced with the possibility that there are Israeli actions in Gaza that actually are excessive and disproportionate, this element of just war theory is simply scrapped or dismissed as inappropriate to asymmetric warfare by defenders of those actions. As I remarked in 2006, “Quickly vanishing is the trope of Israel’s tremendous restraint. The new idea is the virtue of her disproportionate violence.” Something very similar is happening again.
In the same post two years ago, I argued that proportionality and deterrence were linked in an important way:
If every incident, no matter how small, results in a large-scale response, there is nothingâ€“short of their physical annihilation (which may or may not be achievable)â€“to keep those whom you are trying to deter from making ever larger and more destructive attacks. They will attempt to do the maximum of damage before the inevitable large-scale response comes. The more disproportionate the response now, the less restrained an enemy will be by deterrence in the future. If a string of border incidents over several years, capped off by the kidnapping of two soldiers, leads to waves of air strikes and a ground invasion, it is not hard to see that Hizbullah or its successors will initiate hostilities next time on a much more destructive scale. The disproportionality of response seems effective in pummeling your adversary this time, but it is only truly effective as a deterrent to others if the adversary is wiped out or permanently disarmed (an objective that would currently require an even more disproportionate response than Israel has so far employed).
Anyone who claims that Israel is restoring its ability to deter attacks with its current campaign has misjudged things badly.