Gaza: Et si la disproportion pouvait sauver des vies? (Sometimes striking a heavy blow can save lives in the long run)

Gaza ruinsHamas human shieldsLaissez-les dire ‘Mort à Israël. Ca fait 43 ans que je suis dans ce magasin et je n’ai jamais eu aucun problème. J’ai rendu visite à ma famille en Israël, mais quand je vois quelque chose comme l’attaque sur Gaza, moi aussi, je manifeste en tant qu’iranien. Soleiman Sedighpoor (commerçant juif d’Estefahan, Iran)
Les attaques doivent être strictement limitées aux objectifs militaires. En ce qui concerne les biens, les objectifs militaires sont limités aux biens qui, par leur nature, leur emplacement, leur destination ou leur utilisation apportent une contribution effective à l’action militaire et dont la destruction totale ou partielle, la capture ou la neutralisation offre en l’occurrence un avantage militaire précis. Protocole additionnel aux Conventions de Genève (Protocole I, Article 52 Chapitre III, alinéa 2)
Ils tiraient des toits des maisons, des écoles, des magasins. Les mosquées étaient pleines d’armes, de munitions, d’explosifs et de missiles. Après avoir été touchée, la mosquée de Jabalya a continué à exploser pendant plusieurs minutes, explosion après explosion. C’était probablement l’un des plus grands entrepôts d’armes du Moyen-Orient, avec un grand nombre de missiles importés de Téhéran. Isaac Herzog (ministre israélien des affaires sociales)
 Ce qui est arrivé au quartier Dahiya de Beyrouth en 2006 arrivera à tous les villages qui servent de base à des tirs contre Israël. […] Nous ferons un usage de la force disproportionné et y causerons de grands dommages et destructions. De notre point de vue, il ne s’agit pas de villages civils, mais de bases militaires. […] Il ne s’agit pas d’une recommandation, mais d’un plan, et il a été approuvé.  Gadi Eisenkot (commandant israélien de la division nord)
Frapper un grand coup n’est pas nécessairement immoral. Parfois cela peut même sauver des vies à plus long terme, parce que si vous frappez un grand coup, vous réduisez les possibilités que la guerre dure longtemps ou d’un deuxième round. Avi Kober (expert israélien en affaires militaires)
Je ne crois pas qu’une armée ait jamais fait plus d’efforts dans l’histoire militaire pour réduire le nombre des civils blessés et des décès des personnes innocentes que ne le font actuellement les forces armées d’Israël à Gaza. Colonel Richard Kemp (ancien commandant des forces britanniques en Afghanistan)
Je crois qu’en raison de l’énorme destruction, les habitants de Gaza ont compris que cela ne mène nulle part. Quand la construction commencera – avec des fonds de l’Europe, de l’Arabie Saoudite et d’autres endroits – et que les gens auront reconstruit leurs maisons, je ne crois pas qu’ils accepteront d’y remettre des lance-roquettes le jour suivant. Regardez ce qui s’est passé au lendemain de la deuxième guerre du Liban. Le Hezbollah a multiplié les menaces mais n’a pas envoyé la moindre roquette cette fois. Pourquoi? Parce que les habitants du Sud-Liban dont les maisons avaient été détruites ont dit: ‘Pour quoi faire ? Pourquoi recommencer tout ça?’.
Après les erreurs de la deuxième guerre du Liban, les soldats avaient peur, la population israélienne avait peur, les médias ont averti que ce serait une guerre dure et sans précédent. Hamas avait averti: ‘Si vous entrez dans Gaza, nous en ferons votre cimetière; il y aura des mines et des guet-apens partout’. Donc il y avait une vraie peur. Cette crainte nous a fait frapper trop fort. Il n’y a aucun doute que des choses dures se sont produites là-bas. Mais d’un autre côté, quand vous comparez aux batailles récentes de par le monde, cela n’a pas été si extraordinaire. A Fallujah, par exemple, environ 6 000 personnes ou 2,3 % de la population de cette ville irakienne ont été tuées par les forces américaines; et les Irakiens n’avaient jamais tiré sur Washington ou New York. En comparaison, le nombre de victimes à Gaza a été très bas. A.B. Yehoshua (écrivain israélien pacifiste)
With an outbreak of hostilities, the IDF will need to act immediately, decisively, and with force that is disproportionate to the enemy’s actions and the threat it poses. Such a response aims at inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes. The strike must be carried out as quickly as possible, and must prioritize damaging assets over seeking out each and every launcher. Punishment must be aimed at decision makers and the power elite. In Syria, punishment should clearly be aimed at the Syrian military, the Syrian regime, and the Syrian state structure. In Lebanon, attacks should both aim at Hizbollah’s military capabilities and should target economic interests and the centers of civilian power that support the organization. Moreover, the closer the relationship between Hizbollah and the Lebanese government, the more the elements of the Lebanese state infrastructure should be targeted. Such a response will create a lasting memory among Syrian and Lebanese decision makers, thereby increasing Israeli deterrence and reducing the likelihood of hostilities against Israel for a an extended period. At the same time, it will force Syria, Hizbollah, and Lebanon to commit to lengthy and resource-intensive reconstruction programs. Recent discussion of “victory” and “defeat” in a future war against Hizbollah has presented an overly simplistic approach. The Israeli public must understand that overall success cannot be measured by the level of high trajectory fire against Israel at the end of the confrontation. The IDF will make an effort to decrease rocket and missile attacks as much as possible, but the main effort will be geared to shorten the period of fighting by striking a serious blow at the assets of the enemy. Israel does not have to be dragged into a war of attrition with Hizbollah. Israel’s test will be the intensity and quality of its response to incidents on the Lebanese border or terrorist attacks involving Hizbollah in the north or Hamas in the south. In such cases, Israel again will not be able to limit its response to actions whose severity is seemingly proportionate to an isolated incident. Rather, it will have to respond disproportionately in order to make it abundantly clear that the State of Israel will accept no attempt to disrupt the calm currently prevailing along its borders. Israel must be prepared for deterioration and escalation, as well as for a full scale confrontation. Such preparedness is obligatory in order to prevent long term attrition. The Israeli home front must be prepared to be fired upon, possibly with even heavy fire for an extended period, based on the understanding that the IDF is working to reduce the period of fighting to a minimum and to create an effective balance of deterrence. This approach is applicable to the Gaza Strip as well. There, the IDF will be required to strike hard at Hamas and to refrain from the cat and mouse games of searching for Qassam rocket launchers. The IDF should not be expected to stop the rocket and missile fire against the Israeli home front through attacks on the launchers themselves, but by means of imposing a ceasefire on the enemy. Gabi Siboni
Il y n’y a que deux moyens d’aborder la question d’une manière efficace: occuper le territoire sur la durée et affaiblir systématiquement l’ennemi, ou entrer en force et porter un coup rapide mais fulgurant. A Gaza, l’armée israélienne a choisi la deuxième option, et donc, elle a eu tout-à-fait raison en termes militaires d’employer une puissance de feu massive. Vous devez frapper dur, entrer et sortir vite et prendre l’ennemi par surprise. Et surtout, vous ne devez jamais vous excuser. Parce que si vous le faites, vous démoralisez votre propre camp avant même de commencer. En dépit de toute les critiques, la guerre du Liban de 2006 a été un succès, parce que le Hezbollah n’a pas réattaqué depuis. En d’autres termes, nous sommes parvenus à casser la volonté de combattre du Hezbollah et je pense qu’il y a une possibilité raisonnable d’arriver au même résultat avec le Hamas à Gaza, où la performance de Tsahal était meilleure et les pertes inférieures. Martin van Creveld (historien militaire)

« Disproportion« , « crimes de guerre », « génocide », « Hiroshima » …

Et si la « disproportion » pouvait justement sauver des vies?

Si, malgré les apparences et tous les efforts du Hamas, le bilan réel de victimes « civiles » de l’offensive israélienne sur Gaza le mois dernier se révèlera vraisemblablement beaucoup plus bas que prévu (500-600 au lieu des milliers annoncés) …

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La chose qui incarne le plus l’impression de disproportion et semble échapper à toute rationalité est l’ampleur quasi-dresdéenne des destructions.

D’où l’intérêt du dossier post-Gaza du Jerusalem Report de la semaine dernière.

D’abord sur le malentendu de l’exigence de proportion qui, selon les lois de la guerre elles-mêmes, ne vise pas l’égalisation des moyens et des pertes de chaque côté mais porte sur le rapport entre les pertes civiles et l’avantage militaire visé et atteint.

Il s’agit donc, pour la partie offensive, de prendre toutes les mesures pour limiter le nombre de victimes civiles (comme évidemment ses propres pertes), ce que, contre la stratégie délibérée de boucliers humains du Hamas, Israël a fait en avertissant à l’avance les civils de quitter les zones de combat et en utilisant les armes les plus précises possibles (y compris en bloquant mystérieusement les ondes de télécommandes pour les bombes commandées à distance!) pour atteindre les cibles militaires.

L’opération ne se révélant d’ailleurs pas nécessairement disproportionnée si on la compare à d’autres opérations du même genre (dix fois moins de victimes civiles pour cinq fois plus de population qu’à Falluja en novembre 2005).

Quant aux destructions physiques elles-mêmes, les bombardements israéliens ont d’abord systématiquement détruit l’appareil militaire et politico-administratif du Hamas lui-même mais aussi, du fait de leur stratégie délibérée de les piéger ou de les utiliser à des fins militaires (sites de lancement et de stockage de roquettes), nombre de bâtiments civils (mosquées, écoles, habitations), qui de ce fait perdaient leur statut protégé.

Reste l’aspect le plus difficile à comprendre (y compris pour nombre d’Israéliens ou amis d’Israël) et en tout cas le moins expliqué par nos médias, à savoir la doctrine Dahia, autrement dit le côté démonstration de force qu’a effectivement été l’opération.

Le fait, comme l’explique l’expert en affaires militaires Avi Kober, que la dimension fulgurante et massive d’une offensive peut même dans certains cas (sans parler de l’effet dissuasif pour l’ensemble des pays de la région!) « sauver des vies à plus long terme en réduisant la durée de la guerre ou la possibilité d’un deuxième round ».

Stratégie qui, contrairement à ce qui est dit et répété par nos médias et têtes pensantes à la mémoire courte, s’est révélé payante au Sud-Liban à l’été 2006, le Hezbollah n’ayant toujours pas réouvert les hostilités devant l’ampleur des destructions que son agression avait imposées à sa population.

Et qui devrait donc logiquement faire réfléchir à deux fois ce qui reste du Hamas ou en tout cas les priver pour un bon moment de nombre de toits ou de jardins pour leurs rampes de lancement de roquettes …

Extraits:

Les lois de la guerre prennent en considération le fait que des civils peuvent être blessés lors d’attaques de cibles militaires, mais insistent sur le fait que les attaquants doivent prendre des mesures pour s’assurer que le nombre de victimes civiles ne soit pas disproportionné par rapport à l’avantage militaire atteint. Par exemple, la force attaquante pourrait avertir les civils de quitter la zone de combat, et elle doit utiliser des armes capables de cibler exactement les cibles militaires, ce qu’Israël a fait. De même, les attaques des forces israéliennes contre des bâtiments civils tels que des mosquées, des écoles et des maisons d’habitation ne constituent pas des crimes de guerre parce que les bâtiments en question étaient utilisés à des fins militaires. Dans ce cas une structure civile perd son statut civil. Par exemple, si une mosquée est utilisée comme d’observation point ou pour stocker des munitions, elle perd sa protection en tant que mosquée. Cela peut sembler cruel, mais si après 22 jours de bombardement, tirs d’artillerie et d’offensive au sol Israel a tué moins de 1 000 civils, il est évident que ce n’était pas disproportionné. Robbie Sabel (expert en droit international)

Si l’armée israélienne avait employé moins de puissance de feu, cela lui aurait causé plus de pertes et aurait considérablement réduit l’impact dissuasif de l’operation. Toute la région nous observait : le Hezbollah, la Syrie et l’Iran. Je pense que la démonstration de force était très importante pour créer de la dissuasion, non seulement vis-à-vis du Hamas, mais dans la région dans son ensemble. Doron Almog (ancien commandant israélien)

The Post-war Legal Battle
Leslie Susser
Feb. 1, 2009
THE Jerusalem Post
The Jerusalem Report
February 16, 2009

The images on television screens across the world were harsh: the tiny bodies of children wrapped in green Hamas shrouds; a Palestinian doctor who had worked in Israel, distraught at the deaths of his three daughters and a niece; pandemonium as shrieking ambulances raced to hospitals; women in traditional garb sifting through the rubble of their bombed-out homes; the jagged concrete of mangled high-rise buildings; huge clouds of smoke billowing over the battle zone.

Across the bottom of the screens or in voice-overs, viewers were informed of the constantly rising death toll in Gaza: 220 on the first day, reaching a total of 1,285 and thousands more wounded by the time Israel’s 22-day war against Hamas was over.

Besides the general assumption of the Israel Defense Force’s responsibility for what was presented as an unnecessarily high human toll and unnecessarily widespread devastation, there were some specific criticisms of Israeli soldiers’ conduct in the fighting: that in some instances they had prevented evacuation of the wounded, fired indiscriminately at civilians, used white phosphorous shells that cause deep burns against human targets, all of which are violations not only of the ethics, but also of the laws of warfare.

Israel argues that its forces did all they could to avoid causing civilian casualties; that the army made a quarter of a million phone calls, sent text messages and dropped leaflets warning civilians to leave areas about to be attacked; that some missions were aborted because civilians might be hit; that when civilians were hit it was often because Hamas militiamen prevented them from moving out of the line of fire, and that it was always unintentional.

As for the white phosphorous, the IDF says it is used by armies all over the world in legal munitions for flares and smokescreens, but that it is investigating the firing by a reserve brigade of about 20 phosphorous shells in the Bet Lehiya area of northern Gaza where civilians may unintentionally have been hit. The IDF also says that preliminary investigations of incidents in which Israeli troops fired at a United Nations compound, an UNWRA school, the al Kuds hospital and a tall building housing foreign media all followed the same pattern: IDF troops came under fire from inside or adjacent to the locations, and fired back.

Beyond the specifics, some critics of Israel charge that its overwhelming military response was not proportional to Hamas rocket fire, which during the war caused only three Israeli civilian deaths. Others go further, accusing Israel of war crimes. Israeli officials dismiss these charges out of hand as part of an ongoing campaign of anti-Israel « lawfare, » in which attempts are made to criminalize anything Israel does, especially when it uses force to defend itself. They maintain that with its civilians fired on so persistently by Hamas and powerful regional enemies like Iran lying in wait for any sign of weakness, Israel had to find an effective response. And, they say, given the way Hamas deliberately used civilians as human shields, there is nothing Israel could have done to make the results less tragic.

As the dust settles, the question of whether Israel actually broke the rules of war and whether any of its soldiers will face judicial proceedings is one of the major issues that have come to the fore. Others are whether the abiding impact of Israel’s Gaza operation be enough to secure its war aims of deterring Hamas rocket fire and preventing the smuggling of new weapons into Gaza, and who will control the large-scale rehabilitation of Gaza, expected to cost at least $2 billion.

The Israeli government rejects all the war crimes allegations and a week after the cease-fire, it announced that it would give full legal backing to soldiers who might face such charges abroad. « The men and officers who were sent on missions in Gaza must know that they are safe from various tribunals, » Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared, describing attempts to move against Israel in the international legal arena as « moral acrobatics. »

If any foreign government or organization does try to prosecute, experts say this is unlikely to be done through the International Criminal Court at The Hague: Israel is not a member state and and the alleged crimes were not committed in the territory of a member state. Therefore, any proceeding in the ICC would have to be mandated by the U.N. Security Council, and the chances of that happening tend to zero. That leaves the possibility of prosecution through what is called « universal jurisdiction, » in the national courts of countries like Britain, Belgium and Spain, which allow prosecution for war crimes committed anywhere in the world.

In the post-war legal battle, Israel and its supporters are already taking the offensive. Irwin Cotler, a Canadian member of parliament and a former justice minister, law professor at Montreal’s McGill University and head of the Canadian Jewish Congress, says Israel should argue that Hamas is guilty of at least six violations of international law: Deliberately targeting civilians; launching attacks from inside civilian areas like houses, schools, mosques and hospitals; abusing international symbols, like using ambulances to transport fighters (the perfidy principle); bringing children into armed conflict; inciting to genocide; and, through its systematic eight-year long attack on civilians, perpetrating a crime against humanity.

« This is an important case to make, » he says, « because it shifts onus of responsibility for the human tragedy in Gaza onto Hamas. » Israeli legal experts add another major Hamas violation: not allowing Red Cross or any other international player access to Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for the more than two-and-a-half years he has been in Hamas captivity.

In any judicial process it faces, Israel will have to show that its forces met two criteria, which according to international law experts, armies must observe in a civilian war zone: discrimination — directing fire only at military targets — and proportionality. There is a common misconception that the latter means responding to enemy attacks with more or less equivalent force. In fact, the demand is quite different: that when attacking a military target, civilian casualties and damage should not be « clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated. » [Article 2(b)(iv) of the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court]. In other words, that when taking a military objective, an army must take care to inflict as little civilian damage as possible.

There is no demand for equivalence in weaponry or in casualty ratios between the warring parties. In other words, neither Israel’s use planes against rockets, or its having suffered far fewer casualties than the other side make it guilty of disproportionality. « The laws of war take into account that when attacking military targets civilians may be hurt, but insist that the attacking force take steps to ensure that civilian casualties will not be disproportionate to the military advantage achieved, » explains Robbie Sabel, an expert on international law at the Hebrew University and a former legal adviser to the foreign ministry.

For example, the attacking force could warn civilians to leave the battle zone, and it must use weapons capable of pinpointing the military targets. Israel, says Sabel, did both. Neither did the IDF’s attacks on civilian buildings, like mosques, schools and people’s homes constitute war crimes, because the buildings in question were being used for military purposes. « In that case a civilian structure loses its civilian status. For example, if a mosque is used as an observation point or to store ammunition, it loses its protection as a mosque, » Sabel tells The Report.

He maintains that in Gaza the IDF did its best to adhere strictly to the laws of modern warfare, with legal advisers in battle command centers to ensure real time compliance. « It may sound cruel, but if after 22 days of bombing, shelling and ground fighting Israel has killed less than 1,000 civilians, it was clearly not disproportionate, » he declares.

This raises the question of how other western armies have fared in densely populated battle zones. For example, on D-Day, when the allies stormed the Normandy coast on June 6 1944, 3,000 French civilians were killed by allied bombs and shells in a single day. But that was war in a different time and on a different scale.

A campaign very similar, in fact almost identical to the Gaza war in the urban military problems it posed was the U.S. Operation Phantom Fury in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in November and December 2004. About 5,000 insurgents under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were embedded in the city of 300,000. An estimated 200,000 civilians heeded American warnings and fled before the fighting began. On November 7, the Americans launched a major air strike, followed by nine days of fierce ground fighting and another 37 of mopping up. Of the 200 mosques in the city, 66 used to cache arms were destroyed; about 30,000 buildings were demolished or significantly damaged; the estimated civilian death toll was 6,000.

In Gaza, with a population of 1.5 million (5 times that of Fallujah) and about 20,000 armed militiamen, 20 mosques were destroyed, 25,000 buildings demolished or damaged, and the estimated civilian death toll was 894 by the Palestinian count or 500-600 according to the Israelis, although they had nowhere to flee to, and some were hit in what had been designated as safe havens.

Indeed, the IDF’s efforts to keep civilian casualties to a minimum despite the risks and complexities of urban warfare have been hailed by some foreign experts as setting new standards for other armies. « I don’t think there’s ever been a time in the history of warfare when an army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today in Gaza, » Col. Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, told the BBC while operation « Cast Lead » was in full flow.

Still, the IDF acknowledges that it used heavy fire to protect its soldiers moving forward and that it made mistakes. The fact that four of the nine Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza were hit by friendly fire attests to the difficulty of accurately distinguishing between fighters and civilians in a fast moving urban battle situation.

So what was the IDF’s modus operandi? How did it manage to move through the narrow streets and alleyways, the booby-trapped houses and tunnels, with so few casualties of its own? Maj.-Gen. (Res) Doron Almog, a former commander of the southern front responsible for Gaza, puts it down to a combination of high-grade intelligence and a battle plan that took Hamas by surprise at every stage: strategic surprise at the ferocity and duration of the operation; tactical surprise at the timing of the initial air-strike and at the way the IDF found counters to all aspects of a Hamas defense strategy based on human shields, booby-trapped buildings and secret tunnels, and at the modus operandi of the forces on the ground.

« After one swift pincer movement, Hamas fighters suddenly found themselves surrounded everywhere, » Almog, now chairman of Aleh Negev, a live-in facility in the south for the mentally disabled, tells The Report. « The IDF soldiers then moved forward behind camera-carrying unmanned aircraft, which located Hamas forces and directed accurate fire from the air and heavy artillery barrages at them. So that even before they engaged in close combat, the Hamas lost dozens of fighters. Many of the dead were company and battalion field commanders. They weren’t at the head of their troops, but were deliberately picked out and hit. Through these tactical, targeted assassinations, the chain of command was severely disrupted. If the army hadn’t operated in this way, we would have sustained dozens of casualties. »

There were other tactical surprises, too – for example, the way the IDF was able to drop a mysterious electronic screen over Gaza. Israelis in the immediate vicinity found they were unable to open their cars by remote control; Hamas militiamen were unable to detonate booby-trapped buildings and other remotely controlled explosive devices.

Had the IDF used less firepower, Almog says, it would have cost it more casualties and greatly undermined the operation’s deterrent impact. « Everyone in the region was watching us: Hizballah, Syria and Iran. I think the show of force was very important in creating deterrence, not only vis a vis Hamas, but in the region as a whole, » he says.

As they went forward, Israeli troops with cameras fixed to their helmets recorded the web of booby-trapped buildings and tunnels, the way Hamas used civilians as human shields and weapons stored in and being fired from civilian locations. The data will obviously be used by the IDF in analyzing the operation; but it could also be made available if ever legal proceedings are instituted against Israeli soldiers.

Israel’s chief argument in justifying and explaining the Palestinian civilian casualties is that the Hamas military machine was totally embedded in the civilian infrastructure. In an interview with The Jerusalem Report, Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, a member of the war cabinet, points out that even Qassam missiles were fired from people’s homes. « They fired from the roofs of houses, from schools, from shops. The mosques were full of weapons, ammunition, explosives and missiles. After it was hit, the Jabalya mosque kept on exploding for several minutes, explosion after explosion. It was probably one of the biggest arms bunkers in the Middle East, with large numbers of missiles imported from Tehran, » says Herzog.

Could Israel have fought the war in Gaza any differently? Military historian Martin van Creveld, who has written about the inherent difficulty modern states have in fighting low intensity asymmetrical guerrilla wars, says there are only two ways of going about it effectively: Occupying the territory for a long time and systematically weakening the enemy, or going in hard and dealing a quick but overwhelming blow. In Gaza, the IDF chose the second option, and therefore, van Creveld argues, it was absolutely right in military terms to use massive firepower. « You must hit hard, move in and out quickly and take the enemy by surprise. And above all, you must not apologize. Because if you do, you demoralize your own side even before you start, » he declares.

Van Creveld argues that despite all the criticism, the 2006 Lebanon war was a success, because Hizballah has kept the peace ever since. « In other words, we managed to break Hizballah’s will to fight, and I think there is a reasonable chance of achieving the same objective with Hamas in Gaza, where the IDF performance was better and the price lower, » he says.

Not all top Israeli military analysts are as impressed by the IDF’s performance.
Avi Kober, an expert on military affairs at Bar Ilan University’s BESA Institute for Strategic Studies, points out that the results were achieved against a weak enemy, with a state-like infrastructure providing easy targets and without a strategic hinterland like the Hizballah has both in Lebanon and through its close ties with neighboring Syria. Kober also argues that the IDF and the Israeli political establishment are still in « post-heroic mode, » fearful of casualties, and therefore hesitant about fully committing the IDF. Still, he agrees that, in the case of Gaza, the decision to go for a short, sharp deterrent operation was correct. Moreover, he argues that striking a heavy blow is not necessarily mmoral. « Sometimes this can even save lives in the long run, because if you strike a heavy blow, you reduce the chances of the war going on for a long time or of a second round, » he tells The Report.

On the issue of whether the aims of the campaign were achieved or not, Kober is reasonably confident that Hamas will be deterred from quickly renewing its missile assaults on Israeli civilian targets, but he is less sure about the closure of weapons’ routes through Sinai into Gaza. « The Egyptians don’t really want to do the job, » he asserts.

Almog disagrees. He says the Egyptians are projecting much greater seriousness about blocking traffic through the cross-border tunnels. « It needs to be backed up with a lot of technology. I put up a two kilometer metal barrier when I was southern command head. With American expertise, now they could put up a cement barrier along the entire 14 kilometer Egyptian-Gaza border, 50 meters below ground and 30 meters above, with sensors and a water moat to make smuggling through the tunnels virtually impossible, » he says.

Herzog says the specifics of how the smuggling will be stopped are now under review, with the Americans and Europeans not only ready to provide technology in Sinai, but to intercept Iranian vessels carrying arms for Hamas on the high seas. If effective, the new measures could stifle the Hamas government: Herzog claims the tunnels were used not only to smuggle in weapons, but also much needed cash – $1 billion, mostly from Iran, since Hamas’s violent seizure of power in June 2007.

Still, Herzog rejects criticism – mainly from the right-wing opposition – that by agreeing to the cease-fire when it did, the government missed a golden opportunity to topple the Hamas regime. Going on with the operation would have meant staying in Gaza for at least a year, risking soldiers’ lives and having to provide for 1.5 million Gazans, he says. The reoccupation would have had the international community and the moderate governments in the region up in arms. And after it all, Hamas would still have been around. « When you take on operations like this you need to know your limitations, » he insists.

Herzog is the Israeli minister in charge of efforts to ameliorate the humanitarian suffering and ultimately to help rehabilitate Gaza. In the first week after the war, an international convoy of planes brought in large supplies of food and medicine which Israel transported into Gaza; 150 trucks a day were going in through the Kerem Shalom crossing point, the conveyor belt for wheat at Karni was reactivated, Israel repaired its side of the electricity grid and was helping with water purification and sewerage disposal. « Israel is sending in as much as the Palestinians can absorb, and there is no shortage of food or medicine, » Herzog says.

The international relief effort for Gaza is being directed by Sir John Holmes, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. His brief is to assess the immediate needs of the people of Gaza and, on the basis of his report, to convene a conference calling for assistance from U.N. member states. One of the urgent items will be temporary shelter in the form of tents or prefabricated homes for the about 20,000 Gazans the war has left homeless. Further down the road, there will be a big donor conference to deal with the longer term reconstruction of Gaza.

The main problem facing Israel and the international community in the rehabilitation effort is how to prevent Hamas from hijacking relief supplies and, more importantly, the entire rebuilding operation. For example, Israel approved the dispatch of equipment for water purification, but pipes it sent in quickly disappeared, apparently lifted by militiamen for the manufacture of new Qassam rockets.

Israel is working behind the scenes for major reconstruction to be carried out through Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. The hope is that this will rehabilitate the PA’s standing in Gaza, transform living standards and create conditions for a two state Israel-Palestine solution. « The whole world and we too are looking closely at developments to make sure that the Palestinian Authority benefits from rebuilding Gaza, not Hamas, » Herzog says.

He talks about « a grand international strategy » to bring the PA back into Gaza as rulers instead of Hamas, the first stage of which should be having the PA administer the border crossing points between Gaza and Israel, and between Gaza and Egypt.

Clearly, any full-fledged return of the PA to Gaza would be predicated on a national unity deal between Hamas and Abbas’s secular Fatah movement. Officially, this is still something Israel opposes. But Herzog hints at the possibility of a fresh approach, given Hamas’s much weakened state. « We will not interfere in internal Palestinian affairs, » he declares.

A week after the war, the government instructed Justice Minister Daniel Friedman to prepare Israel’s legal argument in the event of any it its nationals being brought to court. The fundamental question, though, goes beyond the legal. Basically, it is a case of competing narratives: Israel which sees itself fighting for its survival against powerful regional enemies, and critics who see it as a nation corrupted by the arrogance of power. The question the fighting in Gaza raises, not so much for the courts, but for the judgment of history is who, ultimately, is responsible for the slaughter of the innocents – Israel or Hamas. •

Voir aussi:

A Necessary War (Extract)
Leora Eren Frucht
The Jerusalem Post
Feb. 1, 2009
Extract from an article in Issue 22, February 16, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report

Toys are scattered on the floor and the walls are filled with framed photographs of grinning children in A.B. Yehoshua’s Ramat Gan apartment.

A resident of Haifa, Yehoshua uses this place for weekends to host his six grandchildren, all of whom live nearby. Seated comfortably on a striped sofa, he awaits their arrival with particular anticipation this weekend, the first since his sons, aged 34 and 39, have returned home. Both were called up for reserve duty during Israel’s recent offensive in Gaza (though neither entered the Gaza Strip). « I feel a great sense of calm and relief, » says the acclaimed author of nine novels, who taught comparative literature at Haifa University for many years.

Over the last few weeks, Yehoshua, 72, a longtime member of the peace camp, has written articles in newspapers abroad and at home justifying, in principle, the Israeli operation. The author, who vehemently objected to Israel’s first Lebanon war, has often been seen as the ethical voice of the leftwing, together with fellow writers Amos Oz and David Grossman.
The local daily Haaretz featured a passionate exchange of letters between Yehoshua and left-wing columnist Gideon Levy, who accused the Israel Prize-winning novelist of having lost his conscience in supporting the offensive that claimed the lives of so many Palestinian civilians and destroyed much of Gaza.

Dressed casually in a black turtleneck and black pants that contrast strikingly with his shock of silver-white hair, Yehoshua speaks with conviction, waving his hands frequently for emphasis. While he has no pangs of guilt for his position, he feels the force Israel employed in Gaza was greatly exaggerated and even constituted « an act of brutality. » Yet he maintains that the war itself was unavoidable and believes that ultimately it may well bring peace and a two-state solution a step closer.

« This war was necessary, » says Yehoshua emphatically. « A million people can’t be under the constant threat of rocket fire. It was a type of insanity, an impossible situation that was paralyzing Israel. I believe any other country would have acted the same way we did out of a moral responsibility to defend its people from rocket fire. »

In recent days, some observers, including even Prime Minister Ehud Olmert himself, have said that they cannot rule out the resumption of rocket fire from Gaza. But Yehoshua believes the war achieved its goal of restoring long-awaited quiet to southern Israel. « I believe that as a result of the enormous destruction, the residents of Gaza understood that this way doesn’t lead anywhere. When the construction starts – with funds from Europe, Saudi Arabia and other places – and people rebuild their houses, I don’t believe they will agree to place rocket launchers there the following day.

« Look at the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War, » he continues. The Hizballah made lots of threats but didn’t fire a single rocket this time. Why? Because the residents of south Lebanon whose homes were destroyed said, ‘For what? Why start this again?' »

Yet Yehoshua noted, as he has in the past, that the Palestinians of Gaza are destined to « be our neighbors forever. » He would like to see them return to work in Israel and maintains that « we must be cautious and measured in our relations with them. » But how did Operation Cast Lead, which reduced Gaza to shambles and killed entire families, fit the bill? « There is no doubt, » he says, « that in this war the army used an enormous amount of firepower in an exaggerated and even brutal way that resulted in the deaths of civilians. »

Indeed, Yehoshua, whose latest novel is entitled « Friendly Fire, » points to the number of incidents in which IDF soldiers were accidentally killed by their comrades as evidence of a lightness or lack of restraint in the use of firepower in Gaza.

The author, whose works frequently delve into the primitive forces that drive people, invokes fear to explain – « although not justify, » he emphasizes – what he views as Israel’s excessive and sometimes indiscriminate use of firepower in Gaza.

« After the shortcomings of the Second Lebanon War, the soldiers were afraid, the Israeli population was afraid, the media warned it would be a harsh and unprecedented war. Hamas said: ‘If you enter Gaza, we’ll make this your cemetery; there will be mines and ambushes everywhere.’ So there was real fear. That fear caused us to strike out excessively. »

Much of the destruction could have been avoided had Hamas expressed a willingness for a cease-fire, he suggests. « Let’s not forget – and this is one of the most astonishing things in the war – that Hamas did not ask for a cease-fire once in these three weeks despite all the destruction and death in Gaza. It seems as though they don’t have much mercy for their own people. If, after the first or second week, Hamas had asked for a mutual cease-fire, believe me, I would have gone from door to door to recruit people to come and hold a huge demonstration at Rabin Square to stop the war.

Their cry would have brought the peace camp out. »

In assessing the destruction in Gaza, Yehoshua puts the conflict in a broader international perspective. « There is no doubt that harsh things happened here. But then when you compare it with recent battles around the world, it is not that extraordinary, » he says, citing fighting in Georgia, the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. He notes that in Fallujah, for instance, about 6,000 people or 2.3 percent of the population of that Iraqi town were killed by American forces « and the Iraqis never shot at Washington or New York. » By comparison, he continues, the number of casualties in Gaza was very low.

« Nevertheless, » he says, « for us, this was an act of brutality, which included a lack of proportionality and while I understand the reasons for it, I can’t justify it. » He hopes the IDF will examine its actions in order to give a detailed reckoning of instances in which the force used was necessary and instances in which « we erred. God is in the details, and justice is also in the details. »

Yehoshua, an outspoken critic of the settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, says he is particularly angry at Hamas for « torpedoing peace. »

Voir également:

Israel warns Hizbullah war would invite destruction

IDF Northern Command chief says in any future war Israel would use ‘ disproportionate’ force on Lebanese villages from which Hizbullah will fire rockets at its cities. ‘From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases,’ Maj.-Gen. Eisenkot tells Yedioth Ahronoth

Reuters
10.03.08

Israel would use « disproportionate » force to destroy Lebanese villages from which Hizbullah guerrillas fired rockets at its cities in any future war, an Israeli general said in remarks published on Friday.

Speaking in Beirut in honor of al-Quds Day, Hizbullah secretary-general says, ‘No one has the authority to concede a grain of earth, wall or stone of the holy land’; adds his organization will continue resistance against Israel. ‘Today more can be done than ever before,’ he notes

« What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on, » said Gadi Eisenkot, head of the army’s northern division.

Dahiya was a Hizbullah stronghold that Israel flattened in sustained air raids during a 34-day war with the Shiite group two years ago.

« We will apply disproportionate force on it (village) and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases, » Eisenkot told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

« This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved, » Eisenkot added.

Some 1,200 Lebanese and 159 Israelis were killed during the war, which was sparked by a Hizbullah cross-border attack against an Israeli army patrol.

‘Hizbullah building capabilities against us’
The army’s failure to halt daily barrages of rockets against Israeli cities during the war prompted a wave of criticism of military commanders as well as calls on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign over his handling of the conflict.

Israel accused Hizbullah of firing rockets from civilian homes in southern Lebanon during the war, a claim echoed by human rights groups who also accused Israel of using excessive force that claimed the lives of innocent civilians.

Eisenkot said Hizbullah, backed by Iran and Syria, had significantly improved its rocket fire capability since the end of the war two years ago.

He rejected accusations that Israel was violating a UN-brokered ceasefire by sending aircraft on reconnaissance flights over Lebanon, saying the aerial missions were necessary given that Iran and Syria continue to arm Hizbullah in breach of the UN truce.

« Hizbullah is building capabilities against us that contravene the agreement signed by the Lebanese government at the end of the war, » said Eisenkot. « Therefore there is legitimacy to continue the flights over southern Lebanon and over Lebanon in general. »

Voir enfin:

Gabi Siboni
INSS Insight No. 74,
October 2, 2008

Not long ago Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was quoted as saying, “the Zionists will think ten thousand times before attacking Lebanon.” Nasrallah’s remark appears to have been in reference to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s declaration, made while visiting the IDF Home Front Command, that the IDF would face fewer limitations in future confrontations. Indeed, the pressure on Nasrallah seems to be taking its toll. The Hizbollah leader is beginning to internalize what he understands as a fundamental change in Israel’s approach in responding to a threat emanating from Lebanon.

Indeed, an updated Israeli security concept regarding Israel’s response to rocket and missile threats from Syria, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip is gradually evolving. Now, more than two years after the Second Lebanon War, it appears that Israel’s immediate response after the July 2006 kidnapping attack significantly boosted its ability to deter Hizbollah and Syria from operating against Israel.

The current predicament facing Israel involves two major challenges. The first is how to prevent being dragged into an ongoing dynamic of attrition on the northern border similar to what in recent years developed along the border with the Gaza Strip. The second is determining the IDF’s response to a large scale conflict both in the north and in the Gaza Strip. These two challenges can be overcome by adopting the principle of a disproportionate strike against the enemy’s weak points as a primary war effort, and operations to disable the enemy’s missile launching capabilities as a secondary war effort.

With an outbreak of hostilities, the IDF will need to act immediately, decisively, and with force that is disproportionate to the enemy’s actions and the threat it poses. Such a response aims at inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes. The strike must be carried out as quickly as possible, and must prioritize damaging assets over seeking out each and every launcher. Punishment must be aimed at decision makers and the power elite. In Syria, punishment should clearly be aimed at the Syrian military, the Syrian regime, and the Syrian state structure. In Lebanon, attacks should both aim at Hizbollah’s military capabilities and should target economic interests and the centers of civilian power that support the organization. Moreover, the closer the relationship between Hizbollah and the Lebanese government, the more the elements of the Lebanese state infrastructure should be targeted. Such a response will create a lasting memory among Syrian and Lebanese decision makers, thereby increasing Israeli deterrence and reducing the likelihood of hostilities against Israel for a an extended period. At the same time, it will force Syria, Hizbollah, and Lebanon to commit to lengthy and resource-intensive reconstruction programs.

Recent discussion of “victory” and “defeat” in a future war against Hizbollah has presented an overly simplistic approach. The Israeli public must understand that overall success cannot be measured by the level of high trajectory fire against Israel at the end of the confrontation. The IDF will make an effort to decrease rocket and missile attacks as much as possible, but the main effort will be geared to shorten the period of fighting by striking a serious blow at the assets of the enemy.

Israel does not have to be dragged into a war of attrition with Hizbollah. Israel’s test will be the intensity and quality of its response to incidents on the Lebanese border or terrorist attacks involving Hizbollah in the north or Hamas in the south. In such cases, Israel again will not be able to limit its response to actions whose severity is seemingly proportionate to an isolated incident. Rather, it will have to respond disproportionately in order to make it abundantly clear that the State of Israel will accept no attempt to disrupt the calm currently prevailing along its borders. Israel must be prepared for deterioration and escalation, as well as for a full scale confrontation. Such preparedness is obligatory in order to prevent long term attrition. The Israeli home front must be prepared to be fired upon, possibly with even heavy fire for an extended period, based on the understanding that the IDF is working to reduce the period of fighting to a minimum and to create an effective balance of deterrence.

This approach is applicable to the Gaza Strip as well. There, the IDF will be required to strike hard at Hamas and to refrain from the cat and mouse games of searching for Qassam rocket launchers. The IDF should not be expected to stop the rocket and missile fire against the Israeli home front through attacks on the launchers themselves, but by means of imposing a ceasefire on the enemy.

By instilling proper expectations of the IDF response among the civilian population, Israel will be able to improve its readiness and the resilience of its citizens. Still, the IDF’s primary goal must nonetheless be to attain a ceasefire under conditions that will increase Israel’s long term deterrence, prevent a war of attrition, and leave the enemy floundering in expensive, long term processes of reconstruction.

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