by Dr. Daniel Mandel, Director Center for Middle East Policy
Ever since Israel struck back in the last two weeks at Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups that have kidnapped Israeli soldiers and kept up an incessant barrage of rockets and missiles upon Israel from Gaza and southern Lebanon, various governments have criticized Israel's response as
"excessive"' and "disproportionate."
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana speaks of "disproportionate use of force by Israel," adding that "imposition of an air and sea blockade on Lebanon cannot be justified." Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin concurs: the "disproportionate use of force by Israel, which causes suffering to the civilian population, can be neither understood nor justified."
Ignoring the original aggression of Hezbollah, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy says of Israel's counter-offensive against Hezbollah, "We obviously condemn this disproportionate act of war."
Additionally, a draft resolution in the United Nations Security Council calling for an end to Israeli military action and Israel 's allegedly "disproportionate use of force" received 10 affirmative votes and four abstentions and only failed because it was vetoed by the US, the only country to vote against it.
Although several of Israel's critics have said Israel has a right to self-defense, they have not even hinted in which ways Israel should exercise it, except urging it to desist from its current military operations.
The reason for this is simple: the claims of disproportionate use of force are legally false and politically motivated. Claiming Israel has behaved disproportionately sidelines the real issue of Israel pursuing justifiable self-defense. Instead, it subjects Israel to a bogus test of proportionality which actually distorts the international legal concept of proportionality in war.
Proportionality is defined by the military objective, not the strength of the original aggression. For example, the unprovoked Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor did not limit America in its response to sinking a dozen Japanese warships and killing 2,500 Japanese, the size of the American losses sustained at Pearl Harbor. The US was entitled to wage unremitting war upon Japan until it achieved its objective, which was to have Japan relinquish its dreams of conquest and deprive it of the means to wage war on America - which is precisely what President Franklin Roosevelt did.
Therefore, if Hezbollah attacks Israel, as it has done here, it would be absurd to claim that Israel may return fire with only one bullet or one rocket or one artillery shell for each fired at it. Yet, in criticizing
Israel for being disproportionate, this is essentially what its critics are saying.
All countries possess the right and duty of self-defense and the protection of their citizens from armed assault from external forces under Article 51 of the UN Charter. If Israel, as in the present case, is under such attack, proportionality means it can respond militarily with whatever use of force
is reasonably required to deal with the assault to eliminate the danger and prevent its recurrence.
Hezbollah fields some 5000 heavily armed men and 13,000 missiles pointed at Israel, over 2000 of which have already been fired, killing scores of Israelis and wounding hundreds more. Iran may also have an additional 1000 men fighting with Hezbollah. In short, this is a well-integrated fighting
force, not a rag-tag outfit. Israel's offensive is therefore geared towards eliminating the Hezbollah missile threat and eliminating it as a fighting force. Accordingly, it has attacked Hezbollah's capacity to import weapons (bombing airfields and highways, blockading ports) and targeted its installations, missile launchers and command centers, many of which are located in Shiite residential areas in southern Lebanon.It is a war crime to embed military forces, arms caches and missile batteries among civilians, as this endangers them in any hostilities - yet that is precisely what Hezbollah has done. The consequent Lebanese civilian casualties, which are inevitable in such a situation, no matter what efforts Israel makes to avoid harming them, are therefore the responsibility of Hezbollah. Yet Israel's critics completely ignore this fact and invoke a spurious criterion of proportionality to hold Israel guilty for the consequent civilian deaths. That is evidence of dishonesty, legal and moral.
Hezbollah, an organization whose head, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has repeatedly called for "Death to America" now promises a "new stage" of attacks on Israel not limited to Haifa. Already in 2002, Nasrallah indicated genocidal ambitions, saying, "If they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will
save us the trouble of going after them worldwide."It would be hard to imagine any other country that, confronted with an armed force dedicated to its destruction and launching deadly assaults on its
population centers from across the border, would not respond immediately and in force to eliminate the aggressors and the possibility of a repetition. In fact, the biggest surprise is that Israel waited for six years during which time she endured endless threats, the kidnapping of Israelis and
incursions across the border before finally acting after the latest kidnapping of its soldiers. This was a most unusual forbearance by any nation. Yet Israel's critics, in effect, are saying that Israel, uniquely
among nations, should not respond even now.
The claim that Israel is behaving excessively or disproportionately because more Lebanese than Israelis have been killed or because Israel has used more firepower than Hezbollah is false as a matter of law, history and morality.