"War is Hell," according to someone who knew first hand. General William Tecumseh Sherman burned the South from Atlanta to the sea, and then northward through the Carolinas.
Israel's campaign in Gaza is not as extreme. Coming almost 150 years after Sherman, and managed by a country that honors the norms of international law enacted since then, destruction is accompanied by shipments of food and other supplies meant to prevent a humanitarian crisis.
The IDF has dropped leaflets advising residents to leave areas destined for attack. It collected 90,000 telephone numbers prior to the operation, and has phoned individual families telling them to clear out of sites that will be destroyed.
Nevertheless, it is far from pretty. The pictures show great destruction, screaming civilians, and bloodied children being carried to hospitals already jammed with the injured, the dead, and panicked relatives.
Israel justifies the destruction of homes, and a mosque during a time of prayer on the basis of their being used to store munitions. Those who support Israel's operation say it came after more than 10,000 rockets fired toward civilians since 2001. Many accept the carnage as the costs of a defensive war. Numerous heads of important governments have also recognized the justice of Israel's actions. Against them, however, are Arabs and Jewish leftists from within Israel, and crowds of demonstrators in many capitals.
The shrillest opponents are Muslims in the Middle East, Europe and North America who are prepared to condemn Israel on a daily basis before it does anything. Some who think Israel is justified do not accept its extent. The Palestinian death toll since December 27th is above 500 and the injured in the several thousands, while the latest figures show five Israelis dead and fewer than 100 injured, most of them lightly. While the principal weapons of Hamas are home made missiles that fly a few miles, are impossible to aim, and often fall short to kill Palestinians, Israel is using the some of the most destructive weaponry from its own workshops and those of friendly countries.
One can believe Israeli assertions that it does not aspire to rule Gaza. It is not clear if it means to destroy Hamas and leave Gaza without a government of Palestinians. Fatah leaders from the West Bank are not likely to claim Gaza as the spoils of Israeli bloodshed. It may not be easy to find countries acceptable to Israel that will send troops to guarantee whatever agreement will end the fighting, and.to police a population bound to be restive
Israel's primary concern is to assure that its citizens do not have to suffer daily threats of a rocket exploding on their home, workplace, or their children's school.
Arab governments warned Hamas about the consequences of continued firing at civilians. Israel's weapons, and the record of what it had done in the past rendered Hamas foolish in the extreme. Its actions were a piece with its litany from the Khartoum resolution of 1967: no peace, no recognition, and no negotiations with Israel.
Israelis do not expect to live in peace with Gaza, but hope that the length of quiet will follow from the extent of the death and destruction.
Anyone claiming to be humane may find that calculus uncivilized, but it may be the only way to deal with neighbors whose fanatic hatred has no limits.
One must also be prepared for something wider and more apocalyptic than what is happening in Gaza. Iran and Hizbollah are threatening to attack Israel from the north. If that comes, it could widen the war to Lebanon and Syria, and lead Israel to attempt the destruction of Iran's nuclear program. That could provoke Iranian missile attacks against Israeli cities, and whatever Israel chooses to do in response.
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Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem