Recently released statistics on the Gaza war provide a good starting point both for evaluating the war and determining what Gaza’s future might look like. The Times of Israel reports:
3,356 rockets fired at Israel: 2,303 hit Israel and 356 were aimed at IDF forces operating in Gaza
116 hit populated areas inside Israel (3.45%)
578 were intercepted by Iron Dome
475 landed within the Gaza Strip.
Prior to the operation, the IDF estimated the Gaza rockets arsenal at approximately 10,000 rockets, about 1/3 of which were fired at Israel, and an additional 1/3 were demolished by the IDF. . . . 597 rockets were launched from civilian facilities abused by terrorists (18%) [of Hamas rocket launching sites].
Approx. 260 launched from educational facilities (schools)
Approx. 127 launched from cemeteries
Approx. 160 launched from religious sites
Approx. 50 launched from hospitals.
Perhaps the State Department and White House aides with zero military experience could explain how Israel was supposed to defend itself under such circumstances without Gazan civilian casualities. What is “appalling” and “indefensible” is the blatant violation of the laws of war by Hamas in fighting in this manner. Plainly, the Israelis were aimed at and were largely successful at hitting military targets. (As the Times of Israel explains: Of 4,762 terror sites struck across the Gaza Strip, 1,678 rockets hit Hamas launching capabilities, 977 struck command and control centers, 237 hit militant wing government facilities, 191 hit weapon storage and manufacturing facilities, 144 hit training and militant compounds and 1,535 landed on additional terror sites.) In addition, the Israelis took out 32 terror tunnels, 14 of which exit in Israel. These are legitimate and essential targets if Israel really is to defend itself, as the administration keeps saying. (And to top it off, about 14 percent of Hamas’s own rockets hit Gaza itself. How many of these killed or wounded Gazans? We don’t know.)
Peter Berkowitz, an expert on the law of war and the Goldstone Report, explains:
Obama press secretary Josh Earnest announced, “The shelling of a U.N. facility that is housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable and totally indefensible.” It is Earnest’s statement, made without any reference to the use that Hamas was making of U.N. facilities, that is totally indefensible.
The assumption that proportionality involves a rough equality of losses — or is violated when harm is caused to civilians — is superficial. And it has no foundation in international law. …
The international laws of war provide, however, that the use of civilian areas for military purposes causes them to lose their immunity from military attack. Consequently, under the laws of war properly understood, most of the Palestinian civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza are presumptively Hamas’ responsibility.
In the steady stream of knee-jerk accusations of criminality, critics have failed to show that Israel’s use of force has been excessive in relation to its pursuit of legitimate military objectives: destroying Hamas’s cross-border terror tunnels and its capacity to terrorize almost all of Israel with rockets and missiles.
These statistics and a proper understanding of the laws of war are not merely of intellectual interest or of relevance to various United Nations reports and condemnations that may follow. It is essential to understanding where the parties go from here.
In looking at the aftermath of Gaza, we know the terrorists infiltrated nearly every aspect of Gazan society, diverted thousands of tons of concrete and millions in aid money for its own benefit and otherwise rules Gaza as a dictatorship. Giving aid without addressing these unpleasant realities only empowers and rewards Hamas; it does nothing for the average person there.
Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies tells Right Turn, “The best case scenario for Gaza would be a demilitarized Gaza, with Hamas on the outs. But this is not realistic. Israel may have destroyed the tunnels and more than half of the group’s rocket stores may have been destroyed, but the leaders, ideology and military know-how remains.”
That leaves limited options. The Palestinian Authority is likely too weak and fearful of inserting itself in Gaza to supervise reconstruction and keep the rockets silent. Egypt wants no part of Gaza. Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams concludes:
So what’s the good solution? There is no good solution, no quick remedy, no magic wand. Israel is in for a long struggle, and at least some of the Arab states in the region recognize this and recognize that they and Israel are on the same side against Sunni and Shia radicalism—against Hamas and other Sunni terrorist groups including ISIS, and against Iran and its proxy Hezbollah. That’s why they were so shocked and angered when Sec. Kerry appeared to enhance the roles of Turkey and Qatar, which are on the other side in those struggles.
There are some steps worth taking, to be sure. Israel should enhance its anti-tunnel technology programs and seek a remedy as good as Iron Dome is against rockets. It should seek the closest security cooperation it can get with the PA, and act to strengthen the West Bank economy. The United States and other Western nations, and responsible Arab states, should do what we can to strengthen the PA security forces and push hard (since we are the aid donors to the PA) against corruption and for decent governance. But these steps are no “solution.” Islamic terrorism is a plague now throughout the region, and Hamas is the localized version of that plague. The struggle against it will be long and hard, with plenty of ugly and difficult scenes on television. It seems clear that Israelis have the stomach for that fight, [because] their existence is at stake. What they seek from their closest friends and allies is understanding and support, in place of distancing and unfair criticism. The basis for an effective U.S. policy is to think about who is on the other side in this fight, about the Arabs and Israelis on our side against the terrorists, and about the actions that will be needed to win.
Nor do we need grandstanding and counterproductive moves such as Sen. Rand Paul’s proposal to completely cut off funds to the PA. That is not what Israel needs or wants, although it makes for good headlines and fodder for the obsessive critics of all foreign aid. As disagreeable as the PA may be for now, it must be used to quell violence and control Hamas.
From our standpoint, the most productive thing the United States could do would be to re-establish close cooperation with Sunni allies, pressure Iran (the sponsor of Hamas) militarily and on the ground (e.g. intercepting arms shipments) and showing no daylight between the United States and Israel. That would be, in other words, a complete reversal of the last 5 1/2 years of U.S. policy. Ultimately, the best move for the United States would be to elect a new president who understands the complexities of the Middle East and our role in the region.