As the world stumbles through the fog of war following the savage attacks on Israel by Hamas last week, I thought it might be worth pondering two things.
First, since the news is full of headlines warning against Israel’s conducting a “disproportionate” response, I wonder what a “proportionate” response to the wholesale murder and mayhem perpetrated by Hamas would look like?
Second, I know that I am not alone in sensing that the attack, though brutal, was but the opening gambit of a plan whose origin and course is, as of this writing, still unknown to the public.
As to the first, this was the strophe: on October 7, hundreds of Hamas terrorists suddenly and without warning swarmed across the border separating the Gaza Strip and Israel. They arrived by paraglider, on motorbikes and in trucks.
While thousands of rockets rained down on Israel from Tel Aviv southwards, the Hamas terrorists set about their murderous work. They attacked an outdoor festival just over the Gaza border in Israel and murdered some 250 innocent civilian partygoers. They went house to house, executing whole families. They rounded up hundreds of civilians — including infants, toddlers, the elderly — and dragged them back to Gaza as hostages. Confirmed stories and pictures of the atrocities — rape, mutilation, indiscriminate slaughter — have shocked the world. One particularly gruesome episode involved the decapitation and incineration of some forty infants. When I first wrote about the attack earlier this week, the death toll stood at 700. As of this morning it has nearly doubled, to 1,300, with 5,000 injured and hundreds kidnapped and taken hostage.
The antistrophe is still being organized by the IDF, the Israeli Defense Force. Some 300,000 reservists have been mobilized. Israeli had supplied water, electricity, and food to Gaza. All have been shut off. The IDF has warned the 1.1 million civilians living in the north of the Gaza Strip, the populous stronghold of Hamas, to evacuate south within twenty-four hours. Invasion by Israel is probably imminent.
Hence the many headlines demanding that Israel’s response not be “disproportionate.” Among my favorite examples of this dubious exercise of double standards came from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “All persons,” he intoned, “must respect international humanitarian law. They must immediately cease attacks targeting civilians and attacks expected to cause disproportionate death and injury of civilians or damage to civilian objects.”
Then there was this gem, issued by the US Office of Palestinian Affairs, a diplomatic post opened by the Biden administration. “We unequivocally condemn the attack of Hamas terrorists and the loss of life that has incurred,” the post read. “We urge all sides to refrain from violence and retaliatory attacks. Terror and violence solve nothing.”
“All sides,” eh?
The post quickly disappeared in the face of widespread ridicule and outrage.
But ask yourself this: what is a “proportionate” response to wholesale butchery? While I was pondering this, a friend reminded me of an exchange between William Tecumseh Sherman and the Confederate General J.B. Hood from 1864 when Sherman was descending upon Atlanta.
Sherman had offered a two-day truce to allow civilians to evacuate their homes, but Hood objected that pushing people out of their homes was too harsh. “Permit me to say,” Hood wrote, “that the unprecedented measure you propose transcends, in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war. In the name of God and humanity, I protest, believing that you will find that you are expelling from their homes and firesides the wives and children of a brave people.”
Sherman’s response was swift and to the point. “You style the measures proposed ‘unprecedented,’ and appeal to the dark history of war for a parallel, as an act of ‘studied and ingenious cruelty.’ It is not unprecedented; for [Confederate] General [Joseph] Johnston himself very wisely and properly removed the families all the way from Dalton down, and I see no reason why Atlanta should be excepted.”
Sherman continued: “Nor is it necessary to appeal to the dark history of war, when recent and modern examples are so handy. You yourself burned dwelling-houses along your parapet, and I have seen to-day fifty houses that you have rendered uninhabitable because they stood in the way of your forts and men. You defended Atlanta on a line so close to town that every cannon-shot and many musket-shots from our line of investment, that overshot their mark, went into the habitations of women and children. General Hardee did the same at Jonesboro, and General Johnston did the same, last summer, at Jackson, Mississippi.”
Sherman concluded thus:
In the name of common-sense, I ask you not to appeal to a just God in such a sacrilegious manner. You who, in the midst of peace and prosperity, have plunged a nation into war — dark and cruel war — who dared and badgered us to battle, insulted our flag, seized our arsenals and forts that were left in the honorable custody of peaceful ordnance-sergeants, seized and made “prisoners of war” the very garrisons sent to protect your people against negroes and Indians, long before any overt act was committed by the (to you) hated Lincoln government; tried to force Kentucky and Missouri into rebellion, spite of themselves; falsified the vote of Louisiana; turned loose your privateers to plunder unarmed ships; expelled Union families by the thousands, burned their houses, and declared, by an act of your Congress, the confiscation of all debts due Northern men for goods had and received!
I think there is a lot to be said for Sherman’s response, not least his advice that they “not deal in arch hypocritical appeals to God and humanity. God will judge us in due time,” he said in conclusion, “and he will pronounce whether it be more humane to fight with a town full of women and the families of a brave people at our back or to remove them in time to places of safety among their own friends and people.” My own feeling is that Israel ought to do for Hamas what Donald Trump did for ISIS, i.e., destroy it utterly.
But Hamas may be only part of the problem. Everyone says that Iran had been supplying the terrorist organization, which since about 2006 has been the de facto government of the Gaza Strip. Perhaps that is true. But why? Hamas is a Sunni Islam organization. Iran is Shia. The two loathe each other.
Perhaps both regard Israel and “the Jews” as the greater evil. That is possible. In any event, Hamas is not Israel’s only enemy in the region. There is the larger Palestinian problem, ably laid out by Sol Stern in his forthrightly titled essay “A Century of Palestinian Rejectionism and Jew Hatred” (from Encounter Books, of which I am publisher). But there is also the surrounding Arab and Iranian hostility. The former may be waning. Donald Trump put it on the road to extinction with his Abraham Accords. But the lunatic antisemitic fanatics running Iran are doing everything they can derail that process.
One thing they are doing is egging on Hezbollah, the vicious “Party of God” terrorist group created by disciples of the Ayatollah Khomeini in the early 1980s. Based in Lebanon, along Israel’s northern border, it regularly parrots the Iranian mantra that Israel must be extinguished.
A clear-eyed report in the New York Times (I know, it seems odd to write that sentence) shows how deeply enmeshed Iran-Hezbollah is with other anti-Israeli forces in the area, including Hamas. “Hassan Nasrallah,” the Times reported, “the leader of Hezbollah, held an hours-long online meeting in March with an elite group of strategists from all the Iran-backed militias and told them to get ready for a war with Israel with a scope and reach — including a ground invasion — that would mark a new era.”
If that is true, then the massacre just perpetrated by Hamas in the south may be only a prelude to a larger and possibly even more vicious attack in the north. Rockets are already being fired. Fortunately, the IDF seems to be aware of the contingency, hence its moving military assets to the north and hence its steely-eyed, very deliberate prosecution of its retaliation in the south.
Israel did not bring this fight on itself. But this time, unlike its other wars with its Arab and Iranian attackers, it may just finish the job.