November 18, 2023 - 9:00 pm
Proportionality in war is a synonym for lethal stalemate, if not defeat.
When two sides go at it with roughly equal forces, weapons and strategies, the result is often a horrific deadlock — like the four years of toxic trench warfare on the Western Front of World War I that resulted in 12 million fatalities.
The purpose of war is to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible with the least number of casualties — and thereby achieve political ends. So every side aims to find superior strategies, tactics, weapons and manpower to ensure as great a disproportionate advantage as possible.
Hamas is no exception. Its savage precivilizational strategy to defeat Israel hinged on doing disproportionate things Israel cannot or will not do.
First, Hamas spent a year planning a pre-emptive butchery spree inside Israel. Its ruthless murdering focused on “soft targets” such as unarmed elderly, women, children and infants, mostly asleep at a time of peace and holiday.
Second, it sought to collectively shock Israel into paralysis by the sheer horror of decapitating civilians, burning babies, mass raping and mutilating bodies. Another apparent aim of such premodern barbarity was to blame Israel’s “occupation” for turning Gazans into veritable monsters, with hopes of derailing the renewed Abraham Accords.
Third, the gunmen took more than 240 hostages back with them to Gaza. Again, that was a disproportionate tactic designed to meter out the release of captives in exchange for “pauses” and “cease-fires” to save Hamas. Additionally, Hamas made implicit threats of gruesome executions of captives unless Israel ceased their retaliation for Oct. 7.
Fourth, all the while Hamas shot rockets into Israel, more than 7,000 in total, all aimed at civilians. Not one launch was preceded by dropping leaflets or sending text messages to Israeli civilians to vacate the intended target areas — a protocol often used by the Israel Defense Forces.
The unapologetic aim was to kill thousands of Israelis at random and disproportionately. In fact, in just the past few four weeks, Hamas has launched more than twice as many rockets into Israel as Nazi Germany managed to launch V-2s into Britain in five months.
Fifth, Hamas sought to create a multibillion-dollar tunnel city beneath Gaza. The labyrinth’s sole purposes were to stockpile weapons and ensure safe havens for terrorists to shoot rockets and regroup after their terrorist missions.
Sixth, the subterranean headquarters of Hamas elites, along with weapons depots, were strategically placed under hospitals, mosques and schools to “shield” them from Israeli attacks. The expectation was that the IDF would be hesitant to target such “civilian” and “humanitarian” areas in a way Hamas never would.
Seventh, Hamas forced the civilians of Gaza to remain among the street fighting. They often shot those who resisted. They also killed Gazans who fled the city. Hamas sought to increase civilian fodder as collateral damage from Israeli attacks. Such deaths were to be broadcast worldwide to win sympathy for Hamas terrorists and force a cease-fire.
Eighth, Hamas bragged that it could repeat strategies 1-7 endlessly on the supposition Israel would tire, the world would turn against it and it at last could murder enough Jews to end Israel altogether.
Israel in turn seeks its own disproportionate response to defeat Hamas.
First, it seeks to single out and kill the Hamas terrorists — and especially the 2,000 or so killers of Oct. 7.
Second, it tries to warn civilians to flee anywhere that Hamas masses. Just as Hamas wants its own civilians killed for propaganda purposes, so Israel seeks to avoid killing them.
Third, by targeting Hamas and warning civilians to keep their distance, Israel does not deny that there will be collateral damage. But it hopes to convince the world that any civilian deaths are mostly the fault of Hamas and not the IDF.
And to the degree that Gaza City is left in rubble, Israel wishes to remind its enemies that the wages of murdering Jewish infants will be a disproportionate response, whose full effects will deter any future attack.
Fourth, Israel understands that a country of 9 million to 10 million is facing a virulently hostile 500 million-person Arab Middle East. The United Nations is on the side of Hamas. A now antisemitic Europe has been hijacked by immigrants from the Middle East. Israel’s sole patron, the United States, is buffeted by a hard-left new Democratic Party that is not a reliable partner.
The result is that Israel still cannot conduct a fully disproportionate war without endangering its source of military resupply in the United States and a wider conflict with the Islamic world. And so, the war continues.
Hamas strives for a more disproportionate terrorist agenda to prolong the war. Israel strives for a more disproportionate retaliation to end it.
The anger arises at Israel mostly because it is Jewish, and thus far its conventional disproportionality is proving more effective than the terrorist disproportionality of Hamas.
Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a classicist and historian at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. Contact him at email@example.com.