If you want to end a war you have to defeat the enemy, humiliate the people and change the government so that they are no longer an adversary, and that requires a lot of capital and a great deal of blood and treasure. Or you can live with the alternative.
-Victor Davis Hanson, 2013
With the lull in hostilities in Gaza, it’s worth examining some of the misconceptions and strained thinking that was broadcast through the media; specifically, the truly bizarre idea that the Iron Dome missile defense system is not just a bad piece of technology, but morally bad and, for all its apparent success, harmful to Israel. While John Podhoretz nicely dispatches several elements of the “the Iron Dome is really a bad thing” complaint in Commentary’s Contentions blog, there is an even more important point that has been allowed to go unsaid: the Iron Dome has saved uncountable lives in Gaza. But before we go into that, let’s take a detour just to show that, yes, people really are saying these things.
Marc Lamont Hill, “Distinguished Professor of African American Studies at Morehouse College”, manages to spectacularly misunderstand the situation in a discussion on CNN;
I think, though, the challenge is, because if you look at the Iron Dome in isolation, then yes, Ross, I agree with you 100% because the Iron Dome is exclusively a defensive mechanism, but what the Iron Dome does is it also takes away all of Hamas’s military leverage which is very different than say, 10 years ago or 15 years ago in other wars like Lebanon, et cetera. As a result, it not only serves a defensive purpose but de facto serves an offensive purpose. It allows Israel to essentially assault and siege Gaza without any retribution or response on the other side. So again, to some extent, they are not just funding defense, they are funding an offensive war and ultimately an occupation. That for me, is the problem.
Yaov Fromer, who “teaches politics and history at Tel Aviv University”, writes in the Washington Post that the Iron Dome “may do more long-term harm then good”;
[W]hat was once a tactical defense mechanism to temporarily protect the civilian population has become a strategy unto itself. In that way, it may actually undermine Israel’s long-term security. By temporarily minimizing the dangers posed by Hamas and Hezbollah, it distracts us from seeking a broader regional political solution that could finally incapacitate these terror networks and make systems such as Iron Dome moot.
… As long as the Israeli public believes it is safe, for now, under the soothing embrace of technology, it will not demand that its political leaders wage diplomacy to end violence that mandated Iron Dome in the first place. Since Iron Dome has transformed a grim reality into a rather bearable ordeal, Israelis have lost the sense of urgency and outrage that might have pushed their government to make painful if necessary concessions in exchange for peace.
To understand exactly how wrong these two “intellectuals” are, let us imagine the counter-factual: that when the current cease-fire is broken (an eventuality only slightly less predictable then the phases of the moon, as Islamic Jihad is eager to boast), they actually manage to sneak a larger missile past the Iron Dome and inflict the civilian casualties Professor Hill imagines will give Hamas their “military leverage”. In other words, Hamas succeeds in causing Israel’s version of Pearl Harbor.
It takes very little creativity to imagine that a mass casualty attack on Israel, perpetrated by Hamas (which is both a, the closest thing to a democratically elected government in Gaza and b, a death cult that as a matter of public record is devoted to the destruction of Israel, the Jewish people and the West as a whole), will in fact not bring an thaw in relations. The result will, I think it fair to say, be much closer to the reaction of the United States after Pearl Harbor then, say, Spain’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq after the 2004 Madrid train terror attacks.
For all the protestations certain parties have lodged against the Iron Dome the truth of the matter is this: wars end when they are won by one side or the other, once hostilities have commenced anything other then victory or defeat is what the Romans called bellum interruptus (an interruption of the war). Sometimes the bellum interruptus can be long, sometimes short, but there are no good choices, no choices without costs.
The US is involved in at least two notable bellum interruptus at the moment, which show precisely how costly peace can be: North Korea and Iraq. In North Korea the US (and South Korea) decided that a cold peace was better then the option of fighting into the heart of North Korea. And it costs: tens of thousands of US troops remain in South Korea, North Korea exports nuclear technology to bad actors across the world and minor outrages are endured by the free nations of the world (such as kidnapping citizens of western countries). The costs, however they are tabulated, are judged to be less then the costs of actually finishing the conflict and ending the war. In Iraq, the US was content to watch the gains of the last decade be frittered away, perhaps tonight we will find that the terror army of ISIS has proved sufficiently outrageous that our president will declare delenda est.
Carthago Delenda Est. That is the phrase attributed to Cato the Elder, who used it regularly as he argued that Carthage, the ancient rival of Rome, could not continue to threaten Rome’s dominance of the Mediterranean. The Punic Wars spanned over a century until the reversals and battles became too much for men like Cato to endure and the threat was ended by the third and final Punic war.
What the Iron Dome does when it reduces or removes the threat of Israeli civilian casualties (at least, to a degree) is give the time and space for less efficient, less brutal warfare. Make no mistake, when Israel calls ahead to warn civilians or distributes leaflets warning of an impending attack, they are sacrificing many prized commodities in war fighting. Losing the element of surprise certainly limits civilian casualties, but it also allows for the escape of at least some fighters that might otherwise be killed. Further, it establishes in the minds of Israel’s enemies that Israel cares, perhaps cares too much, about preserving life, even the lives of their enemies. This is a dangerous attitude to have, and even more dangerous to be understood to have, for it enables actors so deranged that they consider Hamas the victor in the current struggle.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the assorted other heads of the hydra of Islamic fascism will never be satisfied to have peace with Israel, and like Carthage, as long as they exist they will rise from the ashes of their defeats to fly at Israel’s throat. For the time being the Iron Dome, and systems like it, make the bellum interruptus tolerable, but only just barely. The citizens of southern Israel, of Sderot and other cities, are weary and tired of an endless, empty peace. By way of example, at the onset of the conflict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s satisfaction rating was 57%, when ground forces entered Gaza it was buoyed to an astonishing 82%. Today? 38%. It’s worth remembering that at the conclusion to the Punic wars Carthage was destroyed utterly, its citizenry either slain or enslaved, and while we may imagine the Israeli response will have much more the form of General Curtis “bomb them back to the stone age” LeMay then Publius Scipio Aemilianus, the conclusion remains the same…
If you care for the lives of Gazans, pray for the continued success of the Iron Dome.
For those interested in the study of Warfare, I cannot recommend the works of Victor Davis Hanson strongly enough. The quote at the beginning of this piece is taken from his talk below;