A Bad Idea Is A Bad Idea No Matter Who Thought Of It


There’s an idea going around (and not for the first time) that Israel set up an automated rocket response system. Everytime a rocket is fired out of Gaza, we randomly fire something back into Gaza.

This is not the way we do things. The idea is notable now because it’s been suggested again by a Nobel Prize Laureate, Professor Yisrael (Robert) Aumann (Economics, 2005) in Arutz 7. I saw it linked, approvingly from Treppenwitz and the Muqata’s Facebook page.

I gave a glib response on the Facebook page and came in for some flack because, apparently, I wasn’t deferential enough to a Nobel Prize winner (in Economics). Well he might know about Game Theory, but he doesn’t understand the fundamental difference between Jewish and (in this case) Islamic ideologies. This was my answer:

This is bunk, and dumb because it assumes the people in Gaza are like us and value life. Sorry, they don’t. They’re not like us. They seek death. They are not deterred by the death of their mothers, children and so on. They can fire happily: we set up the system, we’re responsible.

It boils down to the fundamental difference between THEM and US. We are deterred by Human Shields. They USE Human Shields.

[Sorry to shatter the “doesn’t everyone just want peace except for a few extremists” line. There just isn’t any evidence that the majority feel that way.]

I’m glad to say I have now seen a more nuanced view of this idea. It arrives at the same conclusion as I did.

From Cmdr J.E.Dyer (US Navy retired)

It’s more important, frankly, to have a strategic assessment than a legal one. (Although I believe the moral one remains of the greatest importance.) The automated-response model would actually change completely what Israel is doing. It would turn a positive strategic purpose into a negative one, by making the response pattern one of mere rote retaliation.

Israel has never at any time been engaged in mere rote retaliation against the Hamas rockets, which is why it’s so important to make the distinction military planners make between “retaliation,” in the generic, and “reprisal,” which is a subset of retaliation. A reprisal response assumes the initiative and serves not a symmetrical retaliatory purpose, tethered narrowly to the logic of the Hamas attack, but a discretionary, Israeli strategic purpose. Even if the individual response is small – say, only a 4-ship strike event – the target(s) is/are selected to serve a larger plan of operations. The IDF is aware 24/7 of the preparations Hamas is making, and is constantly developing its target list. I trust readers to understand that the IDF cannot be constantly attacking Hamas targets, even though the targets are constantly emerging and being developed. A Hamas rocket volley becomes a pretext for attacking priority targets on the target list, to serve Israel’s larger ends for keeping the Israeli people and territory secure. (Israel takes care to make the counterattacks relevant to the source of the provocation. But the counterattacks are never merely a tit-for-tat matter. The media don’t always understand that.)

That’s a responsible use of force, where automated retaliation is not. It’s ingrained in the Western military-strategic mind that armed force should never be used by rote, and I believe that’s for a good reason. It gets back ultimately to the Western concept for morality in war (tracking particularly to moral accountability), although “Eastern” military thinkers would also applaud the principle because it keeps force under positive discretion at all times. (Which is itself an element of morality in war.) To not ensure discretion is to court waste, misapplication, and unintended consequences. The two premises – moral accountability and the importance of keeping force under positive discretion – are what enable a democratic nation that answers to its people to use force with moral authority for political purposes.

It’s actually the discretion to hold fire, and use it at a more strategically useful, or even morally preferable time, that defines using force effectively, and therefore responsibly. I have no doubt that Israel will always reject the idea of giving up discretion in favor of a predefined automated response pattern.

Finally here’s a fun video: The Gaza Dome. Now if we could do this (which would be purely defensive) then I’d be up for the idea.

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