I’ve been pretty hard on the “proportionality” argument as to why Israel should ease up on Hezbollah in the current fighting taking place in Lebanon. But of late I’ve been reconsidering my position, and I find myself wondering if Israel’s response is indeed out of proportion to the attacks.
The key word here is “proportional.” It can mean “roughly equal,” but it can also mean “roughly equal when adjusted for scale.” Blueprints and models are often proportional; they are identical to the depicted item in question, but reduced in scale.
There is no equivalence in military power between Hezbollah and Israel. In fact, Hezbollah tends to keep its power secret, so it’s hard to determine just how much more powerful Israel is than Hezbollah, so no ready scale lends itself.
A better way might be in measuring potential versus applied power in this situation. Just how hard is each side trying? How much of their total might are they dedicating to the fight?
In Israel’s case, it’s simple: they are holding back. They have a lot more bombs, tanks, missiles, soldiers, and whatnot than they are using in southern Lebanon. Some are tied up fighting in the Gaza Strip, and many more are being held in reserve. They are restraining themselves from waging a total war.
For Hezbollah, again it’s murky to work out the details. But it seems to me that they’re already doing pretty much all they can to fight back.
Hezbollah is fighting its only enemy on its own home turf. (The Lebanese goverment ought to have something to say about Hezbollah having southern Lebanon as “its own home turf,” but they haven’t made a fuss out of this de facto annexation.) It is in a fight for its very survival (the same place Israel has been in each of its declared wars against its Arab neighbors, ironically enough), with very few options to retreat. Out of necessity, it should be using every available weapon at its disposal, or risk suffering a grave defeat — or worse.
The fact that they have killed so few Israeli civilians (relatively speaking) is not a testament to their restraint, but Israel’s success. They’re doing their damndest, and those relatively low numbers are a mark of impotence and shame to them. Nearly every building in Israel has to have a bomb shelter, and they have developed a remarkably successful civil-defense system, with sirens and highly skilled first responders. (Oddly enough, for all the “social services” Hezbollah has allegedly provided in Lebanon, “bomb shelters for when Israel finally hits back at us for all the attacks we make against them” doesn’t seem to have been a priority for them.)
Also, the fact that Hezbollah hasn’t killed the two soldiers whose kidnapping triggered the latest fighting is no sign of moderation. For one, they know that live soldiers are more valuable hostages than corpses (but they’ve bargained with dead bodies before, after torturing to death prior prisoners). Secondly, there is no evidence that the two are even still alive — they’ve declared them “prisoners of war,” but won’t let the Red Cross have any contact with them. (Funny how that little war crime, along with the bombardment of civilians, failing to wear distinctive uniforms, and avoiding being among civilians, tends to get brushed under the rug.)
The next time a critic of Israel denounces their response as “disproportionate,” ask them to show a single sign that Hezbollah has shown the slightest restraint, the slightest moderation, in their attacks. That Hezbollah has declared certain targets off limits. That it has abided by the accepted standards of warfare. As long as Israel continues to show its own restraint, there is absolutely no cause for criticizing their level of response.