Thomas Friedman is judged by many to be both knowledgeable and fair-minded about the Israeli-Arab conflict. After all, he’s been to the region many times and has been writing on the subject for years. He served as a correspondent in Lebanon from 1979 to 1989, and his book “From Beirut to Jerusalem”, published in 1989, is considered a classic.
But his most recent piece in the NY Times shows that he’s prepared to pour blood guilt on Israel with the rest of the mob:
Israel today is enjoying another timeout because it recently won three short wars — and then encountered one pleasant surprise. The first was a war to dismantle the corrupt Arafat regime. The second was the war started by Hezbollah in Lebanon and finished by a merciless pounding of Shiite towns and Beirut suburbs by the Israeli Air Force. The third was the war to crush the Hamas missile launchers in Gaza.
What is different about these three wars, though, is that Israel won them using what I call “Hama Rules” — which are no rules at all. “Hama Rules” are named after the Syrian town of Hama, where, in 1982, then-President Hafez el-Assad of Syria put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising by shelling and then bulldozing their neighborhoods, killing more than 10,000 of his own people.
In Israel’s case, it found itself confronting enemies in Gaza and Lebanon armed with rockets, but nested among local civilians, and Israel chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties.
There is absolutely no similarity between Assad’s mass murder and Israel’s self-defense — not in the intentions of Assad and Israel, and not in the degree of civilian damage.
Assad deliberately killed as many people as he could in order to send a message that insurrection against his regime would not be tolerated — and to exact satisfactory revenge for attacks on his loyalists (including an assassination attempt) by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The IDF, especially in Gaza, made an effort to reduce harm to civilians as much as possible, and despite a journalistic and propaganda industry devoted to proving the contrary, succeeded quite well under the circumstances. The operations were all intended to stop terrorist activities, not to get revenge.
Friedman knows the difference. Why did he join Israel’s enemies in their demonization project? Maybe he’ll write a comment to this post explaining that.
There is something in common between the three wars that Friedman cites, though, although it’s not what he suggests. It’s this: In all three cases, the “international community” (primarily in the person of the US) stopped the fighting before Israel could finish off its enemies.
In 2002, Arafat was allowed to remain barricaded in his Muqata. In 2006, Hezbollah was allowed to rearm and rebuild. And in 2009, the planned third phase of Operation Cast Lead, which would have brought Israeli soldiers into Hamas’ headquarters in Gaza city, was aborted before Hamas’ capabilities were seriously damaged, and without rescuing Gilad Shalit — who has just suffered his fourth year in Hamas captivity.
So in addition to Friedman’s coinage “Hama rules,” referring to the vicious kind of example-making practiced by Hafez al-Assad and by the Russians in Chechnya, we need another phrase for the phenomenon of intervention to prevent Israel from bringing its conflicts to a winning conclusion. There are many possibilities drawn from almost every conflict that Israel has engaged in: 1956 rules, 1967 rules, 1973 rules, 1982 rules, 2002 rules, 2006 rules, 2009 rules, etc.
I prefer ‘Gaza rules’, because this conflict best exemplifies the combination of an imposed end to the conflict and the use of pseudo-evidence to indict Israel of every imaginable crime, and to punish her for defending herself.
Friedman continues his argument by saying that Israel’s ‘legitimacy’ is put at risk by these wars, and so Israel should stop fighting them — that is, stop defending herself — and instead protect herself by making concessions to the Palestinian Authority (PA):
But Abbas and Fayyad will not be able to sustain this timeout if Netanyahu resumes settlement-building in September, when the partial freeze expires, and if Israel doesn’t soon start gradually transferring control of major West Bank Palestinian towns to the Palestinian Authority.
Bottom line: Israel needs to try to buy its next timeout with diplomacy, which means Netanyahu has to show some initiative. Because the risks to Israel’s legitimacy of another war in Gaza, Lebanon or the West Bank — in which Israel could be forced to kill even more civilians to squash rocket attacks launched from schoolyards by fighters who wear no uniforms — will be staggering.
Somehow, the small matter of Hamas has been removed from the equation, as has the fact that the PA has found even overly generous terms insufficient in the recent past.
I offer the following challenge to Friedman:
- Prove that Israel’s intention in three recent wars has been to harm civilians. You can’t.
- Explain how concessions to the PA will bring peace, especially in the presence of Hamas. You can’t.
- Explain why Israel is the only state in the world whose ‘legitimacy’ is in question. You don’t want to try.