Gaza: Israelis will not tolerate casualties
The promise to bring all their soldiers home hampers Israeli war tactics and makes the invasion of Gaza a huge political risk
Regardless of where one's sympathies lie in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an inescapable truth has been exposed by the escalation of fighting between the IDF and Hamas. Gaza's militants have, once again, displayed a staggering lack of regard for the lives of the civilians on their own side, in sharp contrast with the collective sense of parental angst felt by the Israeli people now that ground troops have been sent across the border into battle.
In Israel, because almost every family has sent at least one son or daughter to don the olive uniform of the IDF, every soldier's life is considered so precious that putting troops in the line of fire is an undesired option of last resort for Israel's leaders. The spectre of soldiers being killed or kidnapped during clashes haunts Israelis the length and breadth of the land, who treat each soldier who fights for the cause as an adopted child of their own.
The policy of sanctifying the lives of Israeli soldiers and civilians handicaps any Israeli government contemplating a ground war. Instead of being prepared to do whatever it takes on the battlefield to root out the source of the threat, Israeli politicians and military generals are acutely aware that their electorate will not tolerate even a handful of soldiers becoming casualties of war.
Hence last week's opinion poll which showed that while 53 per cent of Israelis went against international opinion and supported the air strikes on Gaza, only 19 per cent were in favour of a ground invasion.
The scale of the risk signals that Israel’s leaders are preparing to smash Hamas
On the other side of the barricades, there are no such millstones around the necks of Hamas leaders, as witnessed this past week during the Israeli air strikes. The Hamas clerical chief Nizar Ryan - who sent his young son to die on a suicide mission back in 2001 - surrounded himself with human shields comprised of members of his own family, most of whom perished when an Israel F-16 dropped a bomb on his home in Jabaliyah on Thursday.
Israel values the lives of its soldiers so much that they routinely swap hundreds, even thousands, of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a few captured soldiers, or even simply for the body parts of troops killed in battle and subsequently held by the enemy. This policy is rooted in religious Jewish law, and has become a central tenet of IDF ethics because of the positive effect it has on the morale of soldiers, who know that they will never be abandoned by their comrades under any circumstances.
While this practice is popular with Israelis, it does of course play into the hands of Hamas, who know there is every likelihood that any of their own side who are captured will be eventually returned home as part of a prisoner exchange. The Hamas leadership will not have forgotten what happened when two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, were kidnapped by Hezbollah near the Israel-Lebanese border on July 12, 2006. The refusal of Hezbollah to hand over the men led to Israel's controversial invasion of southern Lebanon that summer. And when, two years later, Hezbollah finally handed over the remains of both soldiers, they were able to exchange them for several high-profile Lebanese prisoners being held in Israeli jails, including the convicted terrorist Samir Quntar.
With this in mind, Israel's decision to send ground forces into Gaza on Saturday night must be viewed as a massive upping of the ante on the part of the Olmert government. The scale of the risk signals that Israel's leaders are preparing to smash Hamas once and for all, committing to what they see as the most painful of measures in order to achieve their goals.
However, with Hamas clearly ready to sacrifice not only their own fighters, but the lives of their civilian populace too, both sides face a bloody battle, on a playing field many view as anything but level. ·
Comments are now closed on this article