An Eye for a Tooth

Israel's problem with deterrence.

Israel's ultimate goal in the Gaza conflict is to convince Hamas's leadership that future strikes on Israel are too costly to carry out -- no matter how much the Islamic militant group might hate the Jewish state. So Israel's response is harsh. More than 700 Palestinians have died, most of them civilians, including upwards of 100 children. This heavy toll is tragic and tarnishes Israel's image. Such disproportional military operations strike at the heart of "just-war theory" and the way of warfare embraced by the militaries of the United States and other Western countries. Yet they are also at the core of deterrence, which demands disproportionate "eye for a tooth" operations to succeed.

Deterrent threats can prevent actual warfare, though it is rarely easy. During the Cold War, the United States relied on the threat of a massive nuclear response to deter the Soviet Union from using its conventional military forces to invade Western Europe. America threatened a disproportionate response: A Soviet move along the inter-German border would trigger Armageddon. Nuclear strategists spent much of their time trying to figure out how to credibly promise to do something so seemingly irrational. The famous nuclear strategist Herman Kahn likened deterrence to a game of chicken played by reckless teenagers who drive their cars at each other and wait for the "loser" to swerve. Kahn wrote that perhaps the best way to win is to "get into the car quite drunk" and, when your opponent is watching, to "[take] the steering wheel and [throw] it out the window" -- a pretty solid, if irresponsible, way of convincing your enemy that you are willing to act against your own best interest.

The point is: To win at deterrence, you have to risk acting against your own self-interest -- or at least convince your enemy that you're willing to do so.

Deterrence, however, often failed in the Cold War. It did stop an all-out nuclear war and tanks rolling through Germany's Fulda Gap, but it did not stop the Soviets from invading Afghanistan or rolling back democratic revolutions in places like Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Indeed, concerns about the need for the credibility required for successful deterrence contributed to the Cuban missile crisis, which nearly led to nuclear war.

Deterrence against nonstate groups and without the use of nuclear weapons (which Israel still officially denies it possesses) is far more complex. The level of punishment dispensed by conventional weapons is, thankfully, far less apocalyptic than that from nuclear bombs -- but that makes it less scary too. Nonstate groups are less responsible to their populations and tend to be less pragmatic.

Despite these problems, Israel has regularly tried to deter Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups. The record has been mixed. Fearing the Israeli response, these groups have at times limited attacks or refrained from them altogether, but they (and Israel) have resumed violence when their internal politics changed or because they believed the other side was behaving too provocatively. In addition to their use of terrorism, these groups also have mini-armies, run political parties, and operate schools and hospitals, making them more like quasi-states than a group like al Qaeda -- which isn't deterrable because it has no territory, is ideologically extreme, and has fewer constituents to lose. (Al Qaeda is always the drunk guy pushing the gas pedal down all the way after having thrown the wheel out the window.) Israel and Hezbollah clashed in Lebanon in 1993 and 1996, and then again more massively in 2006, with Israel hitting infrastructure and displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians while attacking Hezbollah's fighting wing.

Israel's confrontations with Hezbollah often went poorly, but the last major one in 2006 looks better for Israel in hindsight. A few rockets have hit Israel from southern Lebanon during this current offensive in Gaza, but it seems that Hezbollah itself did not launch them. Indeed, all Hezbollah has really offered Hamas in the latest crisis is a supportive phone call from Hezbollah's leader to Khaled Mashaal, who leads Hamas in exile from Qatar. In general, Israel's northern border has been far quieter since 2006 than at any time in recent history. Hezbollah did not suddenly become pro-Israel, but rather it feared the outrage of its supporters and the loss of its own cadre should it step up rocket attacks. Taken as a whole, however, Israel's historical experiences suggest that deterrence is not impossible, but that when it succeeds it is partial and often short-lived.

In Gaza, Israel has little choice but to rely on deterrence. Israel tried ruling Gaza from 1967 until 2005, when it withdrew in the face of Hamas-led attacks. Despite calls from some right-wing parties, the government in Jerusalem has no desire to take over this basket case again. Ruling Gaza would require Israel to take formal responsibility for caring for Gazans while waging a low-level counterinsurgency against an entrenched and motivated Hamas. Egypt has no desire to play the role either. And with moderate Palestinians like President Mahmoud Abbas weak and further discredited by the crisis, there is currently no alternative in Ramallah to Hamas rule in Gaza. Indeed, the biggest rivals to Hamas are the even more radical groups operating in the Gaza Strip. This is part of the reason Hamas is fighting Israel. Having gained power in part by criticizing Fatah for being passive and negotiating with Israel, Hamas seeks to ensure it is always the standard-bearer of resistance among Gazans in order to diminish the appeal of these die-hards.

Yet in Israel's efforts to achieve deterrence, the country has suffered from constant criticism for the harshness of its methods. On Wednesday, July 23, the BBC reported that the United Nations' high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, condemned Israel's recent military actions in Gaza: "There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated in a manner that could amount to war crimes." Referring to the Gazan children killed in a July 16 Israeli airstrike while playing on a beach, Pillay reportedly said that Israel's "disregard for international humanitarian law and for the right to life was shockingly evident." Pillay also condemned Hamas's rocket attacks, but that garnered far less attention.

Critics of Israel's operations that lead to considerable civilian deaths draw on a principle advanced since the time of St. Augustine: proportionality. As part of just-war theory, this doctrine calls for ensuring that the minimum amount of force is used to achieve the objective and avoiding harm to noncombatants. The idea that civilians are inviolate has become commonplace, and with the development of precision munitions that enable more-discriminate targeting, Western militaries, including America's, have incorporated proportionality into their targeting decisions. In World War II, Allied forces leveled Dresden, and the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japanese cities, killing upwards of 200,000 people in order to impel Tokyo's surrender. Despite the flash-bang of "shock and awe," such a thought never occurred to U.S. military planners when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. And it's clearly not something even the hard-liners in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government would countenance either.

Israel is trying to preserve an image of itself as adhering to Western principles of justice and proportionality. So it drops leaflets and sends warnings via SMS to notify Gazans that it will soon bomb a building or area where they live and uses small munitions to "knock on the roof" to scare inhabitants into fleeing before a large bomb levels a target. And yet, even this war is ugly and bloody: The images of dead children and stories of massive displacement and suffering tarnish Israel's image around the world, including in the United States. Thus we see agreed humanitarian pauses and efforts to allow access to medical supplies. The Israeli military has even opened a field hospital to treat wounded Palestinians, mainly women and children, at the Erez border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Despite Israel's efforts, the difficulties in harmonizing proportionality and deterrence are many, and often it is impossible. Terrorist groups like Hamas do not wear uniforms. They hide their fighters and weapons among the general population, launching rockets from hospitals and hiding munitions in schools -- explicitly to make it difficult to target combatants and the supplies they need without hitting civilians. Moreover, the media environment in Israel and Gaza is intense and passionate: Millions can die in Congo with few noticing, but death and destruction in the Promised Land is chronicled in minute detail.

Because Israel is arguably the most casualty-sensitive country in the world, deterrence is even harder. With nuclear weapons and carpet-bombing off the table, Israel needs to go in on the ground to achieve its objectives -- but ground operations can lead to Israeli casualties that actually undermine its deterrence. In 2011, it traded over 1,000 prisoners for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in 2006. Israel has even traded high-level prisoners for the bodies of its dead soldiers. As a result, the body counts for successful deterrence are often staggering and highly disproportionate: In the 2008-2009 Cast Lead operation, Israel killed more than 1,200 Palestinians and suffered only 13 losses of its own -- roughly a 100-1 ratio. This, of course, makes Israel look even more callous.

Even minor Hamas victories complicate deterrence. In the first days of the current conflict, before Israel launched its ground offensive, Hamas fired over 1,000 rockets, but the Iron Dome missile-defense system prevented casualties on the Israeli side -- a one-sided outcome that made Israel look like the only winner. The ground campaign, however, has so far led to 35 deaths on the Israeli side -- a fraction of the estimated 700 in Gaza. That said, it's still a significant number for Israel, and Hamas can claim it is making Israel pay in blood. Adding to the credibility of Hamas's claim, it continues its rocket attacks, it may have captured an Israeli soldier (or at least his remains), and it temporarily shut down Israel's international airport. These are victories -- at least political ones -- that allow Hamas to claim that "resistance" is worthwhile and that make it less likely to be deterred than the last time. Particularly because Hamas has been weakened from the Egyptian crackdown on its tunnel network, such victories are necessary for the movement to sustain its authority.

Hamas cannot maintain this fight indefinitely, however -- despite its rhetoric, it knows that Gazans have no desire for endless war -- but for now it is betting that Israel will blink first. If Hamas can emerge still standing, or if there is a deal that lessens restrictions on Gaza, it will claim victory.

But real victories, on either side, are elusive. There is no real end to this dilemma, and it is likely to grow more intense. Even if the latest fighting yields months of peace, Israelis assume that they will have to again strike at Hamas, and perhaps even Hezbollah, at some point in the future. They use the term "mowing the grass": If Israel does nothing, the problem will grow out of control. Thus Israel feels compelled to act on a regular basis to ensure its deterrence achieves at least the partial results of limiting the wars and making them less frequent. So even if the latest fighting in Gaza ends soon, it won't be the last round.

JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images


Gaza on the Seine

The conflict between Israel and Hamas hits close to home for France's Arabs and Jews. The French Republic might be the casualty.

On July 14, Paris marked Bastille Day with the usual mix of pomp, circumstance, and rocket launchers. Brightly uniformed men astride horses and tanks rumbled down the so-called "patriotic axis," the stretch of the Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, reminding France -- and the world -- of the foundational event that revolutionized the concept of the nation and citizenship.

The day before, a very different kind of demonstration, marked by tear gas and street battles, unfurled in Paris. Some 7,000 people marched in a declaration of solidarity with the residents of Gaza in a protest organized by various pro-Palestinian movements and far-left groups. The pro-Palestinian march followed a trajectory charged with a different kind of symbolism, beginning at Barbès, a working-class, immigrant-dominated neighborhood of eastern Paris, and flowing toward the Place de la Bastille, whose symbolic power has made it the traditional terminus for protest marches.

The marchers, peaceful and orderly, waved Palestinian flags and carried banners denouncing France's support of Israel. Many of the women wore the hijab, which remains a contested symbol in republican and secular France. Walking behind a banner declaring "Full Support for the Struggle of the Palestinians," they chatted when not chanting, "We are all Palestinians." But as the march spilled into the vast traffic circle at Bastille, both the tenor of the demonstration and the type of chant changed.

A few hundred young men, identified in the media as casseurs, or hooligans, began to scuffle with police. Pushed back, the casseurs then charged along the neighborhood's narrow streets toward two nearby synagogues with the clear intention of attacking them. They tried to form in front of the synagogue of Rue des Tournelles, built by French Jews who moved to Paris after Prussia annexed Alsace in 1871. Police repelled the protesters. Undeterred, the casseurs moved on to the Synagogue Don Isaac Abravanel on the Rue de la Roquette, which dates from 1962, the year that nearly a million French Algerians, including tens of thousands of Sephardic Jews, fled to France when Algeria achieved independence.

The youths massed in front of the synagogue's barred gates, trapping inside several hundred congregants. They alternated between shouting "Allahu Akbar!" ("God is great" in Arabic) and "A mort les juifs!" ("Death to the Jews" in French). The first refrain, even more than the veil, challenges the French Republic's secular character, while the second has echoed across modern French history, from the Dreyfus Affair to the Vichy regime and the Final Solution. Only several hours later, after the riot police had secured the area, were the trapped Jews able to leave the synagogue.

Subsequent accounts in the French media said that dozens of youths from the French chapter of Meir Kahane's racist Jewish Defense League (JDL) and Betar, a far-right Zionist group, armed with metal bars and cafe chairs, had deliberately provoked the pro-Palestinian protesters near Synagogue Don Isaac Abravanel. Amateur videos, as well as JDL tweets, point to acts of provocation by these groups. Regardless, the Jewish extremists were a sideshow to the evening's main attraction: the besieging of a synagogue by a few hundred French youths of North African origin, calling for death to those huddled inside.

In the wake of the pitched street battles, both President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls vowed that they would not allow the "Israeli-Palestine conflict to be imported to France." As a result, the government banned a march planned for July 20 in Paris. In Mali, where he was on an official visit, Hollande was asked about the decision's wisdom. In plaintive tones, he replied: "What should I do? Allow French citizens to fight one another because they follow different religions?"

The effort to suppress further pro-Palestinian demonstrations backfired. Despite, or perhaps because of the ban, more than a thousand people took to the streets on July 20 at Barbès, the heart of the immigrant neighborhoods in northeastern Paris. When the riot police lobbed tear-gas grenades into the crowd, street battles broke out, cars were torched, and sidewalks were torn up. By the end of the day, dozens of arrests had been made and the crowd was finally dispersed. The next day, in a separate incident in the town of Sarcelles, known as Le Petit Jérusalem for its large population of Sephardic Jews, anti-Semitic youth trashed a Jewish supermarket.

As these events reveal, the notion of closing France's borders to the importation of the Middle East conflict has little to do with facts on the ground. "The conflict was imported to our country a long time ago. We live this conflict on a daily basis," asserts Pascal Boniface, a political scientist and the author of A France Sickened by the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, a controversial book published this year. Anti-Semitism finds a ready audience, he observes, among young Frenchmen and Frenchwomen whose families came from North Africa and whose grim material circumstances belie the republican ideals of equality and fraternity. Although many of them cannot find Palestine on a map, they nevertheless identity with the Palestinians -- and, at the same time, conflate French Jews with Israelis.

Unsurprisingly, this situation has left the French Jewish community in despair. Prominent figures have turned to the past to describe the recent events: Roger Cukierman, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, compared events at the synagogue to Kristallnacht. "We barely escaped a pogrom," Cukierman said in an interview with Libération. In a widely quoted article, the well-known intellectual Shmuel Trigano described the street battle outside the Isaac Abravanel synagogue as the opening phase in "a new civil war." Under the somnolent gaze of the state and complaisance of the media, Trigano argued, an embattled French Jewish population is the target of a growing number of violent anti-Semitic acts that climaxed at the Place de la Bastille. Like Cukierman, Trigano interprets the mob scene outside the synagogue as a "failed pogrom." Make no mistake, he warns, the near riot had nothing to do with the Palestinian cause and everything to do with hatred of the Jews.

Although protesters hurling anti-Semitic invectives remain a distinct minority, many fear the violent will bear it away. In a July 22 column, Laurent Joffrin, the editor of Libération, underscored the embrace by "some youths, particularly those from the suburbs, of a new form of anti-Semitism, which builds upon the fascist ideas espoused by the traditional extreme right wing." Given the racist worldview of the far-right National Front party, which has substituted the Arab for the Jew as the source of France's ills, this represents an ironic turn. More unsettling, however, is the grafting of this religious hatred onto the ideological anti-Zionism of radical groups on the far left, like the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (the New Anti-Capitalist Party) and the Parti des Indigènes de la République (the Party of the Indigenous Peoples of the Republic), which identifies the United States and Israel as the "the main political centers where global colonial domination resides."

No doubt the left-wing, pro-Palestinian movement includes many whose anti-Zionism is not a linguistic Trojan horse for old-fashioned anti-Semitism. Indeed, many left-wing groups count Jews among their members. But France's recent history is larded with radical left-wing populist and socialist thinkers, ranging from Édouard Drumont and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon to Alain Soral and even the comedian Dieudonné, whose anti-Semitic pronouncements rival those of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen. The political theorist Pierre-André Taguieff, calling this new form of anti-Semitism "judéophobie," argues that it differs dramatically from older expressions of anti-Semitism. Traditional anti-Semites identify the Jews as the Other, forever and fatally opposed to their world. The new anti-Semites on the left, however, focus obsessively on the Jew because he represents the world -- capitalist, imperialist, and Western -- they wish to destroy.

Marc Hecker, a social scientist and the author of the incisive French Intifada?: On the Importation of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, insists on prudent use of the term "importation." On the one hand, he acknowledges the growth in anti-Semitic activity in France: Ever since 2000, and the beginning of what he calls the French Intifada, there have been between 400 to 600 anti-Semitic actions every year. On the other hand, Hecker doesn't see the current dynamics in France as a direct importation of Israel-Palestine's and he isn't willing to label the conflict a civil war. There remains a crucial distinction between acts spawned by "a form of politicized delinquency" and a civil war that "presupposes the organizing and training of great numbers of people willing to die for a cause," Hecker says. Those who have announced the start of such a war, he believes, are less attached to reality than fantasy. (The same holds for the comparison to Kristallnacht, a choreographed event organized and overseen by the Nazi state.)

Since the Second Intifada in Israel and the occupied territories began in 2000, a growing number of beurs -- young Frenchmen and Frenchwomen whose parents immigrated to France from former colonies in North Africa and who belong to the 5 million French Muslims who now live in France -- identify with the Palestinians. This is especially the case with the so-called jeunes de la cité, the youths living in the desolate and decayed banlieues, or suburbs of Paris and other cities, where unemployment and violence are endemic while state, civil, and commercial institutions are largely absent. (As a recent study reveals, the unemployment rate among those 18 to 25 years old in these suburbs is nearly 50 percent. The failure rate at schools far outstrips the national average.) As a result, against the backdrop of the grim apartment complexes and abandoned storefronts, the rallying cry of "We are all Palestinians" resonates with growing force.

At the same time, French Jews increasingly identify with Israel. There has been a dramatic uptick in the number of French Jews leaving France for new homes in the Holy Land. Just last week, in the midst of the Gaza crisis, 400 French Jews moved to Israel. More than 3,000 have immigrated to Israel since the beginning of the year, and Israel's minister of immigration expects the number will top 5,000 by the end of the year. These numbers remain small relative to the approximately 500,000 Jews in France, and other factors are undoubtedly at play. But the trend may well increase in the wake of recent events and growing social tensions.

Many observers, both French and foreign, worry about the consequences of this fracturing of French society along communitarian lines. France is, far more than most other countries, a society of immigrants. But as political theorist Michael Walzer notes in his book On Toleration, France "isn't a pluralist society -- or at least it doesn't think of itself, and it isn't thought of, as a pluralist society." According to the credo of French republicanism, national identity is a political, not a biological, fact: A citizen becomes French by speaking the French language, accepting French laws, and participating in France's common life. The Republic in principle respects and protects the right of the individual, not the group or community, to practice its religion and follow its traditions. This reasoning lies at the heart of French republicanism, memorably expressed in 1789 by the Count de Clermont-Tonnerre during the debate over whether to grant citizenship to Jews: "We must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation, but grant them everything as individuals."

There is much to be admired in this rational and abstract definition of citizenship, which has its roots in the French Revolution and continues to shape the nation's self-understanding. It is both sympathetic and severe, welcoming all who wish to become French but at the same time demanding they shed their earlier cultural or communal identities. Just as the Republic is conceived as "one and indivisible," so too are the French people considered one and indivisible -- at the cost of individual citizens giving up their earlier identities.

But the gap between the republican ideal and present-day reality can no longer be ignored. The glaring forms of economic, social, and political exclusion suffered by French citizens of North African background, as well as immigrants from other parts of Francophone Africa, makes this all too clear -- even before the recent riots. As French authorities have repeatedly said, the violence aimed at French Jews is intolerable. But such events will themselves repeat until the language and goals of French republicanism reflect a changed France. A "Marshall Plan" for the suburbs, as some politicians have called for, will not rid France of anti-Semitism. But it would, at the very least, begin to meet the challenge of persuading the youth of the suburbs to substitute "We are all French" for "We are all Palestinian."