Operation Cast Lead: A Necessary, Just and Legal Response

As soon as Israeli air strikes began striking Hamas-controlled Gaza, many American church leaders started calling for an immediate ceasefire based solely on human suffering rather than the political realities of the situation. Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s ongoing effort to end indiscriminate rocket and mortar attacks on surrounding Israeli towns and villages, is necessary, morally justified, and legitimate, despite the calamitous cacophony from the loquacious Christian left.

Hamas chose not to continue the six-month cease-fire. When the ceasefire ended on Dec. 18, Hamas sent a barrage of Qassam rockets and Russian-built and Iranian-supplied Smerch (NATO codename "Grad’) rockets into Israel. Short-range Qassams hit nearby Sderot and Ashkelon while Grads slammed into Beersheba 25 miles west and fell on the southern suburbs of Tel Aviv to the north. Neither of these rockets can inflict critical damage on hardened military targets. Grad anti-personnel missiles, designed to kill soldiers on the battlefield, can damage or destroy homes, apartment buildings, schools, automobiles, and buses. Hamas rarely attacks Israeli forts or military units stationed along the border. Rather, these terrorists fire rockets and missiles indiscriminately at nearby towns and cities to kill civilians. This is a war crime.

Hamas is guilty of other war crimes. It locates offices, munitions factories, and storage areas in and among the Palestinian citizenry. Combatants who use civilian populations as a shield are responsible for any harm inflicted upon them by an enemy. While the majority of casualties, even by Hamas’ accounting, are terrorist fighters, there have been and will continue to be regrettable loss of life among innocent civilians. Hamas alone bears responsibility.

Under international law, the occupying power is obligated to protect the occupied population. Claims by the Christian left that Israel is "the responsible occupying power" are incredulous. In 2005, Israeli forces pulled out of Gaza, forcing thousands of Jewish settlers out as well. Soon thereafter, Hamas conducted a coup d’état, killing hundreds of opposing Palestinian political leaders. Hamas, which occupies all of Gaza, bears responsibility for protecting the population. Furthermore, Hamas’ rocket and mortar attacks forced the Israeli response.

Israel’s attacks focus on Hamas-controlled and security-related institutions, including the police and local security agencies. Claims that Hamas’ police are a civilian entity separate from Hamas are specious. Hamas’ Gaza police are as much a part of the same Hamas terrorist organization as were the SS and Gestapo in Nazi Germany. Killing them is no less illegitimate (or morally reprehensible) than was killing Reinhard Heydrich.

The Christian left continues to condemn any military action by Israel while ignoring Hamas’ conduct that compelled Israel to initiate Operation Cast Lead. It condemns Israel for a "disproportionate response" while failing to set the context in which Hamas, from its inception, has been—and remains—committed to the total destruction of Israel.

As for the "disproportional" response, on Dec. 30, a Grad rocket blasted a hole in the roof of a primary school in Beersheba. If school had not been cancelled, that Grad would have slaughtered a classroom full of children. Every such rocket fired by Hamas into Israel, whether a "little" Qassam or a Grad, is fired with the intent of killing and maiming Jewish civilians: men, women, children, young and old alike. Israel builds shelters and provides a warning system to protect its citizens. Hamas, by contrast, places weapons in its mosques, hides terrorists among hospital staff, locates its offices in apartment buildings, and places its munitions factories and storage areas in neighborhoods. Nevertheless, Israel uses precision-guided munitions and makes every reasonable effort to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties. Hamas, by contrast, almost exclusively targets civilians.

Israel undertook Operation Cast Lead as a last resort. Political realities in Israel compelled the current government to take action or face possible replacement by the more conservative Likud Party. Uncertainty over the level of commitment to Israel forthcoming from the United States after Jan. 20, 2009 likely played a role as well.

Israel must continue Operation Cast Lead to its culmination point. To inflict civilian casualties without destroying Hamas would be regrettable. Israel—and only Israel—can free Gaza from Hamas’ occupational stranglehold. Doing so will facilitate the peace process and make possible a just and lasting peace with an independent Palestinian state. And the world, including the Palestinian people, will owe Israel gratitude.

Dr. Earl Tilford, a fellow with The Center of Vision & Values at Grove City College, is currently working on a history of the University of Alabama in the 1960s. A former Air Force intelligence officer and former Director of Research for the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University.