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The Misconception That Force Used In Self-Defense Must Be 'Proportional'

News Image By Mario Loyola/Daily Signal October 13, 2023
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"We stand with Israel," President Joe Biden said Tuesday. "And we will make sure that Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens, defend itself, and respond to this attack."

It was a strong statement of support. But Israelis have heard such statements from American presidents before, only to be disappointed just weeks later by U.S. pressure to wrap up operations and agree to a premature cease-fire.

What Biden should have said, and what Congress should say now, is that the U.S. will ensure Israel has all the time, resources, and diplomatic cover it needs to achieve complete victory over Hamas.

In other words, the U.S. will veto any U.N. Security Council cease-fire resolution and will ignore any third-party cease-fire mediation, except on Israel's terms. And the U.S. should encourage Israel to keep its terms very simple: unconditional surrender.

It's time to get Israel out of the suicidal habit of leaving Hamas standing at the end of wars started by Hamas. After Hamas' 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip, it should have been obvious that Israel no longer could afford to tolerate the continued existence of Hamas. That is abundantly obvious now.


What the U.S. and Israel should remember is how World War II began--and how it ended. At the start, the U.S. and its new allies committed to "complete victory" against the Axis nations. They pledged to keep fighting until the Axis powers had "laid down their arms on the basis of unconditional surrender."

Any Germans who didn't understand what that meant found out the following year when Allied forces crossed into Germany. In Proclamation No. 1 of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower pledged to "obliterate" Nazism and "eradicate" German militarism.

"All persons in the occupied territory will obey immediately and without question all the enactments and orders of the military government," Eisenhower proclaimed. "Resistance to the Allied forces will be ruthlessly stamped out."

Most Germans didn't need to be told. In the newly occupied areas, they wandered shell-shocked in the rubble of their bombed-out cities, totally broken and totally defeated, hoping the world could one day forgive them for their unspeakable crimes.

That is the fate that Hamas and its many Palestinian supporters should be facing now. That is the language that Israel should be using in the weeks ahead, and the civilized world should lend its full support.

For Hamas did not target Israelis only. Citizens of many countries, including America, have been tortured, brutally killed, and taken hostage in recent days.


The time when Israel could afford to tolerate the existence of Hamas has come to an end. After inflicting the most vicious attack on Jews since the Holocaust, Hamas has earned the same fate as the Nazis: total eradication.

And when Hamas or anyone else proposes a truce, Israel and the U.S. should echo the steely words of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the Battle of Fort Donelson in 1862: "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted."

As scenes of devastation emerge from Gaza, calls for a cease-fire will come with accusations that Israel is using "disproportionate force." There is a common misconception that force used in self-defense must be "proportional" to the level of force that the aggressor used. But that would be a preposterous rule, as it essentially would make it illegal to achieve decisive victory in a war started by somebody else, such as World War II.

Under international law, proportionality turns entirely on one's military objective. According to Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, combatants must generally avoid civilian casualties that are excessive in relation to the "concrete and direct military advantage" to be gained. If the military objective is legitimate, so is any force that is "necessary and proportional" to achieve that objective.

After the horrific attacks of the past week, Israel is entirely justified in concluding that anything short of the complete destruction of Hamas could lead many Israelis to wonder whether Israel can really survive surrounded by such bloodthirsty and determined killers.

Israel cannot let those doubts fester. Just as the Allies did at the start of World War II, it has every right to seek the unconditional surrender or complete destruction of Hamas--and it must.


Israel has an obligation to avoid civilian casualties that are avoidable. But it is Hamas, not Israel, that fights with wanton disregard for Palestinian life. From inside schools and next to hospitals, Hamas has spent years launching indiscriminate missile attacks against Israel, a war crime against both Israel's civilians and its own.

Hamas treats Palestinian women and children as propaganda assets that are most valuable when they're dead, hoping to turn Israelis' concern for human rights into a weakness. The despicable strategy has worked until now, but it is merely a propaganda trick, and the world should tolerate it no longer.

Civilian casualties that become unavoidable because of Hamas' use of human shields are war crimes attributable entirely to Hamas. Like the total destruction of Nazi Germany in 1945, the total destruction of Hamas may bring great suffering to innocent civilians in the short term, but it is their only hope in the long term.

Certainly, the destruction of Hamas will entail things that Israel might not want to deal with, such as having to reoccupy Gaza, something which may now be unavoidable. But that is up to Israel.

In the meantime, to reiterate, the U.S. should say unambiguously what it should have said years ago: In a war started by Israel's enemies, the U.S. will give Israel all the time, resources, and diplomatic cover that it needs to achieve complete victory.

Originally published at The Daily Signal - reposted with permission.




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