Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why Bomb Civilians?

NEW YORK – The time before last that Israel was fighting a war in Gaza, in 2009, Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister at the time, compared the conflict to America’s war with Japan. There was no need for a costly ground invasion; the enemy could be bombed into submission from the air.

The comparison, seemingly outrageous, was not entirely wrong. Nor is it today. Inflicting maximum damage from the air was and remains Israel’s strategy toward Hamas-ruled Gaza. Even if we accept that Israel has a legitimate reason to shut down tunnels that are used to infiltrate Palestinian commandos into Israel, this does not explain why it is necessary to bomb schools, power plants, hospitals, mosques, and densely packed civilian areas.

The official explanation is that Palestinian missiles are hidden in civilian areas. This may well be true. But Israeli leaders also appear to believe that by smashing Gaza and its people with bombs, Palestinians’ morale can be destroyed. At some point, they will have had enough and give up – and perhaps even turn against their rulers.

This is what used to be called “strategic bombing,” or sometimes “terror bombing,” a method of warfare designed to break the will of a people by destroying its “vital centers.” The main advocates of the idea, developed in the 1920s, were the Italian Giulio Douhet, the American William Mitchell, and the Englishman Hugh Trenchard.

The British first used this tactic in the mid-1920s in Mesopotamia, where they tried to break the will of Iraqi and Kurdish anti-colonial rebels by wiping out entire villages from the air, sometimes with bombs filled with mustard gas. The bloody high point came in August 1945, when the United States used atomic bombs to obliterate Hiroshima and Nagasaki – which is what Lieberman may well have had in mind.

There were many other instances of strategic bombing. Nazi Germany tried to break British morale by blitzing large areas of London, Birmingham, and Coventry, among other places. When the Japanese could not bring Chiang Kai-shek’s China to its knees in the 1930s, bombers brought terror to Shanghai, Chongqing, and Hankow. In 1940, the Germans destroyed the center of Rotterdam.

From 1943 onward, Trenchard’s protegé, Arthur “Bomber” Harris, used wave after wave of Royal Air Force attacks to demolish almost every city in Germany. The RAF bombed the Germans at night, and the US Army Air Force bombed them by day.

Worse would be in store for Japan. Well before the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the USAAF, under the command of General Curtis LeMay, managed to burn every major Japanese city to a cinder with fire bombs.

Strategic bombing is an application of the concept of “total war,” in which all civilians are considered to be combatants and thus legitimate targets. In 1965, when the North Vietnamese were proving to be stubborn enemies, LeMay threatened that they would be “bombed back into the stone age.”

The problem with strategic bombing is that it seems never to have worked, with the possible exception of Rotterdam (but by then Holland had already been defeated). Rather than breaking popular morale in London, Berlin, Tokyo, or Hanoi, it usually strengthened it. Confronted by a common deadly threat, civilians rally around the only leaders who can do anything to protect them, even if those leaders are widely disliked.

And so the Germans fought on, until the combined force of the invading Allied armies overwhelmed them in 1945. The Japanese finally surrendered because they feared an invasion by the Soviet Union. The North Vietnamese never surrendered. And the Palestinians, whether they are ruled by Hamas or not, will not stop fighting Israel, especially in Gaza, where wholesale destruction has left them with nothing much more to lose.

So why do governments persist in using this cruel but ineffective strategy? Sheer bloodlust – the pleasure of inflicting pain on a hated enemy – may have something to do with it. Perhaps it motivated Harris to bomb German cities over and over again, even when there was no longer any conceivable military purpose.

But violent passion and the desire to wreak vengeance cannot be the only, or perhaps even the main, reason. A more plausible explanation is that strategic bombing is indeed about morale, but not that of the enemy. It is the morale of the home front that must be boosted, when other methods appear to fail.

Winston Churchill decided to unleash his bombers on German civilians when an Allied victory was still a long way off. He needed to build British morale with a demonstration of force against an enemy that had just spent several years bombing the United Kingdom.

The other advantage of bombing campaigns, avidly promoted during World War II by men who were haunted by memories of the endless bloodshed of World War I, was that attacking the enemy did not require losing many of your own troops. Many British bomber pilots died, of course, but many more soldiers would have died in a ground invasion. Indeed, with supremacy in the air, as in Mesopotamia in the 1920s or Japan in 1945, mass killing can be carried out at virtually no cost at all.

There is another explanation, which also stems from the 1920s. Bombing was a way, as Churchill put it, to police an empire “on the cheap.” Rebellions could be stopped by killing enough people from a great height. US President Barack Obama’s use of drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen derives from the same principle.

But these are always Pyrrhic victories, because every murder of civilians creates new rebels, who will rise again in time. If Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not know that, he is a fool. If he does, he is a cynic who has given up on any idea of lasting peace. It is difficult to know which is worse.

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    1. CommentedMeir Sprecher

      Professor or not, you got the wrong question. Thus your answer, long and detailed as it is, is completely useless.

      The question you have to ask, and answer, is this : why is the Islamic world content, even eager, to use civilians as weapons, shields?

      This because their "norms and values" are totally different than those upon we today judge the world.

      They use civilians, women children and elderly, to impose fear onto their opponents. Look at the murdering of Boko Haram, Isis, Taliban and other such groups. Or how Hamas concerred Gaza from the PLO. Enough movies to go around on Youtube.

      They use their civilians as shields. Thias is more difficult to demonstrate, but now the are comming reports from jounralists who have left Gaza, telling another story. There is also a fragment on youtube in which Isis terrorists explain their idea's of you they see their own children and women.

      Professor, go and write an article about the roots of the Islamic problem facing the modern world today. Don't come and tell me the problem is Israel. That gives you an intellectual level of a grade A student.

      We in Israel live, and defend ourselves, by the western "norms and values". Indeed most of those are rooted in our ancient Jewish DNA.

      We do more to save civilian children, women and elderly than any modern armed force has done these last hundred or more years. Remember "Agent Orange", Dresden, Rotterdam, Drone attacks around the world. You call that "collateral damage"

      We phone people before bombing, telling them to get away. We hit the buildings with empty bombs some minutes before the real one comes. Just to get as most civilians out of the way.

      True some of the dead could be spared, maybe 30-60 persons out of the 1900 dead. But sometimes in the heat of a mission (I was a soldier too) that happens. Furthermore the future will tell how many of those dead are young able man (17 to 40). The war of 2009 has shown that online reports are totally wrong and used by Hamas just to make you think that we are butchers.

      We do not wish war, even today we discus you we can create an enviroment in which we can reduce the enstranglement of Gaza without endanger ourselves. Or would you like me to do what my grandparents did: Taking a small valise to the train in Amsterdam, finishing their journey in Auschwitsh

      Your article and those of thousands others are a straight strategic attack on our country. Creating in the hearts and minds of Hamas, Hesbollah, Isis, Boko Haram and others the believe that Israel can be wiped of the map.

      Remember, if that happens, you bare part of that blame.

      i hope you will read this and answer me.

    2. CommentedSergey Zavyalov

      Lasting peace not possible when only one side wants it to last.

      IE taken from NDTV, link below: Hamas sets up a rocket system with a timer to shoot 24 hours later when Hamas is long gone from the area. If Israel does not destroy this location after being shot at, it will again be shot at from this same location every 24 hours. Hence Israel sends in the bombs to take out the launchers, as otherwise it would require a costly ground operation to remove these launchers.

    3. CommentedFaruk Timuroglu

      An impressive insight on history of mass killers and courage to talk about Netanyahu's loath "any idea of lasting peace"

    4. CommentedErwin Hirschmann

      Bombing civilians will certainly not bring the attacked to submission. But the case in Gaza seems to me a little different. Israel is fighting a war against a well trained and well equipped guerrila force. As any other guerrilla force Hamas uses the civilian population as protective shield and hide-out. If one fights such a force there always will be a high number of civilian casulties. Had Israel chosen to use ground troops in urban battle - to a higher extent, than that was done - the casulties among IDF soldiers and Gazan civilians would have been much, much higher. In close combat soldiers do not distinguish between targets, especially not if they fight a guerilla force attacking from within a populated area. So what would have been the right tactic? There is none which does not bring accusations and critisim.

    5. CommentedGerald Silverberg

      While I am sympathetic to Buruma's main point about the ineffectiveness of "strategic bombing" in crushing enemy morale and war-making potential (already pointed out by C.P. Snow in Science and Government, 1961, and indeed the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946), as always, the "cunning of reason" finds strange ways of inserting itself into all historical accounts:
      1. Indiscrimate bombing of civilian population centers already began with German bombing of London and other cities during World War I ( using Zeppelins and long-range Gotha bombers. Although small scale by later standards, this probably created the myth of the effectiveness of terror bombing, inspiring Drouet and Trechant, and leading to the creation of RAF Bomber Command in a dialectic twist, long before British bombiing in Mesopotemia in the 1920s.
      2. British bombing of Berlin in 1940 during the Battle of Britain, ineffective and indiscriminate as it was and done primarily for boosting home morale, did induce the Luftwaffe to abandon bombing RAF fighter bases to achieve air superiority (the precondition for an invasion, and close to being accomplished) and switch to bombing London. They thus failed to achieve air superiority and had to call off the invasion, decisively influencing the entire course of World War Two. Not exactly what Bomber Command intended, but nevertheless ultimately more effective than later heavy bombing of German cities.
      3. While Israeli shelling/bombing of civilian targets does seem targeted at exacting a price for Hamas' recalcitrance (a price Hamas seems more than willing to accept and even exploit), it can hardly be described as "strategic bombing" (something Israel is technologically certainly capable of).
      4. WWII strategic bombing after 1944 did become highly effective in destroying German war-making capacity, not by diverting German resources (see Brad de Long's comment) or terrorizing civilians, but by targeting the railroads, leading to an almost complete collapse of the German war economy. Previous Allied strategic bombing strategy not only killed civilians unnecessarily but probably diverted more Allied resources than enemy ones. But, as one saw in Vietnam, this is only effective against a highly industrialized economy, and in the "war against terrorism" may indeed create more enemies than it eliminates.
      5. It's a stretch to say that fear of the entry of the Soviet Union and not the atomic bombing of Japan led to her capitulation. As horrific as the bombings were, they probably did save Japanese and American lives in an invasion that was obviated.
      Thus the history of strategic bombing can only be historically understood as a dialectic of "fighting the last war" whose consequences are unpredictable.

    6. CommentedNelson Tkatch

      Thanks to all who've already posted and pointed out the defects with this article.

      Interesting that a professor of human rights seems to miss the point that Israelis are humans too and should have the right not to fear years of indiscriminate missile fire, sneak attacks and kidnappings using tunnels dug into its territory, etc.

      Israel doesn't want to destroy morale. It wants peace. Notice Israel has peace agreements with both Egypt and Jordan and has negotiated terms with both Arafat and Abbas - both of whom walked away from creating better futures for their people.

    7. CommentedWendy Brezin

      Mr. Buruma, you ask the question "Why bomb civilians" but never address why Hamas incessantly dropped over 12,000 bombs on Israeli civilians since 2005. This bombing campaign started before any blockade. Hamas says their bombing is justified by the Hamas charter which presents the Arab-Israeli conflict as an inherently irreconcilable struggle between Jews and Muslims and uses religious texts as justification for fighting against and killing the Jews, whether they are in Israel or elsewhere.

      You do not address why Hamas sets up its roving bomb launchers in civilian neighbourhoods, instead of desert areas. Israel stops bombing when Hamas stops. Isn't it possible that it is Hamas that is the fool or cynic? They are the group that refuses any peace process. Where do you address Hamas responsibility for the deaths of civilians?

      Mr. Buruma, you also do not address what options we Israelis should use instead. Or do you believe Israelis’ do not have the right to live without daily rockets and terrorists tunneling into our playgrounds?

    8. CommentedRodrigo San Jorge

      Roger Lerner, well put. I had not read your post when I thought the following elicited a response - But Israeli leaders also appear to believe that by smashing Gaza and its people with bombs, Palestinians’ morale can be destroyed. "Straw man" indeed. Given Israel's long history of having to defend itself - essentially against the entire world - I think your assertions are infantile at best, Mr Buruma. One only has to consider how few civilians in Gaza have died to realise how strategic (and humane) Israel has been in choosing targets. The fact is, civilians die in war. Lots of them. But when a government declares war, as Hamas has done, the cost of civilian casualties is calculated, and dare I say, even relished. A little known fact is that dozens of bombings have been aborted by the IDF because of the potential loss of civilian life. I doubt England concerned itself with that when it targeted Germany - as you point out - and nor did the US, it seems, when Afghanistan was bombed post-Sept11. But it's always a different rule for Israel. To give you an accurate perspective on how much restraint Israel has shown, perhaps you can consider what would happen if the tables were turned and the Palestinians had superior firepower. One only need look at Sdarot to see the intent is to kill as many innocent Israelis as possible.

    9. CommentedRoger Lerner

      Typical "straw man" agitprop. Mr. Buruma sets up a number of unsubstantiated propositions, conveniently attributed to those he wishes to discredit, and then shoots down his own false premises. Here is a prime example"
      "The official explanation is that Palestinian missiles are hidden in civilian areas. This may well be true. But Israeli leaders also appear to believe that by smashing Gaza and its people with bombs, Palestinians’ morale can be destroyed. At some point, they will have had enough and give up – and perhaps even turn against their rulers."
      Mr. Buruma is apparently able to "divine" the "true" underlying policy belief of the Israeli government. After all who would want to destroy missiles being fired at their cities and would bomb all targets to stop them? Only perhaps Mr. Buruma's far wiser fore bearers, who a generation or two ago, bombed every conceivable site to prevent German rockets from killing British Civilians. Good thing they did too, or Mr. Buruma might not have been around to propagate the sort of tripe he has published here.

    10. CommentedCK MacLeod

      Some useful background up to an utterly self-contradictory conclusion, since the author has just finished comparing the Allied bombardiers of World War II to other practitioners of "total war" (a term deployed quite loosely here), and yet these acts of vast mass killing of civilians produced few to no "new rebels" - at least that I've ever heard of. These are hardly the only exceptions. The focus exclusively on the 20th Century and to aerial bombardment also obscures the simple observation from history that, long before there were airplanes, the attack on civilians, up to and including genocidal destruction, was in some respects or at least in certain wars, or in the practice of certain cultures, a common feature or normal expectation. These observations are not meant to excuse the practice - as if a marginal comment on an internet post could do such a thing - but are only meant to suggest that the nature of these conflicts is much more fundamental than such airy generalizations can convey.

    11. CommentedNOMALAS SIVAD

      Saul Bellow aptly put it, “a great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.”

    12. Commentedmary hicks

      Hamas has a different definition of civilian.
      "With few exceptions, reporters, commentators, and analysts unquestioningly accept the casualty statistics given by Gaza's Hamas-controlled medical authorities, who ascribe all deaths to the IDF. We have never seen so much as a glimpse of killed or wounded fighters.

      Analysis of casualty details released by Qatar-based Al Jazeera indicate that so far most of those killed in Gaza have been young men of fighting age, not women, children or old people.

      All Palestinian civilian casualties in this conflict result ultimately from Gaza terrorists' aggression against Israel, and Hamas's use of human shields — the most important plank of Hamas's war-fighting policy."

    13. CommentedPaul A. Myers

      Superb essay.

      A short answer to why Bibi Netanyahu pursues the policy he does is irredentism. Irredentism is a powerful narcotic of nationalism, ethnic identity, and sense of both past possession and future destiny. Netanyahu is not doing statesmanship or engaging in regional politics. He is leading a powerful nationalist movement to create a Greater Israel. No sacrifice is too great, no injustice to great to initiate, to achieve the cherished dream of the Greater.

      Negotiating with Israel is basically a waste of time. Much of the world is starting to see that.

        Commentedmary hicks

        Negotiating with Israel is basically a waste of time
        Wrong. Negotiating with Hamas counters the goals outlined in their Charter:

        "Israel will exist, and will continue to exist, until Islam abolishes it, as it abolished that which was before it." [From the words of] The martyr, Imam Hasan al-Banna', Allah's mercy be upon him. [2]

        ...The covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) reveals its face, presents its identity, clarifies its stand, makes clear its aspiration, discusses its hopes, and calls out to help it and support it and to join its ranks, because our fight with the Jews is very extensive and very grave, and it requires all the sincere efforts. It is a step that must be followed by further steps; it is a brigade that must be reinforced by brigades upon brigades from this vast Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated and Allah's victory is revealed.

        ...The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinct Palestinian movement that is loyal to Allah, adopts Islam as a way of life and works to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine. Under the wing of Islam, followers of other religions can all live safe and secure in their life, property and rights; whereas in the absence of Islam, discord arises, injustice spreads, corruption burgeons, and there are conflicts and wars.

        The Islamic Resistance Movement is one link in the chain of jihad in confronting the Zionist invasion. It is connected and linked to the [courageous] uprising of the martyr 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam and his brethren the jihad fighters of the Muslim Brotherhood in the year 1936. It is further related and connected to another link, [namely] the jihad of the Palestinians, the efforts and jihad of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1948 war, and the jihad operations of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1968 and afterwards. Although these links are far apart, and although the continuity of jihad was interrupted by obstacles placed in the path of the jihad fighters by those who circle in the orbit of Zionism, the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to realize the promise of Allah, no matter how long it takes. The Prophet, Allah's prayer and peace be upon him, says: "The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones, and each tree and stone will say: 'Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him,' except for the Gharqad tree, for it is the tree of the Jews." (Recorded in the Hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim).

    14. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

      Mr. Ian Buruma asks, "Why bomb civilians"? Israel's air strikes aimed to break the morale of Hamas and its supporters. It was part of the operation to decimate Hamas and force it to surrender. As well as its military effects - to destroy the tunnels and launch sites - it was a big part of the psychological campaign aimed at ensuring a quick victory.
      Israelis believe the use of air power can cause maximum mass destruction and achieve an overwhelming level of "shock and awe" against an enemy, paralysing his will to resist. This "shock and awe" doctrine is deeply held by the US military, who were among the first advocates of strategic air power, developped by military theorists like Hugh Trenchard, William Mitchell and Giuilo Douhet. A century ago air power broke new ground, when pilots could fire revolvers at one another from the cockpit, and shoot machine guns through the propellers of the aircraft.
      Although Israel maintained it had taken great pains to try to reduce civilian casualties and that its bombing was aimed directly against Hamas's missiles and weapons stock-piles, the level of death and devastation is unjustifiable. The air strikes on defenceless civilians in Gaza hasn't crippled Hamas morale.
      Mr. Buruma points out that "strategic bombing" is a "total war", which "seems never to have worked", with the exception of Rotterdam. History shows that air campaigns will only work if morale is already undermined.
      As a result of the terror bombing of Rotterdam, the Nazis insured a rapid surrender of the Dutch during World War II. So instead of "breaking popular morale in London, Berlin, Tokyo, or Hanoi, it usually strengthened it". The German attacks on London and other cities in the Blitz hardened British resistance. In Vietnam, large scale bombing also seemed to have little effect on the North Vietnamese, who "were proving to be stubborn enemies".
      Now Netanyhau hopes that with the destruction of most of Hamas tunnels, his citizens would have their peace and quiet, without fearing any rocket from their enemy. He certainly hopes that the heavy shelling in Gaza might weaken the Palestinians' resolve to keep Hamas in power, as they ought to realise that they had been abused as "human shields". But does Netanyahu really believe that there is no more support for Hamas, and that he has already gained the psychological advantage over his enemy? Indeed he has won a Pyrrhic victory and paid a high price for Israel's international standing.
      Mr. Buruma says: "If Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not know that, he is a fool. If he does, he is a cynic who has given up on any idea of lasting peace. It is difficult to know which is worse". Netanyahu lacks the vision of a statesman and is only interested in short-term gains - to secure popularity among right-wing groups and their supporters.

    15. CommentedLeo Arouet

      Es un artículo adecuadamente definido, pero no estoy de acuerdo en que no rechace con fuerza y contundencia los asesinatos, las muertes de los palestinos, y haga una declaración sobre de defensa de sus derechos. Lo que no importa aquí son las deliberaciones sobre las tácticas de guerra, sino las vidas de los civiles. No condenar esto, es como aprobar el derribo del avión comercial en Ucrania. Si bien la lucha es cultural, sin embargo, los niños dentro los colegios y escuelas no veo porque sean objetivos.

    16. CommentedPerry Rubin

      How about old fashion punishment!!! Interviews with "victims" of Berlin and Tokyo bombings elicit no sympathy
      here. None are innocent except children. After 50 million
      killed because of the Germans (I prefer not to use Nazis as that absolves most Germans of any responsibility) there needs to be retribution. Bomber Harris and Churchill understood that!

        Commentedyancey simon

        Sounds like old fashioned war crimes to me. In fact, the post WWII Geneva convention makes the bombing of civilians a war crime. Netanyahu just had an AIPAC packed and shipped group of US congressmen in Israel to plead with them to do everything within their power to avert any charges of war crimes emanating from the ICC. Of course, when one is desperate for effective lying and public pathos, the US is the place to go and Congress is naturally the place to shop.

    17. CommentedJean-Louis Piel

      What a great writer ! Ian Buruma is without any doubt if one of the best essayists I the World. This article is brilliant . I would like to add two crimes of this type- in 1932 the Japanese were the first to bomb a city , Shanghai, in this very much type of WWII practices . The Germans repeat in Spain in 1936-39. Then on Warsaw and Rotterdam. This last one was a pure terror one because the battle in the ground was already over.

    18. CommentedQuasimodo 5000

      Well, Hiroshima and Nagasaki not only ended the war, but led to total Japanese disarmament thereafter -- you can see the appeal to an Israeli of this approach. One question remains: Why does Israel adopt a strategy that seems so counterproductive? What answers we have are not entirely convincing. Israel is perhaps driven mad -- war lust -- or is perhaps calculating precisely. What is the answer?

        CommentedSergey Zavyalov

        Israel always calculates precisely how to save the most Israeli and Palestinian lives, while achieving its mission to destroy Hamas arms.

        IE taken from NDTV, link below: Hamas sets up a rocket system with a timer to shoot 24 hours later when Hamas is long gone from the area. If Israel does not destroy this location after being shot at, it will again be shot at from this same location every 24 hours. Hence Israel sends in the bombs to take out the launchers, as otherwise it would require a costly ground operation to remove these launchers.

    19. CommentedSergey Zavyalov

      Hari Naidu - UN is an anti-Semitic organization, with over 100 Muslim countries being fed Hamas\Muslim Brotherhood lies. UN member countries can’t even take an independent stand against Hamas actions out of fear of being voted against in the next general assembly by all the other terror supporters. In short, UN is corrupt and anti-Semitic. I say so because Boko Haram is killing and kidnapping children but where is the UN voice against Nigerian nonexistent response? Islamic State is killing\crucifying Iraqis, where are their voices against this? But UN is quick to take a unilateral position against Israel at anytime, even if their position is based on Hamas Jihadpaganda.

      Bibi legacy is solidified as the only leader in the world to fight for his citizens lives while the rest of the world capitulates to terrorism. I bet at the end of this operation, no one will even take this to the ICC, if they do their position will be delegitimized just like the Gold-Stone report was delegitimized.

      Palestinian land came to reality at the very same time Israel lands came to reality, the rest is history, and you should learn it. The only blockade in Gaza is by Hamas, they control how much cement\building material is allocated and where, they control who gets money and they control who survives by deliberately placing residence in danger.

    20. CommentedSimon Matthew

      Comparing the bombing of Hiroshima to Israel's destruction of the Hamas terror infrastructure is morally heinous. One is in fact designed to inflict maximum harm on civilians, the other to spare lives. If "Israeli leaders also appear to beliece that by smashing Gaza and it's people with bombs" they will give up, Buruma should present the evidence.

    21. Commentedrichard Nozick

      Strategic bombing to break an enemy's will does not describe Israel's campaign. This was not indiscriminate carpet bombing of a civilian population. The attempts at targeted strikes and well documented attempts at using phone calls, texts and leaflets to warn civilians to evacuate areas at risk demonstrate Israel's restraint and attempts to focus on eliminating threats rather than inducing terror and surrender. I am struck by the tone of this piece and clauses such as "even if we accept that Israel has a legitimate reason to shut down tunnels that are used to infiltrate Israel..." (IF??) and the suggestion that "bloodlust" may have something to do with it. So disheartening to see such obvious bias on such a wonderful website.

    22. Portrait of J. Bradford DeLong

      CommentedJ. Bradford DeLong

      I regret that I do not think that one can simply say that strategic bombing has never worked, and so consider the issue as settled...

      The World War II strategic bombing campaigns by the British and American air forces it because the Nazis to shift a large number of artillery barrels from Russia pointing east to the Reich pointing upwards. As a result, more soldiers of the Red Army--to whom the rest of us owe a rather large debt we have not repaid--survived the war.

      How does the utilitarian and the moral calculus play out? I do not know how it plays out in the context of World War II.

      I do think in Gaza right now it is a clear minus, as each Israeli airstrike makes the Israeli people less secure in the long run and kill civilians in Gaza right now.

    23. CommentedSergey Zavyalov

      Interesting how the author singles out Bibi (Israeli PM) as a fool even though the entire world including now Ukraine against their own civilians uses these same tactics.

      This is exactly the reason behind all the anti-Semitism these days. Media only points out policy mistakes of the Jews even though the high collateral damage in Gaza has been proven time and time again to be due to Hamas policies of using their civilians as meat shields and even beating those locals who escape their homes, yet this is never reported on stating they don’t have footage…?

      It’s as if the Media uses events in Israel to avoid talking about mass killings everywhere else in the world, who are they protecting, Boko Haram? Islamic State? Hezbollah? Hamas? Pretty much anyone against the Jews, bunch of anti-Semitic hypocrites.

        Commentedhari naidu

        This guy has been trying his best to salvage Bibi and his legacy.
        What he is unable to understand his war crimes - Yes war crimes as defined under UN Charter. Un Sec.Gen has labeled Bibi's adventure into killing Gazan civilians as *war crimes* and subject to ICJ jurisdiction ( The Hague).

        The onerous responsibility of any Israeli leader is to not fight another war of attrition - but find the underlying cause and remove it. Namely, the illegal occupation of Palestinian land and (unilateral) blockade of Gaza.

    24. Commentedjean-louis salvignol

      For the right information of Mr Buruma, who regarding Gaza speaks of "strategic bombing", take the case of Dresden - Germany between 13 and 15 February 1945.

      722 heavy bombers - of that time - cast off 3,900 tons of bombs on Dresden.
      Approximately 25,000 deaths.
      In almost One month conflict in Gaza the IAF probably led between 3000 and 4000 combat missions in Gaza, and the tonnage of ammunition is of the same order of magnitude as in Dresden.
      About 1,500 dead in Gaza, wich is dreadful, and not all have been killed by bombing.
      I guess Mr Buruma knows that the firepower of the IAF's F16 is by far greater than that of the Lancasters or Halifaxes used by the RAF in 1945.

        Commentedjuan carlos

        that's very simple, Israel obviously won't bomb all gaza indiscriminately because then they would be forced to stop by the international community. They are bombing as much as possible within the hypocritical limits of tolerance of the rest of world powers. They bomb enough to have the believable argument of : "it's collateral damage, it's hamas chaining people on buildings."