While I criticized Richard Cohen’s article calling Israel a mistake, I didn’t do so in quite the strident terms others used. I didn’t think he meant what he said, although I thought his writing inept and some of his conclusions were pretty silly. In any event, I don’t have any criticisms for Cohen this time, since he’s done a pretty damn good job of exposing the primrose path that is “disproportionality.” He correctly points out that the demand for proportionality simply results in a war of attrition, with definite end, that ends in tens of thousands dead over decades, rather than hundreds dead in a decisive battle:
If by chance you have the search engine LexisNexis and you punch in the words “Israel” and “disproportionate,” you run the risk of blowing up your computer or darkening your entire neighborhood. Just limiting the search to newspapers and magazines of the past week will turn up “more than 1,000 documents.” Israel may or may not be the land of milk and honey, but it certainly seems to be the land of disproportionate military response — and a good thing, too.
The list of those who have accused Israel of not being in harmony with its enemies is long and, alas, distinguished. It includes, of course, the United Nations and its secretary general, Kofi Annan. It also includes a whole bunch of European newspapers whose editorial pages call for Israel to respond, it seems, with only one missile for every one tossed its way. Such neat proportion is a recipe for doom.
The dire consequences of proportionality are so clear that it makes you wonder if it is a fig leaf for anti-Israel sentiment in general. Anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows that proportionality is madness. For Israel, a small country within reach, as we are finding out, of a missile launched from any enemy’s back yard, proportionality is not only inapplicable, it is suicide. The last thing it needs is a war of attrition. It is not good enough to take out this or that missile battery. It is necessary to reestablish deterrence: You slap me, I will punch out your lights.
Israel has been in dire need of such deterrence ever since it pulled out of Lebanon in 2000 and, just recently, the Gaza Strip. In Lebanon, it effectively got into a proportional hit-and-respond cycle with Hezbollah. It cost Israel 901 dead and Hezbollah an announced 1,375, too close to parity to make a lasting difference. Whatever the figures, it does not change the fact that Israeli conscripts or reservists do not think death and martyrdom are the same thing. No virgins await Jews in heaven.
There’s more, but you certainly get the gist here. Kudos for Mr. Cohen’s intellectual clarity, especially given the hammering he took for his last column.