With a predictability that is rapidly becoming mind-numbing monotony, various US officials from the president on down have been stressing the need for Israel to exercise restraint in its counter- terror operation in Gaza so as to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties.
In addition to President Barack Obama, this concern has been voiced in recent days in one form or another by none other than US Secretary of State John Kerry, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, as well as the spokesmen for the State Department and the White House.
And just in case we didn’t get the message the fourth or fifth time it was delivered in public, both the president and the secretary of state are said to have repeated it in private telephone conversations with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
As the late Ronald Reagan might have put it, “there they go again.” And again, and again, and again.
But Washington’s recurring mantra about restraint is not merely tiresome, it is profoundly hypocritical, and it highlights just to what degree Obama’s foreign policy resembles the parent who tells his child, with cigarette in hand: “do as I say, not as I do.”
Take, for example, America’s policy of carrying out drone strikes against al-Qaida affiliates in places such as Yemen, where terrorists have succeeded in seizing territory and transforming it into a platform for violence (sound familiar?).
In a 102-page report released on October 22, 2013, by Human Rights Watch, entitled “Between a Drone and al-Qaida: The Civilian Cost of US Targeted Killings in Yemen,” the group examined six strikes carried out by US forces in that embattled country. They found that at least 57 of the 82 people killed in the attacks were in fact innocent civilians.
In other words, for all of its sermonizing to Israel about restraint, America had few qualms about killing twice as many civilians as terrorists in its drone strikes in Yemen.
Among the incidents cited in the report was one in September 2012 in Sarar, in central Yemen, when a passenger van carrying 12 civilians was blown to bits by mistake. In another incident, in December 2009, the US carried out a cruise missile strike on a Beduin camp in the Yemeni village of al-Majalah which killed 14 al-Qaida terrorists and 41 civilians, two-thirds of whom were said to be women and children.
Whatever happened to Obama’s “serious concern about the growing number of casualties,” which a White House statement on Sunday said the president had raised with Netanyahu during a phone conversation? Apparently, as far as Washington is concerned, the ends justify the means in the war on terror, unless the one pulling the trigger to defend himself happens to be Israeli.
Interestingly, on the same day that the Human Rights Watch report regarding Yemen was made public, Amnesty International released a study of US drone strikes in Pakistan. Entitled “Will I Be Next?”, the document assessed nine drone attacks that took place between January 2012 and August 2013 in Pakistan’s North Waziristan province. Here too, there were “incidents in which men, women and children appear to have been unlawfully killed or injured,” the report noted.
These include the inexplicable US drone attack in October 2012 in which a 68-year-old grandmother, Mamana Bibi, was blasted to smithereens in front of her grandchildren while gathering vegetables in an open field.
Earlier that year, on July 6, American drones attacked and killed 18 Pakistani laborers who had gathered for dinner after a day’s work, and then carried out a second strike on the first responders who came to help the wounded.
In most such cases, the US does not even acknowledge its responsibility for such attacks, let alone issue an apology.
And it certainly does not heed calls for restraint.
NOW DON’T get me wrong. I fully support Washington’s policy of using drones to take out terrorists, a policy that has weakened al-Qaida and its affiliates in a variety of countries. But I find it hard to fathom America’s curiously selective moral calculus when it browbeats Israel to be extra careful vis-à-vis civilians in a war zone even as the US itself fails to show such caution.
Sure, the Obama administration has voiced its support for Israel’s right to defend itself. But by couching this phrase alongside an overly insistent need for restraint, Washington is in fact sending the following message: you Jews can of course defend yourselves, but only up to a point.
The bottom line is that in the first 13 days after the start of Operation Protective Edge, the Palestinians fired 1,780 rockets from Gaza at Israeli towns, villages and cities. That averages out to about 137 rockets a day, or more than five per hour, every hour, for nearly two weeks.
This is unconscionable, unacceptable and it must be stopped.
In this war, we should bear in mind the immortal words of the late General George S. Patton, Jr., who commanded the US Third Army after the invasion of Normandy in 1944. Once, before heading into battle, he reportedly declared, “May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I sure as hell won’t.”
Sounds callous? Perhaps.
But in a war of survival against a determined foe, it is the only way to prevail.