Fighting an asymmetric war in a digital, global reality requires a paradigm shift

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May 17, 2018 18:03
Fighting an asymmetric war in a digital, global reality requires a paradigm shift

boy holds a Palestinian flag as he stands amidst smoke during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City May 14, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)

Hamas is recognized as a terrorist organization by Canada, the US, EU, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and unofficially by Saudi Arabia. Hamas declared and directs the “March of Return” and all that has transpired in the past few weeks, culminating in the past few days. Regardless, Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip since June 2007, after Israel unilaterally withdrew from the area in 2005, dismantling 21 Israeli settlements and evacuating their 8,000 inhabitants, forcibly evicting those that would not leave of their own volition. All agricultural infrastructure built and blooming in the area was left intact. 13 years later, the greenhouses that once grew tomatoes stand empty, or house weapons of despair and destruction.

The Israel-Gaza security barrier along which the “March of Return” is taking place has been effective in preventing terrorists and suicide bombers from entering Israel from Gaza. Hundreds of trucks carrying food, medicine and basic goods into Gaza pass through the barrier’s five crossings points daily. Hamas abuses the passage of goods to smuggle weapons and construction materials for tunnels, including three attempts to destroy the infrastructure leading oil and gas into the Gaza strip as part of the “March of Return.” Israel repaired the pipelines and resumed the transfer of goods.

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In response to the Hamas rocket threat to its citizens, Israel developed the Iron Dome missile defense system. In response to the construction of tunnels from Gaza into Israel, Israel developed technology that destroys tunnels. The declaration of the “March of Return” by Hamas was in fact a declaration of yet one more form of an asymmetric war, for lack of a better term. Maximizing the benefits of the digital and global reality was a part of the masterful plan, intentionally timed to coincide with the celebration of the relocation of the US embassy, an act that was no more and no less than a following through on American legislation passed in 1995, but would draw international attention and serve as perfect background to distort the facts.

It was a well devised strategy, with a planned escalation, recognizing and using the international moral ambiguity that enables Hamas to garner world support. Make no mistake though, the “March of Return” is not a civilian demonstration. It is not a peaceful march. It is not a human rights rally. By definition, the “right of return” represented by the march, in which generations of Palestinians, singled out and recognized by the UN as refugees forever, not only undermines any chance of a peaceful resolution of the conflict, but de facto delegitimizes the right of the State of Israel to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people.

“The March of Return,” a declaration of an asymmetric war, is a continued use of terrorism, under the auspices of the international community, openly and vocally threatening to do all it takes to pass the barrier and butcher the Israeli civilians living five minutes away.

In response to Hamas’s call, 40,000 people stormed the border with intent to compromise it, enter Israel and butcher Israeli civilians, or to facilitate the success of someone else’s murderous intent. In response to this declaration of war, Israel deployed the most pin-point engagement available. According to Hamas, 50 of 62 dead were Hamas members. Considering the laws of war guideline of proportionality, Israel restrained its power in fighting the war declared by Hamas under the pretense of the “March of Return.”

International law includes the regulation of “the laws of war” based on assumptions of a symmetric wars, fought between countries, one recognizable army fighting another. By definition, those initiating, engaged in and committed to asymmetric war do not and will not respect or comply with the laws of war. In fact, when declaring war on an entity that sees itself as bound by those laws, they knowingly abuse that very fact, undermining the very system these laws are meant to regulate.

The same can be said of international humanitarian law; useful so long as all those involved are playing by the same rules. The reality of an asymmetric war with terrorist organizations is that human rights jargon serves to undermine those very same rights. Presumably, those that heeded the Hamas call chose to partake in the war declared. Otherwise, if they were forced to be there, presumably the world community would hold Hamas accountable for using the civilians in the Gaza Strip as human shields.

As if that asymmetry were not enough, it is compounded by the virtual reality in which a picture sent in real time is worth much more than a thousand words, rendering rational explanations irrelevant. Addressing these challenges requires a profound paradigm shift. In our global, virtual reality, no words, pictures or videos can erase the visual effects of “a live action shot,” regardless of possible underlying and overarching causes and clarifications.

Once again, by definition, this serves asymmetric war proponents utilizing terrorism as their strategy well. It serves as great incentive to deepen and enhance the use of terrorist tactics, including human shields in the shape of women and babies, in a cynical and contemptuous abuse of reality. It seems that even the rules of the jungle do not apply to asymmetric warfare in a digital, global reality.

A painful case study of the laundering of Hamas’s abuse of human rights to undermine those very rights Western democracies cherish, is the case of Hadar Goldin. In 2014, he was abducted and killed  by Hamas during  a brokered humanitarian ceasefire, under the auspices of the UN. Hamas still holds his remains, in a gruesome attempt to utilize this blatant breach of the Geneva Convention as an advantage. With open disregard and disdain for basic human rights, recognizing the pain and suffering caused by preventing his family the closure that the act of burial would provide, Hamas seeks to manipulate this inhumane act of the lowest kind into a bargaining chip.

A final thought. Israel, perceived by many as the “start-up nation,” arrived at this designation for a myriad of reasons. One of them may very well be that on numerous fronts, Israel is the proverbial “canary in the mineshaft.” As such, it has and will continue to do all in its power to stay alive and free. Many Western democracies fought asymmetrical wars prior to the current digital and global reality. The challenges Israel faces offer a possible glimpse into the future for other Western democracies. In order for relevant lessons to be learned, the first step of sincerity requires a zooming-out that reveals the entire map of the Middle East, and the recognition that Israel is no Goliath. It is in fact David, electing to constrain itself to the laws of war and to international humanitarian law, leaving it exposed and fighting with one hand tied behind its back.

The author is a PhD candidate in law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, researching the topic of free speech as part of the “Human Rights under Pressure – Ethics, Law and Politics” doctoral program. She is a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and a board member of “Tzav Pius.”


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