No 'disproportionate' reaction to Gaza flare-up

Analysis: The latest round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting followed a predictable pattern – up to a certain point.

Palestinians walk past rubble from IAF air strike, Gaza_370 (photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)
Palestinians walk past rubble from IAF air strike, Gaza_370
(photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)
The latest round of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist organizations from Gaza this week followed a predictable pattern – up to a certain point.
The blueprint is well known: One side starts, the other side responds, and the fighting continues until the Palestinians have had enough – i.e., stop shooting – and quiet returns. Usually numerous countries of the world – after urging Israeli “restraint” – harshly condemn Israel for a “disproportionate” response to missiles and rockets raining down on its civilians.
And indeed, this time Israel carried out a targeted assassination of someone it considered an arch-terrorist – Zuhair Qaisi, the commander of the Popular Resistance Committees – the Palestinians pounded civilian targets with rockets and missiles, Israel responded by targeting terrorist sites, and then the Palestinians – after a few days of fighting – had enough, and quiet was restored. Until the next time.
But unlike previous rounds of fighting, this time the world, for the most part, did not issue its usual condemnations and generally showed little interest or outrage at what was taking place. Sure, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the 2010 recipient of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s “International Prize for Human Rights,” accused Israel of genocide, but his predictable voice was one of only a few. Erdogan was in good company – Syria’s President Bashar Assad, Erdogan’s erstwhile ally until just a few months ago, also articulated his indignation.
Generally, in times of military conflict, the job of the country’s various spokespersons – the hasbara apparatus – is to provide the world with arguments and counter-arguments to give the military enough time to accomplish the goals it has set for itself. And indeed, this time meetings were held, talking points drawn up, and a media strategy planned. But for the most part, the various spokespeople remained under-employed during the crisis, as the world watched relatively quietly from the sidelines.
For a variety of reasons, the recent round of fighting was not high up on the international media agenda. For instance, on Sunday the fighting did not make it to the home page of The New York Times web edition, and on the BBC on Monday it did not lead the news, coming after reports of a US soldier’s shooting 16 Afghanistan civilians, the rising death toll in Syria, and events in Somalia and China. In short, the world’s media showed little interest in the story, and as a result, there was little pressure in capitals around the world to sound off on the issue.
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As one diplomatic official put it, paraphrasing a rather cynical journalistic aphorism, “if it bleeds it leads, but there was not that much blood in this story.”
That, however, was not entirely accurate, because there were casualties – some 26 Palestinians killed in Gaza. But with the exception of between one and three civilians, depending on whom you believe, those killed were Palestinian terrorists launching attacks on Israel. Had an Israeli missile gone off target and hit an apartment building, things would have been different.
But this time the Israeli strikes were surgical and on target.
The lack of an international response also shows the degree to which Islamic Jihad, which suffered the most deaths, and the Popular Resistance Committees firing off rockets into Israeli population centers do not generate much sympathy in the West.
Even the targeted assassination of Qaisi, the action that triggered the violence, did not generate a great deal of condemnation.
One likely reason is that targeted assassinations have now been adopted by other countries, first and foremost the US, and there is more understanding of its legitimacy because if US President Barack Obama can authorize a targeted hit against a terrorist leader hell-bent on trying to kill Americans, why can’t Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu do the same against those trying to kill Israelis? The horrific death toll in Syria (by 4 p.m.
Wednesday, nearly 50 people had been killed that day alone), and the hundreds of people killed elsewhere in the region since the onset of the Arab Spring also had an impact on the relative lack of international interest, likely putting into proportion for many the deaths of two dozen terrorists aiming for civilian population centers.
The death of one to three innocents is a horrible tragedy, but that this failed to spark an international outcry may also indicate the degree to which some around the world understand that in war there will be collateral damage, and that – in comparison with the number of civilians killed in other war theaters around the world – that number is not particularly egregious.
And finally, Israel helped itself by keeping the corridors to Gaza open for humanitarian aid throughout the crisis. For instance, Israel kept the Kerem Shalom Crossing open Monday even after the Palestinians fired mortars at it. On Sunday and Monday, as the rockets blasted the South, over 180 trucks carrying basic medical and food supplies went into Gaza. What this did, in addition to providing Gazans with humanitarian supplies, was rob anyone of the ability to say that Israel was choking Gaza and causing a humanitarian crisis.
The relative lack of international involvement this time, however, should not be seen as a herald of things to come during future flare-ups. This week Israel was lucky that its bombardments were on target. It also benefited from a world whose attention was diverted elsewhere and that – to a certain degree – is suffering from Mideast conflict fatigue. While there is definitely no guarantee that those same elements will be at work the next time around, this time the lack of international interest and involvement was felt, and – from an Israeli perspective – made it a lot easier to operate.