Shooting the Chicago Way, and Why It Isn't for Everyone

People often say that the Middle East is too unpredictable. Really? Consider that the Palestinians have been bombarding Israel on almost a daily basis for the last 10 months since the disengagement from Gaza and not a single resolution of condemnation was proposed at the United Nations. The European Union did not express outrage and the United States did not call for restraint. After the additional provocation of an attack on its sovereign territory, and the murder and kidnaping of its soldiers, Israel finally decided to respond and the immediate reaction of the world was, predictably, condemnation of Israel.

If Israeli actions lead to even one unintended casualty, you can be sure the media will be at the hospital to show a photo of the poor victim. I watched Fox the other night show shot after shot of Arab children being examined by doctors in a hospital. Israel has been lucky that the rockets fired from Lebanon and Gaza have caused minimal damage and death, but this also means the media has no graphic footage to show and, therefore, will focus its cameras at Israel’s targets where it can get dramatic pictures. Media watchdogs may lament this “bias,” but it is an inescapable feature of the fundamental asymmetry of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

This asymmetry also makes it virtually impossible for Israel to win a war with the terrorists because it is fighting from the moral high ground and its enemies have no morals whatsoever. The situation reminds me of the scene in The Untouchables when Eliot Ness, the honest cop who wants to play by the rules becomes frustrated with his inability to stop Al Capone. He asks a tough old cop named Malone how to get Capone. “Here’s how,” Malone explains, “they pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way, and that’s how you get Capone! Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?”

In the case of Israel, the way to get Hamas and Hezbollah is to play by what Tom Friedman called “Hama rules.” This refers to how Syria dealt with the problem of Islamic fundamentalists threatening the regime in 1982, namely to wipe out an entire city and kill as many as 20,000 people. And remember in all-out war even the moral powers, such as the United States, have not hesitated to use whatever force they believed necessary to defeat their enemies. Remember the firebombing of Dresden, not to mention Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

If Israel carpet bombed southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip and killed 10 or 20 thousand Palestinians and Lebanese it could stop the terror. Israel would, of course, be pilloried everywhere, but would the condemnation really be much different if it caused thousands of deaths when it receives the same treatment if it kills a few dozen people?

I am not advocating this policy and there is no chance that Israel would ever adopt it because the leaders of Israel operate according to a moral code that seeks to minimize harm to innocents. Israel blows up empty buildings and launches pinpoint attacks; sometimes civilians are killed and Israelis are the first to decry the tragedy. Israel could just as easily bomb the same buildings when they are full of people, but Israel’s answer to Malone’s question to Ness is that it is unwilling to do it the Chicago way.

Others have suggested that Israel intensify its campaign to assassinate terrorist leaders. After all, the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah are quick to send others to become martyrs, but have no desire to join them. And the policy did reduce the level of violence against Israel, but it was really only a band-aid that delayed the inevitable confrontation with groups that have been steadily building up their military capability. Israel is in the predicament of having to pay now or wait and pay a higher price later.

You might argue recent events show the unpredictability of the region; after all, the Palestinians seemed on the verge of civil war and Israel was talking about a significant withdrawal from the West Bank, events that might have led to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Instead, Hamas kidnaped a soldier and ended any chance of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank anytime soon and provoked the temporary reoccupation of Gaza.

On the other hand, it came as no surprise that the Islamists would continue their campaign to destroy Israel and do everything possible to obstruct peace. Unfortunately, the international appeasement of the provocateurs was equally predictable. The question is whether Israel has the fortitude to ignore international pressure and do what is necessary to protect its citizens or whether it will be forced to stop its military campaign before the terrorist infrastructure is destroyed and, once again, create the conditions for a future conflict.