Commentary, July 25, 2002

CIVILIAN CASUALTIES:
NO APLOGY NEEDED

By Ralph Peters

Earlier this week, Israel succeeded in killing Salah Shehada, a savage Hamas mastermind, and one of his top aides. A dozen Palestinian civilians died in the attack, including members of Shehada's family. The civilian deaths may be lamentable, but they also were justifiable. A terrorist leader used his relatives and neighbors as shields, and they died with him. Their deaths were Shehada's fault, not Israel's.

Once again, much of the world has applied a double standard, accusing Israel of barbarity for inflicting civilian casualties as part of a legitimate military operation, while overlooking the hundreds of Israeli civilians killed intentionally by Shehada and his subordinates. For Europeans, especially, Jewish lives count no more today than they did in 1944.

Why are Palestinian terrorists allowed to target civilians without exciting an international outcry, while every accidental civilian death inflicted by Israel is a crime against humanity?

Europe's reflexive anti-Semitism doesn't really matter much, since today's Europeans lack the power, will and courage to act upon their bigotry. But the Bush administration needs to stop pandering to corrupt Arab regimes and to recognize that Israel is fighting for its life; that Israel is fighting with great restraint; and that Israel's pursuit of terrorists is every bit as legitimate as our own. Instead of criticizing Israeli policy, we should be studying it.

Recently, our own forces were demonized for causing civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Some Afghan factions, with their intricate agendas, claimed we had attacked an innocent wedding party. Of course, the global media were only too willing to deplore American evil (despite the fact that we overthrew a monstrous regime and conquered an "unconquerable" country while causing, at most, a few hundred civilian casualties). Though combat videos proved that our aircraft was fired upon first, we nonetheless stumbled through witless apologies and promised to impose greater safeguards in the future.

As with the Israelis, our military response was justified. It is the apologies that make no sense. The war against terrorism must be prosecuted judiciously, but the terrorists themselves must be pursued without remorse.

When terrorists attempt to hide amid the civilian population, we must pursue them without hesitation. They cannot be allowed a single safe haven. If they use their neighbors as shields, it is the terrorists who are to blame should civilians die. If they attempt to use their families as cover, they will be responsible for the deaths of their own loved ones. The world must learn that, when civilians allow terrorists to use them, the civilians become legitimate military targets.

This is not about diplomatic table manners. It is a fight to exterminate human monsters.

Earlier this month, the Israelis were attacked for a plan to deport the families of terrorists from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. Of course, the Europeans and our own tattered left began comparing the plan to death trains bound for Auschwitz. While Europe's incurable nostalgia for the Wannsee Conference makes their hatred of Israel understandable on some level, the enthusiasm American leftists show for equating the Holocaust's survivors with the Holocaust's perpetrators is as dishonest as it is tasteless.

The fact is that the Israelis have begun to make a crucial link in dealing with terrorists: their families. In the Middle East, Arab armies fight ineptly because the soldiers feel no deep loyalty to their states. In the Arab world and in related cultures, earthly loyalties are, above all, to family. If left with no useful alternative, the Israelis -- and we Americans -- must be willing to pursue the terrorists through their relatives.

Of course, our outdated conventions make this proposition anathema to us. Thus, when dealing with a culture in which only faith and family matter to our enemies, we insist on making war on governments and negotiating with political organizations that are no more than mobs with diplomatic representation. We are punching thin air.

Meanwhile, few of Israel's critics complain when Palestinian mothers and fathers praise the gruesome suicides of their children or accept blood money from Riyadh and Baghdad. If you want a stark indicator of the power of family in the Middle East, consider that of the many suicide bombers to date, none has been a close relative of a Hamas leader or of the leadership of any other Palestinian faction. Suicide bombers employed to inflict mass murder on Israel are always drawn from marginal families. The terrorist leaders would no more send their own sons and daughters out as suicide bombers than they would go themselves.

If you cannot kill your enemy, threaten what he holds dear. Force him to come out and confront you in desperation. Today, we do not have the stomach for this. Tomorrow, we may find it a necessity.

In the meantime, as the U.S. slowly learns the real meaning of a war on terror, the Israelis continue to struggle against the Arab vision of Jewish annihilation. Israel will do what must be done, as humanely as possible. And Israel must accept that no matter what it does or fails to do, no matter how much success it achieves and how few civilian casualties it inflicts among its enemies, it will be hated by those who cheer on the enemies of mankind from the safety of Strasbourg, Stockholm or Harvard Yard.

Critics persist in claiming that attacks upon terrorists do not work, since results are not instantaneous. But the war against terror is a war of attrition and can only be won over decades. We may not know the real effects of Israel's current efforts for several years. But there is no course worse than cowardice and inaction.

The same critics will tell you that by killing civilians in their attacks, the Israelis -- or the Americans -- simply turn other civilians against them. This is nonsense. Civilians who shield the enemies of Israel or the U.S. are already anti-Israel or anti-American. But if our strikes against the masters of terror come to seem inevitable, those same civilians will turn against terrorists who try to use them as living shields -- as villagers in Afghanistan already have done.

Terrorists and their supporters must learn that they will be allowed no hiding places. Not in their homes, not in churches or mosques, and not in foreign countries to which they might flee. This is a war that must be fought without compromise. It is, above all, a contest of wills. Every apology is a surrender.

Mr. Peters, a retired Army officer, is the author of "Beyond Terror: Strategy in a Changing World" (Stackpole, 2002).



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