Israeli objective: protecting civilians

Many states have enemies. But not many states have enemies that are dedicated to their total destruction. Unfortunately, the nation-state of the Jewish people has not one, but many such enemies. Hamas is a prime example.

Hamas is a Jihadist terrorist organization now controlling the Gaza Strip. Its founding Charter declares the elimination of Israel through “jihad” (holy war) to be its principal goal. In 2001, Hamas launched its first crude rocket against Israeli civilians. Since then, it has launched more than 14,000 rockets towards Israeli cities — an average of more than three rockets a day over more than a decade.

Despite Israel’s 2005 departure from Gaza, and the removal of all its military bases and civilian communities, Hamas continues to attack Israel — demonstrating that indeed, it is fighting not merely against Israel’s presence in Gaza, but against Israel’s very existence.

In recent months, Israel’s civilian population has been subjected to increasingly intense rounds of rocket fire. The latest round began Nov. 10 with the rapid-fire launching of over 120 rockets. To counter this intolerable bombardment, Israel launched Operation “Pillar of Defense:”

The goal of the operation is well defined — the removal of a clear and present danger to Israel’s citizens. As a nation with a responsible government faced with an implacable rocket threat, Israel has, over the years, built early-warning systems, hardened public buildings, neighborhood shelters, residential safe rooms, extensive civil defense services and, most recently, the Iron Dome anti-missile system. This technological marvel has proven its ability to track incoming missiles, calculate their trajectory, and intercept in midflight those heading for built-up areas. It has had a success rate of close to 90 percent, and has saved untold lives.

Of more than 1,000 rockets launched at Israeli cities in the past week, only about 50 have landed in populated areas. Israelis are especially thankful to the United States for supporting the development of this uniquely advanced life-saving system.

The protection of civilians, however, is far from a priority for Hamas. One can only imagine the envy with which Gaza’s population looks upon Israeli civilians under fire. Hamas has provided Gazans no shelters, warnings, or defenses. It has provided only dangers and deprivation, intentionally putting its own civilians in harm’s way while choosing to spend Gaza’s limited resources on arms, ammunition and military escapades.

In keeping with their extreme ideology which considers the killing of Jews as a holy obligation, Hamas deliberately targets Israeli civilians. So holy is their cause in their own eyes, that Hamas fighters readily justify their tactic of firing their rockets from between buildings, behind mosques and inside schoolyards, using their own civilians as human shields. This targeting of Israeli civilians while hiding behind Gaza civilians is a double war crime.

By contrast, Israel is taking great care to avoid casualties among Gaza civilians while doing what it must to protect its own. Tens of thousands of leaflets have been dropped, phone calls placed and text messages sent warning Gazans to avoid Hamas leaders, weapons and positions.

Israel has even broken into Hamas’ own radio programs in order to broadcast safety instructions to Gaza civilians. Israeli strikes are carried out only against clear military targets. Utmost care is taken to avoid casualties to non-involved civilians through the use of up-to-date intelligence, precision guided weapons, surgical tactics, and even the aborting of missions in mid-flight if a questionable situation arises.

Sadly, losses have been sustained among Gaza civilians, and this Israel deeply regrets. It must be recalled however, that Israel did not choose to have its citizens bombarded by Hamas. No country in the world would acquiesce to its citizens being under constant artillery barrage.

Living in Miami, one cannot even imagine hundreds of unprovoked missiles fired from a hostile neighbor raining down upon one’s city. Yet in Israel, this is a daily reality.

While Israel has been forced to respond, it has done so with unparalleled restraint and responsibility. Yet, with all Israel’s efforts, the conflict will truly end only when Hamas finally decides to value the lives of Gazans as much as it values the death of Israelis.

Chaim Shacham is consul general of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico.

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