Late on Saturday night, an Israeli commando unit landed by helicopter on a
beach near the Lebanese city of Tyre. None of the soldiers wore military
markings. All had grown beards, so observers would think they were just
another group of Hezbollah jihadis.
After landing, the soldiers made their way to a building that housed a
three-man Hezbollah rocket-launcher crew. From intelligence reports, the
commandos knew the trio was holed up in a second-floor apartment.
The Israeli commander was the first through the door, and promptly took a
bullet through a lung. The Israelis fired back. When the smoke cleared,
all three Hezbollah members were dead. The Israeli commander was still
breathing but only barely. Another commando was also seriously wounded.
As the commandos left their two wounded on stretchers they were
attacked by Hezbollah gunmen spilling out of nearby buildings. Israeli
helicopter gunships hovering nearby laid down a covering fire, allowing
the commandos to retreat to their original landing area. After a military
doctor performed emergency surgery that saved the commander's life, the
whole team flew back to Israel.
These mission details sound like something out of a Hollywood film. But
the truly amazing part of it is that the mission happened at all. Instead
of risking the lives of its most elite soldiers, Israel easily could have
dropped a bomb on the building and taken out their targets while they
Why didn't Israel do just that? Because as well as serving as a barracks
for Hezbollah, the building also contained civilians. And Israel didn't
want to spill their blood. Hezbollah may wage war while hiding behind
women's skirts and baby rattles. But Israel stubbornly adheres to a more
This is not a new policy that Israel adopted in response to the July 30
Qana bombing. Israeli soldiers employed the same humane methods in one of
the first major engagements of this war.
On June 26, Israeli infantrymen assaulted the outskirts of Bint Jbail, a
major Hezbollah hub near the border. Israel could have flattened the town
easily prior to its soldiers' advance it lies well within range of its
army's artillery, not to mention the Israeli air force. But according to a
high-ranking Israeli officer, the carpet-bombing option was ruled out
because several hundred Bint Jbail civilian residents had ignored Israel's
warning to flee. As in Tyre, Hezbollah was using them as human shields.
The result? Battalion 51 of Israel's Golani Brigade was ambushed by dozens
of Hezbollah gunmen wielding anti-tank missiles. In the hellish close
combat that followed, eight Israeli soldiers died. Like the 23 Israeli
soldiers who lost their lives in the warrens of the Jenin refugee camp in
2002, the men of Battalion 51 died so that Arab civilians could live. Not
one of Israel's enemies would have taken the same risks under similar
Nor is Israel simply following the letter of international law. A
Hezbollah rocket crew can kills dozens, or even hundreds, of Israelis with
a single volley. Demolishing that apartment building in Tyre arguably
would have been a proportionate, and entirely legal, Israeli response to
the threat posed by its occupants.
Moreover, Israel had warned the residents of Tyre to evacuate many times.
Most of those who remain in the city are Hezbollah supporters. Last week,
Haidar Fayadh, a Tyre cafe owner, told The New York Times: "Everyone has a
weapon in his house. There are doctors, teachers and farmers. Hezbollah is
people. People are Hezbollah." Luckily for Fayadh, Israel doesn't take him
at his word, or he'd be dead and all of Tyre would be a smoking ruin.
By this point in the war, some readers will have heard enough about media
bias. Still, I can't help but marvel at the other-worldly impression
people are getting. The Israeli air force has flown 9,000 sorties during
this war. The handful of tragic instances in which Israel has mistakenly
attacked civilian targets are treated as war crimes. Meanwhile, Hezbollah
has launched more than 2,000 missiles at Israel, every one of them
deliberately targeting Israeli civilians. (The group's Syrian-made 302mm
rockets are packed with tens of thousands of ball-bearings, the objective
being to disfigure those who aren't killed.) But the only time this is
reported is when the rockets actually hit someone in which case the
fact is cited not as an indictment of Hezbollah's barbarism, but as
testament to its strength and the purported futility of Israeli strategy.
This appalling double-standard goes beyond media bias. It reflects a
deeper sense that pervades our entire society. After watching Arab
terrorists kill innocent Jews for two generations, we have become inured
to their methods. It is simply taken for granted that anti-Israel
"resistance" movements will sink to the lowest possible level as soon as
the shooting starts. Killing civilians. Hiding rocket launchers in homes.
Shooting from mosques. All of this is unsurprising expected even so
none of it makes the news. Let Israel mistakenly kill civilians while
fighting back, on the other hand, and it's time to stop the presses.
It's unclear which side will be seen as the victor in the current war. But
even before the shooting began, Arab militants could claim a perverse sort
of triumph: liberation from the humane standards the world normally
applies to the armies that fight wars. It is a triumph that Israel, and
all civilized nations, can be proud of having forsaken.
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JWR contributor Jonathan Kay is Managing Editor of Toronto's National Post newspaper. To comment on this article or contact the author, please click here.