When Has War Even Been ‘Proportional?’

Proportionality in war is a synonym for lethal stalemate, if not defeat.

When two sides go at it with roughly equal forces, weapons, and strategies, the result is often a horrific deadlock—like the four years of toxic trench warfare on the Western Front of World War I that resulted in 12 million fatalities.

The purpose of war is to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible with the least number of causalities—and thereby achieve political ends.

So, every side aims to find superior strategies, tactics, weapons, and manpower to ensure as great a disproportionate advantage as possible.

Hamas is no exception.

Its savage precivilizational strategy to defeat Israel hinged on doing disproportionate things Israel either cannot or will not do.

First, Hamas spent a year planning a preemptive butchery spree inside Israel. Its ruthless murdering focused on “soft targets” like unarmed elderly, women, children, and infants, mostly asleep at a time of peace and holiday.

Second, it sought to collectively shock Israel into paralysis by the sheer horror of decapitating civilians, burning babies, mass raping, and mutilating bodies.

Another apparent aim of such premodern barbarity was to blame Israel’s “occupation” for turning Gazans into veritable monsters, with hopes of derailing the renewed Abraham Accords.

Third, the gunmen took more than 240 hostages back with them to Gaza.

Again, that was a disproportionate tactic designed to meter out the release of captives in exchange for “pauses” and “cease-fires” to save Hamas.

Additionally, Hamas made implicit threats of gruesome executions of captives unless Israel ceased their retaliation for October 7.

Fourth, all the while Hamas shot rockets into Israel, more than 7,000 in total, and all aimed at civilians.

Not one launch was preceded by dropping leaflets or sending text messages to Israeli civilians to vacate the intended target areas—a protocol often used by the Israel Defense Forces.

The unapologetic aim was to kill thousands of Israelis at random and disproportionately.

In fact, in just the last few four weeks, Hamas has launched more than twice as many rockets into Israel as Nazi Germany managed to launch V-2s into Britain in five months.

Fifth, Hamas sought to create a multibillion-dollar tunnel city beneath Gaza. The labyrinth’s sole purposes were to stockpile weapons and ensure safe havens for terrorists to shoot rockets and regroup after their terrorist missions.

Sixth, the subterranean headquarters of Hamas elites, along with weapons depots, were strategically placed under hospitals, mosques, and schools to “shield” them from Israeli attacks.

The expectation was that the IDF would be hesitant to target such “civilian” and “humanitarian” areas in a way Hamas never would.

Seventh, Hamas forced the civilians of Gaza to remain among the street fighting. They often shot those who resisted.

They also killed Gazans who fled the city. Hamas sought to increase civilian fodder as collateral damage from Israeli attacks. Such deaths were to be broadcast worldwide to win sympathy for Hamas terrorists and force a cease-fire.

Eighth, Hamas bragged that it could repeat strategies 1-7 endlessly on the supposition Israel would tire, the world would turn against it, and it at last could murder enough Jews to end Israel altogether.

Israel in turn seeks its own disproportionate response to defeat Hamas.

First, it seeks to single out and kill the actual Hamas terrorists, and especially the 2,000 or so killers of October 7.

Second, it tries to warn civilians to flee anywhere that Hamas masses. Just as Hamas wants its own civilians killed for propaganda purposes, so Israel seeks to avoid killing them.

Third, by targeting Hamas and warning civilians to keep their distance, Israel does not deny that there will be collateral damage.

But it hopes to convince the world that any civilian deaths are mostly the fault of Hamas and not the IDF.

And to the degree that Gaza City is left in rubble, Israel wishes to remind its enemies that the wages of murdering Jewish infants unfortunately will be a disproportionate response, whose full effects will deter any future attack.

Fourth, Israel understands that a country of 9-10 million is facing a virulently hostile 500 million-person Arab Middle East. The United Nations is on the side of Hamas. A now anti-Semitic Europe has been hijacked by immigrants from the Middle East. Israel’s sole patron the United States is buffeted by a hard-left new Democratic Party that is not a reliable partner.

The result is that Israel still cannot conduct a fully disproportionate war without endangering its source of military resupply in the United States, and a wider conflict with the Islamic world.

And so, the war continues.

Hamas strives for a more disproportionate terrorist agenda to prolong the war. And Israel strives for a more disproportionate retaliation to end it.

The anger arises at Israel mostly because it is Jewish, and thus far its conventional disproportionality is proving more effective than the terrorist disproportionality of Hamas.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.

Photo: Flares light the sky during the Israeli military shelling of the northern Gaza Strip on November 14, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. More than 11,000 people have been killed in relentless Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, since the war erupted after Palestinian militants raided southern Israel on October 7 killing at least 1200 people, according to official Israeli figures (Photo by Jack Guez / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Notable Replies

  1. Avatar for task task says:

    When the military think of General Colin Powell they think of what was understood as the Powell doctrine. Colin Powell made it clear that there were nine principles of war and of those nine there were two that mattered most. First, because war is something that should be entered into as a last resort, it must be based on a clear objective of what the war is designed to accomplish. The Second part of the Powell doctrine is based upon a principle of mass - the military, in order to win decisively and as quickly as possible, must bring all of its forces together at the start so as to accomplish their objective in the shortest expenditure of time that is possible.

  2. And yet here is Biden giving $10 billion more to Iran to help fund this war. How can this be? How does he get an open check book to give money to Iran and Ukraine?

    I don’t understand it. Speaker Johnson needs to get it together quickly or step down. He doesn’t seem to understand the enemy.

  3. What I’ve always found interesting in discussing any given war, is that while the general public rarely hesitates to choose sides, rarely do I see strong opinions on how each side should fight the war EXCEPT when it come to any conflict involving Israel. With Israel everyone becomes an expert in the Art of War and the usual demand by these “experts” is that it is incumbent on Israel to always fight with one hand tied behind the back and to always stop short of destroying the enemy. Strange.

  4. A perfect, unemotional analysis of the war, thanks VDH. I agree 100 pct, and at the same time also recognize that the Zionists are the original aggressors in this conflict via their colonization and occupation in Palestine. If you don’t understand that this was a colonial action by the West to use the newly formed U.N. to partition Palestine under its authority, then you simply do not understand the history accurately.

    Consider this carefully. Why did the U.N. only recognized the ‘right of self-determination’ for the Zionists and by doing so destroy the rights of self determination for the 750k Arab Muslims Israel ethnically cleansed from their homes in 1948 to create a majority Jewish state? The partition as configured by the U.N. would have created Israel with a majority Arab Muslim population - unthinkable to the Zionists. So not only did the supposedly post-colonial U.N. use international law to colonize Palestine with a Jewish nation, the Zionists then took much, much war. And if you are so misinformed that you think that the Arab armies started the '48 war, just know that Zionists had cleansed 300k Arab Muslims from their homes before an Arab army fired a shot, as they were in disarray in the aftermath of WWII.

    Again, as I’ve stated here numerous times here, it’s astonishing to me how ignorant of the facts on this issue my fellow conservatives seem to be. Backing the Zionists is anti-American values. Period. Backing the Palis is ridiculous as they are pre-modern barbarians who view this fight as a Jihad, and I can never, ever side with a Jihadi. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have legit complaints. They do. And until conservatives in the U.S. face this and stop backing Israel without question, we will continue to risk war and terrorism against us, as already has happened due to our involvement with Israel.

    We can’t claim to support “classical liberal values” and a post-colonial world (which is what the U.N. was dedicated to ending, it’s in its charter as the main goal of the U.N.) and then support a violation of the rights of peoples and planting a colony of Jews on the heads of Arab Muslims who lose their homes and homeland as a result. That’s how the rest of the world sees us, fyi. American conservatives are the only ones who are so ignorant of the reality here, and it makes me sick to my stomach.

    Get us the eff out of the mideast, Europe and Asia. We paid a huge price to get through our ethnic and religious conflicts in the U.S., those societies need to do the same on their own. We should want no part of any of it. Why on earth are we even involved in this war between the Jews and the Arab Muslims? Many other such conflicts exist in the world that we don’t weigh in on - why this issue? Why not Armenian or Christian genocide? The Obama admin was forced to classify the cleansing of millions of Christians from Northern Africa and the mideast over the past 20 years as a genocide, but hey, when it’s Christians, who cares, right?

    Ever heard the true story of the Irish Holocaust? It was no “potato famine” - it was 67 British regiments committing genocide of 5 million Irish. Not 1 million. And the Irish grew a lot more than potatoes. But I have to hear that slaughter and massive crime against humanity referred to as the “Potato Famine” - and never hear any of it discussed. What the Brits did to the Irish alone rivals Nazi predations on the Jews easily. They also enslaved millions of Irish and sold them off - in many ways what they did in Ireland over 800 years was far worse.

    But nobody cares about any of that. So why should I care about what happens to the Jews on land that they stole? I’m serious - I do not care. They started a war they can never finish or even win without our help. As VDH points out, it’s 9 million against 500 million - they can never win. Get that. And if we try to fight a war there, we will have a civil war in this country. Cuz the ‘fighting class’ has had it with foreign wars that aren’t about protecting the U.S. All those hayseeds the Left hates won’t show up. Just listen to what veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are saying on Youtube and elsewhere. The rage among the actual gun toters is high and we act as though that doesn’t matter. It does.

    Wake up. Stop supporting Zionism. It’s Jewish supremacy encoded in a political movement. There could be nothing more anti-American.

  5. Avatar for Huey65 Huey65 says:

    I fear that Johnson may be aligned with “the enemy “ after he ridiculously stated “ there’s not enough evidence” to impeach Biden.

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