Only option left for Israel was a military operation

Mon, Dec 29, 2008, 00:00

OPINION:Over 5,000 rockets and mortars have been fired into southern Israel since Gaza withdrawal, writes Zion Evrony 

IMAGINE YOUR home town under daily fire from deadly rockets. Imagine your children walking to school when an alarm sounds, giving them only 15 seconds to find cover. Imagine your house torn to bits by a rocket, your car blown up or your nursery school shredded by shrapnel. And all the while, the world has remained silent, overlooking your pain, ignoring your terror.

This is the nightmare a quarter million people in southern Israel have had to live with for eight years. The Hamas bombardment of Israel has been unrelenting, indiscriminate and far from harmless as some allege.

While it had been hoped that Israel's complete disengagement from the Gaza Strip in August 2005 would lead to an end to the violence emanating from there, and create an opportunity for peace, instead Israel saw an increase in violent attacks. Rocket launches and mortar fire quickly became a daily occurrence, with Israeli civilians living near Gaza subjected to constant terror from the skies. Another generation of Israeli children was growing up not knowing a single day of peace, a day in which they did not have to run to the nearest shelter.

Since Israel withdrew from Gaza, over 5,000 rockets and mortars have been deliberately fired from there at southern Israel, hundreds of them within the last few days alone.

No government can stand idly by while its citizens are being attacked on a daily basis. Israel, like Ireland or any other state, has the right and duty to defend its civilian population. Indeed, the right to national self-defence is one of the cornerstones of international law.

Israel has shown restraint for a long time. We tried everything to reach calm without using force. We agreed to a truce through Egypt that was violated by Hamas, which continued to target Israel. We were left with no option other than a military operation.

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) is operating in Gaza in accordance with international law, complying with the two basic tests of international humanitarian law: (1) are the targets legitimate military objectives? (2) is there likely to be disproportionate damage to the civilian population and their property? Israel faces a particular challenge with regard to determining the legitimacy of intended targets. The quandary Israel is consistently forced to contend with is the deliberate positioning of Hamas military targets among Palestinian civilians.

The Iranian-backed Hamas, as a matter of strategy, refuses to uphold one of the most fundamental requirements of international humanitarian law - that of distinguishing between combatants/military installations and civilians.

Therefore, although Israel does all it can to avoid harming civilians, under international law any accidental injury to them is the responsibility of Hamas, which deliberately chose to locate targets in civilian areas, using its own people as human shields. Only a concerted international censure of Hamas will cause that terrorist organisation to stop this practice.

Regarding the issue of proportionality concerning Israel's military operation, it is important to note that the principle of self-defence, according to international law, states that military actions must be measured in terms of the total threat facing a country. As such, the right to self-defence includes not just actions taken to neutralise the immediate threat, but also those taken to prevent subsequent attacks.

There are two aspects to Hamas's threat to Israel. The first is its intention, which remains the destruction of Israel by every means at its disposal. The second is its capability.

The Hamas war against Israel did not begin today, yesterday or even this year. It began with the 1988 covenant of the organisation which states that "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it" and that "there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad [holy war]". The Hamas war has one goal, and it is not the establishment of a Palestinian state, rather it is the destruction of the state of Israel. Hamas does not represent the legitimate national interests of the Palestinian people, but a radical Islamic agenda.

As for capability, Hamas has managed to take advantage of Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip to smuggle vast quantities of weapons into Gaza and to train its forces, organising them into a highly structured military organisation.

The people of Gaza are not our enemies. Israel makes every effort to avoid harming Palestinian civilians and has demonstrated more respect for the lives of innocent Palestinians than the Hamas leadership who deliberately place them in harm's way. However, Israel also has to make every effort to protect the lives of its own innocent civilians who have been targeted by Hamas for years.

While confronting Hamas, Israel continues to believe in the two-state solution: two states living side by side in peace and security, the state of Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people, and a future Palestinian state as the homeland for the Palestinian people. To achieve this goal, Israel remains committed to the negotiations that have been going on with the Palestinian Authority.

We hope that 2009 will see an end to Hamas terrorism and the building of a real peace.

Zion Evrony is the Israeli ambassador to Ireland