The Realities of War

by Matt Soriano | 10/11/00 5:00am

Before leaping to condemn Israel for "unnecessary" force against the new Palestinian Intifada, one ought to put oneself in the position of a scared soldier ordered to stop a riot. Your platoon is outnumbered ten to one, 40 against 400 rock-throwing people filled with blood lust. It's a confined area, and there are a thousand places for a sniper to hide. Some members of the crowd are brandishing AK-47s and M-16 assault rifles whose bullets punch through flak vests and helmets.

What do you do when a shot rings out? Where did that shot come from? The report echoes all over the neighborhood. And what will you do to stop this? Do you use a "nonlethal weapon" whose rate of fire is so pitiful as to be useless in suppressing an enemy with a very lethal and accurate rifle? Do you use tear gas and hope that doesn't make the crowd angrier and which in any case still wouldn't stop the sniper?

Or do you respond with the rifle in your hand? What does a commander do if he wants to bring his soldiers back alive?

This is the problem of urban combat. Many portray this new Intifada as rock-throwing youth in the streets. But the reality is that there are armed gunmen in the street. It's a two-sided affair with civilians brought into the crossfire willingly to die as martyrs. Some of the Palestinian Authority's policemen blasting away at the Israelis are former al-Fatah terrorists.

The only level of force that can be levied against this sort of threat is unfortunately what some, like the United Nations and Gary Weissman, might consider unnecessary. But the fighting in West Bank and Gaza has shown the world what most members of the U.S. military establishment have already known: urban combat is a bloody business. The typical method used for dealing with hidden snipers is massive firepower saturating the area. Some civilians will get killed. "Collateral damage" is unavoidable in war. It will be even worse if the Palestinians use civilians as "martyrs," or human shields. These civilians getting shot are breaking the law and attacking the authority in the area. Nobody would doubt that if somebody pulled a gun out and pointed it at a police officer in Chicago then the officer could act with deadly force. Why is it that this sort of action which repeats itself time and time again in the West Bank is condemned? Because it's soldiers shooting civilians? When a military force is fighting in a city like Jerusalem, every person shooting may not be wearing a uniform. The U.N. seems to believe that the Israelis have some sort of clairvoyance so that they can only find the true troublemakers. It just isn't that way. It can't be that way. Yet the mission remains the same: to protect Israeli citizens. I very much doubt that the Israeli soldiers are filled with enough rage to simply kill everyone in sight -- and if they were, the death toll wouldn't be 80. It would be in the thousands.

Indeed, the Israelis are showing considerable restraint in their use of combat engineers to blow up buildings containing snipers rather than simply standing back and using artillery to destroy the whole place like the Russians did in Grozny. The Israelis are using precision weapons which happen to be delivered from attack helicopters to destroy sniper nests. In 1992 the U.S military forces in Somalia requested tanks to better protect their troops. Defense Secretary Perry declined that request, thinking it too "provocative." His indecision cost the lives of U.S. troops as the Americans had to borrow tanks from the Malaysians to rescue a stranded patrol in Mogadishu. Now the Israelis are giving their soldiers the protection that they need to fight the difficult fight that is to occur.

There is no way to turn urban combat into the bloodless battlefield of the Persian Gulf. The enemy won't always wear uniforms or line their tanks up in the desert. Yet the Israeli government must protect its citizens and the security of its streets. To allow otherwise is a threat to Israel and a disservice to its citizens.

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