Abe Foxman in HuffPo on why America should rally to Israel´s side, in the latest round of its war with Hamas, as if Washington is not rallying reflexively anyway:
We should also be standing with Israel because if we don’t, the scourge of missiles targeting civilian populations will become a world-wide epidemic.
Of all the arguments one could make now on Gaza – and many good ones have been made, here and elsewhere, sympathetic to Israelis, sympathetic to Palestinians – this must be the silliest. We must protect Manhattan from a hail of cheap rockets fired from Staten Island! But do do this, the bad guys must first seize control of Staten Island, which would surely be noticed. If Dr. Evil, with a more sophisticated version of the same plan, can defeat detection by sneaking up inshore in his super-stealth submarine, he has much better weaponry than Hamas. Sorry to be flippant, but Foxman´s scenario is indeed ridiculous.
Common sense is reinforced by the actual history of violence in the last century. The world has suffered from a fair number of states and non-state actors willing to target civilians. Have any used rockets, apart from Hitler, Hezbollah, Saddam and Hamas? (Hitler and Saddam as a tiny component of inter-state wars.) Rockets are very expensive per delivered kilo of explosive, can´t be aimed with precision, and are hard to hide. Most movements and states that have resorted to terrorising civilians, like the FLN, ETA, the IRA and the Tamil Tigers, have quite logically used bombs and guns, far cheaper and more effective. In the Cold War, rockets were reserved for nuclear weapons.
The use of explosive rockets by Hezbollah and Hamas depends on highly specific features of their conflict with Israel. On their side, they have (1) a state sponsor for supply (Iran) and (2) fairly secure territorial bases. Their adversary has (3) a dense population in a small area, hence no strategic depth, (4) superior tactics and social cohesion to prevent suicide bombs, and (5) a democratic polity making the government highly sensitive to civilian fears. Take away any of these five factors, and the tactic is infeasible or pointless.
Foxman´s tirade suceeeds a contrario in highlighting the fact that Hamas is no threat to the citizens of the United States. Is it a threat to the interests of the United States? Palmerstonian IR fundies like Mearheimer & Walt would say no. I don´t myself think you can define state interests in a democracy independently of the preferences of the electorate. If the American people want, for cultural reasons, to stand guarantor to the integrity of Israel, that´s fine by me, as long as the guarantee doesn´t slide into unconditional support of Israel´s most misguided actions. But let´s not pretend that their safety is at stake in Gaza.
BTW, if the US Congress were in the least interested in checking the executive, it would spend less time on pseudo-scandals like Benghazi statements and General Petraeus´ love-life. A better topic for investigation would be to ask what threat if any is posed now to (a) American interests, (b) ordinary Americans, by the various armed groups the Administration has chosen to attack as terrorists, the Taliban, Al-Shabaab in Somalia, and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Take it as read that these are not our first choice of rulers of these backwaters, and their local success is terrible for women´s rights, religious minorities, and anybody else they object to. Countries don´t usually go to war to protect such interests. But do any of these gangs have the desire or the capability to pursue bin Laden´s idiosyncratic (and in the eyes of most jihadis, crazy) direct assault on the Great Satan?