I’ve joined what seems to be a consensus of Western observers in decrying Israel’s heavyhanded tactics and callous disregard for civilian casualties in its invasion of Gaza.  It’s worth remembering, however, that it’s fighting a terrorist enemy that commits war crimes with casual impunity.

    In an excellent survey of the evolution of tactics that has taken place in the two years since Israel’s war against Hezbollah, Steven Erlanger of the NYT observes:

Hamas, with training from Iran and Hezbollah, has used the last two years to turn Gaza into a deadly maze of tunnels, booby traps and sophisticated roadside bombs. Weapons are hidden in mosques, schoolyards and civilian houses, and the leadership’s war room is a bunker beneath Gaza’s largest hospital, Israeli intelligence officials say.

Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open, Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms. The militants emerge from tunnels to shoot automatic weapons or antitank missiles, then disappear back inside, hoping to lure the Israeli soldiers with their fire.

This is, of course, the nature of terrorism.  But it strips from Hamas whatever legitimacy one might wish to accord them out of sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians.  By flouting rules designed to protect noncombatants from the ravages of war, they themselves are making it more probable that their own people will be killed.  From their perspective, that’s a feature rather than a bug, in that the Israelis will get most of the blame and thus more funding and recruits will come in Hamas’ direction. 

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council..

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