Tit for Double-Tat

Martin Peretz:

What does Dugard mean by that? If the Palestinians aim eight untargeted rockets vaguely at Sderot and kill one person the Israelis should do the same. No more, maybe to a standstill. The aim of any society under assault is to use as much force–yes, within the rules of war–to stop the enemy’s attack. My guess is that Israel will soon respond to the addiction of Hamas to random rocket fire with very much more force, and it will be justified in doing so.

The implicit assumption here is that Hamas is a highly pragmatic institutional actor that’s deeply concerned about Palestinian civilian casualties. In the Peretz worldview, if a Hamas rocket that kills 8 Israelis is responded to with an Israeli bomb that kills 8 Palestinians, Hamas will say “let’s go another round.” But if Israel kills 16 Palestinians in response, maybe Hamas will say “we’ve had enough.” Or maybe 16 isn’t enough and it needs to be 64. Or 160. Or 800. Who knows?

I think it’s obvious that things don’t work that way. Indeed, it’s pretty obvious that Hamas doesn’t really fear Israeli retaliation at all. Not because Israeli retaliation is insufficiently fearsome, but because Hamas’ institutional incentives are to favor death, disorder, and disruption in the Occupied Territories as this increases the political appeal of their rejectionist agenda. Part of the reason that Israel could use a less “pro-Israel” policy from the United States of America is that refusing to respond to provocations is one of the absolute hardest things for a democratic government to do. When something bad is happening to your citizens, the pressure to “do something” in response, whether or not that something will actually make things worse, is hard to withstand. A foreign patron leaning on you to resist the pressure can be very helpful.