Print More

soldiers.jpegIn today’s column, Tom Friedman offers his thoughts on how Israel should proceed in its latest asymmetrical war against a foe with less military might but an ability to inflict harm at once physical, psychological, and in the court of world opinion. On the same op-ed page, Jeffrey Goldberg writes about a different type of asymmetrical combat, between a more or less normal state (Israel) interested in the security and prosperity of its citizens and a non-state actor (Hamas) driven by a religious commitment to destroy that state. Not surprisingly, the two come to different conclusions.
Friedman urges Israel to be about the business of educating Hamas to behave itself, the way it educated Hezbollah in Lebanon two years ago. He believes that such education works, and points to Hezbollah’s current quietude as evidence that it does. The only hope Goldberg sees is for Fatah to be helped to create a normal, moderate regime on the West Bank, such that the people of Gaza are led to reject what they have in favor of something like that.
Approaching such an asymmetrical struggle as a normal contest of arms runs the risk of underestimating the resistance of the other side. But seeing the enemy as an implacable religious foe risks not only underestimating its capacity for moderate behavior but also turning oneself into a religiously motivated combatant. One of the few real accomplishments of the Bush administration–for which it has not received credit during the current summing up period–has been its determination from the outset to promote the American response to 9/11 as a War on Terror rather than a War on Islam.
Most of the time, the normal human desire to live peacefully under one’s vine and fig tree prevails over the impulse to engage in religiously inspired violence. The challenge is to keep the occasions for the latter down to a minimum.