The Korea Herald


[Wang Son-taek] Civilized state differs from terrorist group

By Korea Herald

Published : Oct. 19, 2023 - 05:30

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On Oct. 7, the Middle East became a sea of blood and tears again. The Palestinian militant Hamas group launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing more than 1,400 Israeli soldiers and civilians. Israel has retaliated, killing more than 3,000 Palestinians, including Hamas members. Almost a million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip became refugees as Israel announced evacuation warnings before a full-scale ground operation.

Many would agree that Hamas' surprise attack is a criminal act against international law and humanitarian principles and that Hamas should be punished. Many people may agree with Israel's operational goal of crushing and destroying Hamas because of its serious criminal activities. However, there could be huge disagreements on how much punishment Hamas should receive.

In particular, the problem is that innocent civilians would be killed as the Israeli army conducts military operations to destroy Hamas. Hamas have been accused of using Palestinian civilians as "human shields," while launching guerrilla-style fighting. In this situation, Israel's military operation to eradicate Hamas in Gaza could not be accomplished without a humanitarian disaster. However, if Israel does not retaliate against the brutal offense, it cannot handle the anger from the Israeli people. If retaliatory attacks are carried out, Palestinian civilians will be killed on a large scale. Either retaliation against Hamas or international law should be abandoned. Which one should Israel throw away? There is a distinction between the normal state and terrorist groups in this section. The state must abide by international law and humanitarian principles, but terrorist groups cannot give up retaliation.

Why should the state follow international law and principles even when it might give up retaliation for the large-scale killing of its citizens? This is because it is the duty of individual countries that make up the global community to keep the international order stable, and it is advantageous for national interests in the long run. On the contrary, terrorist groups such as Hamas do not hesitate to commit criminal acts that violate international law and humanitarian principles because they believe that the existing international order does not help their organizations and activities.

However, it would be a severe misunderstanding that the need to uphold international law means doing nothing even after unfair damage. Israel will be blamed as a fool at home and abroad unless Hamas pays for its crimes. The important thing is not to cause innocent civilians’ damage. So, what are the alternatives? It adopts the means and methods of removing the military capabilities of the Hamas organization while minimizing the likelihood of civilian damage. To do so, Israel must address three challenges. First, it is to conduct special military operations effectively; second, to engage in fierce diplomatic warfare; and third, to establish a peace regime in the Middle East.

Israel needs to initiate special forces operations at a significant level to remove Hamas leadership and critical military facilities. In particular, an operation is necessary to destroy Hamas' underground facilities to a considerable level where it is impossible for it to make a comeback. Israel must also make the most of its state-of-the-art weapon systems in conducting special operations.

Even if Hamas survives or a new militant group emerges to replace it, Israel must prove that it can deliver a devastating blow to an unwarranted armed group at any time.

Israel should make stern diplomatic efforts while waging special operations. The diplomatic goal is to cut off political, financial and technical support for Hamas. There are countries in the international community that actively support Hamas, but Israel's diplomatic efforts have the potential to succeed. Normal state or state-level actors are likely dissatisfied with Hamas this time, which has trampled on international law and humanitarian principles and committed atrocities. From the standpoint of the countries that sponsored Hamas, if Hamas formally leaves and builds a new armed organization, nothing would have changed. The variables will be whether Israel presents an appropriate scenario and demonstrates effective diplomatic negotiation capabilities.

The third task for Israel is to establish a long-term solution. It is to create and promote a comprehensive road map for a peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians by reviving the agreements between the Israeli and Palestinian side including major Arab countries. Once a peace regime is established, Israel must promise to persecute Palestinian people no more and that Palestinian militants will no longer commit terrorism.

Nevertheless, there remains the possibility that Israel will launch a full-scale ground operation in the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Cabinet is said to have relied only on hard-line policies against Palestinians, causing violent opposition. Above all, it should be held accountable for failing to detect information on Hamas' surprise attacks in advance and failing to respond to Hamas members' initial infiltration, causing unimaginable damage.

There seems to be another possibility of aggravating the situation by making another misjudgment to cover up the mistakes. If so, Israel will be despised in the global community as more like a terrorist group than a civilized state, along with Hamas. Netanyahu has been criticized for his many errors in domestic politics and diplomacy too. Suppose Israel responds with special operations, diplomatic warfare, and a peace regime rather than full-scale ground war. In that case, it will show a confident aspect of a civilized state. Netanyahu will also more likely garner domestic and international respect even after leaving office.

By Wang Son-taek

Wang Son-taek is a director for the Global Policy Center at the Hanpyeong Peace Institute. He was a former diplomatic correspondent at YTN and former research associate at Yeosijae. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.