Starting during the time of the Second Lebanon War, former and current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu often made comparisons between Israel’s so called disproportionate responses to rocket attacks by terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah to Churchill’s firebombing of Dresden as a direct response to the attacks on London in late World War II.
Does he have a point? Does this argument hold water?
The V2 followed the V1 flying bomb which was fired indiscriminately at civilians in London in mid to late 1944. The V-2 was a ballistic missile and the progenitor of such missiles that would be later improved and modified as the prototypes of early Cold War era missiles the United States and the Soviet Union produced. In its short operating history, the V2 killed over 7,000 people when fired at London and Antwerp. However, the production of these weapons cost the lives of 12,000 forced laborers.
As Bibi points out, the Allies reaction to this was to firebomb Dresden where an estimated 25,000 people perished. This wasn’t the first of such incendiary bombings carried out by the Allied air forces who had previously in 1943 (before V1′s or V2′s entered service) destroyed Hamburg. The Hamburg attack leveled 250,000 houses and killed over 40,000 civilians.
In reality, Hamburg was one of the few cities in German that wasn’t Nazified and did not vote for Hitler in the first place. However, Hamburg was a strategic target on the grounds that it was a large industrialized port city that made a valuable contribution to the German war effort. The human cost was tragic as working class neighborhoods were purposely targeted and wiped out.
In the Second Lebanon War, the Israeli Air Force carpet bombed the Southern Beirut suburb of Dahieh, a Hezbollah stronghold. They did this after dropping leaflets warning civilians to leave for their own safety. While this wasn’t near Dresden standards (2,000 people died on both sides in the six weeks of the Second Lebanon War), casualties were indeed substantially limited and avoided. Israeli attacks were not nearly as frivolous as the indiscriminate Hezbollah rocketing of Northern Israel.
They were also not as frivolous as Iraq’s missile attacks on Tel Aviv and Haifa during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. A news clip of these attacks from 1991 shows the current Prime Minister, then Deputy Foreign Minister, giving a short comment on the attacks.
Iraq used Scud missiles against Israel in the Gulf war, an early Soviet variant of the V2 missile. Saddam vowed to wipe out Tel Aviv with such missiles throughout the course of the war. Israel never retaliated as it was feared an Israeli retaliation would play into Saddam’s hands.
According to Patrick Tyler, author of A World of Trouble: The White House and the Middle East – from the Cold War to the War on Terror, former Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Arens and Prime Minister Shamir were called by President Bush. Bush offered supported the use of Israeli ballistic missiles on Iraqi air bases. This move would keep Israel out of the war zone but give it a measure of retaliatory satisfaction. Shamir declined the offer. Arens stated that the military effect of such an attack may go unnoticed by the Iraqis as they were already being heavily bombarded in the Desert Storm campaign.
This incident gives a lot of credence to Bibi’s Dresden comparison as not only did Israel not respond with a massive indiscriminate attack on Baghdad in kind, but it completely refrained from attacking and saved many civilian casualties.
While Bibi does make an interesting point, the fundamental argument is that there is no such thing as a clean war. The essential point he is trying to get across is that Israel isn’t the one who tries to make war any dirtier.
Latest posts by Paul (see all)
- A Lost Opportunity: Israeli Investment in North Korea and the alleviation of Middle East missile proliferation. - October 18, 2012
- A Look Back at the Coastal Road Massacre - August 19, 2011
- Recognizing The True Implications of Anti-Semitism - July 22, 2011