What can Israel do?

January 24, 1991

For the third time since the Persian Gulf war began a week ago, Iraqi missiles have fallen on Israeli soil, this time causing loss of life and intensifying the pressure for retaliation. Israel has long maintained that swift punishment of such attacks is the only effective deterrent.

But while the impulse to strike back may be overwhelming, the wherewithal to do so may be lacking. One must ask, what can Israel do that the American forces are not already doing?

Is Israel's military intelligence any better, its air force any more capable, its pilots more daring, enabling Israel to destroy Saddam Hussein's war machine any more quickly or effectively than the American military, which is indisputably the best in the world? Do Israeli pilots have any better chance of dropping a bomb on Saddam Hussein's head than American pilots?

Conceivably, Israel might wipe out an Iraqi village or two in a kind of eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth exercise in revenge to show the enemy what they can expect when they strike Israel. But what would be gained by avenging the slaughter of one group of innocents by slaughtering another group of innocents? Even if a couple of villages were obliterated, would not Saddam Hussein welcome and exploit such an action to further inflame anti-Israel sentiment among the populations of the Arab countries which are seeking to bring Saddam Hussein down?

Under the circumstances, the question is not whether Israel should retaliate, but whether it can retaliate in a way that is remotely proportional or effective. Virtually anything that could be done by Israel likely would have little or no military value and would serve only to bring Israel into the war, which probably is what Saddam Hussein was seeking when he launched the attack.

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