Commentary Magazine


Vigilante Foreign Policy

As more and more rockets and mortars are launched into Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, a thought occurred to me: imagine the international reaction if a group of Israelis, independent from their government, started building their own home-made rockets and fired them back into Gaza, on a one-for-one basis, in response to incoming fire.

There would be massive condemnation, of course, but Israel could simply shrug and say “we can’t control the actions of certain rogue elements — and besides, we’re just returning some of the scrap they’ve been sending to us for years.” Hamas would threaten dire consequences, but that’s pretty much their response to anything and everything.

Of course, this would and could never happen. For one, the Israeli people have an innate cultural aversion to attacking random people. For another, the Israeli government would never tolerate it — they learned at the very creation of Israel that one of the defining elements of a nation-state is that the government must hold a monopoly on the use of force.

No, it would never happen. And it should never happen. Israel’s refusal to engage in such tit-for-tat  random killings is one of the most powerful arguments for their moral superiority in the conflict. But as a thought experiment, it’s revealing.