Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 9 April 2024


Western Democracy’s Future Depends on Israel’s Victory

Israeli soldiers at Israel’s border with Gaza, April 7. Photo: amir cohen/Reuters

If Israel is prevented from defeating Hamas, we should be under no illusions about what it will mean for the future of democracy. If, under the pressure of internal Democratic politics and global public opinion, the Biden administration forces a “cease-fire” that leaves our closest ally in the region short of victory over an enemy that seeks to destroy it, sooner or later we shall all pay the price.

This isn’t only because Israel is a democratic nation fighting nihilist savages and theocratic tyrants, though it is that. It is because forcing it to succumb to moral outrage over the violence that invariably comes with waging war would represent the self-imposition of an inescapable restraint on our own ability to defend ourselves.

Of course Israel is battling, above all else, for its own survival. In a hostile region, it is also the sole standard-bearer of individual freedom, tolerant pluralism and self-rule. Contrast the condition of ethnic minorities, women, gays and dissidents in Israel with that of their counterparts anywhere else in the Middle East. We should give thanks every day for the sacrifices Israelis make at the fragile frontier of freedom.


Every Islamist terrorist Israel kills is one fewer threat to the rest of us. Every setback Israel can deal to the Iranian puppet masters of Hamas, Hezbollah and others inflicts a loss on the regime that is sworn to eliminate us, the “Great Satan,” and our allies. There is no historical evidence that appeasing enemies committed to our extinction ever keeps us safe.

But there’s a second sense in which the future of democracy is at stake in the bloody streets of Gaza. If Israel can somehow be bullied into forgoing victory over this enemy, our own capacity to wage wars inflicted on us will be dramatically diminished. We will have allowed a coalition of armchair media critics, far-left agitators and Islamist-sympathizing activists and governments to hold Israel to a standard no nation taking necessary measures to protect itself would ever be able to meet, a standard to which our enemies will certainly never hold themselves.

This reality of asymmetric warfare in the age of an all-seeing media and diminished faith in the virtues of our way of life has been on vivid display in the past week. After near-universal condemnation of Israel for the deaths of seven foreign aid workers in a drone attack, a British army veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, who now serves at a senior level in the British government, put the event in context: “War requires levels of violence and destruction that few truly understand. It requires an acceptance of human suffering among innocents that is unimaginable to most. There is no such thing as a clean war. This one is more visual but not substantially worse than those I fought in,” he told me via text message.

We should be clear about what happened last week on the hazy battlefield of Gaza. The tragic error that resulted in the deaths of those brave and innocent souls was heartbreaking, but it was error. If accidents like this are deemed to discredit and delegitimize Israel’s war effort, then we can forget about our own ability to take the fight to our enemies when we need to. We will have institutionalized an asymmetric form of warfare that we simply can’t win.

Israel has been more scrupulous in its campaign than most armies in history. In World War II the British political and military leadership decided on a strategy they called—in what must rank as one of the most cynical euphemisms in history—“dehousing” German civilians: bombing cities to a level of destruction that would demoralize their inhabitants and make them turn on their Nazi government. The British people tolerated this morally doubtful approach because they had fresh in their minds the memory of the Blitz, when the Nazis successfully “dehoused” many British citizens.

Israel suffered an atrocity on Oct. 7 comparable to the Blitz yet has worked with restraint to limit inevitable civilian losses. If it can’t even be allowed to do that, we are placing impossible shackles on the fighting ability of democratic nations.

Condemning and isolating our only real friend and ally in the Middle East will leave in place the people who perpetrated the Oct. 7 massacre and their sponsors. If this is the way we fight modern wars, our enemies will have freedom to commit acts of bestial savagery on us, knowing that our own scruples will give them an insuperable advantage.

And in demanding that a democratic country conduct war to standards that have never been met by any belligerent in history—and could never be met—we will be signaling the ultimate surrender of our own democracy too.

Journal Editorial Report: Paul Gigot interviews Clifford May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Images: Bloomberg News/Zuma Press Composite: Mark Kelly


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Appeared in the April 9, 2024, print edition as 'Western Democracy’s Future Depends on Israel’s Victory'.

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