Thursday, January 15, 2004

The March Toward Total War

One more unspoken taboo, the prohibition on female suicide bombers, has been broken by Hamas.

The female suicide bomber who blew up Wednesday at the Erez Checkpoint in the Gaza Strip will not be the last woman to carry out a suicide attack, senior Hamas member Mahmoud Azhar said Thursday. Reem Salah al-Rayashi, 21, the mother of two small children from Gaza, blew herself up Wednesday morning at the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, killing two soldiers, a border policeman, and a security guard for a private manpower company. "She is not going to be the last (attacker) because the march of resistance will continue until the Islamic flag is raised, not only on the minarets of Jerusalem, but over the whole universe," promised Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar.

The decision to use a woman and mother of two children as a live munition was a conscious change of policy. Hamas spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, personally authorized the use of the female suicide bomber who attacked the Erez terminal crossing Wednesday, killing four Israelis. ... "She practically begged," an Arab affairs reporter told Channel 2. ... Sheikh Yassin then personally gave his blessing for al-Rayashi to be used as a bomber, and issued a decree (a few hours after Wednesday's attack) to the effect that "Jihad was the duty of men and women." The way is now open for the use children in similar roles, although they have long been used as skirmishers and stone-throwers in the service of the jihad.

The United States has also changed its behavior in the course of the struggle. Whether conducting house to house searches in the Sunni triangle, demolishing the mansions of Ba'ath bigwigs, cordoning off whole towns like Tikrit, requiring the biometric measurement of foreigners entering the United States, intercepting commercial airliners with fighter aircraft -- it's not your dad's America. All the accepted limits on combatant behavior are gradually changing as the Global War on Terror enters its third year.

This gradual brutalization has happened before. During the first Christmas of the Great War, British and German soldiers fraternized in the frontline trenches before bloodshed hardened them and prevented its recurrence. Winston Churchill refused to send RAF bombers against Berlin in 1940. By 1945 he was firebombing Dresden.  By the fourth year of war, some USN submarine captains were sinking Japanese lifeboats. Both the Boeing B-17 and B-29 were designed as precision daylight bombers, intended as "smart weapons" that would destroy enemy strength without causing collateral damage. By end of the war, the B-29 had been modified from its original mission into an area attack role, burning out every major Japanese city with firebombs and, in the end, delivering the atomic bomb.

There is an old military maxim which holds that if a war is prolonged enough, the two sides will come to resemble each other. It is a recognition that a prolonged, indecisive struggle is often more brutal than victory. Thanks to the 'peace lobby', victory is now an evil, a triumphalistic phenomenon, to be avoided at all costs. In its stead, they will require the alternative: the slow and growing encrustation of human soul, until, in the fullness of time, it resembles their own.