Confronting the threat of Islamic terrorism

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But at this time of multiple Middle East crises, their focus on Israel is nothing short of bizarre. Happily, when it comes to Israel these clergymen don’t even speak for the majority in their own denominations, let alone American Christians in general. 

Our military aid to Israel -- or any other nation -- must be conditioned on two criteria. First, this aid must clearly advance U.S. strategic interests. And second, the recipient must be a moral actor. It should be clear to all of us that supporting regimes which violate human rights may advance our interests in the short term, but will likely backfire in the long term. When judged by these standards, Israel remains a valuable partner worthy not only of our respect, but our whole hearted support. 

As the September 11th attack in Benghazi should remind us, our struggle against Islamic terror is not over. And in this struggle, Israel is an indispensable front-line ally. When Israel battles Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, it is fighting shared enemies for us. Unlike the situation we face in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are not the ones who have to take the lead on this particular front. Israel has never asked for American soldiers to fight and die on her behalf. All Israel has ever asked for is the ability to defend itself by itself. And in the process, Israel is defending every one of us. 

As Israel seeks to stop the terrorists, it strives to uphold the highest norms of international humanitarian law. Israel has consistently forfeited the element of surprise – and allowed terrorists to escape in the process – by providing warnings to civilians in the vicinity of a planned operation. From leaflet droppings to cell phone calls and text messages by the thousands, Israel dedicates enormous effort to protecting innocent Palestinians. Israel has even sent its own soldiers into harm’s way – and lost many of them in the process – rather than risk greater civilian casualties through the use of air power. 

Has Israel achieved perfection in this effort? No. Like America, Israel sometimes acts on flawed intelligence, and it sometimes errs in its execution. But lest moral powers be rendered impotent in the face of aggression, international humanitarian norms do not demand perfection. Instead, international law requires that armies observe the principles of “distinction” and “proportionality.” In short, this means that armies may only attack legitimate military targets and must forego even such valid attacks if the foreseeable harm to civilians would be excessive.  

Israel’s record in applying and meeting this standard is strong. And when Israeli soldiers fail to live up to these standards, there are real consequences.  Israel investigates all allegations of violations of international humanitarian law, and Israel punishes all soldiers found to have violated it. The Israeli Supreme court has even ordered the Israeli military to change tactics when it concludes that certain weapons or strategies violate emerging standards. 

During the debate over the Cold War, many in the American religious community preferred to ignore the increasing provocations of the Soviet Union and instead blame the emerging conflict on our own behavior. Thankfully for the nation and the west, theologians like Reinhold Niebuhr stood up to remind us of the need to confront evil in the world. Niebuhr warned us about those who “would renounce the responsibilities of power for the sake of preserving the purity of our soul.” As we and our allies confront evil today in the form of Islamic terror, Niebuhr’s warning remains as timely as ever. 

Brog, the executive director of Christians United for Israel, is the author of In Defense of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity (Encounter, 2010).