Turning the Other Cheek in the Middle East?


Today in the Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby points to the differences in how Israel and India responded to recent terrorist attacks. Israel sends tanks into Gaza and bombs Hezbollah and non-Hezbollah targets in Lebanon. India complains to Pakistan about harboring jihadists. Mallaby praises India's response as "exemplary." In his column Mallaby is not so much criticizing Israel as pointing out how ineffective "diplomacy" has proved to be in crafting effective responses to terrorism and properly blaming Russia and China for the impasse.

But by contrasting the responses of India and Israel, Mallaby is also implying that Israel should show more restraint in the face of terrorist attacks. However, one bit of playground wisdom is that you never back down to bullies because doing so only sets you up for more beatings later. On the other hand, how does one break the downward spiral of tit-for-tat vendettas? Historically vendettas died out in societies that succeeded in establishing the rule of law–most crucially by the creation of judicial systems in which no person was a judge in his or her own court.

Unfortunately, relations between nations remain more like a chaotic school playground in which bullies roam free than a court of law. That means that turning the other cheek only invites getting slapped on that one too. If Israel turned other cheek, maybe that would defuse the vendetta in the Middle East, but I doubt it.

(Aside: Mallaby overlooks one other possible explanation for India's restraint–Pakistan has atomic weapons. For now we will not consider the question of how to prevent bullies from obtaining nuclear bombs.)