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Dilemmas of Asymmetric Conflicts

The question of what is “fair” in times of war was a main theme of Dr. Yael Aronoff’s lecture in Olmsted on Monday, entitled “Israel’s Wars with Hamas: Dilemmas of Asymmetric Conflicts.

Aronoff, an Associate Professor at James Madison College within, and Director of the Jewish Studies Program at Michigan State University spoke on the issues that arise when conflicts erupt between nations whose levels of military power differ significantly. The presence of this discrepancy classifies a conflict as an “asymmetric war.”

Since this type of armed struggle is most commonly seen in terms of an insurgency engaging with a standing army, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict served as a topical medium through which a larger ethical discussion could take place.

Given that much of military doctrine and international law focuses on state-to-state warfare, Aronoff explained that there are not a lot of legal parameters in regards to this type of conflict, arguing, “There are constraints that should be imposed.”

These would potentially include the training of commanders to assess whether a military target is worth the potential civilian cost, but this currently has no mention in international law. She also mentioned that in terms of the Israeli army’s awareness of noncombatant death and injury in the struggle, “a lot of officers are given lectures in international law, but more could be done at the soldier level.”

Using the three most recent mini wars between the Israelis and Palestinians as a contextual framework, Aronoff highlighted other issues inherent in asymmetric conflicts such as tactics of deterrence versus restraint, the struggle to control the media, and the question of whether certain military incursions actually provide long-term political gains, or simply complicate the peace process.

As for the resolution of this continued unrest, Aronoff stated, “negotiations are the only solution in solving this conflict.” In terms of how to proceed, she emphasized the idea of a long-term ceasefire, and further asserted, “if you wait for 100% approval from any population, you will never have a solution.”

In attendance was Wil Mierz K’20 who felt that “there can be no victory due to international conflict with international law in regards to civilian casualties, and a peaceful political solution is far away.” In terms of solutions, “the idea of a ceasefire being among the few plausible solutions became a pessimistic take way,” he said.

Ana Mesenbring K’19 appreciated Aronoff’s overall breakdown of the complex relationship between Israel and Hamas, but said “felt that the talk was more from the perspective from the perspective of the Israeli government and I wish that there would have been further discussion on Israel’s settlement building process in the West Bank, as this is currently the greatest threat to reaching a peaceful negotiation and there was no mention of it in the lecture.”

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Dilemmas of Asymmetric Conflicts