It’s worth giving a little thought to the implications of this story from Gaza. Warned by a phone call from Israelis, 35 members of a Gaza extended family quickly left a building — and watched it being bombed. First three small strikes, from drones, and then a devastating hit by a rocket from an Israeli F-16. “It was a pinpoint strike,” the story goes on, echoing Secretary of State John Kerry’s comment in a talk show green room. “No one was killed or injured, and the surrounding buildings were untouched.” The story goes on to recount the woes of the displaced family — a legitimate point, I think. But it fails to explore two important implications.
One is the accuracy of precision weapons. During most of the nineteenth and twentieth century, advances in technology made warfare more lethal for both military forces and civilians. That enabled the hugely lethal fire-bombing of Tokyo in the early months of 1945 and the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. But in the later twentieth century and now in the twenty-first, technological advances have made warfare less lethal, perhaps for military forces and definitely for civilians. Precision bombing enables certain targets to be attacked with little or no — in that awful phrase — collateral damage. And whatever technological means the Israelis used to discover the phone number for the targeted building also reduced casualties, in this case down to zero. That depends, of course, on the willingness of Israeli forces to warn civilians in enemy territory. I’m not aware that any other nation, even the United States, does this on the same systematic basis that Israel does.
The second implication is that the Gazans, who are educated and propagandized to hate Israel, nonetheless have faith in the honesty and honor of the Israelis. They abandon buildings after being warned that they are targeted and, as the story recounts, feel safe in watching the bombing from nearby streets. This reminds me of the accounts of Iraqis in Baghdad walking on riverfront streets in front of government buildings which, they correctly deduced, were going to be targeted by U.S. and coalition forces in the initial stages of the Iraq war in 2003. They had a very high degree of confidence — enough confidence to risk their lives — in the technological capacity and the good will of the United States and its multiple coalition allies.
Public opinion polls show that the United States and Israel are hated and feared by large percentages of people in many countries. But actions may speak louder than words. Gaza residents in 2014 had enough confidence in the technological ability and good faith of the Israelis, and Iraqi residents in 2003 had similar confidence in the United States, to act in ways that, had that confidence been misplaced, could easily have been fatal.
That's a vote of confidence that may have just as much significance as — or more significance than — responses to polling questions.