When Wolves Dress Like Sheep
Back in the days of 'civilized' warfare (now there's an oxymoron for you), it was considered to be a reprehensible act for a combatant to be out of uniform. In the midst of the current crisis we can see why. When suicide bombers or any other operative of a terrorist organization pose a threat to a nation, they provide a reason for the targetted nation to break the rules. If my enemies look like civilians then it stands to reason that civilians come to look like enemies.
The consequences of this are tragic in the extreme. When the Viet Cong attacked American troops in the jungles of Vietnam dressed in a manner not distinguishable from the local peasants, it led to My Lai. In Iraq the pattern is repeated exactly at Haditha. In southern Lebanon today, innocents are dying and being maimed by Israeli soldiers because they are in areas believed to harbour members of Hezbollah. In America George W. Bush has been able to virtually cancel the Bill of Rights largely due to the fact that his GWOT (Global War on Terror) is not directed against one particular nation state, nor against a directed concerted effort by a uniform-wearing entity.
Sadly, the leaders of today's Islamic extremist organizations seem well aware that their own people are becoming victims of their terrorist policies. They make no effort to mitigate the deadly consequences of their actions, in fact they welcome the deaths of their own people. Every innocent Muslim killed by American soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan or killed by Israeli soldiers in Lebanon or Gaza is a glorious martyr and a macabre recruiting tool to enable further extremism. It is the most sickening aspect of this new brand of asymmetrical warfare.
When wolves dressed like sheep infiltrate the flock, and the panicked shepherd kills some of the flock trying to find the marauders, who is to blame, the shepherd or the wolves? This is a particularly tough question, and defies a simplistic yes or no, all or nothing answer. Many bloggers on the left are rightly condemning Israel now for a response to Hezbollah that seems on the face of it to be way out of proportion. The mere fact that Hezbollah terrorists do not wear uniforms, while falling well short of providing an excuse for Israeli behaviour, does at least provide an explanation. How much one accepts that explanation is up to the individual.
Postscript: You may feel as I do that this post has an unsatisfactory incomplete feel to it. As I said, there is no simple answer to this dilemma, and I won't insult you by trying to manufacture one.