The difference is that the Israeli assault abjectly violates the Just War Theory:
Jus Ad Bellum
In the short term, Israel probably meets this criteria. In Sharon’s longer-term goals, this is, well, subject to debate.
Again, meets this criteria, at least when “competent” is used to mean “legal”.
Comparative justice, i.e., “Which side is sufficiently ‘right’ in a dispute, and are the values at stake critical enough to override the presumption against war?”
Right intention. War must be intended only for reasons which constitute just cause and it must be waged with the goal of peace and reconciliation, 'including avoiding unnecessarily destructive acts or imposing unreasonable conditions (e.g., unconditional surrender).
Sharon and Israel appear to be violating this. Sharon is doing much more than simply “rooting out terrorists.” An overlooked incident was Israel’s attack on the PA’s Preventive Security Force’s headquarters. The PSF was one of the very few Palestinian forces not engaged in combat with Israel. This leads to the suspicion that Sharon is using the situation to dismantle the PA and overturn Oslo. This is what Bush wants to prevent.
War must be the last resort.
Not even going to touch this one.
There must be a reasonable “probability of success.”
Here is where Sharon’s war policy abjectly fails - and here is the key difference between Afghanistan and the occupied territories.
Quite simply, Israel’s strategy is not an effective one for stopping the suicide bombings. The occupied territories are not Afghanistan, and the suicide bombers are not Al-Qaeda, so the tactics used in Afghanistan.
In both instances, the idea is to demolish the infrastructure, to eliminate or reduce the ability to conduct further terrorist attacks. But in Al-Qaeda’s case, the infrastructure was (relatively) sophisticated - an ability to manage finances, direct operations across international borders, detailed planning, etc.
In the situation in Israel today, the “infrastructure” is a few pounds of explosives, bus fare, and an embittered person willing to give up his or her life. A military assault can’t destroy that infrastructure. Indeed, Israel’s military assault probably strengthens that infrastructure by producing more embittered Palestinians. How does rounding up militants stop a 16 year old girl from blowing herself up and taking others with her?
- Proportionality, i.e., “the damage to be inflicted and the costs incurred by war must be proportionate to the good expected by taking up arms.”
Since there is no reasonable probability of success, the Israeli assault also fails this one.
Jus in Bello
The two criteria that govern Jus in Bello, the manner of conducting a war, are “proportionality and discrimination.” Proportionality requires that the war itself must be for a proportionate good, and also that tactics and weapons used in that war must be proportionate to the situation. Discrimination “prohibits directly intended attacks on noncombatants and nonmilitary targets.”
Israel has failed on both counts.