Catholic commentator Pat Buchanan unequivocally supports the existence of Israel and the right of the Jewish state to defend itself.

But Buchanan also thinks the intensity of the military response by Israel in the Gaza Strip to rocket attacks launched by Gaza’s ruling Hamas faction is neither justified nor prudent.

“About Israel’s right and duty to defend its border towns, there is no dispute,” Buchanan writes in this Dec. 30 column. “When Hamas permits Gaza to be used as a launch pad for rockets, it must expect retaliation. Nor can Hamas claim some right to dictate the limits of that retaliation.

“Yet the wisdom of so savage a retribution for rockets that killed not one Israeli is open to question. And crass Israeli politics seems to be behind this premeditated and planned blitz.”

According to Buchanan, the approaching Israeli election in February has more to do with the savagery of Israel’s response than the need to protect itself against Hamas.

And he argues that Israel was emboldened to act by the unquestioning support President George W. Bush has extended to every Israeli initiative throughout his presidency.

“The Bush response to Saturday’s carnage, as anticipated, was to blame Hamas for causing it and urge Israelis to be careful about civilian casualties as they go about their reprisals,” Buchanan says. “Whatever Israel decides, we support. For eight years that has been the most reliable guide to U.S. Middle East policy.”

Buchanan notes that President-elect Barack Obama has so far withheld public comment on the Israeli military action.

“While the United States must support Israel’s right to defend her towns and to strike bases from which Israelis are being attacked, Obama should denounce the collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, by Israel’s cutting off their electricity in the dead of winter and denying them the food and medicine many need to survive,” Buchanan urges.

Adds Buchanan, “For us to remain silent in the face of this comports neither with our interests or our values. Israel’s policy of withholding from the weak and innocent of Gaza, women and children, the necessities of life, to punish the guilty who rule at the point of a gun, is a policy that Obama should declare the United States will no longer support with tax dollars.”

— Tom McFeely