Can We Call it a War, and What’s the Difference?

“Call it a crisis.”

“Or a conflict. Or a campaign.”

“But don’t call it a war. Not yet, anyway,” my editor said.

“There’s a difference between a war and a conflict,” he said, though he didn’t elaborate. Operation Protective Edge at that point was only airstrikes, and we were on deadline. Deadline’s not a good time for philosophizing.

In the history books, you can see how events played out, discern patterns and identify the key moments of escalation, missed opportunities, turning tides, victory, defeat, and aftermath.

Of course, you don’t get that kind of hindsight while writing history’s first draft.

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Perhaps we should’ve called this a war when Palestinians began firing rockets in June, while Israel was searching for Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah.

Or, perhaps war is a misnomer, and Operation Protective Edge is just a series of periodic conflicts that make the bigger Israel-Hamas struggle more manageable (Israelis call this mowing the grass).

Israeli ground forces in Gaza are now searching for and destroying terror tunnels and rockets. Hamas is showing it can inflict pain. As I write, the Israeli death toll stands at 18 soldiers and two civilians.

Language matters.

Can we call it a war now? What’s the criteria to do that? Should we call it a war?

And what difference does it make?

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