In the big battle scene in the movie Braveheart, terrified whispers ran up and down the ragged ranks of sword-waving Scots that the English were ranged before them with “500 heavy horse” – armoured cavalry of devastating power in those days.
But the wild-haired hero-general William Wallace (actor-director Mel Gibson) rode his pony up and down the front ranks shouting: “We don’t have to beat them. We just have to fight them!”
That was in the 14th century. But 700 years later it seems to be the same cry from the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian fighters allied to the Islamic fundamentalist cause led by Hamas pursue a lopsided battle against Israel, pitching erratic, homemade rockets into nearby Israeli lands, until they trigger a major offensive and start taking the heaviest casualties in 60 years of conflict, from Israel F-16s and Apache helicopters.
The warplane is today’s ‘heavy horse’, of course, but it can represent a far, far superior advantage. The Israelis fly with virtual impunity over the crowded Gaza enclave, picking out designated targets in their own good time, capable of selecting individual apartments in a block if they need to. Should it come to ground fighting, Israel has equally advanced tanks with state-of-the-art optics and sensors, plus plenty of modern armoured personnel carriers and artillery that the Islamists do not possess.
The score in Gaza, to state the facts in the crudest terms, was 300 to 1 dead in the first 48 hours.