The Germans initially had no intention of exterminating Jews. They heavily cooperated with the Zionists, including the right-wing Revisionists, in transferring German Jews to Palestine. The cooperation included agricultural and paramilitary training—clearly, not a prelude to elimination.

That’s why Goebbels’ propaganda regarding the Allies’ carpet bombings was not opportunistic. Goebbels claimed the bombings were a reprisal of American and British Jewry for German military advances in Europe. Unknown to Goebbels, two Jewish members of the Polish parliament in exile had indeed pleaded for such bombings—but Roosevelt refused them, only to launch carpet bombings a bit later when the British asked for it. As we know today from their diaries, German leaders were paranoid about worldwide Jewish intrigues against their country, and Goebbels largely believed what he had said in this case. Germany’s program of extermination was secret, and did not require public justification.

Goebbels promised the Jews retaliation for the bombings, and in fact the Nazis stepped up the construction of death camps. For the Allies, carpet bombings of German cities were retaliation for Coventry and a mode of revenge generally. For Germany, the bombings were an offense, to be retaliated for by murdering Jews.

The biblical tit-for-tat does not translate into vendetta for two reasons. The “titted” side realizes the justice of punishment, and finds it impossible to retaliate against the entire society which has meted it out. Not so in relations between states, where each side considers itself just in the murky situation leading to the conflict, and neither side is without hope of prevailing.

This makes nonsense of Israeli operations in Gaza. Offense and defense are long lost in the endless cycle of rocket fire from both sides. For Israel, the Gaza blockade is retaliation; to the Gazans it is an offense.

Tit-for-tat can only be practiced with enough overwhelming force to crush the other side’s hopes for vendetta.