To be published in
The Jerusalem Report
16 August '10
Posted before Shabbat
From Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 to the recent Gaza flotilla raid, Western leaders have repeatedly condemned Israel for failure to adhere to the laws of war. Israel has responded by pointing to the complexities of engaging in asymmetric warfare against groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. It argues that the demands of international law should take into account the difficulties inherent in combating terrorists operating among civilians.
Judging by the continued flow of criticism, Israel’s response has not been found particularly compelling. However, an examination of the guidelines and criteria Western powers use when evaluating the actions of their own armed forces reveals a much more realistic and nuanced approach to the complexities of modern combat. Indeed, if judged by these standards, it is unlikely that the IDF would have had much to answer for.
For example, one accusation raised repeatedly is that the IDF failed to take sufficient steps to avoid harming civilians and civilian property. Additional Protocol I (AP-I) to the Geneva Conventions, as well as customary international law, requires states to “take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of attack” to minimize incidental civilian casualties.
But how do states or armies decide what actions and precautions are “feasible”? Britain, when signing AP-I, declared that it understood the term to mean that “which is practicable or practically possible, taking into account all circumstances at the time including those relevant to the success of military operations.” (My italics). Later it modified its declaration to “…including humanitarian and military considerations.”
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