The Israeli army is being faulted by international military experts for setting a dangerous precedent and high standard that other armies cannot meet.


An IAF fighter jet in action. (Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

New research into the IDF’s actions during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza reveals that the army was outstandingly sensitive when it came to warning citizens of pending attacks on terror targets in their vicinity.

The Weekly Standard published a feature on the IDF’s international law unit, describing the lengths to which the IDF and its legal division went in order to avoid civilian casualties when carrying out airstrikes on confirmed terror targets.

“The IDF may, variously, gather detailed intelligence on who lives in the building; call or text those who reside in a particular building with a warning that a strike is coming; drop Arabic-language leaflets over the area warning residents; fly a drone with sophisticated surveillance cameras overhead as an extra set of eyes to make sure the civilians have vacated; drop a small charge on the roof that shakes the building as a final warning signal that a strike is coming; and employ a highly precise and carefully chosen weapon system which, IDF lawyers and commanders hoped, would destroy only the weapons cache [or other terror targets] but not surrounding rooms,” the feature explains.

“It was abundantly clear that IDF commanders had gone beyond any mandates that international law requires to avoid civilian casualties,” Willy Stern, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School, writes.

The IDF command running the campaign in Gaza was ultra-sensitive, and “although most strikes were carried out without harm to innocent bystanders, IDF field commanders nixed other approved strikes in Gaza, despite these multiple layers of precautions to prevent civilian casualties.”

“There is no symmetry in international law,” states Lt. Col. Robert Noyfield, the Dabla [Hebrew acronym for international law division] attorney in charge of targeting. “We do it out of moral obligation; we do it for ourselves. We are a democratic country that abides by the rule of law. By doing so, of course, we also hope to avoid criticism from the international community. How can we be faulted when abiding by the law?”

Experts: IDF Sympathies Set Dangerous Precedent

The IDF has actually been criticized for its over-sensitivity. Stern, in the article, quotes Wolff Heintschel von Heinegg, a distinguished expert on military law at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt, as saying that the IDF takes “many more precautions than are required…[it] is setting an unreasonable precedent for other democratic countries of the world who may also be fighting in asymmetric wars against brutal non-state actors who abuse these laws.”

Soldiers practice in an IDF drill in the Gaza border Division

IDF soldiers operating on the border with Gaza. (IDF)

Michael Schmitt, director of the Stockton Center for the Study for International Law at the US Naval War College, agrees that the IDF is creating a dangerous precedent that could harm the West in its fight against terrorism.

“The IDF’s warnings certainly go beyond what the law requires, but they also sometimes go beyond what would be operational good sense elsewhere,” he warned. “People are going to start thinking that the United States and other Western democracies should follow the same examples in different types of conflict. That’s a real risk,” said Schmitt.

Stern then quotes a report from the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), who reviewed Israel’s conduct in the fighting last summer. The report noted that “contrary to accusations of widespread unlawful military conduct, we observed that Israel systemically applied established rules of conduct that adhered to or exceeded the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) in a virtually unprecedented effort to avoid inflicting civilian casualties, even when doing so would have been lawfully permitted, and to satisfy the concerns of critics. However, it is the conclusion of this Task Force that Israel’s military restraint unintentionally empowered Hamas to distort both the law and facts for their own purposes to the ultimate detriment of civilians’ safety, for which Hamas bears sole responsibility.”

Hamas’ use of  the civilian population as human shields has been well-documented and criticized by Amnesty International. “Hamas’s playbook calls for helping to kill its own civilians, while the IDF’s playbook goes to extreme​ – ​some say inappropriate​ – ​lengths to protect innocent life in war,” the article states.

By: United with Israel Staff

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