Israel Defense Forces
The Strategic Division
The Military-Strategic Information Section
The following are suggested focal points regarding ethical dilemmas in operation Cast Lead and the battle against Hamas terror:
- 1. International law is based on the "classical" war model between two armies. As a result, existing international laws are inapplicable to conflicts with terrorist organizations and fail to provide sufficient response to the numerous ethical dilemmas which arise.
- 2. In an effort to overcome their military inferiority, the terrorist organizations have developed systematic strategies which exploit the inability of international law to address these issues.
- 3. Terrorism remains indifferent to the value of human life and humanism, both among its own nation and its enemies. Lacking commitment to international law, terrorists remain free from any ethical or moral limitations, and operate without any international supervision.
- 4. Terrorist organizations attempt to de-legitimatize the actions of enemy countries. They accomplish this by portraying themselves as victims. This effort is furthered by transferring the battleground to densely populated areas, while creating a reality of death and distress, with the ultimate goal of obtaining media coverage.
- 5. Operation Cast Lead is a classic example of asymmetric warfare, in which the Hamas has applied terrorist patterns of behavior with cynical results.
- 6. Over the past two years, the Hamas has deliberately developed its terrorist infrastructure as an inherent part of its civilian infrastructure (for example, over a third of the 122 houses in the neighborhood of Al-Attra were booby-trapped). During the combat, the residents of Gaza were brought out to the streets and the Hamas hid among them, wearing civilian clothing, effectively turning the residents into human shields. Alan Dershowitz defines this behavior as the "Hamas' dead baby strategy".
- 7. Hamas terrorist activity was maintained throughout the entire operation: when crossing points were opened to transfer humanitarian aid, the Hamas deliberately bombed them; when supplies were transferred, they were looted and did not reach the local residents; when combat was halted in order to create humanitarian lulls, the Hamas continued its fire, endangering civilians who had ventured outside; and when Israel offered to care for those who were wounded, the Hamas refused to transfer most of them.
- 8. As a state, we have combated the challenge of terror since our establishment. Despite the vast experience which we have gained, the daily challenges with terror which the IDF continues to face are complicated and create complex ethical dilemmas.
- 9. While in the field, the commander faces complex ethical dilemmas in which he is required to apply his own personal judgment as to whether to continue the anti-terrorist activity, which may endanger the local population, or to endanger his own soldiers and the civilians which he was sent to protect.
- 10. In order to confront the ethical dilemmas of war, particularly those which arise during counter-terrorist activity, the IDF developed a moral code ("The Spirit of the IDF"). This code is composed of values integral to the establishment of the State of Israel, democratic Western values and commitment to international laws.
- 11. "The Spirit of the IDF" is deeply integrated in the basic education of every single soldier and commander in the IDF. The ethical responsibility of our soldiers does not contradict the need for personal safety – it places a high standard for personal judgment when targeting terrorists who seek shelter among civilians.
- 12. IDF legal experts accompanied every aspect of the operation, from planning to implementation. This reflects the IDF's recognition of the importance of obeying international laws as an inherent aspect of the decision-making process.
- 13. Preparations for potential ethical dilemmas began as early as the planning stage of the operation. During the course of the operation, numerous measures and actions were taken in order to minimize collateral damage to the residents of the Gaza Strip: over 1,250,000 leaflets were distributed, telephone warnings were made to over 165,000 residents of the Gaza Strip and the "Roof Knocking" technique was used extensively.
- 14. Despite the frequency of combat in densely populated areas and the use of the local residents as human shields, IDF assessments show that the bulk of the casualties were armed militants (709 armed militants, 295 civilians and 162 whose degree of involvement is still under investigation).
- 15. The battlefield is an environment which is prone to mistakes. For the IDF, any collateral damage to civilians is problematic and is investigated in order to learn from our mistakes and improve our combat doctrine for the future. For the Hamas, collateral damage to both Israeli and Palestinian civilians is a means to accomplish their goal.
- 16. Until an effective moral code is created in order to regulate the war on terror, no single and clear-cut solution for ethical dilemmas exists. The dilemmas represent a challenge shared by all western armies, a challenge which must be confronted in order to preserve the core democratic values which shape our countries.
- 17. It appears that terrorist and guerilla organizations' usage of civilian shields will only increase, as a result of the following: increased urbanization, operational advantages provided from such an environment, and international condemnation of counter-terrorist activity in populated areas. The sheer quantity of these dilemmas will only increase, affecting not only Israel and the Middle East but the international community as a whole. As a result, global awareness and attention to this issue is vital.