As younger generations of Israel's enemies grow up, they continue the violence against the Jewish state and her people. It's little wonder, when the terrorists use children's bedrooms as hiding places for their weapons of terror. JNS' Yaakov Lappin interviews a retired IDF officer who is speaking to Americans about these dastardly tactics used by those who seek Israel's destruction:
Q: A great change has occurred on the Middle East’s battlefields. With traditional state armies less in the picture and terrorist entities taking their place, can you describe what Israel is facing? How do Israel’s current adversaries try to “level the playing field” with the IDF?
A: They feel that they are out of the international state game and are therefore free from its dictates. They do not feel obligated by international law. This is clearly visible in their activities, in how they engage with us, and in how they deal with their own civilians.
One example of this is the principle of distinction in international law, which holds that there must be a separation between combatants and civilians. Our adversaries do exactly the opposite. They deliberately disguise their combatants as civilians and launch attacks using human shields to protect their combatants. This gives them greater freedom of operation, and it is also an attempt to get us to harm their civilians, which then gives them points against us in the court of global public opinion. This is how they try to cut down our military advantage. Only an organization that does not care about the lives of its civilians can act this way.
Hamas turned private homes into command and control centers. It hid weapons in homes. They had no problem hiding missiles in the basements and rooms of homes with children inside. This is their modus operandi. We know this also exists in Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s arsenal of approximately 120,000 to 130,000 rockets and missiles is mostly concealed in civilian residential buildings in Lebanon, as well as in sites like medical clinics, meaning that any future war will place Israel in a very difficult situation.
We need to protect the Israeli civilian population, and we will do that. On the other hand, we need to conduct operations in a way that minimizes harm to civilians on the other side. This is very hard to do when the enemy uses its civilians to protect their weapons. We use our weapons to protect our civilians; they do the opposite.
Such tactics also have an effect on the principle of proportionality in international law. Proportionality holds that the extent of collateral damage from a military strike should not be excessive in relation to the military gain. Of course, as soon as you mix civilians and military targets, it becomes very hard to distinguish that, and we go to unbelievable lengths to make sure we are both successful in accomplishing our military mission, and at the same time, are carrying out only clearly lawful attacks on military targets.
Q: What does the IDF do in the face of such complex challenges?
A: The IDF has developed a range of methods avoid harming noncombatants. We have developed an advanced system for alerting civilians of imminent strikes, giving them a chance to evacuate. When feasible, we also use “roof knocking”—the practice of dropping empty or low munitions on the roofs of structures, giving civilians who did not heed those warnings a second chance to escape before a strike. It saves lives. Sometimes, we also cancel attacks even after a missile is in the air when circumstances on the ground change, and we see civilians approach targets. We invest a lot in precision intelligence to achieve this. These techniques allow us to hit the enemy without hitting civilians, despite the fact that the enemy wants us to hit their civilians.
In situations where enemy targets are surrounded by large numbers of civilians to an extent where the collateral damage might be excessive, the IDF will not strike. “Operation Protective Edge” resulted in some 2,000 casualties on the Palestinian side, half of which were combatants and the other half were civilians. Every loss of civilian life is tragic. But this ratio is far lower than other civilian-to-combatant ratios in the world. There were more than 6,000 air attacks in that conflict and thousands more from ground platforms.
The IDF is always investing more in this—learning, improving intelligence and developing technology for accurate strikes. I travel the world and speak with colleagues in other militaries. I can say with full confidence that we have nothing to be ashamed of in this field. We have at the very least the same standard as other modern militaries, and in many ways, we are ahead of them. Delegations that visit us have people telling us, “Why have you raised the bar so high? It will be hard to match it...”