by Asher Fredman
From Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 to the recent
Judging by the continued flow of criticism,
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."
The 1996 British Defence Doctrine manual clarifies the range of factors a commander is entitled to take into account when deciding how much and what type of force to use. These include "his stocks of different weapons and likely future demands, the timeliness of attack and risks to his own forces."
Another frequent source of accusations, and one central to several "lawfare" cases against Israeli officials, is the targeting of combatants embedded among civilians. The British Army's 2009 Field Manual highlights the danger that those without military experience may not fully appreciate the challenges of such a situation, noting that "when the adversary takes every effort to blend in with and operate from within the civilian population it is extremely difficult … to target him with distinction." This "may generate a public perception of indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force."
If the overly simplistic interpretation of international law used to criticize the IDF is not found in national defense doctrines, where does it come from? To a large degree, it derives from the work of international "human rights" NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. A careful analysis of these two organizations' claims regarding
While these NGOs have exercised significant influence on Western perceptions of
Moreover, recognizing the potential difficulties in combating enemies who ignore international law,
Thus Western governments, as opposed to some NGOs, show an appreciation for the complexities of international law and the modern battlefield. If international law standards are to be truly universal, those governments must judge others as they would like themselves to be judged.
Asher Fredman is the author of a recent study entitled "Precision-Guided or Indiscriminate? NGO Reporting on Compliance with the Laws of Armed Conflict", published jointly by the
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