[lit-ideas] The Rules of War

  • From: "Stan Spiegel" <writeforu2@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 06 Aug 2006 12:05:14 -0400

The difference between Israel and the terrorists is clear: Israel endangers 
itself to protect their civilians. They endanger their own civilians to protect 
themselves. - SS

The Rules of War 
by Moshe Yaalon 

The conflict in the Middle East is about much more than Israel and Hezbollah, 
or even Hezbollah's Syrian and Iranian sponsors. What is at stake are the very 
rules of war that underpin the entire international order.

Sadly, judging from how most of the world has responded to Israel's military 
action against Hezbollah, these rules have been completely abandoned.

The rules of war boil down to one central principle: the need to distinguish 
combatants from noncombatants. Those who condemned Israel for what happened at 
Qana, rather than placing the blame for this unfortunate tragedy squarely on 
Hezbollah and its state sponsors, have rewarded those for whom this moral 
principle is meaningless and have condemned a state in which this principle has 
always guided military and political decision making.

Faced with enemies who openly call for its destruction and victimized by 
unremitting wars and terrorism since well before it was born, Israel has risked 
the lives of its citizens and its soldiers to abide by this principle in a way 
that is unprecedented in the history of nations.

Here is but one of countless examples: In 2003, at the height of the 
Palestinian terror war against Israel, our intelligence services discovered the 
location of a meeting of the senior leadership of Hamas, an organization 
pledged to the annihilation of the Jewish state and responsible for some of the 
deadliest terrorist attacks ever carried out against Israel.

We knew that a one-ton bomb would destroy the three-story building and kill the 
Hamas leadership. But we also knew that such a bomb would endanger about 40 
families who lived in the vicinity. We decided to use a smaller bomb that would 
destroy only the top floor of the building. As it turned out, the Hamas leaders 
were meeting on the ground floor. They lived to terrorize another day.

Imagine for a moment that the United States had advance knowledge of the 
meeting place of al-Qaeda's senior leadership. Does anyone believe that there 
would be a debate about what size bomb to use, much less that any leader would 
authorize insufficient force to do the job?

So while it is legitimate to question whether Israel should go to such extreme 
lengths to avoid civilian casualties, it is preposterous to argue that Israel 
uses excessive force. Even more absurd was the shameful statement last week 
that Israel appeared to have deliberately targeted U.N. officials -- a 
statement fit for a knave or a fool, not for the secretary general of the 
United Nations. Rather than lead the fight against those who target civilians 
and use them as human shields, Secretary General Kofi Annan has strengthened 

It is clear to any objective observer that Hezbollah is using Lebanese 
civilians as human shields. It builds its headquarters in densely populated 
areas, embeds its fighters in towns and villages, and deliberately places 
missiles in private homes, even constructing additions to existing structures 
specifically to house missile launchers.

The reason terrorist groups such as Hezbollah use human shields is elementary. 
They try to exploit the respect for innocent human life that is the hallmark of 
any civilized society to place that society in a no-win situation. If it fails 
to respond to terror attacks, it endangers its own citizens. If it responds, it 
runs the risk of killing innocents, earning world opprobrium and inviting 
diplomatic pressure to stand down.

Hoping to retain its high moral standards in the face of such a cynical enemy, 
Israel has made every effort to avoid harming civilians. We have dropped 
fliers, sent telephone messages and broadcast radio announcements so that 
innocents can get out of harm's way. In doing so, we imperil our own citizens 
since, by losing the element of surprise, we invariably allow some of the enemy 
to escape with their missiles.

But at Qana, Hezbollah responded to Israel's compassion with more cynical 
brutality. After launching missiles at Israel, the terrorists rushed inside a 
building. When Israel fired a precision-guided missile to strike at the 
terrorists, scores of civilians, including children, were killed.

The difference between us and the terrorists is clear: We endanger ourselves to 
protect their civilians. They endanger their own civilians to protect 

If tragedies such as Qana are not to be repeated, then, rather than condemning 
Israel, the world should be directing its anger at Hezbollah and at the Syrian 
and Iranian regimes that support it.

Terrorists are fanatics, but they are not idiots. If the terrorist tactic of 
using human shields helps them achieve their goals, they will utilize it. If it 
undermines their goals, they will abandon it.

If we want to live in a world where civilians are never used as human shields, 
then we must create a world in which employing such measures results in the 
unequivocal condemnation of terrorists and in forceful action against them by 
the civilized world.

If the world were now blaming Hezbollah, Syria and Iran for the innocent 
Lebanese killed, hurt or displaced in this conflict, then it would be sending a 
powerful message to every terrorist group on the planet: We will not tolerate 
the use of human shields. Period.

Instead, those who condemn Israel have sent precisely the opposite message. 
They have told every terrorist group around the world that the use of human 
shields will pay huge dividends, thereby providing them with a powerful weapon 
that endangers innocents everywhere.

Author Biography:
The writer, a retired lieutenant general, was chief of staff of the Israel 
Defense Forces from 2002 to 2005. He is now a distinguished military fellow at 
the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 

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