OBTAINING THE support of world public opinion is a major political objective of any state involved in an armed conflict. For tiny Israel, which sees itself as part of the democratic Western world, it can be crucial. If a state action is seen to be illegal, the state involved will invariably lose public support in the democratic world. This is true even of a superpower such as the US. The “extraordinary rendition” of suspected terrorist prisoners by the CIA to Syria, Jordan, Egypt and, apparently, to Poland for interrogation was considered illegal by public opinion in the UK, Italy and Germany, America’s closest allies. The consequences were that these countries refused to cooperate with the US on this and, in Italy, even prosecuted their own intelligence officers for doing so.

As part of their political campaign, the Palestinians have consistently tried to brand Israel’s actions as illegal under international law. This “lawfare” has included trying to categorize the West Bank security fence as an “act of apartheid” and the Israeli administration in the West Bank as an “illegal” occupation. Moreover, Israeli military attacks have almost always automatically been defined by the Palestinians as war crimes. Is this correct with regard to the latest fighting in Gaza? And what are the possible consequences? Any military force involved in an armed conflict is subject to the laws of war. This is true even if the other party deliberately flouts and violates these rules. The fact that Hamas overtly aims its attacks against Israeli civilians and uses its own civilians as human shields does not absolve Israel from complying with the laws of war and Israel has never claimed to be absolved.

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