|Photo by: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters|
Proportionality: Doing what it takes
The IDF’s surgical aerial strikes have hurt Hamas but to this point have not deterred them from continuously targeting Israeli civilians.
The overriding objective of Operation Pillar of Defense is to restore quiet in
southern Israel for the foreseeable future. Peace is not foreseeable, but quiet
must be. This legitimate goal has been embraced by most in Israel and abroad, as
any sensible sovereign state would exercise its right of self defense in such a
Nevertheless, the manner in which this objective will best be
obtained remains an open question.
What needs to be done to bring to and
end 12 years of Palestinian mortar and rocket fire on a million and a half
civilians living in southern Israel? Twelve thousand rockets in 12 years. What
is the proportional use of force needed to restore quiet? Many misunderstand the
Proportionality Principle to mean an “eye for an eye” or “tit for tat.” For
example, if Hamas launches 12,000 rockets against Israel, the IDF is entitled to
do the same in return. That is wrong. Others say an Israeli life is of higher
value than Palestinian life, referring to the recent Schalit swap in which 1027
Palestinian terrorists were released in return for one Israeli. Based on that
market logic, 1,027 Palestinian casualties would be proportional to one Israeli
casualty. That is also wrong.
According to international law (Additional
Protocol 1, 51(5)(b) to the Geneva Conventions), proportional military attacks
are considered as such if they are of military necessity and do not go beyond
the direct military advantage anticipated.
In other words,
proportionality means doing what it takes – and no more than that – to obtain a
In the current round of violence, Israel is fully
entitled to apply all the military force necessary to achieve its objective of
restoring long-term quiet to Southern Israel. The IDF does not need to limit
itself to attacks that are proportional to the damage caused by Hamas attacks.
It needs to do what it takes to restore quiet for the foreseeable
In its efforts to achieve that goal, the IDF has constrained
itself to targeting combatants and their facilities, whereas Hamas primarily and
premeditatedly targets civilians and their homes. This is the difference between
war heroes like Brig.-Gen. Mickey Edelstein, the commander of the Gaza Division,
who before authorizing strikes diligently reviews operational details in order
to verify civilian causalities are minimized, and the Hamas war criminals who
target Israeli civilians while using Palestinian civilians as human
Today’s Goldstones should take note that the IDF has and will
continue to act proportionately. Had the targeting of Ahmed Jabari, the
mass-murdering head of Hamas’ military wing, been enough to stop the rocket fire
on Israeli civilians, then the IDF’s military operation would have ended at that
point. It was not enough.
Had the targeting of Hamas headquarters and
missile stockpiles been enough – so be it. But it wasn’t.
surgical aerial strikes have hurt Hamas but to this point have not deterred them
from continuously targeting Israeli civilians. Therefore more military
efforts are evidently necessary.
At the end of the day, whether it’s in
this round of violence or in the next, the toppling of Hamas in Gaza may not be
Israel’s objective, but it might very well be the only means to achieve its
goal: quiet for the foreseeable future.
The author is a research fellow
at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Herzliya, an author of
Suicide Terror: Understanding and Confronting the Threat, recently published by
John Wiley’s & Sons, is counsel at the Naveh, Even-Har law firm and is
pursuing a Phd in international relations at the University of Haifa.