The IDF this week declassified sensitive intelligence information on Hizbullah’s rearmament campaign in south Lebanon. Detailed aerial photos, videos and maps show how the terrorist organization is again ruthlessly preparing to use Lebanese civilians as human shields, as exemplified by its deployment in one Shi’ite village – el-Khiam – located just 4 kilometers from the Israeli border. There, Hizbullah has embedded its weapon caches, bunkers, command-and-control centers and missile stockpiles – and stationed its armed personnel – in and alongside hospitals, mosques, schools and homes.
By making this sensitive information public, Israel runs the risk of revealing its intelligence-gathering procedures and giving Hizbullah the opportunity to adapt. Nevertheless, that risk was taken, as part of a laudable new IDF strategy geared toward confronting Israel’s rapidly changing military challenges.
In the past, wars were fought by uniformed soldiers on battlefields often far from civilian population centers.
Israel consistently prevailed in these conventional conflicts against Arab states and against the Palestinian militias that sought to destroy the Jewish state, from the 1948 War of Independence and through to the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Realizing they were unable to defeat Israel in this way, Palestinians in south Lebanon and in Gaza, and their supporters, shifted first to the strategy of terrorism, and more recently, with Iranian inspiration, have gradually perfected an asymmetrical form of violence.
Cynically manipulating the instinctive aversion to the death of noncombatants, and exploiting a lacuna in outdated international law formulated when conventional wars were the only reality, Hizbullah and Hamas terrorists place themselves and their weapons in the heart of populated residential areas and launch rocket fire from there against Israel’s civilian population. When Israel is forced to come to the defense of its citizens, noncombatants on the enemy side, cynically placed in the line of fire by Hamas and Hizbullah, are unfortunately killed.
International criticism to date, based on the anachronistic Fourth Geneva Convention, has largely singled out Israel, the party responding to attack, for the ostensibly disproportionate killing of non-combatants. The result is castigation in the shape, for instance, of the Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of committing war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. In this distorted moral climate, Israel is gradually losing the legitimacy to defend itself – being expected, apparently, to indefinitely absorb civilian losses and live under constant threat of missile attacks from both Gaza and Lebanon, two fronts where it dismantled its presence in “occupied” territory and withdrew to borders demarcated by the international community.
THIS WEEK’S release of information shows Israel trying a new tactic. When pictures of war casualties in Lebanon or Gaza are relayed across the world and Israel is accused of disproportionality, few have been willing to listen to Israeli efforts at explaining the context. Now, Israel is adopting a preemptive approach – warning the world, ahead of a feared new conflict, of Hizbullah’s diabolical strategy.
According to Prof. Asa Kasher, an expert on military ethics and the author of the IDF’s code of ethics, Hizbullah’s deployment among civilians is “a violation of the spirit of the Geneva Convention.” Israel’s hope is that its newly revealed information will gain international attention, and it will be appreciated that it is Hizbullah’s leaders who are violating international law, not the IDF.
There is also the hope that the residents of the 160 southern Lebanese villages caught up in Hizbullah’s web may register their concern, one way or another, about living next to an arms cache or a missile stockpile now that they know that the IDF likely has it targeted.
In June, Brig.-Gen. Yossi Heiman, head of the IDF’s Strategic Planning
Department, presented evidence of Hizbullah’s immoral deployment to UN
officials. UNIFIL commander in Lebanon Maj.-Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas
was also briefed.
With the UN dominated by states that are both hypercritical of Israel
and unwilling or unable to make moral distinctions between democracies
and dictatorships, it is highly unlikely that any significant public
acknowledgement of Hizbullah’s moral abuses will be forthcoming.
But the IDF is right to make the effort. Indeed, it needs to broaden its
outreach, and ensure that this information is made available as widely
as possible – to the media, no matter how unenthusiastic the reception,
and in smaller briefings for key politicians and officials.
Many of the same moral dilemmas faced by Israel in Gaza and in Lebanon
are being faced by the US, Canada, Italy, Germany and other NATO armies
in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Western armies should compare and share
their counterinsurgency doctrines in an attempt to develop both
strategies and a military ethics code to deal with the new ruthlessness
Where south Lebanon is concerned, nobody can now say that they weren’t
warned about the nature of the looming confrontation.