Lebanon's Hezbollah members carry Hezbollah flags during the funeral of Adnan Siblini, who was killed while fighting in Syria.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF’s top lawyer may have just dropped a bombshell.
In the context of recent statements by Israeli and Lebanese leaders about the next potential war between Israel and Hezbollah, Military Advocate-General Brig.-Gen.
Sharon Afek seemed to strongly allude on Tuesday to the ongoing debate about approving a wider range of Lebanese targets than were approved in the 2006 Lebanon War.
Speaking at a Ramat Gan conference of military Judge Advocate General officers from as many as 20 countries, including Australia, China and Colombia, Afek said that, “Hezbollah’s integration into state institutions raises questions of state responsibility.”
Hezbollah official says Israel is closer than ever to its demise (credit: MEMRI)
In its second year, the purpose of the conference is to facilitate an exchange of views between military lawyers confronting many of the same challenges, among them “asymmetric” adversaries like Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS, which use civilians as a shield from attacks.
And Afek may well have intended his audience to focus on the dilemma he was presenting on a theoretical level – as food for debate by military law practitioners.
But Afek continued, saying, “Hezbollah’s location of its military assets in dense urban areas raises questions about how to implement the principle of proportionality.”
Foes like Hezbollah “create operational and strategic challenges by the fact that they directly target civilian populations, act in urban environments and make ground operations necessary in order to locate their military assets,” he said.
True, at no point did Afek state any formal change in policy.
While legal advisers like the MAG never completely share their hand in advance of a war of what targets they will approve, it is even rare for such advisers to publicly and specifically cite a potential targeting issue.
The statement was that much more unusual with an ongoing line of reports from the security establishment that in a future conflict with Hezbollah, the IDF would “take off the gloves” and attack wider Lebanese targets.
In contrast, in the Second Lebanon War, the IDF overwhelmingly focused its attacks on Hezbollah-controlled areas in order to avoid striking Lebanese-Sunni and Christian areas viewed as unaffiliated with Hezbollah’s military actions.
However, since that war, Israeli officials have said that Hezbollah has taken deeper control of the country and that Lebanon is now more directly supporting Hezbollah’s military efforts.
Afek also spoke about the continued growth of legal advisers in operational issues (military lingo for targeting policy) both in actual volume, in the breadth of published legal analyses on the laws of war and in “always having a seat at the table,” when military priorities are set.
Also in attendance at the event, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, who served as MAG from 2004-2011, said that, “Israel’s international law obligations are a regular part of our [Justice Ministry]... we carry out criminal prosecutions where necessary... Israel has invested substantial additional resources in investigating alleged law of war violations.”
Mandelblit noted that Israel’s legal system for probing war crimes has greatly advanced since 2013, through two governmental reports recommending reforms, the last of which was approved in July 2016.
One recommendation that has not been implemented to date is the installation of a live video stream of all Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) interrogations.