IDF to define cyber units as 'combat' in new definitions of soldiers' roles

Expected change defines 4 categories of soldiers: full-fledged combatants, battle soldiers, facilitators of weapons and home-front soldiers.

August 8, 2019 17:06
2 minute read.
female soldier

Female IDF soldier in the J6/C4I Cyber Defense Directorate.. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

The IDF is expected to define some of its cyber units as attack units, in part on an extended process of redefining categories of soldiers.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office confirmed that defining “who is a ‘combatant’” in the IDF had been “approved and agreed to by [Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz] the chief-of-staff” and would be “distributed” throughout “relevant units” in the IDF after an additional approval from Gantz.

In light of a highly specific online statement by the IDF on May 29 – that has since been removed – on the issue, in addition to the IDF confirmation that the same process under discussion in May has gotten approvals at the highest level, it appears that the definitions from the May statement are going forward.

Essentially, the expected change defines four categories of soldiers: full-fledged combatants, battle soldiers, facilitators of attacking weapons and home front soldiers.

Full-fledged combatants are those whose “lives are in immediate physical danger,” battle soldiers are those who are on the battlefield with the combatants, but fulfilling only support functions and facilitators of attacking weapons could be long-range artillery or, more notably cyber units.

The inclusion of cyber units in a category distinguished for using attacking weapons is one of the few times that any Israeli official has publicly recognized that Israeli cyber units are used for attack purposes and not only defensive purposes, and thus stood out among the new definitions.

Asked about the change, former IDF international law division head Col. (res.) Liron Libman said that a key question was “what was the goal of the new definitions?” Libman dismissed the definitions being turned for use against Israel.

For example, to attempt the recast of some non-state hostile actors (terrorists not connected with a country) as being civilians or less than combatants and trying to make them immune to attack by the IDF, would run into the law of armed conflict’s rules.

He said that those rules already widely define combatants as including those facilitating hostilities even if they themselves are not fighting in a direct and physical way.

Libman added that having a spectrum of combatants was probably more a symbolic change to maintain the exclusivity of the “fighting soldier” in an age of modern technologies that are blurring those boundaries.

But he did agree that it was noteworthy that the expected new definitions officially recognized cyber units as offensive and not merely defensive.

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