Speaking on Monday at Shurat Hadin’s conference on “Towards a New Law of War,” recently retired IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz said that, “Hezbollah has turned villages into missile villages and living rooms into missile rooms.”
Gantz was joined by former US Special Forces Deputy Commander Lt.-Gen. David P.
Fridovich and a range of other top military and law of war experts.
Gantz was summarizing the challenges of asymmetrical warfare being highlighted at the conference; including terrorist groups’ abuse of the law of armed conflict such as using human shields or stationing weaponry in civilian homes.
Shurat Hadin’s director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said that the purpose of the conference was to try to help empower the IDF and other Western militaries to be able to fight more effectively against such terrorist groups by updating the law of armed conflict.
Gantz echoed some of those themes, saying he was making an unusual appearance as a civilian “about a very important issue being promoted here for all human kind, human rights and society.”
The former IDF chief stated, “war has changed. The civilian population became both the target of the terrorists and their human shield at the same time.”
Describing the difficulty of fighting terrorists who fight among civilians, Gantz said, “I sat with drone operators to distinguish between combatants and civilians,” noting it was often very difficult to tell the difference since Hamas also does not wear uniforms.
Gantz said the laws of war were “made to limit bad guys.
But guess what – today the bad guys don’t care, so they are only limiting the good guys from fighting them.”
Despite the complexity of fighting adversaries who abuse the laws of war, he said that, “we do investigate ourselves on Gaza and Lebanon,” noting “the IDF checked 500 incidents during the summer Gaza War” with some incidents going to “military court.”
Gantz added, “We don’t do it for the world, we do it for us.”
The IDF’s unique legal positions that it took under Gantz also got a major boost of support from Fridovich in a detailed discussion with The Jerusalem Post.
While emphasizing that he is not a lawyer, Fridovich relied on his impressive and versatile special forces experience in backing unique Israeli legal positions on taking into account unique dangers posed to Israeli civilians, extra sensitivity to force protection and special consideration for avoiding the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers.
Israel has argued that its calculation of whether to attack a Hamas rocket launcher should take into account the immediate threat rockets present to Israeli civilians in measuring the military advantage of that attack – in contrast to US and other Western forces fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan whose own civilians are not in harms way.
Critics have said that the IDF focuses excessively on attacks on single rocket launchers when there are thousands of them, meaning that the military advantage of hitting one rocket launcher is small.
Fridovich agreed with the IDF assessment, saying that “one rocket launcher might not be a threat, but destroying it gets inside the TTP [tactics, techniques, procedure]” of Hamas.
Getting inside an adversary’s TTP refers to forcing them to adjust their tactics and slows down their operations to compensate for moves by the Israeli side.
Despite this, Fridovich said he was impressed with “extraordinary precautions” taken by Israel to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties.
Moving on to force protection and kidnapping of soldiers, Fridovich told some emotional stories about losing soldiers in battle and noting that this could not be ignored and that soldiers’ lives should not be sold off just to please critics.
Speaking publicly earlier at the conference, Fridovich reviewed three special forces missions he led with different and evolving rules of engagement to show how dynamic applying the laws of war could be in the field.
He emphasized that the US and other militaries often did not take actions they could legally take, telling a story about when he explained to a fourstar general how he could do a strike, but then surprised his superior telling him “you’ll never ask me to do” because of the diplomatic and extra-legal implications.
The special forces commander continued that “we need the best legal minds influencing decision makers with a way forward – if not we give it up to terrorists who don’t follow the law.”
He expressed frustration that many “Americans still don’t quite get it like Israelis,” in terms of the threat posed by terrorists who abuse the laws of war.
Next, Fridovich said he tells his friends that they “need to visit Israel and see how it feels to be under attack constantly, but still continue to live a normal life.”
Still, he said, after over 10 years of fighting terrorism, many Americans are coming to a greater understanding of the Israeli predicament being surrounded by threatening terrorist groups.
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