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The man who wrote the IDF code of ethics, Professor Asa Kasher, has indicated that in the current circumstances in southern Lebanon, provided the appropriate precautions are taken, it may be "morally justified" to obliterate areas with high concentrations of terrorists, even if civilian casualties result.
"I don't know what the truth is about the circumstances," Kasher stressed. "But assuming that we warned the civilians and gave them enough time to leave, and that the civilians who remained chose, themselves, not to leave, then there is no reason to jeopardize the lives of the troops," he told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Kasher's statements followed the deaths of nine soldiers on Wednesday, eight of whom were ambushed at Bint Jbail. Israel has been reluctant to use sufficient weaponry to flatten the Hizbullah "terrorist capital" of Bint Jbail, a policy that many have criticized as being overly sensitive toward the enemy and its civilians.
Moshe Keynan, the father of a soldier killed in another conflict, said he was angry with the IDF for jeopardizing soldiers' safety to protect civilians.
"We need to worry that our kids return to their parents and we need to worry about our family and sons and wives, not how we look on BBC," said Keynan.
Meir Indor, director-general of the Terror Victims Association, seconded Keynan's concerns.
"There is an argument which is dealing with the subject of how much danger soldiers can be exposed to in order to save civilians. I think the world already decided that you don't sacrifice your soldiers in order to save enemy civilians," said Indor, whose organization is lobbying the military and the government against putting soldiers in unnecessarily dangerous situations.
The IDF denied the claim that its measures to prevent civilian casualties puts its soldiers at unnecessary risk.
"We are taking precautions to protect civilians but we will not do so at the expense of our own soldiers' and civilians' lives," said a military source.
Joining the debate, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter was quoted by The New York Times on Thursday as saying that Israel was unwilling to bomb villages without warning and invade with massive amounts of ground troops because "you'll kill a lot more innocent people and suffer a lot more casualties."
Kasher admitted that the decision to bomb a house or town was quite complicated, especially if there are citizens who wanted to leave but were prohibited from doing so by Hizbullah.
"We should take into consideration that people want to leave and aren't allowed to leave, and that changes the situation, but not on a grand scale," he said. "There you can justify certain infantry attacks... but only if it doesn't dramatically increase the jeopardy of our troops. Something which is a slightly higher level of risk is acceptable, but something drastically higher is not acceptable."
Kasher told the Post that the IDF acts according to two sets of moral considerations. The first is the IDF's code of ethics, The Spirit of the IDF, which was written by Kasher and a committee of generals in the early 1990's. The guidelines enumerate such values as sanctity of human life, human dignity, and purity of arms. Additionally, the IDF takes international law into consideration, although Kasher noted that international law is directed more toward two countries fighting each other rather than a country fighting a guerrilla or terrorist group.
"There is an ingredient of international law that is well developed concerning classical wars to draw a distinction between combatants and civilians... However, in cases of acting against terror or guerrillas it is simply inapplicable, because the people on the other side are not combatants of a military organization. The whole idea of drawing a distinction evaporates," said Kasher.