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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israeli commanders' over-concern for their soldiers' lives during the Second Lebanon War hurt the war effort, according to Prof. Asa Kasher, the architect of the IDF Code of Ethics.
"Missions were not completed because commanders did not want to jeopardize their soldiers' lives," he said at a conference on military ethics Tuesday in Jerusalem.
"Concern about casualties is important," Kasher said. "Soldiers are not robots, they are human beings. But the commander must not underestimate the importance of his mission vis a vis the importance of his soldiers' lives.
"The Hizbullah were shooting hundreds of rockets at population centers in the North, thus endangering Israeli citizens' lives. So risking soldiers' lives to stop those rockets was perfectly justified."
Military officers from Denmark, Austria, Finland, the UK, Sweden, Romania, the Czech Republic, the US and other countries are attending the three-day International Association for Military Pedagogy conference at Mishkenot Sha'ananim sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Ethics.
Of all the armies in the world with a code of ethics, Kasher said, only the IDF taught the sanctity of life as a value that should be internalized by the soldier. He attributed that to Jewish tradition, which puts pikuah nefesh (the saving of life) at the center of its moral system.
"I'm not saying other cultures do not value life," he said. "I just think that Jews are more willing to openly discuss it, to put it on the table."
The phenomenon of commanders being overly protective of their soldiers' lives was not a result of a general "softening" of the Israeli soldier, Kasher told The Jerusalem Post after his lecture. Rather it was a symptom of the atmosphere during the Second Lebanon War in which different and often contradictory orders were given by the high command within short periods of time.
"Commanders on the battle field did not want to risk their soldiers' lives to carry out an order that might be changed in the next hour," he said.