IDF ethicist: Restraint policy is legit

Asa Kasher to 'Post': Kassam threat not high enough to risk hitting innocents.

idf artillery gaza 29888 (photo credit: AP [file])
idf artillery gaza 29888
(photo credit: AP [file])
The government's policy of restraint regarding Kassam rocket launchings from Gaza is legitimate from an ethical perspective, Prof. Asa Kasher said this week in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post. "The chances that a Kassam rocket will kill are relatively low compared to a suicide bombing," said Kasher, co-author of the IDF code of ethics. "Therefore, use of targeted killings to prevent terrorist attacks that threaten the lives of dozens of Israelis is an obligation of the state that has nothing to do with political policy decisions. But the decision to exercise restraint against Kassam rocket launchings is a legitimate policy decision." Kasher, professor of professional ethics at Tel Aviv University and academic adviser at the IDF College of National Defense, added, however, that each Kassam rocket that landed on Israeli territory was an attack on the State of Israel. He also said the government had a moral responsibility to combat the fears of its residents in the south who were threatened by the Kassam rockets. Kasher who, together with head of Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin authored the IDF's doctrine on the war against terror which is taught to high-ranking officers in the IDF College of National Defense, commented on the recent Supreme Court decision on targeted killings and other issues involving military ethics and the war against terrorism. Is the IDF too careful? There was a case a few years ago in which seven members of Hamas's military arm were together in one place. But they were in a residential building. So we shot a missile through the window instead of destroying the entire building. The missile blew up the wrong room and they all got away. You have to calculate how many Israelis were killed because we did not kill those terrorists. How many people were killed because we were compassionate with the neighbors of those Hamas terrorists? Do these mistakes happen often? No. Is there any contradiction between last week's Supreme Court decision on targeted killings and the ethical code you and Yadlin wrote? No. We analyzed the issue from an ethical and moral perspective while [former president of the Supreme Court] Aharon Barak and the Supreme Court used legal criteria. But we reached the same conclusions. What are your conclusions? We said that as long as a person, whether he is a civilian or a soldier, is endangering me and is involved in enlisting terrorists, gathering explosives, giving orders to other terrorists, he is considered someone directly involved in the war effort and can be killed. What about the inadvertent killing of civilians? I have to try very hard not to hurt civilians. If necessary I will delay the targeted killing if I can do it later in a way that will not harm civilians or at least in a way that will reduce collateral damage to civilians. Research is done to determine what is possible to minimize collateral damage. People in operation research sit and plan exactly how to kill the terrorist. What type of bomb or missile to use, whether to shoot from a helicopter or a drone, what angle to send it in, at what time of day, whether to destroy the whole building or only the room where the terrorist is, whether to send the missile through the window etc. Barak mentions in his decision the necessity to refrain from using targeted killings if it is possible to arrest the terrorist. Does the IDF code also demand this? Yes it does. Arrest is better for two reasons, first, because you refrain from killing in recognition of his human dignity. That is what the right to human dignity means - that I cannot kill him unless he is endangering me. We need very good reasons to carry out a targeted killing. Keeping him alive is in itself a value. Second, keeping him alive allows you to interrogate the terrorist and gain important information. What about endangering the lives of soldiers to arrest him instead of killing him? Are you obligated from an ethical perspective to do that? No. He is a terrorist. He is in the process of planning a terrorist attack. He is endangering me right now. I do not have to endanger my own soldiers to protect his right to human dignity. Barak says in his decision that the killing must meet the criteria of proportionality. Does the IDF have the same demand? The most problematic criterion when deliberating a targeted killing is proportionality. What benefit do I derive from a military attack as opposed to the damage I cause? It is very difficult to compare the benefit to the damage. In our article we write that the state is more responsible to its own citizens morally speaking than it is to citizens of other countries. That point does not come across in the Supreme Court decision. True. The Supreme Court does not mention this point. But the decision does not challenge this assumption. We learn this principle from the accepted practice of states. We see that the state has a special responsibility to its own citizens in times of famine, epidemics etc. When Israel buys medication against a certain disease and there is a shortage you don't see Israel passing out the medication to citizens of Italy or some other foreign country before it gives to its own people. When you are in a tragic situation where you have to choose between the lives of your own people and the lives of others, you choose Israeli citizens first. Does that mean that in theory it is morally acceptable to stage a targeted killing even if more civilians are killed on the Palestinian side than the number of Israelis that would have been killed by that terrorist? Yes. But the reality is much different. We have reached the point where in most cases the civilians that are inadvertently killed in a targeted killing are fewer than the number of Israeli citizens that would have been killed if that terrorist was not stopped. We are talking about no more than a few people who are killed together with the terrorist in most cases.