The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shocked the Western world. Institutions of the United Nations whose directive is to protect human rights around the world have come alive with condemnations and plans to investigate and prosecute Russia for multiple serious violations of human rights. Western nations find themselves brainstorming strategies to bring the guilty to justice.
The International Criminal Court and the UN Human Rights Council are set to open investigations into Russian violations for the killing of civilians, the shelling and destruction of civilian residences, and the destruction wrought by the Russian invasion. Everyone in the western liberal world is cheering and applauding these moves.
However, for Israel, these reactions, condemnations and talk of war crimes provide sober reading for a nation that may soon have to defend its very existence against enemies that purposely embed their rockets in dense urban settings. Hezbollah and Hamas, ensconced in Lebanon and Gaza, have commandeered spots within civilian population areas from which to store and launch their rocket attack on Israel. With an estimated 130,000 rockets in the Hezbollah inventory alone, the damage to Israel with the outbreak of war promises to be substantial.
Will the UN demand Israel refrain from a defense policy that seeks to destroy the launchers and weapons that are mixed among the civilian population? Will the cynicism of Hezbollah and Hamas, knowingly placing their weapons in civilian areas, enable them to launch a major rocket attack on Israel behind the protection of the UN’s human rights rules?
It should be noted that UN rights statute Article 4 states that any nation may take necessary measures against an emergency threat to the life of that nation. However, in the long history of both the ICC and the UN Human Rights Council, Israel has been brought up again and again for condemnation, even when it was the nation being threatened.
In the event of an all-out outbreak of hostilities with Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel will find it impossible to stop the attacks by singling out each launcher for destruction. Hundreds or even thousands of rockets may be launched within minutes to overwhelm the protective shield of Iron Dome and other defensive anti-missile armaments. Israel would be forced to attack the launchers and storage areas by quickly devastating large swaths of Lebanon and Gaza. Civilian casualties would be extremely high, as the rocket attack would force massive retaliation rather than a pinpoint response. Is the UN rights declaration designed to preclude a necessary defense of this type?
One only has to look again at the combat footage from World War II in Europe to see how the American and British forces dealt with German and Italian forces, who were dug into civilian cities in France, Belgium, Germany and Italy. The Allies destroyed almost every building in cities and towns to kill the enemy and protect their troops. Following D-Day, 60,000+ civilians were killed as the Allies bombarded French cities, plus the massive civilian losses from the fire-bombing and atomic bombing of Japanese cities.
The process of war is brutal and bloody. With the advent of massive civilian involvement in populating the modern army and the production of war goods involving the civilian population, war can no longer be cleanly separated from civilian affairs. The UN’s involvement in human rights is a wonderful and needed aspiration, but will it end up prosecuting the victims and exonerating the perpetrators?
The writer is former editor and manager of US News & World Report’s book division and editor/author of 25 books.