The recent calls by American officials for Israel to reexamine the IDF’s rules of engagement after the unfortunate death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh are arguably an extremely dangerous precedent in the relations between these two strong allies.
Abu Akleh’s death is not a rare event. The conditions of the IDF’s fighting against Palestinian terrorist organizations are extremely complex and often take place inside residential neighborhoods, where the terrorists are hiding. Unfortunately, such a reality sometimes also claims victims who are not involved in the fighting.
It has been assessed by various international experts that around 90% of the victims of modern wars are civilians. According to military experts who have battleground experience, the IDF does more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare. While the IDF took the brave step of admitting that it is highly likely that the bullet that killed Abu Akleh came from one of its soldiers, it was a tragic accident.
Complexity of military operations
One clear proof of this is the chief of staff’s statement that the IDF operates in the most complex environment in Judea and Samaria every day and demonstrates a very high level of professional performance and values, while avoiding harm to those not involved. The IDF invests great efforts in this and in doing so works to enable freedom of the press.
With that said, we need to show that Abu Akleh’s death should be seen in the context of the operation.
The IDF was in Jenin, on that fateful day, to root out terrorists after a wave of ghastly murders that cost the lives of 20 had taken place in Israel in the days preceding the raid, including on Independence Day when two Palestinian terrorists hacked three innocent Israeli civilians to death in the town of Elad.
These and many of the other perpetrators had come from Jenin or the surrounding areas. And this is exactly the reason why the IDF’s target is to thwart these terrorists as far as it is possible from Israeli civilian centers. By achieving that, Israel is winning tactically and operationally.
If the fatal bullet that ended Abu Akleh’s life came from an IDF soldier, then it was in this context, all of which was removed for global finger-wagging.
Seeking to handicap IDF soldiers
NEVERTHELESS, THE US engaged in multiple recent conflicts over the last couple of decades involving asymmetrical warfare, should know better than to cast aspersions over the IDF’s rules of engagement. Moreover, the Israeli army already took such care not to target civilians that it risks its own soldiers’ lives and operational activities.
Israel’s enemies know this well and that is why they have used Abu Akleh to up the pressure on the IDF. They seek a severely handicapped military force so the terrorists can further inflict damage, bloodshed and tactical defeat on Israel with fewer losses on their side.
They already manipulate sympathetic NGOs and the hand-wringing of the international media, which frequently keeps an unprecedented daily score of deaths, aiming to delegitimize Israel’s security concerns.
Every death is a tragedy we constantly hear and while that is certainly true, it doesn’t lead to where Israel’s enemies and opponents wish others to take it: that every innocent civilian death means the conflict or operation is unjust or illegitimate.
If this were to be so, the West battling radical terrorist organizations should just close shop and hand the keys of civilization, freedom and democracy to the extremists.
Israel shouldn't change ROE
Israel can and should not change its rules of engagement, unless towards taking greater measures in ensuring security for its citizens by other tools. By calling for a reexamination of Israel’s rules of engagement, the Jewish State’s enemies become emboldened, furthering their dream of ultimate victory and ensuring many more will die on both sides in the future.
The US should be dropping these absurd demands and should be instead giving Israel unequivocal backing to end the conflict once and for all by giving it all necessary assistance to achieve victory.
The goal should always be to end the conflict because by ending the conflict the bloodshed will cease.
This will be a victory for both Israelis and Palestinians. The current geo-political reality within the Palestinian system makes it difficult, if not impossible, to renew negotiation towards any diplomatic solution.
Until then, Israel has the right to defend itself using all available tools and to expect its friends, especially its greatest ally, to be supportive of these efforts. This will be not just a tactical win but also a diplomatic one for the Israelis.
The writer is a senior lecturer at Ariel University and a member of the Israel Victory Project.