Stupid warfare

I was going to write about something entirely different today, but the following description of ‘smart warfare’ as it is to be practiced by the IDF was so surreal, that I couldn’t let it go by.

Pushed by Goldstone, Israeli army embraces new ‘smart’ warfare

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Despite Israel’s rejection of the Goldstone report on the Gaza war a year-and-a-half ago, the international criticism it engendered has led the Israel Defense Forces to make a number of significant changes in policy and doctrine…

…during the Gaza operation, even after every effort had been made to induce civilians to evacuate areas where combat was expected — for example, by dropping fliers and making direct telephone calls to area residents — more often than not some non-combatants stayed behind.

The new doctrine requires that after efforts have been made to warn the civilian population to leave, the incoming troops first fire warning shots and give the remaining civilians a chance to leave safely. Then, to minimize casualties among civilians who nevertheless choose to stay, IDF fighters and commanders must use the most accurate weapons at their disposal and choose munitions of relatively low impact.

But wait, you haven’t heard the best part yet:

The Military Advocate General’s Office and the Foreign Ministry consult regularly with foreign governments and international organizations to ensure that all IDF operations conform to accepted legal norms…

Another step the IDF has taken to help minimize civilian casualties and humanitarian distress on the other side is to attach humanitarian liaison officers to troops in the field. The officers come from a pool set up by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, or COGAT, and are in regular contact with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and international aid organizations in Gaza.

Their task in the event of hostilities is to help coordinate humanitarian needs on the Palestinian side and to point out locations of sensitive facilities like hospitals, schools and U.N. aid centers to ensure that they are not mistakenly targeted. Such officers were assigned during the Gaza War on an ad hoc basis and, according to the IDF, proved very effective.

There is something crazy going on here. Can you imagine ‘humanitarian liaison officers’ in contact with the Germans hitting the beach on D-Day? A few days ago (“War is Heck“) I facetiously predicted that the  IDF would be issued rubber bullets for combat operations. Are these the “munitions of relatively low impact” that they are talking about?

During the Gaza war, Hamas headquarters was said to be located in the basement of al-Shifa Hospital (which incidentally was rebuilt by Israel in the 1980’s in order to improve the living conditions of Gaza residents). The IDF did not attack it then and certainly would not get permission from its humanitarian liaison officers to do so in the next war.

Suppose this had been in place in June, 1967:

Hello, UN? We’re going to try to destroy the Egyptian air force on the ground before they can provide cover for an invasion to wipe us out. What? The Turks don’t think it’s legal?

No, not without 1) dropping leaflets, 2) making phone calls, 3) firing warning shots, and 4) waiting for the planes to take off — er, for any civilians to leave.

Seriously, how does this play when the enemy deliberately locates itself in civilian areas, fires missiles from school courtyards, etc? It means that the IDF will never have the advantage of surprise, and that in most cases it will be prohibited from shooting back when attacked, at least until long after the enemy is gone.

On the other hand, groups like Hamas and Hizballah are exempt from any kind of humanitarian standards.  They would simply laugh if anyone suggested that they should be careful about how many Jewish civilians they kill — after all, their objective is to kill all the Jews they can find!

The international community will (sometimes) criticize terrorist groups when their actions are shockingly outside the window of acceptability, such as in the case of the murder of the Fogel family. But even then it’s tempered by a sort of “boys-will-be-boys” attitude: they are terrorists, it’s regrettable, but what can you do?

But if nothing can be done about the terrorist groups, all the responsibility is placed on Israel. All of the casualties are seen as Israel’s fault, regardless of the circumstances.

Israel must refuse to accept this responsibility — it must maintain the absolute right to defend its population and soldiers, regardless of the tactics its enemies use.

Since the terrorist groups deliberately use the civilian population as a shield, then the responsibility for civilian deaths should fall on them.  But by adopting the “smart warfare” techniques described above, the IDF in effect accepts responsibility and gives the terrorists a pass.

The IDF is falling into a trap: if it admits that it could stop all collateral damage by ‘fighting smarter’, then any collateral damage at all means that it is not trying hard enough. And it means that the damage is its responsibility.

The terrorists fully understand this and continue to try as hard as they can to put their own population in harm’s way. The IDF then responds by adopting stricter rules of engagement, which makes it harder for it to defeat its enemies.

Israel can not win against this kind of escalation, because it is not possible to fight a war in a populated area without hurting anybody.

The solution is to establish reasonable rules of engagement that will result in a minimum of collateral damage consistent with achieving its military objectives, and stick to them. If terrorist tactics cause an increase in civilian casualties, that’s their responsibility, not that of the IDF.

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One Response to “Stupid warfare”

  1. Robman says:

    This is actually about the most depressing article you’ve posted in some time, Vic.

    But, I have a brilliant idea, and I only hope that your Israeli readers who bother to read the comments can take this to the proper Israeli authorities.

    The IDF should pattern her rules of engagement PRECISELY along the lines of current U.S. rules of engagement. Not only that, she should say publicly that she is doing this.

    So, when the fighting breaks out and the usual suspects scream that Israel is committing “war crimes”, she can easily reply, “Well, we’re only fighting EXACTLY the way the U.S. fights!”

    Not that our rules of engagement since Obama are so great either, but even they have to be better than what you outline above. Just about anything would be….