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The Rules of War

The Rules of War

The difference between us and the terrorists is clear: We endanger ourselves to protect their civilians. They endanger their own civilians to protect themselves.

by

The conflict in the Middle East is about much more than Israel and Hezbollah, or even Hezbollah's Syrian and Iranian sponsors. What is at stake are the very rules of war that underpin the entire international order.

Sadly, judging from how most of the world has responded to Israel's military action against Hezbollah, these rules have been completely abandoned.

The rules of war boil down to one central principle: the need to distinguish combatants from noncombatants. Those who condemned Israel for what happened at Qana, rather than placing the blame for this unfortunate tragedy squarely on Hezbollah and its state sponsors, have rewarded those for whom this moral principle is meaningless and have condemned a state in which this principle has always guided military and political decision making.

So while it is legitimate to question whether Israel should go to such extreme lengths to avoid civilian casualties, it is preposterous to argue that Israel uses excessive force.

Faced with enemies who openly call for its destruction and victimized by unremitting wars and terrorism since well before it was born, Israel has risked the lives of its citizens and its soldiers to abide by this principle in a way that is unprecedented in the history of nations.

Here is but one of countless examples: In 2003, at the height of the Palestinian terror war against Israel, our intelligence services discovered the location of a meeting of the senior leadership of Hamas, an organization pledged to the annihilation of the Jewish state and responsible for some of the deadliest terrorist attacks ever carried out against Israel.

We knew that a one-ton bomb would destroy the three-story building and kill the Hamas leadership. But we also knew that such a bomb would endanger about 40 families who lived in the vicinity. We decided to use a smaller bomb that would destroy only the top floor of the building. As it turned out, the Hamas leaders were meeting on the ground floor. They lived to terrorize another day.

Imagine for a moment that the United States had advance knowledge of the meeting place of al-Qaeda's senior leadership. Does anyone believe that there would be a debate about what size bomb to use, much less that any leader would authorize insufficient force to do the job?

So while it is legitimate to question whether Israel should go to such extreme lengths to avoid civilian casualties, it is preposterous to argue that Israel uses excessive force. Even more absurd was the shameful statement last week that Israel appeared to have deliberately targeted U.N. officials -- a statement fit for a knave or a fool, not for the secretary general of the United Nations. Rather than lead the fight against those who target civilians and use them as human shields, Secretary General Kofi Annan has strengthened them.

It is clear to any objective observer that Hezbollah is using Lebanese civilians as human shields.

It is clear to any objective observer that Hezbollah is using Lebanese civilians as human shields. It builds its headquarters in densely populated areas, embeds its fighters in towns and villages, and deliberately places missiles in private homes, even constructing additions to existing structures specifically to house missile launchers.

The reason terrorist groups such as Hezbollah use human shields is elementary. They try to exploit the respect for innocent human life that is the hallmark of any civilized society to place that society in a no-win situation. If it fails to respond to terror attacks, it endangers its own citizens. If it responds, it runs the risk of killing innocents, earning world opprobrium and inviting diplomatic pressure to stand down.

Hoping to retain its high moral standards in the face of such a cynical enemy, Israel has made every effort to avoid harming civilians. We have dropped fliers, sent telephone messages and broadcast radio announcements so that innocents can get out of harm's way. In doing so, we imperil our own citizens since, by losing the element of surprise, we invariably allow some of the enemy to escape with their missiles.

But at Qana, Hezbollah responded to Israel's compassion with more cynical brutality. After launching missiles at Israel, the terrorists rushed inside a building. When Israel fired a precision-guided missile to strike at the terrorists, scores of civilians, including children, were killed.

The difference between us and the terrorists is clear: We endanger ourselves to protect their civilians. They endanger their own civilians to protect themselves.

If tragedies such as Qana are not to be repeated, then, rather than condemning Israel, the world should be directing its anger at Hezbollah and at the Syrian and Iranian regimes that support it.

Terrorists are fanatics, but they are not idiots. If the terrorist tactic of using human shields helps them achieve their goals, they will utilize it. If it undermines their goals, they will abandon it.

If we want to live in a world where civilians are never used as human shields, then we must create a world in which employing such measures results in the unequivocal condemnation of terrorists and in forceful action against them by the civilized world.

If the world were now blaming Hezbollah, Syria and Iran for the innocent Lebanese killed, hurt or displaced in this conflict, then it would be sending a powerful message to every terrorist group on the planet: We will not tolerate the use of human shields. Period.

Instead, those who condemn Israel have sent precisely the opposite message. They have told every terrorist group around the world that the use of human shields will pay huge dividends, thereby providing them with a powerful weapon that endangers innocents everywhere.

Published: August 5, 2006


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Visitor Comments: 47

(47) ambrose, August 28, 2006 12:00 AM

Why?

I just wonder why people just hate Israel? I have tried to ask myself that question and it sickens to imagine that a person can just hate the other for no reason. I have been following the mideast politics and if i was in your shoes i will infact be ruthless with the so called arab nations. I can only imagine a sycopath as a name for the muslim nations against the existance of the jewish nation. Personally i know i can not contribute to your existance as i am but a small individual. but i just pray for you.

(46) Hugh, August 25, 2006 12:00 AM

Stop playing at War

During WWII the US killed close to a million civilians, how many civilians in the US were killed by the Germany and Japan. Was this an over reaction? The problem is both the US and Israel do not seem to know how to fight a war. By trying to protect civilians, the war goes on much longer and in the end causes more suffering and death then if they would just go for the win. If we really want an end to war, the evil people of the world and all the people that support, or allow them to exist in their countries, must know that the price to be paid will be so severe that they will not want to pay that price. Until then, we will continue killing each other.

(45) Edward, August 21, 2006 12:00 AM

Stood by you till death.

mitzi breslow , 8/7/2006My oppinionI wholeheartedly agree with everything you write. Unfortunately, through the centuries, we have seen that the whole world is anti-semitic and hates the Jews. But, as always,the Jewish people will prevail.Dear Mitzi: You are so right about history and the hate for the Jewish People but please never forget that many a rightes Gentile stood by his Jewish brother even unto death.And never fear Mitzi, many of us will stand by you now never again will we allow what happen in WWII TO HAPPEN AGAIN!Yes here in the US we have our begorts but....they don't speak for all of us. Rules of war HELL there are no rules no in this kind of war you must fight to win you MUST be just as ruthless as they are you have always been the hunted...NOW YOU MUST BECOME THE HUNTERS.

(44) Robert ben Noah, August 19, 2006 12:00 AM

Knaves and Fools

Dear Mr. Yaalon,Your article, as have many in recent weeks, provides another good example of the profound differences between Israel and her sworn enemies. These differences, as you have correctly pointed out, are obvious to any objective observer. This is exactly why the mass media must go to such great lengths to distort the lens through which these events are seen.The only statement you made I would not totally agree with, is that concerning Kofi Annan. I believe his comments were quite appropriate for a thinly disguised Jew-hater such as himself, and well in keeping with the tradition and infamous history of that repugnant cesspool, known to all as, the U.N.Here in the States, we pray for you Israel. Stand firm, tall, and strong.

(43) Dumbu Hrangkhawl, August 15, 2006 12:00 AM

Terrorists

This kind of EVIL act should not be tolerate by any means. They should be wipe out from the Earth.

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