Monday, August 18, 2014

  • Monday, August 18, 2014
  • Elder of Ziyon
Yaacov Lozowick summarizes an important article from Yediot Acharonot (not available online and only in Hebrew) about the depth of commitment the IDF has to international law on all levels.

The IDF takes international law very seriously. Over the past decade it has considerably expanded the part of the military prosecution which deals with the laws of war, and there is now an entire team of officers, many at the colonel level, whose entire profession is to ensure the IDF functions within the law. I'll stray from the Yedioth article for a moment to add that I've come across these folks in recent years, in professional discussions, and they're knowledgeable, committed and professional. I expect that they know more about the laws of war than just about any media type or pundit who pontificates on the matter, except of course the other professionals. It seems safe to me to say that if anyone who doesn't have a full and updated education in the laws of war informs you about how what the IDF does is illegal etc, they are probably talking through their hat comfortable that you, too, don't know enough to call them out. The laws of war, like any branch of law, is a professional field, and it takes training and practice to be good at it.

That's the first stage.

The second stage is that these officers spend a significant chunk of their time training other IDF troops in the basics. Clearly a corporal in the infantry won't go through a full course of training, but the higher the officer, the more exposure they will have had to the principles and concepts of the laws of war, and the more occasions on which they'll have been required to think about applying them. The training of an IDF soldier includes the understanding that the IDF respects the laws of war; the training of an officer includes applying these laws.

The third stage is that the legal types participate in the planning of all operations. I'm not going to detai the many levels of preparation an IDF operation goes through from conception to execution, but there are lots of them; the legal experts are part of the process. According to Yedioth, this results in some operations never being authorized in the first place, and others are adapted to stay within the law.

The fourth stage of preparation is that there's a legal expert in every division, and there are channels of communication down to at least the level of battalions; since companies and platoons don't generally execute their own operations, that more or less covers everyone.

Fifth stage: Aeriel and artillery actions. Aeriel and artillery actions are not necessarily susceptible to heat of battle situations. Both pilots and artillery officers are less likely than infantry, tank or engineering soldiers to need to respond immediately to fire from an unidentified source in the confusion of a battlefield. The article in Yedioth claimed that every single shell shot by those two branches was thought about in advance, and targets were vetted in advance, after they were visually identified by one or more of the layers of eyes the IDF had over Gaza - drones, other drones, radar and other stuff.
Read the whole thing.

What this means is that every IDF officer has more formal training on international law than practically every reporter, every columnist and every pundit that screams "War crimes!"

So when a major New York Times columnist badly misstates international law, it is because he is ignorant. When the head of a major human rights organization justifies it, it is because he is malicious. (Even under the "just war" definition of proportionality, it applies to the decisions to embark on an operation, not to the death-count afterwards. And Ken Roth knows that.)

The IDF had an entire website dedicated to international law. Here is what goes into every single decision to drop a bomb, every single time:
Given the complexity, sensitivity and potential consequences of aerial strikes against terrorists, decisions in this regard are made through highly regulated operational processes. These operational processes are set out in clear orders and procedures, which are classified by nature. Among other things, these orders and procedures define the various stages of the process of planning an aerial strike, thus identifying the entities whose input the military commander must receive before conducting the attack.

The process whereby decisions on aerial strikes are made reflects the full implementation of relevant aspects of international law. First and foremost, the decision to strike is subject to criteria and conditions specified in the orders and procedures, which are designed to ensure that the attack will be consistent with international law. These criteria and conditions have been formulated on the basis of preliminary legal advice and they are implemented by the commanders in each and every aerial strike. Furthermore, although not legally required, in certain cases advice is provided in respect of the legality of a specific target. Obviously this type of advice is generally unfeasible during "real time" aerial strikes conducted in response to immediate threats, when the decision to attack a target is required to be reached in fractions of a second.

The implementation of principles of international law in procedures surrounding aerial strikes is also reflected in the intensive training that those involved in the decision-making process undergo. As an inseparable part of these training programmes, the relevant operational entities - from intelligence officers to operational commanders - learn and internalize the laws of armed conflict that apply to attacks, under the guidance of skilled legal advisers with expertise in the subject.

Within the decision-making process, significant emphasis is placed on the input from intelligence officers, which factor in all the relevant information available about the target, the anticipated military advantage and the collateral damage expected. For example, the intelligence input considers factors that may establish the legality of the target and the anticipated military advantage, such as the nature of the terrorist activity in which the terrorist target is involved (for example, participating in rocket attacks directed at Israeli civilians) and their role within the enemy's military operations. The intelligence insight will also consider, to the extent possible in the given circumstances, information that can be used to assess the extent of the anticipated collateral damage to civilians or civilian objects.

Based on this information, along with the insight of additional professionals such as damage assessment experts, the military commander may properly apply the principles of distinction, proportionality and the obligation to undertake precautionary measures – both in deciding on the attack itself and the manner in which it will be conducted (for example, the timing of the attack, the type of munitions to be used, etc.)
Almost certainly, not a single international journalist who reported on Gaza ever heard of this website, or even ever consulted an expert on international law, before throwing around terms like "war crime" and "proportionality."

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