Wednesday, July 28, 2021

  • Wednesday, July 28, 2021
  • Elder of Ziyon
One of the most striking things about reports by Human Rights Watch on Israeli military activities is the almost comical ignorance that they have on IDF procedures, and similarly absurd self confidence that they are experts in military, legal and intelligence matters. 

HRW cherry picks any examples they can find of what they believe are IDF airstrikes that have no military value and they send Gaza-based researchers to confirm their predetermined results. Over and over again, they say that they could find no evidence of any valid military target so therefore none exists. They also make the assumption that Israel's refusal to give them sensitive details on the decision-making for any target is evidence that there is no such reasoning behind the target selection. The underlying assumption that HRW and other NGOs make is that the professional Israeli military acts like a racist and spiteful teenager, making decisions to kill civilians on the spur of the moment and then trying to cover up their mistakes.

Anyone who has ever read a detailed report from Israel's Military Advocate General  (MAG) Corps can see immediately the difference in professionalism between HRW's shallow research and what the IDF does to balance critical security needs with international law. 

I've referred before to the 2015 report by two US legal experts, Michael N. Schmitt and John J. Merriam,  where they actually went to Israel and researched the IDF operations. They issued an 88-page report, plus appendices, that described the IDF legal environment in great detail.

Here, I try to excerpt and condense all the thinking and controls involved before the IDF executes an airstrike against a target. It makes Human Rights Watch reports look like they are written by Mickey Mouse.

The Air Force’s targeting process can roughly be broken down into several discrete steps: Target Development, Target Assessment, Pre-Strike Controls, and Strike Operations. 

Target Development 

Target development is concerned with identifying what to attack. The central feature of the process is the “Target Bank,” a master list of pre-planned targets developed by IDF commanders to achieve desired operational effects it anticipates needing. Like any other advanced military, the IDF is constantly engaged in developing war plans for a variety of future contingencies, even during peacetime. When hostilities break out, additional pre-planned targets are developed in an expedited fashion and added to the Target Bank. 

The target development process begins with a review of a target in light of the mission objectives. In this phase, planners identify the desired effect they need to achieve. For instance, must the target be destroyed or merely degraded to achieve the desired effect? Or, must a line of communication such as a road or airfield be rendered permanently unusable or only taken out of use for a specific period of time? This process also determines the “uncertainty” surrounding the target. How specific is the intelligence in terms of geographic and temporal certainty? What intelligence gaps remain and how may the intelligence taskings be refined to resolve doubt? 

IDF lawyers figure heavily in this process. Once planners identify and propose targets based on anticipated or actual missions and operational goals, lawyers from the International Law Department review each. When hostilities break out, the ILD is augmented by a group of additional LOAC experts, including both active duty and reserve officers; this combined entity is known as the Operational Law Apparatus (OLA) and is commanded by the head of the Department. With sensitivity to policy and operational considerations, members of the OLA first determine whether the proposed target qualifies as a “military objective,” a term defined below. It is during this review, and especially for fixed targets such as command and control nodes, critical lines of communication, arms caches, or fixed military facilities, that possible proportionality concerns (also discussed below) are highlighted. 

MAG officers utilize a detailed checklist to perform the legal review of the proposed strike (Appendix I). Based on this initial assessment, each target is designated as “Approved,” “Conditional,” or “Not Approved.”...

Target Assessment 

Whereas target development is concerned with determining what to attack, target assessment focuses on how and when to attack. The target assessment phase begins when a target enters the Target Bank and continues through the post-strike phase as Battle Damage Assessments (BDA) and debriefings are conducted. Many of the activities described in this phase may have already occurred once, in at least a rudimentary way, during Target Development. In Target Assessment, these steps are re-addressed in a refined way. Therefore, Target Assessment is less a “step” or “phase” in the targeting process than a component in a continuous loop of intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination. 

During Target Assessment, planners again identify any specially protected persons or objects under the LOAC, like medical facilities, that are in the target area and assess the likelihood of collateral damage to civilian persons or objects that may result. They also designate “dead-space” near the target that is relatively free of civilians and important civilian property, such as an abandoned building or an open area in a depression. The dead spaces are noted for possible use during execution of the strike as a location towards which a steerable weapon such as a laser-guided missile may be diverted to limit unanticipated collateral damage. IDF lawyers in the OLA provide around-the-clock advice to planners and commanders as they refine target intelligence to ensure compliance with the LOAC. 

This situational understanding informs the weaponeering process, which in the IDF is elaborate and sophisticated. Broadly speaking, “weaponeering” is the selection of the means (weapon) and method (tactic) that will be employed to attack a particular target. Effective weaponeering is as much a military art as it is a military science.

During weaponeering, expert planners adjust the munition, the delivery platform, the angle of attack, and other physical variables in order to best achieve the desired military effect while complying with the LOAC requirement to minimize or eliminate collateral damage to protected persons and property. For instance, the IDF often employs specially configured smaller warheads with reduced explosive material against targets in urban areas to limit collateral damage. Other warheads have been re-engineered to generate lighter fragments upon detonation so that the fragments travel shorter distances from the point of impact. Additionally, pilots and operational planners with training in physics and aerodynamics determine the appropriate angle of attack – the vector upon which munitions will be released from attack platforms—in order to direct the blast away from nearby civilian persons or objects while achieving the desired effect. Of particular note is the fact that, whenever feasible, the IDF uses engineers alongside munitions experts and pilots to better understand the impact of an attack on structures. ...

Pre-Strike Controls 

Targets that have been developed and assessed remain in the Target Bank until the decision is made to strike a target. At that point, additional pre-strike controls are implemented. The target is re-verified – appropriate intelligence assets and other observation platforms confirm the location of the target and that it remains a valid military objective susceptible to attack. Pre-strike controls include reassessment of the initial proportionality review conducted during target development, since changes in the military situation may decrease the military advantage anticipated or the previously unidentified presence of protected persons or objects in the target area might increase expected collateral damage. Proportionality is monitored, to the extent feasible, until the moment of weapons release. If significant new intelligence surfaces, a reassessment all relevant officers involved in the targeting process, including the legal advisor, is required. 

Whenever feasible, the IDF employs various precautions aimed at avoiding, or at least minimizing, the collateral damage expected from the attack. These precautions may include, for example, visual observation by an RPA. This enables movable targets to be tracked and facilitates the identification of civilians and civilian objects that may have come into the target area unexpectedly in order to cancel, divert, or modify a strike if necessary based on legal or rules of engagement concerns. 

When civilians may be affected by an attack and it is militarily feasible to do so, the IDF undertakes extensive measures to warn them....

Strike Operations

Target development, target assessment, and pre-strike controls continue until the moment of attack. The final decision to strike is generally made at a high level in the Air Force Headquarters, where a robust operations center monitors each target through strike execution. Pilots retain the discretion to abort a mission if their own observation of the target indicates that the unanticipated presence of civilians or civilian objects in the target area requires the attack to be cancelled on the basis of a change in proportionality. The IDF stresses this responsibility, and the responsibility to take feasible precautions in attack, to pilots in their training. 

The ultimate measure of control for air operations lies in the senior decision-makers in the air operations center. While the IDF did not consent to public identification of the individuals who exercise this authority, it can be described as a cadre of very senior decision-makers with extensive experience, training, and robust support from intelligence analysts, weaponeering experts and legal advisors. During the Authors’ interviews of senior IDF leaders, it became clear that they are acutely aware of the scrutiny their attacks receive and of their legal obligations. Indeed, in many cases they disapprove of what are clearly lawful strikes on the basis that the advantage likely to be gained is outweighed by potential negative repercussions in the public information and strategic communications arena (the so-called “CNN effect”), or based on broader policy concerns that factor heavily in their decisions. 

Immediately following an attack, the pilot, as well as ground observers and other intelligence sources, conduct an assessment of the strike’s effects, both in terms of Battle Damage Assessment and collateral damage. This assessment feeds a “lessons learned” process in which tactics, munitions, and the effectiveness of various intelligence sources are analyzed and, when necessary, adjusted to facilitate greater precision and better effects, as well as decreased collateral damage, in subsequent attacks. 

This doesn't describe the efforts that go into a more dynamic target, namely a high-ranking terrorist. A person cannot be in a "target bank." But you can be sure that the same levels of oversight and intelligence are used in making the decision to attack such a person or group, a detailed proportionality analysis is done and approved, and the strikes are only done in those cases it is not feasible to warn the innocent civilians who are being used as human shields. 

Beyond this there are other legal layers involved as additional controls - the MAG and the Supreme Court, which has made decisions even during wartime on what military activities are legal - something that is essentially never done in the US or other countries.

In short, if the IDF is targeting a building, it has excellent intelligence that the building is a valid military target. HRW sending their faux experts to look for craters and interview family members is not research - it is an attempt at confirmation of what they have already decided.

The average IDF soldier knows more about the laws of armed conflict than the top experts at Human Rights Watch. Legal issues are baked into every decision the IDF makes.

Human Rights Watch either never read how the IDF actually works, or if they did, their biases and hubris in their reports are off the charts. 

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