A mathematical IDF

I must confess that I never really understood the claim that the IDF is the world’s most moral military. This is due to the fact that I do not know if any military can be moral as the military’s role is to kill the enemy during war. As war brings chaos, destruction, death and suffering it is completely immoral and so the very concept of a moral military is somewhat ludicrous.

My understating of the IDF’s morality is similar to my feelings toward the people of Israel. I don’t love Am Israel (the people of Israel) as I cannot love an entity made of millions of people I have never met. I love certain Israelis. I love Gali and Sivan because of their compassion and I love Tomer because of his wide heart.  Similarly, I know that there are many IDF soldiers, commanders and officers who are guided by moral codes since I trained them during my military service. And I have complete faith in these exceptional young men now situated in Merkava tanks in the Gaza strip. But how can I say the same thing of scores of other soldiers whom I have never trained or even met? Moreover, isn’t ones sense of morality influenced by countless factors such as personal history, education, upbringing and life experience?

It seems to me that the IDF is first and foremost a mathematical military. Each target in the Gaza strip is given a mathematical value on a scale with regard to its strategic importance. Then the same target is given another value on a scale of “collateral damage” (IDF terminology for innocent bystanders). Thus, a Hamas command and control center may receive a higher score as a strategic target yet its proximity to a school would also award it a high score on the collateral damage scale. In such cases the targeted may be not be attacked.

At times, other factors are added to the IDFs’ equations. Such was the case with last week’s bombing of a hospital in the Gaza strip. In terms of legal consequences, the IDF spokesperson documented several instances in which terrorists fired at Israeli soldiers from within the hospital. In terms of strategic importance, the hospital may have ranked moderately high as rockets were hidden under it. However, Hamas’s rocket depository is large enough even without said rockets and Hamas’s leaders were not hiding under the hospital. In terms of news coverage and Israel’s international reputation bombing a hospital, any hospital, could have serious ramifications. Yet there was another factor added to this equation and that was the message this bombing would send to Hamas’s leaders, the message that “the gloves are off”. No matter where you hide we will bomb you, even if you hide under hospitals or schools.

X times Y times Z equals the quantification of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not its diplomatic resolution, not its moral resolution but its mathematical resolution.

The Israeli government quantified this conflict even before the IDF did so. For instance, Israel uses mathematical equations in order to estimate the amount of food it delivers into the Gaza strip as humanitarian aid. One takes the minimum amount of calories necessary for a human being to survive and multiplies them by the number of civilians living in Gaza. Some see this equation as proof of Israel’s moral standing since it delivers food into an area it no longer controls or has responsibility for. Others may view it as terrifying example of Israel’s lack of morals, as the reduction of human life to variables in an equation,.

You be the judge.

The birth of the mathematical IDF can be traced to two important events in recent years. The first is the Goldstone Report published in the wake of the destruction and high death tool during operation Cast Lead. The role of the Goldstone committee, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, was to investigate alleged war crimes committed by Israel.  Despite the fact that many Israelis despise this UN council, and view at the source of all evil in the world, committees appointed by this body have immense power as they may lead to indictments of Israeli soldiers and officers in the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The quantification of operation Protective Edge is meant to ensure that no IDF soldiers are prosecuted on war crimes as each target is quantified in terms of collateral damage. Moreover, how can one blame Israel of war crimes after it warns civilians of impending air strikes by text messages and pamphlets?

The second event that gave birth to the rise of Israel’s mathematical military is rapid advancements in information and communication technologies. Nowadays, citizens all over the world are constantly exposed to images of the IDF’s fighting in Gaza. Certain images, such as those of the Palestinian children killed while playing on the beach of Gaza, can influence public sentiment abroad which translates into political pressure on Israel to end its military operations. Thus, if the IDF is to achieve its military goals it must minimize the amount of collateral damage and avoid graphic images of death and destruction.

So finally we must ask ourselves if the IDF is a moral military or a mathematical one or even both. What causes the IDF to send text messages and leaflets before an aerial bombardment? Its moral code or its desire to avoid criminal prosecution in the Hague? The desire to save Palestinian lives or an attempt to minimize graphic imagery of dead civilians?

It is quite possible that we will never find a simple answer to this question. Yet it seems to me that the most moral military in the world is the Swedish army who does not spread death and destruction. So if we truly want a moral army we need a peacekeeping military rather than a fighting one through which more and more of our children as exposed to the immorality of war.

About the Author
Dr. Ilan Manor (PhD Oxford University) is a diplomacy scholar at Tel Aviv University. Manor's recent book, The Digitalization of Diplomacy, explores how digital technologies have reshaped diplomatic practices. Manor has contributed to several publications including The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz and the Jewish Daily Forward. According to his Twitter bio, Manor is the inventor of the ashtray. He blogs at