Michael Jackson

Balancing Lives

Proportionality in the laws of warfare means adjusting the value of the military target to the expected loss of civilian life.  For example, targeting a munitions factory situated next to a residential area.  What will be the expected military gains and the expected civilian losses?  Before considering proportionality in the next phase of Israel’s conquest of Gaza, I consider another type of proportionality:  the losses so far in the whole campaign.  The horrors of October 7th were cataclysmic: 1,200 killed, 240 hostages, and much destruction of homes and property.  The losses (so far) to Gaza have been much greater.  18,000 dead, probably at least 13,000 civilians, many more severely injured, and huge property and infrastructure damage.  Denying this basic fact, is placing the value of Jewish lives above that of Arab lives.

Each side focuses on its own losses and its own heart-wrenching tragedies.  This understandable focus itself is an implicit undercounting, even dismissal, of the other side’s losses.   

I want to consider Israel’s next steps.  It can continue with heavy bombing, combined with on the ground tank maneuvers and special force operations.  The Americans have suggested less bombing and more ground operations, especially using special forces.  I did read that 40% of Israeli bombs are not up-to-date GPS-guided which contributes to higher civilian losses.

The numbers I am speculating here are purely my own.  I am sure the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) have calculated this very well and very secretly. Suppose a heavy bombing campaign, i.e. a continuation of the current process will kill 12,000 Gazan civilians as opposed to a more special forces campaign that might kill 5,000, i.e., 7,000 fewer lives lost.   There will be an extra cost in Israeli soldier lives which, again, the army can speculate upon far more accurately than I can.  As of this writing, 461 Israeli soldiers have died in Gaza.  If we assume that 100 extra soldiers may be killed by drastically cutting future bombing and using more special forces, then this is a balancing of 7,000 Gazan civilians against 100 Israeli soldier deaths.

These are my purely speculative numbers.  The IDF has more precise calculations, as far as the fog of war allows such speculation.  How would you balance Israeli soldier lives against Palestinian civilian (mainly women and children) lives?  More pertinently, how does the IDF top brass balance these lives?

About the Author
Born in London in 1949. Studied Maths at Warwick University. Came to Israel (WUJS program at Arad) in 1971. I became a citizen and served in the army in 1973. Returned to the UK in 1974. Worked in Information Systems. Married an American Orthodox woman in 1977 and moved to America. For a few years I have led a retiree philosophy class.
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