Defending Israel on a World Stage

In the coming months the IDF may well stand accused of war crimes it allegedly committed in a defensive military operation. Israel’s detractors will present pictures of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, who were killed during Operation Protective Edge. Though Palestinian civilians who got caught in the crossfire were not targeted by the IDF, the critics in the global media and UN will charge Israel with “disproportionate use of force” in its war against Hamas terrorists.

The usual Israel bashers will include hard core anti-Semites, so-called anti-Zionists and those fair-minded folks who fall for the “politically correct” rationale that spreads the blame for civilian casualties among soldiers and terrorists, as if there is no difference between them. Such impartial types, and there are so many of them living in Western democratic countries, usually claim that they are not anti-Semitic and “support Israel’s right to exist.” Israel’s advocates should make every effort to get through to them, using this line of reasoning:

Tohar HaNeshek, Purity of Arms, is embedded in the IDF’s military doctrine. In times of conflict, Israeli soldiers are expected to behave according to regulations which prohibit them from opening fire indiscriminately and harming non-combatants. Under this code of ethics Israeli soldiers are continually reminded by their superiors of the Rules of Engagement, which specify when use of force is acceptable and to what degree such force may be applied.

This code was adopted by the IDF in line with Judeo-Christian values and to gain the acceptance of a judgmental international community. Oddly, Israel’s faultfinders compare the IDF’s wartime behavior to that of Hamas, a group of fanatics who don’t know the meaning of Purity of Arms or have any moral guidelines to speak of.

Israel is an active player in the development of precision-guided weapons, which are used by the IDF, US Armed Forces and other legitimate armies with the intent to reduce collateral damage and civilian casualties. These smart weapons cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and field. By sharp contrast, Hamas uses dumb rockets and mortars that cost next to nothing and are fired with the express aim to inflict as much collateral damage and kill as many innocent civilians as possible. The IDF has ample video footage of specific Hamas strongholds that were targeted and hit. Hamas direct hits have more to do with dumb luck, as its targets are whole cities and their populations.

Precision guided weapons have performance specifications called “Circular Error Probable,” (CEP) which indicate the maximum distance in a 360-degree radius that a deployed weapon can conceivably miss its target. For example, the US-made Joint Direct Attack Munition, deployed by the IDF, has a CEP of up to thirty meters. Hamas rockets fall into their CEP range when they miss Be’er Sheva and land in an open field. How’s that for disproportion? Which side is aiming for a specific target, and which side has clear criminal intent?

Be that as it may, CEP is an indication of a technological drawback. There are no perfect weapons, not yet, and any discussion of a margin for error must also take into account the human factor. Tragically, Palestinian civilians were killed when they were deliberately put in harm’s way by Hamas, whose shameful propaganda campaign is built on pictures of dead innocents, and the more women and children the better. This does not release the IDF, US Armed Forces or any army that adheres to the Purity of Arms doctrine from the moral imperative to reduce the technological flaws and human errors that can cause civilian fatalities, regardless of the cost. Israelis are most sensitive to this need as every time they respond to Hamas provocation they have to evade a Palestinian human shield. For this reason, Israel’s defense industry participates in military development programs to upgrade and ultimately perfect guided weapons. Instead of facing world condemnation, Israel should be lauded for its ongoing efforts to protect civilians.

It is known that the chances for human error dramatically increase in an urban war zone, which in military jargon is called an “operational dirty battlefield.” In order to score a clean hit of a terrorist target, one must get around non-combatants using precision guided hand held weapons. In an urban warfare setting, both armed terrorists and unprotected civilians can pop up in every corner. Under these circumstances it is no wonder that civilian fatalities increase, and that soldiers who have to pick their way between innocent bystanders face much greater risks. Accordingly, the IDF suffered heavy losses during its ground operation in Gaza.

The IDF could have avoided those losses. For an army that faces world condemnation for its bad wartime behavior it’s a wonder they even went into Gaza. Why put Israeli soldiers at risk when they could have done the job from the relative safety of their F-16s? If the IDF baits civilians, as some judges and jurors are alleging, why spend so much money on precision guided weapons? Why didn’t the Israeli Air Force just shower Gaza with dumb bombs, Hamas style? Indeed, the sanctimonious “disproportionate use of force” crowd has a weak case.

The IDF’s concern for the safety of Palestinian innocents was further demonstrated by their humanitarian efforts during the recent Gaza campaign. Palestinian civilians always got advance warnings from the Israelis of impending attacks, in accordance with the Geneva Convention – and were kept trapped in targeted areas by Hamas, in violation of the Geneva Convention. What’s more, wounded Palestinians were allowed to enter Israel and receive medical treatment. What other army opens its borders and the doors of its medical facilities to treat enemy wounded? During the ceasefires, the IDF sent truckloads of food to Gaza to feed Palestinians. What other army in the world feeds the enemy during wartime? It is noteworthy that in both instances, the medical evacuations and food deliveries at the Erez Crossing into Gaza, the IDF was fired upon by Hamas. What other army in the world has to deal with such a cynical enemy?

All of the above claims can be substantiated. There is plenty of documentary evidence to build a strong case for Israel, to convince all those well-meaning and badly mistaken folks that Hamas terrorists, not the IDF, are the real war criminals. With the looming threat of ISIS, it is high time we spread the word that radical Islam, not Israel, presents a threat to world peace.

But on a world stage and perhaps in an international court of law, the whole Israeli case goes out the window with Bibi Netanyahu’s recent call to seize more land on the West Bank. Of all the inappropriate and untimely moves, this one has to be the worst ever made by an Israeli Prime Minister. It’s conventional wisdom that one should always go into court with clean hands. How is Israel supposed to beat charges of war crimes when it postures itself as a provocateur? What is supposed to come out of this land grab? Who gains from this aggravation, the Palestinian Authority, with whom we are supposed to negotiate a final status agreement, or Hamas, with whom we just fought such a costly war?

Bibi is a shrewd politician. He obviously made this maneuver to bypass Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman from the Right, and when he backs down – and he will back down, when the political backlash brings him down to earth – he can score points by blaming the Left. Once Bibi climbs down from his tree and stops thumbing his nose at the whole world we just might have a shot at defending our good name on a world stage.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.
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