Daniel Beaudoin

The non-kinetic dimension of the Gaza War

The non-kinetic aspects of Israel’s war on Hamas for its massacre of October 7, 2023, present a formidable challenge to its ability to bring the full force of its military arsenal to bear on a terrorist organization which has in the past two decades turned the civilian infrastructure in the Gaza strip into a narrative force multiplier for its campaign against Israel.

The need to confront this battle was emphasized already in 2015 with the publication of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) 5-year plan, which broke new ground in devoting attention to the non-kinetic aspects of armed conflict. Specifically, it highlights the need to prepare for the war of perceptions and to thoroughly address legal, humanitarian, and information dimensions; that is, Israel must strive to create and maintain political legitimacy for the use of force to enhance the IDF’s freedom of action in the current international environment.

On the humanitarian front, Israel is criticized for not allowing more humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. The fact that this humanitarian aid strengthens Hamas (who appropriate much of it), and prolongs the war to the detriment of Israel and the 130 Israelis who are held in captivity in the most adverse of circumstances, fails in tilting public opinion in Israel’s favor.

Moreover, the Biden administration is exerting a considerable amount of pressure on Israel to be more forthcoming with allowing for the humanitarian supplies to enter.  So, to guarantee its freedom of action in the international environment, Israel agrees to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza strip, hoping that in the process it may be perceived as acting legally and morally.

As concerns the manner in which the IDF is conducting its operations, most attempts by Israel to show that it is engaged in a by International Humanitarian Law (IHL) justified proportional and discriminate attacks on specific Hamas combatant units, missile batteries, and the extensive 500 km underground tunnel-system stretching across the whole of the Gaza strip, are largely met with suspicion and disbelief.

Indeed, Israel is portrayed as a gross violator of the laws of armed conflict, morally corrupt as it demonstrates a wanton disregard for the lives of innocents, and vengeful in its motivations. Human rights organizations call for formal investigations for war crimes committed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and others claim that the toll being inflicted on the vast majority of Palestinians is disproportionate and unjust.

Operating in civilian territories poses many operational and ethical dilemmas, such as the difficulty to distinguish between enemy combatants and innocent civilians, and civilian cooperation with terrorist activities. Most significant within the Israeli context are the challenges Israel and the IDF face in operating in Gaza, one of the most crowded and densely populated territories in the world, making it extraordinarily difficult to fight in it without considerable collateral casualties. It is thus practically impossible for Israel to defend itself without aiming at Hamas targets that are deliberately interwoven with the civilian population.

This operational and ethical dilemma is further exacerbated by an enemy which intentionally puts its citizens in harm’s way, as it notoriously and intentionally positions its headquarters, missiles, and tunnels in and below hospitals, schools, mosques, and other civilian facilities. The argument that according to international humanitarian law, these infrastructures become lawful and legitimate military targets when they lose their civilian nature, does little to convince the critics that Israel is using proportionate force. Mysteriously, Hamas escapes any real criticism for its human shield policy, which is a war crime.

Hamas’s cynical use of its population as a human shield grants it a considerable advantage, both operationally and strategically; to discourage attack and to implicate Israel as responsible for civilian casualties, thus exerting international political pressure on Israel to cease its operations by painting the IDF’s military campaign as illegitimate. One prominent example is the construction of the main Hamas headquarters underneath the central Shifa hospital.

In this non-kinetic dimension of the war over the Gaza war narrative, Israel is facing an uphill battle to justify its operations. This challenge is especially marked in today’s networked world, where the power of information and media seems to override most other policy considerations.

About the Author
Daniel Beaudoin is a retired Lt. Col. from the IDF, and the executive director of the European International Society for Military Ethics. He is an adjunct professor in political science at Tel Aviv University, and specializes in military ethics, the politics of humanitarian aid, and humanitarian crisis management.
Related Topics
Related Posts