Israel is currently in the midst of a large-scale conflict against Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza following the October 7th Genocide. The IDF is currently amid an aerial attack on Gaza, and according to all reports, is on the brink of a major ground operation. But why are the forces waiting? What is the rationale for waiting and not entering Gaza already?
Certainly, there are operational aspects behind this decision. One set of them, concerns civilians’ and soldiers’ right to life and the obligations stemming from it.
The right to life dictates that one must not arbitrarily be deprived of their right to life. Any state-authorized killing must be done according to the law and with due process. A state has an obligation to protect, respect, and implement this right. The right to life continues to apply even during an armed conflict. However, in general, attacks carried out in accordance with the laws of war (international humanitarian law) do not constitute arbitrary deprivation of life.
I am focusing here on three groups and the potential clash between the state’s duty to protect their right to life: (1) Israeli residents, especially those living in the Gaza envelope. (2) The hostages held in the Gaza Strip. (3) IDF soldiers.
The essence of the aerial and ground operations is, first and foremost, to protect and secure the first group — Israeli residents and especially those living in the Gaza envelope. However, aerial and ground operations may endanger the second group – the hostages held in the Gaza Strip (including Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who have been held in Gaza for nine and eight years, respectively). Israel has an obligation to protect, to the best of its ability, the right to life of its captive citizens, and this remains true even in the context of its own attacks. Therefore, it is paramount that Israel does everything diplomatically, operationally, and intelligence-wise to obtain full information regarding the situation and location of the hostages and adjust its operations accordingly.
(It is important to note that nothing written here diminishes or in any way absolves Hamas as the primer responsible for the well-being of the hostages. Any harm to the hostages is, first and foremost, the responsibility of Hamas, which has control over the hostages, and has been the de-facto authority in Gaza for over 15 years.)
The third group is IDF soldiers. While it is customary to view soldiers primarily as military assets, they do not forfeit their right to life, and the state is obligated to protect their right to life. While there is an inherent risk in combat activities, the mere fact that they are sent into combat does not in itself violate the right to life. The state is obligated to ensure that their activities are carried out with proper preparation and adequate equipment and that the soldiers are sufficiently trained.
Failing to comply with these duties and sending soldiers into Gaza when there is insufficient intelligence about what Hamas has prepared and what its operational capabilities are could potentially be a breach of the state’s obligations towards its soldiers. The cabinet and the military leadership must carefully consider the benefit and necessity of each stage of entry into Gaza before issuing the order. Sending soldiers into Gaza solely for the sake of public or governmental revenge would constitute a blatant violation of the soldiers’ right to life. Refraining from exploiting the opportunity to release the hostages, as far as possible, before the ground incursion may constitute a breach of the state’s duty towards them. Security considerations must also consider the possibility that Hamas may harm hostages in response to Israel’s ground offensive and increase rocket fire into Israeli territory, putting additional civilians at risk.
None of the above should be construed as implying that there is no justification for a ground incursion, that IDF soldiers will enter Gaza unprepared or without proper equipment, or that the government is ignoring the status and conditions of the hostages. Rather, this post reiterates the importance of using the waiting period appropriately for equipment readiness (which should be the responsibility of the state, not the general public), training, and intelligence gathering. The relevant considerations must be taken into account, and if possible, it should also be communicated to the public.
I hope that the fighting will end soon and lead to the release of hostages, the removal of the threat to residents of the Gaza envelope and the south, and, no less importantly, as few additional casualties as possible.