Blogs > Cliopatria > The Sacred Oath Is Shattered

Aug 9, 2006 6:37 am

The Sacred Oath Is Shattered

For weeks now I have been profoundly disquieted by the Israeli Defense Forces' tactical approach to combatting Hezbollah. I have wrestled with it on my professional blog; I have discussed it with friends both in and out of the armed forces; I have let it distract me from my planned agenda of summer work. But then, the ethics of war -- the problem of how to conduct war in a moral fashion -- has engaged me for a long time.

To date, an estimated 800 Lebanese civilians have died under the bombs and shells of the IDF's F-16s and self-propelled howitzers. The campaign has been a humanitarian disaster, a political embarrassment, and so devoid of military success that the Israeli general in charge of the operation has been sacked.

But enraged by the kidnapping of two IDF soldiers, the murder of several more, and the indiscriminate rain of Katyusha rockets that has fallen on Israel since mid-July, killing about 100 Israeli civilians, the response of those who sympathize with Israel has been to shrug off the deaths of Lebanese civilians. The standard line is to place the entire blame on Hezbollah because Hezbollah is said to have intentionally established command posts and rocket launchers in populated areas. Another refrain is to blame the civilians themselves, on the theory that only Hezbollah supporters would be anywhere near a Hezbollah military position. And inevitably, those whose sympathies lie with Israel have blamed the media for showing what Israeli bombs and shells do to human beings.

They have gotten so far gone with rage that a number of them now proclaim:

Well, I'm not a fan of disproportionate response. The reliance on aerial and artillery bombardment troubles me; I cannot, try as I might, accept the proposition that it falls within the modern laws and usages of war. It violates the very core of those laws and usages: The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. Their deaths are permissible only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

Regarding this last point, a principle called"double effect" is often invoked as a standard for conduct. Michael Walzer’s formulation is perhaps the best:"Double effect is a way of reconciling the absolute prohibition against attacking noncombatants with the legitimate conduct of military activity," which may unavoidably expose noncombatants to harm. Its key contention is that"the intention of the actor is good, that is, he aims narrowly at the acceptable effect [e.g., the death or incapacitation of combatants]; the evil effect [death or injury to noncombatants] is not one of his ends, nor is it a means to his ends, and, aware of the evil involved, he seeks to minimize it, accepting costs to himself." (Walzer,Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations, 2d ed. [New York, 1992], pp. 153, 155.)

Those inclined to dismiss such a principle as hopelessly naive might do well to examine a historical example in which an army actually employed it. The army was that of Israel. The occasion was its war with the PLO in Lebanon twenty-four years ago.

I discovered this while reading military analyst Richard A. Gabriel's account of that event, Operation Peace for Galilee: The Israeli-PLO War in Lebanon (New York, 1984). Having already studied the U.S. Army's performance in Vietnam, Gabriel was impressed by the importance the IDF placed on the exercise of restraint in war. Part of this was practical: the wholesale destruction of homes and civilians would undercut Israel's political objectives by inflaming both international and domestic opinion. And the IDF was convinced that the psychological well-being and military effectiveness of soldiers suffered if they were required to perform acts that were morally questionable. But much of it owed to the warrior ethos as it had evolved in the IDF. Wrote Gabriel:

The IDF perhaps more than any other army stresses in all aspects of its training and officer selection that the use of force within the Jewish historical and moral tradition has an ethical base. This doctrine permeates all aspects of IDF military life. It is the doctrine of Tohar Haneshek, or the purity of arms. The fundamental tenet of Tohar Haneshek is that military force may be used only in self-defense. Moreover, there is a clear notion that there is a proper"moral conduct of war"; a state may be engaged in hostilities, but that does not lower the standards of humanity that must be applied. It is a fundamental tenet of Israeli doctrine that destruction must be limited wherever possible, and, above all, human life must be preserved. (171-172)

In populated areas, the IDF eschewed the use of air strikes and artillery. Instead they sent in ground troops, who could more readily discriminate between civilians and enemy combatants. And in accordance with Walzer's definition of"double effect," they accepted costs to themselves to spare civilian lives:

In built-up areas, IDF soldiers were specifically forbidden to throw hand grenades or satchel chages into houses or buildings before entering them. It is a standard ground-assault technique in house-to-house fighting either to blow a hole through the wall or to throw a grenade through the door before entering. At the very least, one enters a house firing. All these tactics were denied the IDF simply to avoid killing innocent civilians. As a consequence, the PLO often ambushed Israeli soldiers from inside houses. It is a telling statistic that at least 55 percent of the total IDF casualties were inflicted by small-arms fire. The urban ambush using civilians as cover or shields became a basic PLO tactic. It was a tactic that the Israelis knew would be employed against them, and they chose nonetheless to restrain their troops rather than risk greater civilian casualties. (174)

This is not to suggest that Operation Peace for Galilee was pristine. It badly damaged Lebanon, it caused considerable dissent within Israel, tarnished its reputation abroad, led to eighteen years of occupation duty, and, as we are now witnessing, did not bring peace to Galilee. Moreover, despite the determined -- one might say heroic -- IDF effort to avoid harming civilians, Gabriel concluded that between 5,000 and 8,000 Lebanese civilians perished between June and September 1984 (in part because of PLO and Syrian action). It bears noting, however, that between 10 and 16 percent of that number of Lebanese civilians have already died, and Israel is nowhere near the operational success it achieved in 1982.

Why, one wonders, has the IDF so signally turned its back on the substance of the Tohar Haneshek? The answer may lie in the person of its chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, a former air force commander who in 2002 inaugurated a program of surgical air strikes to assassinate prominent Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank. When these strikes produced unexpectedly heavy collateral damage -- on one occasion 15 civilian bystanders were killed by an attack that slew exactly one terrorist -- Halutz bridled at those who questioned whether such methods conformed to the IDF's traditional moral code, and he made plain that a ratio of 15 dead civilians to one dead terrorist was within acceptable limits.

But another answer may lie in the cost of Operation Peace for Galilee. In the six weeks of heavy combat and the first year of occupation that followed, the IDF lost 516 dead and almost 2,800 wounded. Relative to the population of the United States, Gabriel noted, that was equivalent to 32,460 dead and 163,380 wounded. Perhaps the IDF cannot nerve itself to endure such losses again.

Nevertheless, in terms of the laws and usages of war, it has no alternative. It cannot husband the lives of its soldiers, who are combatants, by sacrificing the lives of civilians, who are not. Soldiers engage in violence; civilians make no resistance. Soldiers have a chance to defend their lives. Civilians have none. Nor is it acceptable to say that because Hezbollah ignores the laws and usages of war, the IDF may do so as well. Such talk mocks the Tohar Haneshek. But for many years now, Israel has been embroiled in struggles with foes so hateful, so implacably hostile, that perhaps it has become what it beheld. If so, it would once again prove Aeschylus correct:

Far-stretching, endless time
brings forth all hidden things
and buries that which once did shine.
The firm resolve falters. The sacred oath is shattered.
And let none say,"It cannot happen here."

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Stephan Xavier Reich - 11/24/2006

Nasrallah isn't Robert E Lee, and Lebanon isn't Gettysburg.

Stephan Xavier Reich - 11/24/2006

"because Hezbollah is said to have intentionally established command posts and rocket launchers in populated areas."

You think that's not true? I suppose it is possible that the 3000 rockets filled with grapeshot send into Israel were all accidental launches. But it's not likely.

"those whose sympathies lie with Israel have blamed the media for showing what Israeli bombs and shells do to human beings."

That's a little facile, even for a Civil War historian! I think most of the blaming of the media has to do with doctored photos and the like.

Mark Grimsley - 8/12/2006

If you could provide links or full citations to the articles you mention, I'd love to have a look.

I'd rather not speak to the Kosovo campaign without going back and evaluating it carefully. But the short answer for now is that I'd be comfortable judging the US by the same standards I'm applying to Israel.

Re the "suicide pact" thing, in Just and Unjust Wars Walzer refers to it as "supreme emergency," and uses it to justify Britain's area bombing campaign against German cities in 1940-1944. After 1944, he argues, Britain's position had sufficiently improved that its area bombing raids after that are morally dubious.

Mark Grimsley - 8/12/2006

Hi Hank,

I think we're reaching the point of diminishing returns in our exchange. Which is to say, I think we now have a pretty good grasp of the others' point of view and we're plainly not persuading one another.

If I understand you correctly, unless IDF (or any belligerent) chooses to reveal the intel on which it based a given strike, we are not in a position to draw any conclusions about whether or not it's observing the laws of war. By the same token, if Hezbollah claims -- as it has done -- that it has been attacking military facilities and dual use targets, then we got nothing to say. Indeed, Hezbollah's record looks better than Israel's. If one rocket is the equivalent of an aircraft sortie, then Hezbollah has conducted more sorties than the IAF and inflicted far fewer civilian casualties.

I realize you were just following the argument that Corn sketched in his Jurist article, but it seems to me that that particular dog won't hunt. We need to be able to take into full consideration the observations of NGOs like Human Rights Watch, which has concluded that neither Israel's nor Hezbollah's are within the standards set down by international law. Re HRW, they saw and evaluated the IAF air strike sites firsthand and concluded they didn't meet the standards; I don't think one can easily dismiss their conclusions and substitute one's own, unless one considers HRW biased against Israel or unless one is so disposed to favor Israel that reports impeaching the IAF's attacks are explained away.

To me, the argument in your last comment came off as strained, but to you, I imagine the arguments in this comment seem equally so. It might be better just to call it a day.

The one fruitful alternative, if the dialogue were to continue, would be to talk about the premises that inform our perspectives. I often find that's more interesting than having a debate, anyway.

I'll be on the road today, but I hope to be back online by this evening, so if you'd care to continue this discussion, I'd be glad to do so.



Hank Bower - 8/11/2006

Two interesting law review articles that you may find helpful and will get you into the subject are "Collateral Damage on the 21st Century Battlefield" by Jefferson D. Reynolds and "Limiting Attacks on Dual-Use Facilities Performing Indispensable Civilian Functions" by Henry Shue and David Wippman.

According to these articles, dual use facilities can be targeted under international law where the facilities contribute to the military effort. This would include banks if the attacking party believes that the back contributes to the war effort. "Specific targets may include ... financial, banking, and monetary exchange centers." (Collateral Damage, p. 86)

The question becomes whether direct damage to civilians resulting from the attack is so excessive in relation to the perceived military benefit that it is "disproportionate."

Indirect damage to civilians that results from lack of the availability of the facility after its destruction is not considered in this evaluation. Such damage may be considered for policy reasons to determine whether such indirect damage may put pressure on the opponent to surrender or would damage relations after a successful war to such extent that destruction of the facility should be avoided. However, the article makes it clear that this is not a consideration in determining the legality of the targeting, but only a policy consideration.

Do you think that President Clinton and General Wesley Clark should be tried for war crimes for the bombings in Kosovo? Targets in Kosovo included "electrical power plants, city bridges, railways, public buildings, factories, market places, hospitals, embassies, water supplies, and residential neighborhoods." The purpose was not to attack military targets but to destroy civilian morale. ("Deterioration of Limits on the Use of Force and its Perils: A Rejection of the Kosovo Precedent", by Ronald C. Santopadre, page 399)

I ran across an interesting comment that I fully expected to find. One finds it in much discussion of Constitutional issues. It said substantially, "International law is not a suicide pact." Walzer seems to accept this concept when he acknowledges that "Utilitarian calculation can force us to violate the rules of war only when we are face-to-face not merely with defeat but with a defeat likely to bring disaster to a political community." This concept must never be forgotten when dealing with Israel's position in the Middle East.


Mark Grimsley - 8/10/2006

The laws of war recognize that a belligerent may strike a "dual use" target -- one having both military and civilian use -- but in such cases the attacker has a stronger burden to demonstrate compelling military necessity. I'd be curious to know how an expert in international law would evaluate the IDF's claim that a bank meets the criterion. The banks destroyed didn't serve just Hezbollah, they served the Lebanese community in general. Access to one's financial resources is a pretty basic human necessity. Without it, you can't get other basic necessities, nor, when the IDF drops a flyer telling you to get the hell out of Dodge or else, can you access the funds needed for the prolonged vacation the IDF has suggested you take.

Mark Grimsley - 8/10/2006

Thanks so much for fixing that tag. It bugged me for an hour afterward that I wasn't able to do it! In general I don't have an obsessive-compulsive streak, but I do when it comes to HTML.

I'm glad you found the Corn article useful. I have found the <em>The Jurist</em> site, where the article appears, to be a boon of info on this particular subject.

Mark Grimsley - 8/10/2006

Hi Hank,

There are indeed discussions underway about whether and to what degree international law, just war theory, etc. may need to be modified in light of emerging trends in warfare. But that is a perennial issue and the laws and usages of war have, in the past, changed or expanded to take into account new conditions.

You mention having read the Geneva Conventions. Have you done any other reading on the subject? If not, a good starting point is International Humanitarian Law: Answers to Your Questions, a 44-page document in PDF format that provides, in FAQ form, a good introduction to the subject, and includes a 2-page bibliography for further reading. Questions 8 and 9 deal directly with the issues you raise.

My own experience has been that the core principles that inform international law and just war theory are quite robust. I also suspect that some talk of "new forms of war" is specious and self-interested rather than sincerely meant. After all, if one can successfully aver that one is dealing with a "new form of war," one can wriggle out of one's obligations under international law. Mary Ellen O'Connell, a former colleague of mine at the Mershon Center who now holds a chair in international law at Notre Dame, makes this basic point in an law review article critiquing the notion of a Global War on Terrorism.

Hope this helps.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/10/2006

I fixed the HTML tag; you swapped a hyperlink closure for an italics one. Easy mistake.

Corn's article is helpful, a nice roundup of the relevant technical and legal terms and issues.

You said the other one was stronger than I thought, so I went back and decided that it wasn't. Moving on...

Hank Bower - 8/10/2006

Thank you for your kind response and the citations to the law article and Human Rights Watch report. I make no claim of expertise in the law of armed conflict and issues involving targeting. I rely on the concepts presented in Mr. Corn's article.

Mr. Corn states clearly that "Ultimately, any assessment of criminal responsibility must be based on the facts available to the military decision-maker when the attack was ordered." After the fact knowledge as to the reality of the target is irrelevant to judging the legality of a targeting decision. Thus, the Human Rights Watch information is irrelevant to assessing Israeli targeting decisions. We need information from the IDF as to reasons for the attacks.

In fact, based on the information in the Human Rights Watch report, Israel seems to meet the requirement of "proportionality" or not inflicting excess collateral damage as described in Mr. Corn's article. Any loss of innocent life is horrible. There is too much of it in any war.

However, the strikes described in the Human Rights Watch report suggest very surgical attacks rather than carpet bombing or widespread devastation. The report indicates that single buildings were hit or single vehicles (in one case, 2 vehicles) attacked rather than several homes or many cars being destroyed in an attack.

The Human Rights Watch report seems to acknowledge that at least some of the attacks by IDF were on legitimate military targets.

Mr. Corn reminds us of one reality that should not be forgotten or made light of: "In practice, these decisions are often made in the extremis of combat." I do not think it unfair that we remind ourselves that this is combat with an organization that is intentionally attacking civilians with weapons designed to inflict as widespread death as possible.

Perhaps you missed the video of Hezbollah launching multiple rockets from very near a building in Qana. Undoubtedly, this was not an isolated instance. My understanding is that many of the artillery and aerial attacks are based on radar or other tracking back to the launch site.

I have to admit that I am quite uncertain as to how the concept of burden of proof applies to this situation. I think of it in terms of litigation; criminal litigation places the burden of proof always on the prosecuting authority, both as to going forward with evidence and proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt. I'm not sure the concept has any place in the issue at hand.

A concern about the Human Rights Watch report comes to mind. I have seen a number of statements by reporters indicating that Hezbollah threatened them or put pressure on them as to their reporting. Since the Human Rights Watch report is based almost entirely on interviews of local witnesses, one must question whether those witnesses were really free to talk honestly or were under threat by Hezbollah or simply were trying to toe the Hezbollah line.


Hank Bower - 8/10/2006

It seems to me that international law and just war doctrine face very serious questions in an environment that combines non-state terrorist organizations with potential possession of nuclear weapons.

Both international law and just war doctrine seem to envisage clear national boundaries and organized military forces subject to state or state-like entities. They do not seem to contemplate the Al Qaedas and Hezbollahs of the present world that lack formal organization or control of territory.

For example, an honest readng of the Geneva Convention will generate many questions as to how the non-state terrorist groups fit into the scheme. Al Qaeda have shown on numerous occasions their position regarding treatment of prisoners.

Just war doctrine permits defense of a country when attacked or when such attack is imminent. This clearly envisages state entities' massing troops near the border for a traditional invasion.

What does just war doctrine say to the country that develops or purchases a nuclear weapon to turn over to a non-state terrorist group for use in another country? Must the world wait for at least the first nuclear explosion to respond? How can one determine such a situation is imminent? Even after the fact, would adequate proof exist to tie the country to the terrorist group?

Iraq provides only too much evidence as to the difficulties of gathering intelligence relating to these issues.

These questions do not relate to the narrow issues you raised. Perhaps you think they are simple minded or tendentious and not worthy of response. I sincerely think they are very serious questions that deserve consideration and discussion. I have no answers one way or the other, but I think they seriously challenge present doctrines of international law and just war.


Mark Grimsley - 8/10/2006

Thanks, Hiram, for laying out your thoughts so clearly and for couching your points of disagreement with me with such courtesy. I appreciate it.

My objection to aerial and artillery bombardment is not absolute. My concern is for whether such tactics conform to the laws and usages of war concerning military necessity, discrimination, and proportionality. We could -- and on a history blog probably should -- get into World War II sometime, but for the moment I'd like to stick to the present day.

First, I maintain that in military operations that result in civilian deaths, the burden of proof is on the belligerent, or his defenders, to demonstrate that the attacks were legitimate, and not on those disquieted by the attacks to prove that they weren't. In other words, as observers of the conflict our foremost concern should be for the civilians, to ask hard questions of the belligerent, and not to give him the benefit of the doubt.

You mention that a "big part of the problem is that we are making assumptions based on facts not in evidence." I think you're right to emphasize the need for facts, because only in light of them can we make determinations about the justness of the IDF's attacks.

In a comment elsewhere, I noted the existence of a useful article, The Targeting Framework of the Law of Armed Conflict. It deals specifically with the Israel-Hezbollah conflict and the IDF's attacks. Without supporting or condemning those attacks, it lays out the relevant legal considerations and says that use of force in Lebanon and other conflict zones is legally governed by fundamental 'targeting principles' that must be applied in good faith based on what is known before an attack is ordered. What is known before an attack therefore constitutes an important set of facts under international law. But since we are not privy to those facts, we can't get at the legality or illegality of a given strike by that method. Instead we would have to rely upon where the attack occurred, what the target seems to have been, how many civilians were killed or injured, and whether one can find evidence of enemy command/control facilities, firing positions, ammunition caches, and other things that support a case for the attack having been made against a legitimate military target.

"We," of course, cannot visit the sites ourselves. But humanitarian organizations can and do, and their reports are not heartening. Investigation by Human Rights Watch of twenty attack sites led to its issuing a 50-page report that Israeli forces "have systematically failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians in their military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon. . . . The pattern of attacks . . . indicates that the failures cannot be dismissed as mere accidents and cannot be blamed on wrongful Hezbollah practices. In some cases, these attacks constitute war crimes." Two days ago the United Nations noted the same pattern.

Mark Grimsley - 8/10/2006


Yikes. I failed to close an HTML tag. Hope this prevents the italics from sprawling any further.

Mark Grimsley - 8/10/2006

Jon, still beating up on that op/ed piece, I see. Maybe it's time to move on, so in an effort to assist with that . . .

The cri de coeur by that Israeli political scientist mingles jus ad bellum as well as jus in bello arguments/observations. It's an easy thing to do, but just war theory and international law insist upon treating them as distinct. The purpose of international humanitarian law is to limit suffering caused by war; it therefore addresses the reality of a conflict without considering the reasons for or legality of resorting to force.

I've been poking around the web as well as my personal and university libraries for more illumination on the issues we (everyone who has commented on this post, not just you and me) have been discussing. One useful article is The Targeting Framework of the Law of Armed Conflict, which recently appeared in The Jurist and was written by Geoffrey S. Corn, Lt. Col. US Army (Ret.) and former Special Assistant to the Judge Advocate General for Law of War Matters.

I'm offering it by way of helping to frame the discussion, not to suggest that it endorses my personal conclusions about the IDF's conduct. This is very difficult terrain, and it seems more helpful to proceed in terms of discussing how to think about the subject matter, rather than to stake a position and attack or defend it. I just find point-counterpoint approach sterile.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/10/2006

The argument about the '82 invasion is perfectly parallel to the argument about the '06 invasion: it happened, and since Israel was winning, they must have been the aggressor.

I seem to have missed the clause in the Kellogg-Briand updates which said that a soveriegn nation has no right to respond to non-state elements attacking across national borders.

Mark Grimsley - 8/9/2006

Jonathan, I was not endorsing the op/ed piece, but simply trying to shove something into the breach while I went away for a few hours to give a public lecture. But I just re-read the piece and my assessment is the opposite of yours: I thought the overflight business was its weakest component, not its strongest.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/9/2006

Mark, the argument about surveillance overflights is a stupid technicality masquerading as an ethical argument. Were it not for those overflights, Israel would never have retreated from South Lebanon, and would almost certainly have reinvaded sooner, and done even more civilian damage. And that's the strongest point of the article.

You can do better than that.

Michael Pitkowsky - 8/9/2006

Just one more twist of history. The current general in command of Israel's Northern Front is Udi Adam. His father was General Yekutiel Adam who was a very respected military man who was already slated to be the next head of the Mossad when he was killed in Lebanon in 1982. Also another difference, Y. Adam was killed by one of the PLO's "RPG kids",something which while I think there is much to criticize Hezbollah for, I am unaware of any similar blatant use of child soldiers (although I do think that they indoctrinate children from a young age to hate Israel and see battle against it as a central goal in life).

Mark Grimsley - 8/9/2006

I just have a moment to convey how much I have appreciated the many thoughtful responses to my post. I'll have more to say later. In the meantime, I thought I might pass along this op/ed piece by an Israeli political scientist who believes "Morality is not on our side."

Michael Pitkowsky - 8/9/2006

I agree with the claim of "if civilians are still in Southern Lebanon that is their problem" is very problematic. I actually think that far less problematic from a moral standpoint is the bombing of Hizballah-related financial institutions. While there are social programs which they support, tens of millions of dollars each year are used to buy weapons and train people, let alone the claim that Hezballah uses its social programs in order to stengthen people's loyalty and allegiance to the organization.

Using more ground troops can be a double-edged sword. The first thought is that it will lessen the reliance on air power because ground troops will be doing the work, but there might also be a belief that actually more air power is needed in order to "soften" up an area before ground troops are used. This was voiced after the first use of ground troops a few weeks ago when they had heavy casualties, that there should have been a greater use of air power and artillery. One thing to remember is that a lot of the fighting has been face-to-face or close to it, and that would always be a deterrent to air power and artillery since your troops might also be on the receiving end.

I have no doubt that the troops are very well-disciplined, the weak link in my eyes would be politicians and possibly some Army brass who don't think that victory is being achieved fast enough.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/9/2006

I'm pretty sure the third one is the version I heard. Thanks.

Michael R. Davidson - 8/9/2006

"Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country."

"Don't be a fool and die for your country. Let the other sonofabitch die for his."

"The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his."

Not sure which, if any, is the original, if the original was indeed spoken by Patton.

Mike Davidson

Hank Bower - 8/9/2006

I for one am disgusted by the loss of life in Lebanon as well as Israel and find the destruction of property in both countries horrific. Lebanon was recovering from its civil war and once again finds itself being destroyed by war. Unfortunately, once more the UN merely passed a resolution and allowed Hezbollah to build a massive military structure in violation of the resolution.

A big part of the problem is that we are making assumptions based on facts not in evidence. We do not know for sure whether Hezbollah is using civilians as shields.

Whether Hezbollah builds special structures within buildings in civilian neighborhoods or simply drive their rocket launchers into a civilian neighborhood does not seem to affect the analysis in the slightest. In both cases they put civilians at risk.

It seems to me that an application of Michael Walzer's principle of double effect recognizes the right of Israel to attack Hezbollah rocket launchers so long as "due care" is exercised by using available technologies to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible. (page 156 of Just and Unjust Wars) As I understand it, radar tracks the rockets and allows calculation of the original launch site. This allows aircraft to launch smart bombs on the site from which the rocket was launched.

The alternative would allow Hezbollah to continue to launch its rockets on civilian targets unimpeded. It seems to me that the doctrine of jus in bello does not require that. It appears that Mr. Walzer agrees.

His standards do not require absolute protection for civilians. He analogizes the issue to a gas company working on gas lines in a residential neighborhood. He says that the company must require its workmen to "observe very strict safety standards. But if the work is urgently required by the imminent danger of an explosion on a neighboring street, the standards may be relaxed and my rights not violated." (page 156)

Israel is working under conditions of the imminent danger of explosions in neighboring streets in Israel.

Would your opposition to the use of aerial and artillery bombardment have meant that the Allies could not have bombed much of German industry during World War II? If so, would that not have lengthened the war and ultimately increased the number of deaths of both military and civilians?

Thank you for your post. Though I disagree with much of it, it is a pleasure to read an intellectually challenging posting.


Jonathan Dresner - 8/9/2006

Structurally, I'm very sympathetic to this analysis: it draws on principles and issues which are raised -- usually annually, right around now -- with regard to WWII. And I've been opposed to what seemed to me overreactions and callousness in Israeli tactics for a long time now; I don't think this offensive represents a significant change, but it's brought it to the attention of a lot more people.

(I'm a little concerned with the binary nature of "war crimes" discussions: while I agree that "being nicer than your opponent" doesn't preclude your actions being war crimes, I also think that the "plague on both houses" conclusion I see so often is, to abuse a phrase, disproportionate)

I wonder, though, if the shift from "warrior ethos" retail warfare to strategic bombing is really just the work of a single tactician or if it's part of larger trends.

First, the US itself has been shifting towards "smart bomb" tactics for years, particularly since our own Lebanon disaster, which means that we've been developing new techniques and technology in that direction -- and supplying it to Israel -- for two decades.

Second, the willingness to sacrifice one's own people for principle -- admirable as it is -- hasn't been met, at least in the Middle East, with anything like success. Israel was still excoriated for the Lebanon campaign, nobody gave them any credit for it (until now, when it's used to discredit their current offensive), and given the immensely negative prospects for anything like peace in the short term, it would be, it seems, foolhardy to use tactics which are extremely costly, in human resource terms. Damned, either way.

In other words, in 1982 there was no way for strategic bombing to succeed, and they believed that they could solve the problem within Lebanon itself. In 2006 strategic bombing technology is considerably more advanced (and hyped) and it's widely known that the problem with Hezbollah is not fundamentally in South Lebanon but in Tehran and Damascus.

I don't think we can entirely dismiss the psychological effects of suicide bomber campaigns and jihadist rhetoric of glorious death. I'm sure, Mark, you know who it was (I honestly don't remember, and can't find it quickly) who said that his job as a soldier was to make sure that the enemy gave his life for his country? As you noted at the other blog, there's a psychological effect when a person kills: that effect has to be different (magnified, I'd think, but different) when the killing is accompanied by both rhetoric and tactics of a very different attitude towards warfare. I'm thinking of WWII in the Pacific, among other conflicts, where Japanese battle tactics resulted in changes -- some deliberate, some not -- in US practices.

Anyway, it seems to me that people have been misreading at least one aspect of the situation. When people argue that US support has allowed Israel to dominate and to take these specific actions, I think it ignores the way in which conditional US support and the lack of support from anywhere else, fuels the sense of desparation and desire to replace tactics with technology. In other words, if we want Israel to fight terrorists in a just and careful way, we need to support those efforts both directly and indirectly, and seek something like a more comprehensive settlement. (No, I'm not endorsing the Bush Administration's "birth pangs" theory; I'm arguing that half a decade of simple-minded policy is what put us here)

Mark Grimsley - 8/9/2006

Thanks, Oscar. I really appreciate that.

The problem is that, under pressure, any society, including our own, is tempted to play fast and loose with the laws of war. That's why those laws must be vigorously upheld, even when, in the short run, we pay a price for it -- or more precisely, ask our service personnel to pay the price on top of the sacrifice they are already making. What I have asked of Israel -- to place their own sons on the altar instead of the Lebanese civilians -- is an easy thing to ask from the comfort of my office. It is much harder to have to do it.

Mark Grimsley - 8/9/2006

I was going for something more somber than a rhetorical flourish, something that would suggest a sense of the tragedy of lofty ideals ground down by the realities of a ceaseless struggle. As for Aeschylus, "And let none say it cannot here" refers to my own country, and, on a personal scale, to me. To all of us, I guess.

I don't think anyone goes to war with sole intent of murdering civilians. They murder civilians because they see it as a means to an end that seems legitimate to them. Consequently, they don't see it as murder. They may take pleasure in it as vengeance or they may cluck about the regretful necessity of it, but the civilians are dead either way.

It is possible -- I would say probable, in fact -- that, as I saw recently remarked, "The extremists on both sides have always formed a kind of tacit alliance, with the supporters of 'greater Israel' and 'no Israel' understanding their joint interest in preventing any moves towards a compromise peace." If true, certain Israelis at least may not initiate wars, launch weapons to murder civilians, and use civilians as shields, but they need for their opposite numbers to do so. The author of the quote meant it to apply to the Israeli government, but this I cannot bring myself to believe.

Nor am I ready to believe this comment by Washington Post chief military correspondent Tom Ricks, made in a recent interview on CNN:

HOWARD KURTZ: Tom Ricks, you've covered a number of military conflicts, including Iraq, as I just mentioned. Is civilian casualties increasingly going to be a major media issue? In conflicts where you don't have two standing armies shooting at each other?

THOMAS RICKS, REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think it will be. But I think civilian casualties are also part of the battlefield play for both sides here. One of the things that is going on, according to some U.S. military analysts, is that Israel purposely has left pockets of Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon, because as long as they're being rocketed, they can continue to have a sort of moral equivalency in their operations in Lebanon.

KURTZ: Hold on, you're suggesting that Israel has deliberately allowed Hezbollah to retain some of it's fire power, essentially for PR purposes, because having Israeli civilians killed helps them in the public relations war here?

RICKS: Yes, that's what military analysts have told me.

KURTZ: That's an extraordinary testament to the notion that having people on your own side killed actually works to your benefit in that nobody wants to see your own citizens killed but it works to your benefit in terms of the battle of perceptions here.

RICKS: Exactly. It helps you with the moral high ground problem, because you know your operations in Lebanon are going to be killing civilians as well.

Oscar Chamberlain - 8/9/2006


thank you for a fine--may I say proportionate?-analysis and for your openness to reasoned and knowledgeable debate.

I have long been saddened by the tacit assumption I have seen in many wars that to be moral means only being better than the enemy. (Obviously, Israel is not the only nation guilty of that particular sin.)

Michael R. Davidson - 8/9/2006

"But for many years now, Israel has been embroiled in struggles with foes so hateful, so implacably hostile, that perhaps it has become what it beheld."


Where I am concerned, you are for the most part preaching to the choir, but your final rhetorical flourish is merely that unless:

(1) Israel begins to initiate wars with the sole intent of murdering civilians.
(2) Israel begins to launch weapons with the sole intent of murdering civilians.
(3) Israel begins to employ human shields.

Mike Davidson

Mark Grimsley - 8/9/2006

I suspect the business about "rocket rooms," etc., will turn out to have some foundation in fact. The problem is with the assumption that civilians in and around those areas are there *volitionally.* I can think of a number of reasons -- small children, frail relatives, no means of transportation, fear of being attacked on the road -- why civilians would stick around. Still, if the situation checks out as advertised, this might be an instance where the principle of double effect would permit the attack.

More distressing, to my mind, are the IDF's extensive strikes on infrastructure, including banks believed to be used to handle Hezbollah's finances. I do not believe that, in most cases, these are military targets under international law. Yet the aerial campaign thus far has been so sweeping in character that it is no wonder a lot of civilians are being killed.

Unless a cease-fire materializes and/or the Lebanese army succeeds in occupying southern Lebanon in force, which seems possible but rather unlikely, it appears that the IDF's next move will be an expansion of the ground campaign. This has troubling implications in its own right -- not for nothing is war said to be an option of difficulties -- but in terms of the ability to discriminate between combatants and civilians, it is, in ethical terms, a more defensible course of action. Ground troops are more likely to be able to confirm the presence of enemy combatants; an F-16 pilot is more obliged to rely on the intel he receives in his pre-flight briefing.

To be sure, if an infantry unit dumps rounds down-range, shoots everything that moves, or indiscrimately employs grenades, satchel charges, etc., then the civilians in the area might be better off taking their chances on a GBU-24B 2000-lb. smart bomb or even a GBU-28 “Bunker Buster.” But a good unit will exercise fire discipline, targeting the combatant position only, and using the minimum firepower necessary to do the job.

Does this require good leadership and well-trained, well-disciplined troops? It certainly does. Maybe I'm wrong, but I am confident the IDF has these attributes. You were in the IDF. What do you think?

Mark Grimsley - 8/9/2006

It's not much of an attack. What Mr. Reich doesn't know is that when I was in the MA program in War Studies at Kings College London my area of concentration was the ethics of war. Or that my first book was squarely about the ethics of war and simply used the Civil War as a case study. Or that I co-edited a book entitled Civilians in the Path of War.

Basically, *this* is my area of expertise. I know a lot about the Civil War, but it's a comparative sideline.

Michael Pitkowsky - 8/9/2006

My guess is that nobody has more than a general idea of how many people were killed in 1982. As to the present conflict, hopefully at some point there will be greater press access to South Lebanon to actually report on what Hezbollah had built there and answer as to whether there were elaborate bunkers, "rocket rooms" in apartment buildings, etc. I am probably biased b/c I have served in the IDF, also I know from experience that there is tons of UAV footage and other photographic evidence which Israel should be releasing for PR purposes in order to back up there claims (if they are true). Also, in the Israeli press there is a debate, not surprisingly the critics are in the minority, about both the morality and the effectiveness of the current campaign, more so than comes across on Israeli TV.

Mark Grimsley - 8/9/2006

Thank you for the reference. I wonder where he got the figure. Richard Gabriel discusses a range of estimates offered at the time. The highest -- by the Lebanese newspaper An Nahar -- asserted that 17,825 military personnel and civilians were killed during the entire campaign from start to finish. I would think the bulk of the casualties in the first week would have occurred in southern Lebanon, and the total there for the entire campaign was 1,400 PLO and 1,000-3,000 Lebanese civilians. The greatest number of casualties by far occurred during the siege of Beirut.

But I do not mean to get into an argument about this. It seems reasonably clear that at least as of 1984 there was no authoritative figure for anything save IDF losses. And in the present conflict, plainly a lot of guesswork is going on as well. For instance, less than two weeks ago some reports asserted that Hezbollah had as few as 500 combatants, and if 60 percent of these were now dead, the back of Hezbollah resistance would be broken. Instead IDF soldiers are expressing surprise at how tough, well-trained and well-equipped their adversaries are.

Thank you again for writing.

Mark Grimsley - 8/9/2006

It would be nice to have a civil exchange.

Re the first phrase to which you object, perhaps you misunderstood me. As I make plain in my post, there is no question but that Hezbollah is intentionally lobbing rockets at Israeli cities. (And the rockets, btw, are filled with ball bearings, not grapeshot.)

What I was driving at is that the last time I looked, there was some disagreement about whether Hezbollah was storing weapons and ammunition in civilian residences. This comes from the July 20 San Francisco Chronicle:

A more debated assertion, put forward by some analysts and Israeli officials, say Hezbollah stores arms and ammunition in residential houses and often fires rockets at Israel using civilians who live in the houses as human shields.

"The reality is, we're fighting an organization that stores the missiles it launches against us in people's homes," Dallal said. "They do it on purpose."

Christopher Hamilton, a counterterrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Hezbollah had set up special structures inside civilian compounds and fired missiles from inside.

"You have a special structure they build in the house itself so they could shoot a rocket without being in the open, camouflaged so that they couldn't be seen," Hamilton said. "The people who died in these houses were civilians, but they were Hezbollah supporters, since the rockets were there."

But other experts say Hezbollah has no need to use civilian houses because it has an elaborate network of bunkers and missile launchers in deserted areas throughout the country.

"This is not some cynical Saddam Hussein plan of putting missiles in hospitals," said Nicholas Noe, the founder of the Beirut-based, an online bulletin of Arabic and Farsi media. He said Hezbollah has such carefully established firing positions in the sparsely populated southern Lebanon that it has "no reason strategically ... of putting Katyusha rockets in civilian houses."

Such differences among experts show how little is actually known about how Hezbollah operates, said John Pike, director of, a military think-tank in Washington. Hezbollah is small -- Pike estimates it has about 500 full-time combatants -- and maintains a very tight internal security and secrecy.

Re the media: I have looked at dozens if not hundreds of blogs in recent weeks, and long before the reports of doctored photos surfaced, there were complaints that the media was slanting its coverage against Israel.

Do you plan at some point to contribute anything constructive to the discussion? For instance, you might have pointed out that Michael Walzer, whom I reference in connection with the principle of double effect, recently published an article in The New Republic which essentially defends the IDF's conduct of the campaign. Since you evidently haven't seen it, I invite you to have a look. There's a link to it on my blog in the post entitled "The Israel-Hezbollah Conflict: A Few Good Resources."

Michael Pitkowsky - 8/9/2006

This article in Haaretz comes to the opposite conclusion as you, feeling that during this round of hostilities there are far fewer civilian casualties. According to its author, "In the first week of the 1982 war, between 6,000 and 10,000 Lebanese and Palestinians were killed. This time, in about three weeks of fighting, about 700 Lebanese civilians and more than 300 Hezbollah men have been killed."

Ralph E. Luker - 8/9/2006

Mr. Reich, Your own credentials for discussing these matters would be what? And are you suggesting that Grimsley shouldn't discuss a current war because his primary expertise is in earlier ones? Have you told that to Victor David Hansen? Or Niall Fergusson? Or any other historian who choses to discuss current affairs in a public venue? I'd suggest that you'd do well to grapple with what Grimsley actually says rather than directing your attack at the historian who says it.