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Empty Ethical Arguments On Israel's Actions

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As time goes by, world protest against the IDF offensive operation in Lebanon becomes more widespread. Not all protesters do so on ethical grounds, but most use ethical arguments. Yet further exploration of these arguments might show most of them to be mostly empty, or at least they don't come to terms with what we learn from war ethics literature. Following are four of these arguments.

Hezbollah's provocation constituted a reasonable use of force


The shooting on the patrol and the kidnapping were aimed at military forces,but this act was not executed in a fighting context. After IDF forces withdrew behind the international border as part of a settlement validated by UN resolutions, all use of force against them, including the killing and kidnapping of soldiers, is not legitimate.

Also, there is no doubt the Katyusha firings along the border prior to the kidnapping where illegitimate, since they were aimed at a civilian population, an act that is prohibited also in a time of war.

The fact that it was a limited action does not make it reasonable. Hezbollah's interest is to keep the conflict on a low level, since in that sort of warfare it has a relative advantage. Furthermore, since the act took place as part of an ongoing attrition strategy, Israel holds the right to respond not only to that one act, but to all acts that result from practicing such a strategy.

IDF reaction is not a measured one


It is a common error to assume the principle of proportionality relates to the proportion between the scale of damage and the scale of retribution. This argument might have been in order if it regarded a scuffle of two sides that agree to do so within known rules of engagement. But war is seldom like that. War is fought to try and obtain an objective. When the objective is legitimate it is referred to as a necessity. The principle of proportionality relates to the proportion between the amount of force used to the amount required to achieve the same necessity. When one side routinely attacks the other with no legitimate cause over years, and the other side has an interest to stop the aggression, it is allowed to use the required force to achieve that objective. In our case, we can see that a small amount of force will not be enough, since all the force used so far is not sure to be enough.

Harm done so far to the civilian population in Lebanon constitutes a war crime


War ethics calls for abstention from causing an intentional harm to non-combatant populations, and avoiding as much as possible unintentional harm to those populations. But it is not always possible to avoid all unintentional harm. It is much harder when enemy troops systematically use the cover of a civilian population, in order to put the opposing side in a cruel dilemma between the achievement of its goals and an attempt to abstain as much as possible from violating war ethics. In our case, Hezbollah intentionally operates from within a civilian population, often from house terraces and mosque courts. Furthermore, many of the civilians used for these ends do so in full consent and thus they cross the line from non-combatant to combatant.

Aiming for civilian infrastructure is a war crime as it is intentional


When a sovereign state makes no attempt to enforce its rule, and knowingly permits an armed force to operate from it against another state, responsibility lies on it. The government of Lebanon holds responsibility, since for the last six years it has done nothing to maintain the UN 1559 resolution that obligates it to practice its sovereignty also over Hezbollah.

Its weakness is no excuse since it is a result of a deliberate decision not to maintain a force that can enforce a rule. An attempt to make it follow its duties is therefore not unreasonable. In view of this, a measured attack on infrastructure is not illegitimate, more so when it is known that Hezbollah makes use of this infrastructure (i.e transportation routes to the south) for its hostile operations; the only option is to attack these infrastructures in the required measure.

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David Navon is a professor of psychology at the Haifa University, is a member of the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Also, he won the Israel prize in 1992.
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Empty Ethical Arguments On Israel's Actions

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