Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Just War Theory and Practice in Israel

A fascinating article on the current Israel-Lebanon conflict appears in today's Washington Post. The article focuses on the tenacity of Hezbollah and the difficulties the Israelis are having in defeating it. I really do believe that calling Hezbollah a terrorist group is a little bit misleading. Certainly Hezbollah is evil and has engaged in terrorist activity such as kidnappings. Nevertheless, it is really more of a guerilla fighting force and a fairly well trained and equipped one at that. As the Israeli soldiers describe it:
"What we face is an infantry division with state-of-the-art weaponry -- night-vision gear, advanced rifles, well-equipped -- deployed along our border," said Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, who until last month was director of analysis for Israeli military intelligence. "They have some of the most advanced antitank missiles in the world."
A terrorist organization is usually a far more limited force and it is a military mistake to underestimate one's enemy's capabilities by assuming it is capable of no more than terroristic attacks. Hezbollah is clearly an enemy army, a branch of the Iranian and Syrian armies and should be treated as such.

The article is also quite revealing with respect to the restraints that Israel is placing on its soldiers. The soldiers are quite candid:

Several soldiers said they felt the army should be striking harder at Hezbollah but was being held back by concern for civilian casualties. Lt. Col. Svika Nezer, the commander of an artillery battery a few miles outside Kiryat Shemona, said his unit was operating at about 20 percent of its firepower.

"We could do much, much more. But the orders we get are limited," said Nezer, a reservist who is a lawyer in civilian life.

Among the main challenges facing Israeli soldiers, they say, is that Hezbollah chooses to fight in and among civilian centers, making it difficult to target its fighters without killing bystanders. Lebanese officials and human rights organizations have criticized Israel for what they term indiscriminate bombing, but commanders say that, if anything, they err on the side of caution when deciding whom to shoot.

"There have been many times when we let go someone whom we knew was a terrorist because we are not sure we could take them down safely," Adam said. "Meanwhile, they try to kill as many of our civilians as they can." [emphasis added]

The above brings to mind the excellent article on Just War Theory in the premier issue (Spring 2006) of The Objective Standard (Anyone who is interested in ideas and has not subscribed yet, should have their head examined). Dr. Brook and Mr. Epstein wrote about precisely such restraints and their source in "Just War Theory". They write:
"In implementing Just War Theory, the less a nation is concerned with the well-being of its own citizens, and the more it is concerned with that of others, the more it proves its “good intentions.”
Brook and Epstein also discuss the limits on the conduct of the war by nation that is subject to this doctrine:
Given that the purpose of war, according to Just War Theory, is the well-being of others (including those who are, in fact, one’s enemies), it is logical that Just War Theory also precludes a nation from waging war in a manner that will destroy its enemies. It is imperative, according to Just War Theory, that war be fought by unselfish, sacrificial means, in which great value is accorded to the citizens of enemy nations. This is the meaning of the requirements of “proportionality” and “discrimination.” Proportionality is the idea that the value gained by the ends a war seeks must be “proportional” to the damage incurred during the war. To advocate that ends and damage be “proportional” presupposes a standard of value by which these are to be weighed. What is the relative weight, for example, that the U.S. government should accord an American civilian and an Iraqi civilian? Since Just War Theory holds that a government’s intentions are “good” to the extent that it places value on other peoples, including enemies, by its standard of value a government of an innocent nation should place equal value on the lives of its citizens and those of enemy nations. On this view, in America’s “War on Terrorism,” we have to “balance” the lives of American soldiers and civilians with the lives of the enemy nation’s soldiers and civilians. According to Walzer, “In our judgments of the fighting, we abstract from all consideration of the justice of the cause. We do this because the moral status of individual soldiers on both sides is very much the same: they face one another as moral equals.”
Ironically, even though Israel is putting its soldiers and even civilian population at risk by fighting very much in a proportionate manner, it is being excoriated for supposed "disproportionality" -- apparently nothing but outright sacrifice of Israel to the Arabs will satisfy the rest of the world. Nevertheless, Israel's current effort seems less than sufficient to its self-defense needs and it is quite obvious that it could do better. Some soldiers remember the Lebanon war in the 80s:
Several soldiers said they were surprised by how long the operation has taken. When Israelis invaded Lebanon in 1982, they reached to within 10 miles of Beirut in two days. In the current conflict, after more than three weeks of fighting, the heaviest ground combat is still in a string of towns along the border.
Unfortunately, given its current political and intellectual leadership as well as its public, I think the future looks rather bleak for the State of Israel. Nevertheless, I hope she will rise to the challenge.

7 comments:

Myrhaf said...

Just War Theory sounds unjust to me. (Or is it injust?)

Gideon said...

Unjust according to dictionary.com.

It's really is amazing to me how much of that theory is embedded throughout the entire culture from the average person all the way to our military brass and political leadership (and Israel's as well). Frankly, until Objectivists started writing against this theory I think I fell for a version of that one. Insidious thing!

Apollo said...

I read the article you provided you linked with much interests. And I have a few comments that I would like to share. You say:

”A terrorist organization is usually a far more limited force and it is a military mistake to underestimate one's enemy's capabilities by assuming it is capable of no more than terrorist attacks. Hezbollah is clearly an enemy army, a branch of the Iranian and Syrian armies and should be treated as such.”

Although I disagree that Hezbollah should be viewed as a branch of the Iranian and Syrian Army (I see them as an autonomous non-state military), I agree that they are far from just a “terrorists organization”. William S. Lind, who developed the concept of Fourth Generation Warfare, said in two recent articles the Hezbollah has evolved into a very advanced force:

With Hezbollah entry into the war between Israel and Hamas, Fourth Generation war has taken another developmental step forward. For the first time, a non-state entity has gone to war with a state not by waging an insurgency against a state invader, but across an international boundary. Again we see how those who define 4GW simply as insurgency are looking at only a small part of the picture.

“Guerrillas” may not be exactly the right term here. As best I can determine from the wilds of Cleveland, Ohio, Hezbollah thus far seems to be waging a conventional light infantry fight for Maroun al-Ras. The line between guerrilla and light infantry tactics is thin, but Hezbollah seems to be putting up a determined fight for a piece of terrain, which guerrillas usually don’t do, because they can’t. The fact that Hezbollah can points to how far this 4GW entity has evolved.
http://d-n-i.net/lind/lind_7_18_06.htm
http://d-n-i.net/lind/lind_7_28_06.htm


”Ironically, even though Israel is putting its soldiers and even civilian population at risk by fighting very much in a proportionate manner, it is being excoriated for supposed "disproportionality" -- apparently nothing but outright sacrifice of Israel to the Arabs will satisfy the rest of the world. Nevertheless, Israel's current effort seems less than sufficient to its self-defense needs and it is quite obvious that it could do better. Some soldiers remember the Lebanon war in the 80s:”

This sounds like what Martin Van Creveld, an Israeli military theorists, said about Iraq,
In other words, he who fights against the weak — and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed — and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish. As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force however rich, however powerful, however advanced, and however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat.

http://www.defense-and-society.org/creveld/why_iraq_will_end_as_vietnam_did.htm
Believe it or not even though Israel is using a “proportionate” amount of force it will never be viewed that way because they will always have bigger guns, bigger bombs and a bigger army. And in the simplistic eyes of the world, BIG is always BAD.
In the article you linked to, ” soldiers and commanders are quick to point out that Israel is winning by most traditional measures, such as equipment destroyed, territory seized and casualties” But unfortunately in this kind of war there are more factors involved than just equipment, territory and body counts. There are also moral forces involved; unfortunately, these forces are not in favor of the powerful, rich and successful.

Gideon said...

The article you link to by Mr. Lind contains this offensive comment:

"In no previous Israeli-Arab war has the United States revealed itself so nakedly as a de facto political satellite of Israel. Perhaps the neo-cons have convinced President Bush that Israeli olive oil can substitute for Arab petroleum as fuel for America’s SUVs."

I'm sorry, but people who think support for Israel is some kind of altruism are being irrational. This is part of a larger conflict in which the Islamists are fighting the West. It is right that the US should support Israel, in fact they should do so more and more openly.

Hezbollah may not be exactly a branch of the Syrian or Iranian army but it's quite clear that without Syrian and Iranian support they could not do half the things they could do. Also, there are frequent reports of Iranian involvement and control in Hezbollah.

Finally, with respect to Van Creveld, this is indeed about morality and if we had the right morality with respect to our foreign policy we (and Israel) would pulverize our enemies as needed and declare proudly our right to do so.

Anonymous said...

"To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel"

Why? This is pure altruism. To kill an enemy, no matter how big or small, is just.

D. Eastbrook

Apollo said...

If you think tha's ofencive, Lind has said things that would make PatBuchanan blush. But what do you expect from somebody who believes in Real-Politik. When it comes to politics Lind is one of the worst and most vile commentators out there, but when it comes to his perspective on military matters he is second to none, and I don't think his opinion should be ignored.
Thats why I linked to him and quoted his comments on Hezbollah, and ONLY his comments on Hezbollas capability. I would never in a million years advocate supporting some vile arab country over Israel.
I should have put a disclaimer on my post that I didn't agree with everything in the articles.



To D. Eastbrook

"To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel"

Why? This is pure altruism. To kill an enemy, no matter how big or small, is just.

Like I said, this is the idiotic way most of the world thinks. And unfortunetly this is the "moral framework" Israel has to fight under.

Gideon said...

"I should have put a disclaimer on my post that I didn't agree with everything in the articles."

I suspected as much -- I'm glad to hear it.