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.