Sunday, August 17, 2014

IDF and the Laws of Warfare

A couple of weeks ago I posted a short item about the data being collected by the IDF during the war and the implications this might have when the time comes to investigate it. Most of my comment was based simply upon observing the capabilities of the IDF spokesperson.

In the Friday edition of Yedioth Acharonont there was a much longer and more detailed description. It's not online, and it's only in Hebrew, so far as I can see, so as a public service here's a quick summary.

The IDF takes international law very seriously. Over the past decade it has considerably expanded the part of the military prosecution which deals with the laws of war, and there is now an entire team of officers, many at the colonel level, whose entire profession is to ensure the IDF functions within the law. I'll stray from the Yedioth article for a moment to add that I've come across these folks in recent years, in professional discussions, and they're knowledgeable, committed and professional. I expect that they know more about the laws of war than just about any media type or pundit who pontificates on the matter, except of course the other professionals. It seems safe to me to say that if anyone who doesn't have a full and updated education in the laws of war informs you about how what the IDF does is illegal etc, they are probably talking through their hat comfortable that you, too, don't know enough to call them out. The laws of war, like any branch of law, is a professional field, and it takes training and practice to be good at it.

 That's the first stage.

The second stage is that these officers spend a significant chunk of their time training other IDF troops in the basics. Clearly a corporal in the infantry won't go through a full course of training, but the higher the officer, the more exposure they will have had to the principles and concepts of the laws of war, and the more occasions on which they'll have been required to think about applying them. The training of an IDF soldier includes the understanding that the IDF respects the laws of war; the training of an officer includes applying these laws.

The third stage is that the legal types participate in the planning of all operations. I'm not going to detai the many levels of preparation an IDF operation goes through from conception to execution, but there are lots of them; the legal experts are part of the process. According to Yedioth, this results in some operations never being authorized in the first place, and others are adapted to stay within the law.

The fourth stage of preparation is that there's a legal expert in every division, and there are channels of communication down to at least the level of battalions; since companies and platoons don't generally execute their own operations, that more or less covers everyone.

Fifth stage: Ariel and artillery actions. Ariel and artillery actions are not necessarily susceptible to heat of battle situations. Both pilots and artillery officers are less likely than infantry, tank or engineering soldiers to need to respond immediately to fire from an unidentified source in the confusion of a battlefield. The article in Yedioth claimed that every single shell shot by those two branches was thought about in advance, and targets were vetted in advance, after they were visually identified by one or more of the layers of eyes the IDF had over Gaza - drones, other drones, radar and other stuff.

Sixth stage: heat of battle situations. Once the ground forces were engaged in close-hand battle, all of he above is nice to have, and the stream of digital data coming in to the grunts and their officers is impressive, but at the end of the day it's split-second decisions made under threat of immediate death which form the outcome. There are no legal advisers who can ponder the alternatives. You do your best in training, secure in the knowledge that training is different from battle. Always has been, always will be. Still, training does have a significant impact on the result of battle.

Seventh stage: post-battle investigation. The upshot of all this is that the IDF has the data to examine just about every single move or piece of action that happened in the Gaza war, and most of the time has the documentation to prove whatever results its investigators reach. The Goldstone Report was chock full of inferring, since its members had no access to the documentation. Whoever investigates this recent war without full access to all that documentation and evidence the IDF has amassed, will essentially be talking nonsense, no matter what their conclusions are. Sort of like trying to figure out how an American presidency functioned based only on contemporary newspaper reports from the Russian media.

Were mistakes made? I have no doubt. It's inevitable. Were crimes committed? On this point the legal officers being interviewed by Yedioth were admirably careful in answering: they wouldn't say no, they were only willing to say that every case would be investigated.

I recognize this entire story is completely, totally and irrevocably incompatible with roughly 100% of the international media reports over the past month. But you see, the thing about truth is that it isn't effected by media reports one way or the other. People's understanding of reality is; their ideologies and Weltanschaungen can be, but hard facts aren't.

It's also yet another example of how it happens that Israelis understand the world differently than everyone else. This is often used against them: if everyone says you are X, you must be X, and if you insist you aren't X you're not only wrong, you're fools. But of course, the entire surroundings has been telling itself falsities about Jews for millennia (literally). This didn't make it true then, and doesn't make it true now.

Ah,I forgot to add: feel free to show me one other military in the annals of war which can tell a similar story.


SantaMoniker5 said...

Excellent article, Yaakov.

The same issues apply to the many comments we see about "international law" from people who know nothing about it but find it an easy stick to beat Israel with.

SerJew said...

International lawyerism, proportionality mantra, genocide, and whatever can be used by the so-called "critics of Israel" in their masquerade.

Anonymous said...

nitpick: ariel should be: aerial

David said...

Yaacov, any chance of convincing Yediot to put this online and maybe even translate it into English? I would have no idea how to go about convincing them, but would be glad to pursue any reasonable suggestion that you make.

Silke said...

Yaacov - thanks

years ago you had a blog post that was an eternal mind setter for me

As best I remember you had talked to some people you know from the legal profession and they had told you that other than the laws that govern anybody's "normal" life, international law isn't subject to any forthscribing like supreme courts all over the world constantly do and thereby finetune whatever the original language of the law said.

It seems that everyday people suffer from a seemingly unshakeable conviction that language is crystal clear and can be understood only in one way which of course anybody who is interested in news of what the courts do knows that it is rubbish.

Esser Agaroth said...

I believe that you are speaking of strategy,...intelligent strategy.

However, for the laws of warfare, all you have to do is look at the Ramba"m's Laws of Kings and their Wars.

It's all there.

No guessing.

No rocket science.

(No pun intended.)