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September 08, 2014

Is the Goal Victory or Achieving Mission Success?

Professor Asa Kasher, whose biography states that "He led the writing of the first IDF code of ethics" published a thought-provoking article in the Jewish Review of Books, "The Ethics of Protective Edge," discussing the principles guiding Israeli military activity against terrorists embedded in a civilian population.

Kasher describes competing humanitarian principles to which the IDF must adhere. He establishes at the outset that the guiding principle that "people may never be treated as mere objects or instruments" applies to "Palestinians in Gaza who pose no terrorist threat." Nonetheless, this principle is tempered by the notion that "no state should shoulder as much responsibility for the safety of enemy civilians as it does for its own people." These principles are encoded in the IDF's concept of 'purity of arms,' that is "to use the minimum force necessary to subdue the enemy."

Kasher recognizes that there are exceptions,

circumstances in which the principles of restraint and respect for human dignity in times of war might be disregarded. In his famous address to Parliament in 1940 Winston Churchill spoke of “Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.�

But he contends that the sentiments expressed by Churchill are "now obsolete, not only for ethical reasons but for strategic ones."

To illustrate the shift, he contrasts Israel's military objectives and accomplishments in 1967 - the destruction of enemy armies - with the 2006 Summer war against Hezbollah which "significantly diminished the military force of Hezbollah, but it could and actually did continue launching rockets at northern Israel for a time." According to Kasher, "In the 'new' wars of recent decades, victory has been replaced by the ideal of successfully accomplishing given missions."

Consistent with this change, "the missions of Operation Protective Edge were defined in the course of the fighting as the elimination of the threat to Israel created by the Hamas offensive tunnels and the reduction if not elimination of the threat that Hamas’ rockets pose to most parts of Israel." Kasher believes the response should deter Hamas from future attacks, "only as a by-product of the operation, not one of its military ends."

He admits that contemporary Israeli doctrine goes against conventional strategic wisdom, but he defends that choice:

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu said that "if someone is victorious in battle and succeeds in attack but does not exploit the achievements, it is disastrous." This is not the spirit in which Operation Protective Edge was undertaken, for good reasons.

Kasher could have also mentioned the Israeli doctrine contradicts the advice attributed to the eminent political philosopher, Machiavelli, which reflects Sun Tzu's perspective:

People should either be caressed or crushed. If you do them minor damage they will get their revenge; but if you cripple them there is nothing they can do. If you need to injure someone, do it in such a way that you do not have to fear their vengeance.

Kasher's emphasis on mission success rather than victory ushers in a less ruthless approach to war that he calls consistent with Jewish values, although such an approach goes against the advice of the most eminent historic strategists.

Nevertheless, Kasher draws the line on how far Israel should go in avoiding harm to the enemy population when it conflicts with protecting the lives of Israeli citizen-soldiers. Kasher states,

One must bear in mind that most of the IDF combatants, in particular in the army and navy, are conscripts. As citizens in military uniform, they are entitled to ask the state, as well as the IDF and its commanders, whether they are being placed in greater jeopardy to save the lives of enemy non-combatants who have been repeatedly warned to leave the scene of battle. An affirmative answer to this question would be morally unacceptable.

Posted by SS at September 8, 2014 11:24 AM


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