Whenever Israel seeks to defend itself against enemies who openly declare their intentions to destroy the Jewish state, America assumes the role of the world’s moral conscience with the right and duty to dictate how Israel should conduct the war.
In July 2001, then-American Ambassador to Israel Martin S. Indyk went on Israeli television to condemn the Israeli policy of targeted assassinations, saying that the US government “is clearly on the record against” them. “They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that.”
Apparently, the US changed its approach to targeted assassinations...In 2023, law professor Laurie R. Blank stated that the legality and effectiveness of the “United States’ use of targeted strikes against identified terrorist and insurgent operatives over the past two decades” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan has been the subject of much discussion and debate.
“Operating within the Laws of Armed Conflict”
Whenever Israel responds to attacks, its enemies immediately charge Israel’s response is disproportional to the provocation. “Proportionality is not… a relationship between the numbers of casualties on either side in a conflict,” noted Colonel Richard Kemp, the former commander of Britain’s military forces in Afghanistan, “but a calculation that considers whether the incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated in an attack. I know that IDF commanders place great emphasis on adherence to the laws of armed conflict. This includes the principle of proportionality, which is set out in Israel’s manual of military law and is recognized by the International Committee of the Red Cross.”
There was “no other realistic and effective means of suppressing an aggressor’s missile fire than the methods used by the IDF,” he said, “namely precision air and artillery strikes against the command-and-control structures, the fighters and the munitions of Hamas and the other groups in Gaza. Nor have I heard any other military expert from any country propose a viable alternative means of defence against such aggression.”
With regard to adhering to the Laws of armed conflict [LOAC] and minimizing civilian causalities in Gaza, he found that during Operation Protective Edge in July 2014, the IDF took exceptional measures to do so. Though politicians, UN officials, human rights groups and NGOs demanded Israel do more to minimize civilian casualties, not one of them advised how this might be accomplished.
Kemp claimed “Israel to be world leaders in actions to minimise civilian casualties; and this is borne out by the efforts made by the US Army, the most sophisticated and powerful in the world, to learn from the IDF on this issue.”
JINSA Task Force
At the end of Operation Protective Edge, a task force of former senior US military leaders was commissioned by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) to evaluate Hamas’s strategy and Israel’s response.
They concluded, Hamas “pursued ‘unrestricted warfare,’ defined as the ability to blend technologies with military actions and political-influence activities, seeking victory not on the battlefield but through pressure on Israeli decision-makers.” Hamas used Israel’s citizen’s “aversion to excessive or unjustified casualties” in an attempt to undermine the war effort by describing the IDF’s tactics as “indiscriminate and disproportional.”
The Task Force “observed that Israel systemically applied established rules of conduct that adhered to or exceeded the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) in a virtually unprecedented effort to avoid inflicting civilian casualties, even when doing so would have been lawfully permitted, and to satisfy the concerns of critics. However… Israel’s military restraint unintentionally empowered Hamas to distort both the law and facts for their own purposes to the ultimate detriment of civilians’ safety, for which Hamas bears sole responsibility.”
Significantly, the Task Force opposed this level of restraint to be the standard of US armed forces.
The Iron Swords
With regard to “The Iron Swords,” Kemp said the IDF is “operating within the laws of armed conflict, doing its best to minimise civilian casualties, including by warning people to leave areas it is about to attack…It has dropped 1.5 million flyers, sent six million voice messages, 4 million text messages – and made phone calls on top of all that. Despite these efforts, many civilians have died in Gaza. This is tragic, but unavoidable when Hamas hides within civilian populations, often forcing them to remain in areas that are to be attacked.”
Israel is being extremely vigilant in trying to reduce civilian casualties, yet Kemp said President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak regularly warn Israel to adhere to the laws of war and reduce civilian casualties to a minimum, even though they know precisely what the IDF is doing. This is nothing but theater to placate constituents and others who oppose Israel.
Avi Bell, a professor law of and an expert on international law, added, “Israel’s war is being conducted according to a relatively strict and restrictive interpretation of those laws — Israeli lawyers and courts are imposing restrictions on Israeli forces that were not and would not be imposed on forces of other democratic law-abiding states, such as the US. The Palestinian’s war is being conducted in deliberate violation of almost all of those laws under any interpretation. At the same time, the Palestinian Arabs and their supporters are propagandizing that Israel is violating the laws of war and papering over Palestinian Arab violations.”
Level of Hypocrisy
In the rush to ensure Israel abides by rules of engagement, which the US and the West to not adhere to, it is important to expose this duplicity. NYTimes journalist Michael Crowley offers some examples. In Iraq, he estimated that hundreds were killed in Falluja and “as many as 8,000 thousand” in Mosul fighting the Islamic state. He quotes Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev, who said Israel’s “ratio” of Hamas terrorists to civilians killed “compares very well to NATO and other Western forces,” in past armed interventions.
Israel claims it is impossible to defeat Hamas without civilians being killed. “Hamas terrorists , numbering perhaps 30,000…embed within Gaza’s population of 2.2 million and store weapons in or under civilian sites, daring Israel to launch strikes that fuel outrage. The officials also say Hamas is clearly guilty of intentionally murdering Israeli civilians.”
America and its allies should recognize this. “In 1944, the Royal Air Force bombed the Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen — a perfectly legitimate target,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “But the British pilots missed and instead of the Gestapo headquarters, they hit a children’s hospital nearby. And I think 84 children were harmed and burned to death. That is not a war crime. That is not something you blame Britain for doing.” Crowley noted the bombing actually occurred in 1945, hit a school, and is estimated to have killed 86 children and 18 adults.
And there is the German city of Dresden. Between February 13 and 15, the US and British air forces dropped high-explosive and incendiary devices on Dresden notes historian Jason Dawsey. Although precise numbers of people killed will never be known, he said, the German Government suggests "25,000 as a defensible guess."
Obama and Moral Equivalence
Former President Barak Obama introduced the issue of moral equivalence when he said, it is important to “take in the whole truth….If there’s any chance of us being able to act constructively, to do something, it will require an admission of complexity,” Obama said on a panel hosted by the Pod Save America podcast. “That what Hamas did was horrific and there’s no justification for it, and what is also true is that the occupation, and what is happening to Palestinians, is unbearable.”
This means “we are all complicit in the bloodshed…. clouding fundamental moral distinctions,” asserts William McGurn of The Wall Street Journal. The danger is that Obama’s influence is significant, and his remarks were “more corrosive” than just invoking “from the river-to-the-sea,” mantra or actually declaring “that Israel is as evil as Hamas…. because what he says gets repeated in America’s genteel quarters.”
Alan Dershowitz responded to this contemptable comparison. “To compare those disputed claims with the rapes, beheadings, burnings, kidnappings, it’s just obscene and despicable,” Mr. Dershowitz said. “And what it does is it lends support to those students basically, who are saying, ‘Well, what Hamas really did was not so bad. . . . It was in response to the 'occupation'. Although he said that the attacks by Hamas are not justifiable, he made them justifiable because if life really is unbearable, as it’s not, then you can do anything you want.”
Why do the US and the West assume the position of moral superiority?
Anthony Julius, a distinguished British solicitor, explains the moralizer “prides himself on the ability to discern the good and the evil. The moralizer makes judgments on others, and profits by so doing; he puts himself on the right side of the fence. Moralizing provides the moralizer with recognition of his own existence and confirmation of his own value. A moralizer has a good conscience and is satisfied by his own self-righteousness.”
Learning a Lesson from President Harry S. Truman
On August 6,and 9, 1945, the US detonated two atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki obliterating them, and forcing Japan to surrender to the US. The exact number of the dead and injured will probably never be known. The Avalon Project at Yale Law School estimates total casualties at Hiroshima 135,000; at Nagasaki 64,000.
Documents at the Library and Museum Truman record that President Harry S. Truman received a telegram from Samuel McCrea Cavert, the General Secretary of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, on August 9, 1945, imploring the president to halt the bombing. “Many Christians,” Cavert declared, “[are]deeply disturbed over use of Atomic bombs against Japanese cities because of their indiscriminate precedent for the future of mankind.”
Two days later on August 11, Truman replied “Nobody is more disturbed than I am but I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and their murder of our prisoners of war. The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them. When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true.”
Dr. Alex Grobmanis the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and on the advisory board of the National Christian Leadership Conference of Israel (NCLCI). He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.