The IDF and the Moral Fog of War
In case anyone ever wanted to peek into the conscience of an Israeli Air Force senior officer to examine how he justifies to himself the tactics used in the current war in Lebanon, Meron Rappaport has done the world a service with his interview in Haaretz. It is clear that the commander whom Rappaport interviews has a formidable and nimble mind. But the greater the mind the greater the ability to obfuscate moral principles:
if there are doubts in the IDF regarding the necessity of the war, they are not being harbored by the base commander or the squadron commander, Lieutenant Colonel K…
Every case of civilian deaths – “the uninvolved” is the preferred label today in the IDF – has an explanation. Civilians who were killed in the bomb shelter of their home were attacked because their home was found to be a “terror target,” civilians who were killed on the highway while fleeing the villages near the border with Israel were killed because their car was “incriminated” for some reason or other. And besides, sometimes there are mistakes. As in the case of Marwahin.
Foreign journalists have reported many cases in which entire families were killed while trying to flee after receiving IDF warnings. A Western official who visited Lebanon recently says that the phenomenon of aerial attacks on the highways is very common. Only UN or Red Cross vehicles can move on the highways in relative security, and even that only after coordination with the IDF at least 12 hours in advance.
The villagers, of course, do not have this option. “The villagers who want to leave their homes are completely defenseless,” says the official. “They are in danger of an attack on the highway. Nothing helps. Not a white flag, nothing. That’s why many stay behind. They’re afraid to stay but even more afraid to travel.”
Colonel A. is not familiar with the problem. “The only vehicles that are attacked are vehicles that open fire. I am not familiar with refugee vehicles being targeted.”
The only vehicles that are attacked are those that open fire?
Lieutenant Colonel K: “The army does not attack vehicles that we know are civilian vehicles. On the other hand, every vehicle that is attacked undergoes a process of incrimination. Sometimes there is circumstantial evidence that incriminates the vehicle, certain criteria that this vehicle meets and that cause the person making decisions to decide that this vehicle is an incriminated vehicle.”
…How does it happen that 400 civilians have been killed in Lebanon?
Colonel A.: “There are 400 fatalities.”
You don’t accept the definition that they are civilians?
Colonel A.: “Our soldiers who are killed in Bint Jbail are also civilians.”
What twisted logic. Either he really believes the odd thought that IDF soldiers killed in Lebanon are somehow civilians; or he’s saying that everyone killed in Lebanon, both his soldiers and the Lebanese are all fighters of one sort or another. In other words, every Lebanese is a legitimate military target. A chilling thought.
The interview continues:
I can show you the pictures. This baby does not look like a soldier. Do you feel moral with 400 dead, of whom half are children, according to UN data?
Colonel A.: “The answer is yes. We are not the only country that fights. I see how other countries fight, how the Americans fight, and I have no doubt that we are the most moral army in the world…
Colonel A. has not heard about civilian targets that were attacked. All the targets are “terror targets.” For example, the Dahiya neighborhood in southern Beirut that was almost totally destroyed is a military base for all intents and purposes, he says, with a fence surrounding it and a guard at the gate, and all those inside it are Hezbollah members and their families. “And besides, the neighborhood is deserted.”
But that same Western official who visited Dahiya this week returned with a different impression. “I saw school notebooks there, family photos, a shopping basket with goods inside it,” he says. There is no question that civilians lived there as well. The Guardian correspondent met a survivor in Dahiya from a family that took refuge in a bomb shelter. A bomb dropped by the IDF went through 10 stories and hit the family and killed most of them. He had gone up to a higher floor because they told him that Nasrallah was speaking on television. Watching the speech saved him.
In this passage from the interview, the commander justifies destroying a home containing civilians in which the IDF believes rockets have been either been stored or from which they were launched. He also reveals that a Lebanese life is worth less to him than an Israeli:
“You must understand,” says Colonel A., “a house in which there are weapons that in the end hit Haifa and kill eight people who came to work in the morning – that house, even if a family is living in it, has to be attacked, because those eight people who were killed are more important to me than the family that lives there (in Lebanon – M.R.). This family allowed them to bring weapons into the house, and thus it joined those who are fighting us.
Finally, the good colonel has no fears of being charged with war crimes at some future date:
Broad areas of Lebanon have been destroyed, many countries in the world may consider that a war crime. There is an International Criminal Court today in The Hague. Are you afraid of it?
“That court is not recognized by a large percentage of countries in the world, including the United States. I don’t think I have anything to fear from the court in The Hague, there is nothing for which I can be judged.”
And don’t you think that a Lebanese child, not necessarily a Shiite, but a Christian or a Druze, will look at this destruction and grow up to be a new enemy of Israel?
“That’s possible. But I first have to protect the citizens of the State of Israel.”
There will be hell to pay for such moral obtuseness. Here in Seattle, we’ve just paid a small part of that price with the attack on our Jewish Federation by a disgruntled Arab gunman.