Frequently asked questions, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 26, 2006.
1. Why is Israel conducting military operations against Lebanon?
Israel has suffered an unprovoked cross-border attack from Lebanese territory.
The attack was carried out by the Hizbullah, which is a party to the
Government of Lebanon. The attack was carried out against Israelis citizens –
civilians and soldiers – while on sovereign Israeli soil. In these circumstances,
Israel has no alternative but to defend itself and its citizens. For this reason,
Israel is now reacting to an act of war by a neighboring sovereign state. The
purpose of the Israeli operation is two-fold – to free its abducted soldiers, and to
remove the terrorist threat from its northern border. Israel views Lebanon as
responsible for the present situation, and it shall bear the consequences.
2. How will Israel respond to the bombardment of its Northern cities?
The thousands of ongoing rocket attacks from Lebanon by Hizbullah against
Haifa and Israel’s North, in which 19 civilians have been killed and hundreds
wounded, should dispel once and for all any popular myth depicting Hizbullah
as an ill-equipped guerrilla force. As the proxy of Iran created in the 1980s to
carry out that country’s hostile acts toward Israel – in disregard and violation of
Lebanese sovereignty – Hizbullah has received massive shipments of
state-of-the-art weaponry from Teheran’s arsenal, transshipped through Syria.
A senior Iranian army officer stated on July 16, 2006 to the Arabic-language
newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat that the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guard
set up dozens of advanced rocket and missile bases in the Lebanon Valley and
along the border with Israel. Between 1992 and 2005 Hizbullah received some
11,500 short to medium range missiles and rockets. The official also said
Hizbullah is in possession of four types of advanced ground-to-ground missiles:
Fajr missiles with a range of 100 kilometers, Iran 130 missiles with a range of
90-110 kilometers, Shahin missiles with a range of up to 150 kilometers and
355 millimeter rockets with a 150 kilometer range. On Friday night, July 14,
Hizbullah demonstrated a previously unknown capability when it fired a
sophisticated, Iranian-made, radar-guided ship-to-shore missile at an Israel Navy
missile boat, the INS Hanit, killing four sailors. In the face of this grave
Hizbullah aggression, Israel will do whatever is necessary to remove the
terrorist threat from its population centers, as would any other state in a similar
3. Is Israel using disproportionate force?
Proportionality must be measured in terms of the extent of the threat. Israel’s
actions result not just from Hizbullah’s unprovoked attack against Israel and the
abduction of two soldiers. Israel’s military operation is also being carried out
against the real and tangible Hizbullah threat against more than a million
civilians, throughout northern Israel. The Hizbullah – a terrorist organization
dedicated to Israel’s destruction which controls southern Lebanon – has over
twelve thousand missiles targeted against Israel and has launched hundreds of
them in the past few days. The massive use by Hizbullah of these missiles,
causing numerous civilian deaths, hundreds of casualties and widespread
destruction, makes Israel’s actions necessary. One should ask, “What would
other states do when confronted with a threat of this magnitude?”
4. Why does Israel bomb civilian buildings and infrastructure?
The Hizbullah is carrying out indiscriminate missile attacks against Israeli
population centers. Nineteen Israeli civilians – Jews as well as Arabs – have
been killed, including three young children. Attacks have been carried out
against large cities such as Haifa, small farms such as Meron, Arab villages
such as Majdal Krum and religious sites such as Safed and Nazareth. By
contrast, Israel only targets facilities which directly serve the terrorist
organizations in their attacks against Israel. For example, Israel targeted the
Beirut International Airport and the Beirut-Damascus Highway because they
serve Hizbullah to re-supply itself with weapons and ammunition. Israel has also
targeted buildings, such as the Hizbullah Television studios, which act as a vital
means of communication for terrorist operatives. Unfortunately, the terrorists
have purposely hidden themselves and stockpiled their missiles in residential
areas, thus endangering the surrounding populations. Indeed, many of the
missiles recently fired at Israel were stored and launched from private homes,
commandeered by Hizbullah terrorists wishing to shield their actions behind
civilians in order to thwart Israel’s response. Despite this cruel exploitation of
civilians, Israel is taking extreme care to reduce to a minimum the risk to which
the population is exposed – often at the cost of operational advantages. For
example, leaflets are dropped urging residents to avoid certain Hizbullah
installations, even though such prior warning reduces Israel’s element of
5. Does Israel use weapons prohibited by international law?
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are committed to conducting operations in full
conformity with the law of armed conflict. These rules are enshrined in the
IDF’s Manual on the Law of Armed Conflict, which requires that military
operations be directed only against military targets, and that only weapons
which can be directed at such targets be used. Additionally, the manual
requires that, where the risk of incidental injury to civilians outweighs the
expected military advantage, the military operation cannot be carried out.
Regarding allegations that illegal use has been made of cluster bombs and
phosphorous weapons, it should be noted that neither of these types of
weapons is prohibited under the Conventional Weapons Convention, to which
Israel is a party. Israel stresses that, in all circumstances, it makes strenuous
efforts to ensure that military operations are conducted so as to minimize harm
to civilians and damage to their property.
6. Isn’t Israel concerned about the mounting number of civilian casualties?
Israel regrets the loss of innocent lives. Israel does not target civilians, yet is
forced to take decisive action against Hizbullah, a ruthless terrorist organization
which has over 12,000 missiles pointing towards its cities. Israel, like any other
country, must protect its citizens, and has no choice but to remove this grave
threat to the lives of millions of innocent civilians. Had Hizbullah not established
such a missile force, Israel would have no need to take action, and had
Hizbullah chosen to set up its arsenal away from populated areas, no civilians
would have been hurt when Israel does what it obviously must do. The
responsibility for the tragic situation lies solely with the Hizbullah.
7. What is Israel doing to help the foreign nationals stranded in Lebanon?
Israel has expressed its profound sorrow and regret at the deaths of any foreign
nationals in Lebanon who are uninvolved in the violence. Israel is doing
everything it can to coordinate, through discreet channels, the evacuation of all
foreign nationals who wish to leave Lebanon.
8. What is Israel doing in order to help address the humanitarian needs of the
In spite of the very difficult security situation on the ground, Israel is acutely
aware of the humanitarian situation as well. Israel has therefore established,
through contacts with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs, a humanitarian corridor in order to meet the needs of
those affected on the Lebanese side. This corridor is designed for the shipment
of humanitarian supplies and the evacuation of civilians in need of medical care,
as well as foreign nationals wishing to evacuate. At present, the route enters
Lebanon through the sea port in Beirut and Israel is working with the
international community with a view to expand the corridor to include other
points of entry as well.
9. Why is Israel committing so many ground troops when it has stated that it
has no designs on Lebanese territory?
Prior to the present crisis, Hizbullah gun positions were deployed all the way up
to the Israel-Lebanon border. From these positions, the terrorists carried out
unprovoked attacks with machine-guns, grenades, anti-tank rockets, and other
direct-fire weapons against Israeli towns, civilian vehicles and border patrols.
Direct military confrontation with the terrorist fortifications arrayed along the
border is critical in order to achieve the objective of dislodging the Hizbullah
threat from Israel’s north. Therefore, ground operations are a necessary
complement to the air and artillery operations being carried out against the
Hizbullah infrastructure in depth. Israel is not carrying out a large scale ground
campaign as was the case in 1982, and Israel has no desire to take and hold
Lebanese territory. Israel’s ground operations are meant only to remove the
entrenched Hizbullah military presence from along the border, so that the
Lebanese Army will be able to extend Lebanese sovereignty to the area, in
accordance with Resolution 1559.
10. Why did the IDF bomb a UN post and kill four UN soldiers?
As part of its ongoing operations against the Hizbullah terrorist organization, the
IDF operated on Tuesday (25 July) in the area of Al Khiyam, from which
Hizbullah has been launching missile attacks against Israel. Following an initial
inquiry, it appears that during the operation a UN post was unintentionally hit,
killing four UN soldiers. The IDF expressed deep regret over the incident,
stressing that it would never intentionally target any UN facility or personnel.
Immediately following the tragic incident, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke
with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and expressed his profound regret over
the accidental killing of the four soldiers. The Prime Minister said that he would
instruct the IDF to hold a comprehensive inquiry into the event and would share
the results with the UN Secretary-General.
11. Why didn’t Israel show restraint and use diplomacy before resorting to
Israel has shown restraint for over six years. In May 2000 Israel took the
politically difficult decision to fully withdraw from southern Lebanon, having
been compelled a few years earlier to establish a security zone there in order to
prevent terrorist attacks and rocket shelling into Israeli towns. The UN Security
Council acknowledged Israel’s complete withdrawal from southern Lebanon in
full compliance with Resolution 425. The Lebanese Government was given an
opportunity to take full control of the south and establish a peaceful border with
Israel. Instead, it chose to succumb to terror rather than vanquish it, and
allowed the Hizbullah to occupy the areas adjacent to the border and to
accumulate a vast arsenal of rockets and missiles. Israel repeatedly sounded
warnings, and called upon the international community to urge Lebanon to reign
in the Hizbullah, remove its gunmen from their border positions and dismantle
their growing stockpile of missiles. Sadly, Lebanon did not heed the demands of
the international community to exercise its sovereignty and disarm Hizbullah,
and today, the Lebanese people must unfortunately bear the consequences of
their government’s inaction.
12. How does Israel expect the government of Lebanon to take action after
having demonstrated years of inaction and ineffectiveness?
The recent reduction of the Syrian military presence in Lebanon has allowed
Beirut more freedom of action in order to promote Lebanese interests, yet no
action whatsoever has yet been taken against the Hizbullah. The government of
Lebanon bears responsibility for the Hizbullah threat. It provided the Hizbullah
with official legitimacy and allowed its armed operations to proceed unhindered.
Hizbullah would never have obtained the missiles and military equipment at its
disposal had the Lebanese government not allowed this weaponry to reach
Lebanon. Hizbullah’s threat along Israel’s border would not have been possible
were it not for the failure of the Lebanese government to deploy its forces in
It is the responsibility of the Government of Lebanon to fulfill its obligation as a
sovereign state to extend its control over its own territory, as called for by
Security Council resolutions 425 and 1559. Through its operation, Israel
expects both to pressure the Beirut government to take action, and to facilitate
this action by providing the international encouragement and the operational
conditions favorable to the disarming of Hizbullah and the effective deployment
of the Lebanese army southward to the Israel-Lebanon border.
13. Why does Israel say that Syria and Iran are involved in the Hamas and
Syria hosts in its capital, Damascus, the headquarters of a number of
Palestinian Jihadist terrorist groups, including Hamas. The Syrian regime
provides shelter and logistical support for Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who
has been living there for a number of years. From Damascus, Mashaal
commands terrorists within the Palestinian territories who carry out ongoing
attacks against Israel and its citizens, including the bombardment of southern
Israel with Kassam missiles and the recent terrorist infiltration and abduction of
Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Syria also provides support to the Hizbullah, including
the transfer of arms, munitions and operatives through the Damascus airport
and border crossings into Lebanon. The Hizbullah would not be able to operate
in Lebanon without clear Syrian sponsorship.
Iran is the main benefactor of the Hizbullah. It provides funding, weapons,
directives and even Iranian cadre (the ‘Pazdaran’ Revolutionary Guards) for this
terrorist organization. Most of the long-range missiles which hit the Israeli cities
of Haifa and Carmiel (13 July) were manufactured by Iran, as was the guided
missile fired against an Israeli missile boat off the Lebanese coast. For all
practical purposes, Hizbullah is merely an arm of the Teheran Jihadist regime.
Iran has also made considerable inroads of influence into Palestinian terrorist
organization, including Fatah’s al-Aqsa Brigade and Hamas’ Iz a-Din al-Kassam
group. It provides their terror cells with funding, technical instruction and
14. What motivates Hamas and Hizbullah, and why does Syria and Iran support
Hamas and Hizbullah are driven by an extremist Jihadist ideology which calls
for the immediate destruction of the State of Israel – as part of an international
effort to wage ‘Holy War’ against the ‘infidel’ Western world in order that their
radical brand of Islam prevail throughout the globe.
Syria and Iran support these groups, not only because they support their
ideology, but also because they provide Damascus and Teheran with a tool to
strengthen the influence of their own regimes and to divert attention from other
issues which have exposed them lately to international pressure. Syria is facing
rising criticism over its involvement in the murder of ex-Lebanese Prime Minister
Rafik Hariri and its interference in Lebanese affairs. Iran is exposed to widening
pressure over its nuclear development program. In addition, the international
community is denouncing both regimes for their dismal human rights record.
Consequently, Israel views Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria and Iran as primary
elements in the Jihad/Terror Axis threatening not only Israel but the entire
15. If Syria and Iran are behind the terrorism, why is Israel attacking Lebanon?
Israel is not attacking the government of Lebanon, but rather, Hizbullah military
assets within Lebanon. Israel has avoided striking at Lebanese military
installations, unless these have been used to assist the Hizbullah, as were a
number of radar facilities which Israel destroyed after they helped the terrorists
fire a shore-to-ship missile at an Israeli missile boat. Israel has no desire to
escalate the military action beyond the present theaters of operation in Lebanon
and Gaza. Israel feels that the involvement of Syria and Iran is best addressed,
at present, through coordinated diplomatic pressure. The Iranian issue will
preoccupy the world in the coming months, and what is happening now is
merely a preparation. Israel has told its allies that if the free world is unable to
form a united front against Hizbullah, then it will be unable to convince Teheran
that it is truly serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Regarding Syria, Israel has publicly stated that it does not intend to attack
Syrian targets. Syria therefore, has no justification for any intervention in the
present operations against Hizbullah. If, however, it does intervene, Israel has
stated that its response will be vigorous.
16. How will Israel pressure Syria and Iran?
There is a widening consensus in the international arena that Jihadist terror is a
global menace which must be confronted with determination and resolve. Israel
has been in intensive contact with foreign governments and world
organizations, in order to coordinate pressure on these regimes, ensuring they
understand that the price that they’ll pay internationally for their support of
terrorism will be unbearably high.
17. It appears that Israel faces a two-front
conflict. Are they the two fronts in fact connected?
Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, in his press conference after the
12 July attack, presented his list of ransom demands for the release of the
abducted Israeli soldiers. It included a demand for the release of Hamas terrorist
inmates as well as members of Hizbullah. This is indicative of the fact that the
level of coordination of these two Jihadist terror groups is not just ideological
but operational as well.
18. Israel has stated that is won’t negotiate with
Hamas, but what about Hizbullah?
Following the 12 July attack from Lebanon, Prime Minister Olmert stated that
“Israel will not give in to extortion and will not negotiate with terrorists
regarding the lives of Israel soldiers.”
19. What are the diplomatic avenues available to end this crisis?
Regarding Lebanon, Israel understands that although military operations are
now necessary to defend its citizens by neutralizing the threat posed by
Hizbullah’s terrorist infrastructure, the eventual solution is indeed diplomatic.
On this level, there is no substantive difference whatsoever between the Israeli
position and that of the international community. The components of such a
solution are as follows:
– The return of the hostages, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev;
– A complete cease fire;
– Deployment of the Lebanese army in all of southern Lebanon;
– Expulsion of Hizbullah from the area, and
– Fulfillment of United Nations Resolution 1559. On the Palestinian front,
Israel will conduct continuous counter-terrorist operations until Hamas terrorism
ceases, the hostage Gilad Shalit is returned home safely and the shooting of
Qassam missiles against Israeli cities bordering Gaza stops. There will be no
negotiations on a release of prisoners.
20. What is Israel’s view of the 16 July G-8 statement on the situation?
Israel welcomes the recognition of the G-8 nations that Hizbullah and Hamas
are responsible for initiating the current violence by their unprovoked attacks on
Israel’s civilians and abductions of Israeli soldiers within Israel’s sovereign
borders. The G-8 statement attests to the fact that Israel and the international
community share common values and are facing a common problem – the grave
threat posed by extreme Jihadist terrorist organizations, such as Hizbullah and
Hamas. Like the G-8, Israel believes that the way to a solution lies with the
release of the abducted soldiers, the cessation of rocket fire on Israel, and
Lebanon’s full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 requiring
the disarming of Hizbullah.
21. Does Israel support the initiative to establish a multi-national peace-keeping
Israel will support all international efforts meant to promote the return of the
abducted soldiers and to enforce the international consensus already accepted
by the UN Security Council with regard to Lebanon, namely, to press the
Lebanese government to implement Resolution 1559, deploy its army
southward, impose its sovereignty on the region bordering Israel and disarm
Hizbullah. In this regard, Israel would agree to consider stationing a militarily
capable and battle-tested force composed of soldiers from European Union
member states, subsequent to the formulation of a mandate which would have
to include control of the crossings between Lebanon and Syria, deployment in
southern Lebanon and assistance to the Lebanese Army, all this within the
context of a full implementation of Resolution 1559, as mentioned above.
22. How long will the Israeli operation last?
The international community understands that in order for the objectives to be
achieved, the operation cannot be halted before the implementation of the G-8
decision. While diplomatic negotiations will be necessary in order to facilitate
implementation, the start of negotiations in itself will not halt the operations.
This will only occur after the return of the abducted soldiers and the removal of
the missile threat against Israel.
Issues of proportionality
The current fighting in Israel and Lebanon and in particular the tragic death of
civilians and damage to civilian property in the course of the conflict raises
important and challenging questions. What is a legitimate target in responding
to a terrorist attack? How can one tell if a response is disproportionate? These
are complex questions with no easy answers, but international law gives
important guidance on these issues:
1. Military operations and civilian casualties
International law recognizes that it is a tragic fact of armed conflict that civilian
deaths and injuries may occur in lawful military operations. As the legal
authority Oppenheim notes:
Civilians do not enjoy absolute immunity. Their presence will not render military
objects immune from attack for the mere reason that it is impossible to
bombard them without causing injury to the non-combatants. (1)
This principle is also reflected in international criminal law. As the Chief
Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo has
Under international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute, the death of
civilians during an armed conflict, no matter how grave and regrettable, does
not in itself constitute a war crime. International humanitarian law and the
Rome Statute permit belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks against
military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries
will occur. (2)
He goes on to note that a crime only occurs if “there is an intentional attack
directed against civilians or an attack is launched on a military objective in the
knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in
relation to the anticipated military advantage”.
As Ocampo notes, two fundamental questions arise in relation to the legitimacy
of the planning and execution of an operation: 1) Is the target itself a legitimate
military objective? And 2) Even if the target is in itself legitimate, is there likely
to be disproportionate injury and damage to the civilian population and civilian
2. Legitimate military objectives
The generally accepted definition of “military objective” is that set out in Article
52(2) Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, which provides: In so
far as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objects
which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution
to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or
neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military
This definition has been criticized by some for being too narrow, and failing to
pay sufficient attention to war sustaining capability, including economic
targets. (3) If a location is a legitimate military objective, it does not cease to be
one because civilians are in the vicinity. As Article 28 of the IVth Geneva
Convention provides: The presence of a protected person may not be used to
render certain points or areas immune from military operations.
Clearly, the deliberate placing of military targets in the heart of civilian areas is
a serious violation of humanitarian law, and those who chose to locate such
targets in these areas must bear responsibility for the injury to civilians which
this decision engenders. As international law expert Yoram Dinstein notes:
Should civilian casualties ensue from an attempt to shield combatants or a
military objective, the ultimate responsibility lies with the belligerent placing
innocent civilians at risk. (4) But the callous disregard of those who hide behind
civilians does not absolve the state seeking to respond to such attacks from the
responsibility to avoid or at least minimize injury to civilians and their property
in the course of its operations. In particular this raises the complex issue of
The second legal requirement is that any attack be proportionate to the military
advantage anticipated. Major General A.P.V. Rogers, a former Director of British
Army Legal Services, explains the rationale behind this principle:
Although they are not military objectives, civilians and civilian objects are
subject to the general dangers of war in the sense that attacks on military
personnel and military objectives may cause incidental damage. It may not be
possible to limit the radius of effect entirely to the objective to be attacked…
Members of the armed forces are not liable for such incidental damage,
provided it is proportionate to the military gain expected of the attack. (5)
While the principle is clear, in practice weighing expected military advantage
against possible collateral damage can be an extremely complex calculation to
make, especially in the heat of an armed conflict. In their report to the
Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the
Committee established to review NATO bombings in Yugoslavia highlighted the
particular difficulties which arise when military objectives are located in densely
The answers to these questions are not simple. It may be necessary to resolve
them on a case by case basis, and the answers may differ depending on the
background and values of the decision maker. It is unlikely that a human rights
lawyer and an experienced combat commander would assign the same relative
values to military advantage and to injury to noncombatants…. It is suggested
that the determination of relative values must be that of the “reasonable military
One important principle established by international law for the “reasonable
military commander” seeking to make this difficult balance, is that the
proportionality of a response to an attack is to be measured not in regard to the
specific attack suffered by a state but in regard to what is necessary to remove
the overall threat. As Rosalyn Higgins, currently President of the International
Court of Justice, has written, proportionality: “cannot be in relation to any
specific prior injury – it has to be in relation to the overall legitimate objective of
ending the aggression.” (7)
Accordingly, the right of self-defense includes not only acts taken to prevent
the immediate threat, but also to prevent subsequent attacks.
4. From theory to practice – Israel’s operations in Lebanon
Israel has adopted the principles of international humanitarian law outlined
above and the Israel Defence Force (IDF) has enshrined them in its Manual on
the Laws of War. As regards the selection of targets, the Manual not only
requires that that a distinction be made between military objectives and civilian
objects but also that provides that “in cases where there is doubt as to whether
a civilian object has turned into a military objective… one is to assume that it is
not a military objective unless proven otherwise. ” (8)
Similarly, in relation to question of proportionality, the IDF Manual states:
Even when it is not possible to isolate the civilians from an assault and there is
no other recourse than to attack, the commander is required to refrain from an
attack that is expected to inflict harm on the civilian population that is
disproportionate to the expected military gain. (9)
In practice this requires the IDF and the commander in the field to assess both
the expected military gain, and the potential of collateral injury to Lebanese
civilians. As regards the expected military gain, it should be noted that the
relevant advantage is not that of that specific attack but of the military
operation as a whole. As the German Military Manual points out:
The term “military advantage” refers to the advantage which can be expected
of an attack as a whole and not only of isolated or specific parts of the
It should also be recalled that, as noted above, the relevant consideration to
gauge the legitimacy of a response to an act of aggression is not the attacks
which have already been committed, but the “overall objective of ending the
aggression”. In Israel’s case this means that its response has to be measured
not only in respect of the initial Hizballah cross-border attack, or even the
missiles which have already been fired at Israel’s northern towns and villages
(some 2,500 at time of writing), but also against the threat of the estimated
13,000 missiles which Hezbollah still has and threatens to use against Israel.
The possibility of collateral injury to civilians must be weighed in light of these
considerations. The deliberate placement of missile launchers and stockpiles of
weapons in the heart of civilian centers, frequently inside and beneath
populated apartment blocks, means that this risk is tragically high. This dilemma
posed by this violation of the fundamental humanitarian principle of distinction
between combatants and civilians has been exceptionally acute in densely
populated areas in south Beirut, where Hizballah has deliberately located its
headquarters and terrorist strongholds.
But the presence of civilians in the area does not stop a military objective from
being a legitimate target. This is not just the law, as noted above, but also the
practice of states. The Australian Defence Force Manual reflects the prevailing
The presence of non-combatants in or around a military objective does not
change its nature as a military objective. Non-combatants in the vicinity of a
military objective must share the danger to which the military objective is
In practice Israel does not adopt the position reflected here that civilians in the
vicinity of a military objective must “share the danger”, but rather takes
significant efforts to avoid or minimize civilian casualties. Any such operation is
considered on an individual basis in order to ensure that it meets the test of
proportionality. Frequently this means the rejection of proposed military
operations when the likelihood of collateral damage to civilians and their
property is considered too high.
On other occasions, it means that operations
are conducted in such a way as to reduce the likelihood of incidental damage,
in terms of the timing or operational aspects of the attack. Finally, whenever it
is possible without jeopardizing the operation, Israel issues advance notice to
the local residents through various media, including dropping leaflets, to
distance themselves from areas in which Hizballah is operating and from places
in which weaponry is stored.
IDF operations in Lebanon have also included operations directed against
infrastructure and property. These have included:
Bridges and roads – The activity of terrorist groups in Lebanon is dependent on
major transportation arteries, through which weaponry and ammunition, as well
as missile launchers and terrorist reinforcements are transported. Damage to
key routes is intended to prevent or obstruct the terrorists in planning and
perpetrating their attacks. In this case it is also intended to prevent the
kidnapped soldiers being smuggled out of the country.
Under international law there is widespread recognition that lines of
transportation which can serve military purposes are a legitimate military target.
In its Commentary on the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions, the
ICRC includes in its list of military objectives considered to be of “generally
recognized military importance”: “Lines and means of communications (railway
lines, roads, bridges, tunnels and canals) which are of fundamental military
A useful practical test for gauging the military importance of lines of
transportation is proposed in the US Air Force Pamphlet, which asks “whether
they make an effective contribution to an adversary’s military action so that
their capture, destruction or neutralization offers a definite military advantage in
the circumstances ruling at the time”. (13)
In the current situation, notwithstanding the security justifications for targeting
major roads, the IDF takes pains to ensure that sufficient routes remain open to
enable civilians to leave combat zones, and to permit the access of
humanitarian supplies. Efforts are also made to ensure that damage to civilian
vehicles is minimized.
Runways at Beirut International Airport – In the view of the IDF, rendering the
runways unusable constituted the most appropriate method of preventing
reinforcements and supplies of weaponry and military materiel reaching the
terrorist organizations. It is also a response to reports that it is the intention of
the terrorists to fly the kidnapped Israelis out of Lebanon. Airports are widely
recognized to be legitimate military targets. The Canadian Law of Armed
Conflict Manual, for example, notes that “ports and airfields are generally
accepted as being military objectives” (14) while the ICRC list of generally
recognized military objectives includes: “airfields, rocket launching ramps and
naval base installations” (15). It should be also be noted that, in its operation at
Beirut Airport, the IDF was careful not to damage the central facilities of the
airport, including the radar and control towers, allowing the airport to continue
to control international flights over its airspace.
Al Manar TV station – Operating as the Hizballah television station, Al Manar’s
was used to relay messages to terrorists as well as incite acts of terrorism. The
ICRC list of accepted military objectives includes “the installations of
broadcasting and television stations”. Similarly, the Committee established to
review NATO bombings in Yugoslavia noted in relation to NATO attacks on
radio and television stations in Belgrade: “If the media is used to incite crimes
then it is a legitimate target… Insofar as the attack actually was aimed at
disrupting the communications network it was legally acceptable.” (16)
Fuel reserves – Terrorist activity is dependent, inter alia, on a regular supply of
fuel without which the terrorists cannot operate. For this reason a number of
fuel depots which primarily serve the terrorist operations were targeted. From
intelligence Israel has obtained, it appears that this step has had a significant
effect on reducing the capability of the terrorist organizations.
The legitimacy of directing attacks on fuel and power installations has been
widely noted. The Canadian Law of Armed Conflict Manual, for example, lists
“petroleum storage areas” as “generally accepted as being military
objectives” (17), while the ICRC list of military objectives also includes
“Installations providing energy mainly for national defence, e.g. coal, other
fuels, or atomic energy, and plants producing gas or electricity mainly for
military consumption”. (18)
The current military operation is taking place against a clear asymmetry with
regard to the implementation of principles of international humanitarian law:
Hizballah, in clear violation of these principles, deliberately targets Israeli
civilians, and does so while placing its bases and stockpiles in the heart of
civilian centers. Israel, on the other hand, seeks to apply the principles of
humanitarian law, even against an opponent which flouts them.
In doing so, Israel takes pains to ensure that it directs its attacks against
legitimate military targets, and that in conducting its operations incidental
damage to civilians is kept to a minimum, both by ruling out attacks which
would cause disproportionate damage, and by giving advance notice wherever
possible. A survey of international practice suggests that the steps taken by
Israel correspond to, or are more stringent than, those taken by most western
countries confronting similar threats.
The suffering of civilians on both sides of this conflict is tragic. Israel is making
strenuous efforts to reduce this toll, both by protecting Israeli civilians and
seeking to minimize civilian suffering on the Lebanese side. Israel’s efforts in
this regard should not, however, diminish the ultimate responsibility of those
who callously and deliberately use the civilian population as a shield for the
injury that inevitably results from their actions.
1. Oppenheim, International Law 1952, Vol. II p.415
2. Luis Moreno-Ocampo Letter:Public reply with his conclusions
allegations war crimes during the invasion of Iraq in March 2003
3. See e.g. W. Hays Parks, Air War and the Law of War, 32 A.F.L. Rev.
1, 135-45 (1990)
4. Dinstein, Conduct of Hostilities under the Law of International Armed
Conflict, 2004 p.130
5. Rogers, Command Responsibility under the Law of War p.3
6. Final Report to the Prosecutor by the Committee established to review
NATO bombings in Yugoslavia para. 50-1
7. R. Higgins, Problems and Process (Clarendon 1994) 232. See also the
1978 report of the International Law Commission which determined that
proportionality in self-defense is measured in relation to the action required to
bring the armed attack to an end.
8. Israel Manual on the Laws of War 2006 p.27
9. ibid. p.28
10. German Military Manual 1992 para. 444
11. Australian Defence Force Manual 1994
12. Commentary on the Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977 to the
Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (1987) at 632-633.
13. US Air Force Pamphlet 1976 para. 5-3(b)(2)
14. Canadian Law of Armed Conflict Manual 1999 p.4-2
15. Commentary on the Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977 to the
Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (1987) at 632-633
16. Final Report to the Prosecutor by the Committee established to
review NATO bombings in Yugoslavia para. 75-6
17. Canadian Law of Armed Conflict Manual 1999 p.4-2
18. Commentary on the Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977 to the
Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (1987) at 632-633