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"Israel's response fully compliant with the norms of International Law"

Reader comment on item: Arabs Disavow Hizbullah
in response to reader comment: Al Taquia

Submitted by ron thompson (United States), Jul 26, 2006 at 18:14

Anyone who wants to criticize Israel's response by the two-front acts of war by Hamas and Hezbollah should read this, Ron Thompson

Israel Is Within Its Rights
By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey (credentials below)
Wednesday, July 26, 2006 - in the washington Post

Israel's operations against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza have been
widely condemned in Europe, the Arab world and at the United Nations as
violations of international law. Some of the critics seem to deny that
Israel has any legitimate right to use force. Others, while acknowledging
its right to self-defense, nevertheless regard its exercise in these cases
as illegal. Israel's alleged offenses include treating mere "terrorist"
attacks as an excuse to attack Lebanon, using disproportionate force,
causing excessive civilian casualties and refusing to contemplate an
immediate cease-fire.

In fact, Israel's conduct has been fully compliant with the applicable norms
of international law.

The primary claim by Israel's critics is that it used force
disproportionately in response to Hezbollah's initial attack against Israeli
soldiers, eight of whom were killed and two captured. The underlying
assumption appears to be that Israel should have treated these provocations
as terrorist acts and limited its response accordingly, rather than as
justifications for a full-scale attack on Lebanese territory.

But in determining the existence of a legitimate casus belli , a state is
entitled to consider the entire context of the threat it faces. Hezbollah is
not simply a terrorist gang, like Germany's Baader-Meinhof or Italy's Red
Brigades. It is a substantial political and military organization that has
more than 12,000 short- and medium-range rockets and that has operated
freely on Lebanese territory for many years, periodically launching attacks
against Israel. Its stated goal is Israel's destruction, and it is the
client of a major regional power -- Iran -- whose government appears
dedicated to the same goal.

Moreover, although international law requires a state to have a lawful
reason to use force -- such as self-defense -- it does not mandate that a
state limit its military response to "tit for tat" actions. Once a country
has suffered an armed attack, it is entitled to identify the source of that
attack and to eliminate its adversary's ability to attack again. Its actions
must be consistent with otherwise applicable international norms, but it is
not required to accept a limited conflict that fails to meet and resolve the
danger it faces.

That Lebanon has suffered from Israel's actions does not change the legal
rules involved. No state has the right to permit a foreign military force to
use its territory to launch attacks against another country. Indeed, every
country has an obligation to control its own territory. Lebanon's failure
(or refusal) to expel Hezbollah would in and of itself have been a
legitimate cause for Israeli military action. It was the Taliban's
sheltering of al-Qaeda that was the basis of the U.S. attack on Afghanistan
in 2001. And, although the current Lebanese government is certainly more
democratic than the feudalistic Taliban, democratic credentials cannot
insulate a state from responsibility for controlling its territory.

The specific aspects of Israel's military operations in Lebanon and Gaza
have also been condemned as being disproportionate and as thereby violating
the laws of war. Although there is some grim humor in the spectacle of
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose troops have ravaged Chechnya,
criticizing Israel for a "disproportionate" use of force, the claims --
including dark warnings from Louise Arbour, U.N. high commissioner for human
rights, about "war crimes" liability for Israel's leaders -- are without

An army must always eschew deliberate attacks on civilians and consider
whether the military advantage to be gained from an operation is
sufficiently important to justify potential collateral damage to civilians.
But this does not mean that installations and infrastructure, such as
airports, bridges and the power grid, cannot be legally attacked. These are
all dual-use targets -- having a civilian character but also clear military
value. Indeed, in NATO's 1999 war against Serbia, exactly the same set of
targets was attacked -- with the agreement and approval of the European
governments involved. In the current conflict, Israel's primary military
purpose in attacking these targets appears to be to cut Hezbollah's supply
lines, not to punish Lebanon.

Similarly, the occurrence of civilian casualties, or the fact that more
Lebanese civilians have died than Israelis, does not prove that Israel has
used disproportionate force. The law forbids an operation only if the
hoped-for military benefit would be clearly disproportionate to the likely
injury to the civilian population. Proportionality, however, must be
calculated in the context of the entire conflict, and any civilian lives
lost must be balanced against civilian lives saved.

Unfortunately, heavy civilian casualties are the inherent and inevitable
result of the type of asymmetric warfare deliberately waged by Hezbollah and
similar groups. They intentionally operate from civilian areas, both to
protect their military capabilities from attack and to increase civilian
deaths, which can then be trumpeted for propaganda purposes. But the
presence of a large civilian population does not immunize Hezbollah or Hamas
forces from attack. Responsibility for any additional civilian casualties
must be attributed to those groups, not to Israel. The adoption of any other
rule would reward and encourage the illegal behavior of such "unlawful"
combatants, which would simply result in more danger to innocent civilians
in the future.

Israel may legally seek victory in Lebanon, even if it requires a
combination of ground and air operations, takes weeks to accomplish and
results in civilian casualties. It is under no obligation to agree to an
early cease-fire unless the terms of that agreement would vindicate its
legitimate war aims: the security of its population from attack.

The legal rights Israel is exercising to defend itself today are the very
same legal rights on which the United States must rely in the war on
terrorism. Attempts to revise the traditional laws of war -- moving toward a
law-enforcement paradigm -- so that law-abiding states cannot effectively
protect their own populations from attack or even defend their territory
from armed incursion are not humanitarian advances. They simply make the
world safer for those who reject any notion of law in war.

The writers are Washington lawyers who served in the Justice Department
under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. They are members of the
U.N. Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.


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