A Project of JINSA's Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy
Friday, March 15, 2019
On March 18, the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will hold a hearing and issue a report likely accusing Israel of violating international law through its use of force in response to the March of Return demonstrations on the Gaza border last year. An advance report by a special U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) claims these events have been “civilian in nature” and that Israel intentionally shot unarmed civilians, “despite seeing that they were clearly marked as such.” Its criticisms of Hamas’ actions are conspicuously far less prominent.
Our Task Force recently visited the Gaza border on a fact-finding mission, meeting with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers and commanders, high-ranking Israeli defense officials, U.N. officials, independent media and others.
This brief report is thus an update and addendum to a JINSA-commissioned assessment of Israel’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge against Hamas. It aims to provide crucial context and thereby inform opinion in response to the COI report and UNHRC hearing.
Following our operational and legal review of recent regional conflicts, including the March of Return, this report arrives at very different conclusions than the UNHRC.
Specifically, we assess:
Hamas systematically violated international law by purposely using Gazan Palestinian civilians as human shields for attacking Israel, provoking Israeli actions that would lead to civilian casualties, and attacking Israeli civilians indiscriminately;
Israel’s rules of engagement in addressing the March of Return are consistent with international law and operational practice;
Despite this, Hamas exploited Gazan civilian casualties to propagate a false narrative of illegal Israeli use of force to delegitimize and pressure Israel; and
The COI’s findings reflect the success of Hamas’ tactics, and they encourage Hamas and other militant and terrorist groups to continue such illegal tactics against not only Israel but also the United States – at the direct expense of civilians that will be injured and killed by these actions.
Defending the Fence: Legal and Operational Challenges in Hamas-Israel Clashes, 2018-19
This report provides a detailed analysis of the increasingly prevalent phenomenon of hybrid warfare, where law-abiding militaries, like the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), confront non-state actors, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, that blend unrestricted warfare tactics and sophisticated information operations with the advanced weaponry of modern conventional forces.
When the next Israel-Hezbollah conflict erupts, it will bear little resemblance to anything that has come before between Israel and its adversaries. Changes in the strategic environment in the twelve years since the last Israeli-Hezbollah conflict will translate into unparalleled death and destruction, because Hezbollah now possesses more firepower than 95 percent of the world’s conventional militaries, and more rockets and missiles than all European NATO members combined.
Against the backdrop of this looming conflict, the report covers the operational and legal challenges confronting Israel in this next, unprecedently destructive, armed conflict with Hezbollah and potentially other adversaries, including Iran.
It also articulates how actions taken by U.S., Israeli, and other allied militaries in actual combat situations comply with, and often exceed, the requirements of the law of armed conflict. Conversely, the report highlights how Hezbollah will intentionally exploit that same body of law to stymie the IDF in battle and discredit the latter's self-defense operations in the hopes to securing a strategic victory in the forum of public opinion.
Israel's Next Northern War: Operational and Legal Challenges
American diplomats have been quietly mediating a resolution to the Israeli-Lebanese maritime border dispute, an important step to avoiding another war between these two countries. However, even if American mediators can resolve the dispute, Hezbollah’s presence in southern Lebanon keeps alive the possibility of a devastating war.
US has Given Lebanese Armed Forces a Pass with Hezbollah — Conditioning Aid is Necessary
On Monday, the U.N. held a hearing and issued a report by its special commission on Israel’s response to the mass demonstrations along its border with Gaza, known as the “March of Return.” The U.N.’s findings, which assert Israel violated international law and downplay or ignore systematic legal violations by Hamas, are misguided and pose serious concerns not only for Israel but also the United States.
UN Report on IDF Response to Hamas Are Misguided and Pose Serious Concerns
Last month American and U.N. ambassadors toured a Hezbollah attack tunnel stretching from Lebanon into Israel and designed for killing and kidnapping Israelis. These officials saw Hezbollah’s earthworks up close, which is more than can be said for the 10,500 U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon (UNIFIL) who apparently were unaware of five tunnels being dug under their feet. These discoveries underscore it is time to get serious about addressing Hezbollah’s massive military buildup in southern Lebanon.
US Should Sanction Hezbollah-Controlled Govt. to Counter Attack Tunnels in Lebanon
The United Nations issued a report last week saying it believes Israel committed “war crimes” in responding to ongoing violence on the Gaza border. The accusations include Israel Defense Forces shooting at non-combatants “knowing they were clearly recognizable as such.” Certainly this is not the UN’s first condemnation of Israel, but the accusations remain unjustified. The IDF does a remarkable job minimizing harm to civilians — on all sides.
In Gaza, Israel Is Complying With the Law of Armed Conflict While Hamas Exploits It
For weeks, Israeli and Lebanese soldiers have eyed each other uneasily at close range while Israeli engineers neutralize cross-border infiltration tunnels. These sophisticated tunnels, clearly intended to attack civilians, embody Hezbollah’s ongoing efforts to threaten substantial harm to Israel...
Hezbollah's Tunnels Offer Sneak Peek at Looming Major Conflict with Israel
American policymakers must revisit the recent decision to spend over $100 million of taxpayer money on advanced weapons for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). Conceivably these armaments could reinforce Hezbollah against Israel or other Iranian proxies threatening the United States and its allies around the Middle East...
Congress Should Be Wary of Funding the Lebanese Armed Forces
Hezbollah has threatened Israel’s northern border for decades. Today, however, the nature of this threat has become dire, and the risks of escalation real, as Iran continues supplying Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon with game-changing weapons to devastate the Israeli homeland. When the next conflict erupts between Israel and Hezbollah, its scale and intensity will bear little resemblance to those of recent memory...
Israel’s Next Northern War: Operational and Legal Challenges
Rising tensions in Gaza and Syria make it seem only a matter of when, not if major hostilities will renew between Israel and one or more of its neighbors. In any conflict, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran know their most potent weapon is to intentionally and illegally put civilians in harm’s way, and then conduct an information campaign hypocritically blaming Israel for the ensuing casualties…
Human Shields and Other Tactics of Israel's Enemies
Recently, northern Israel faced what many had been dreading since Iran began its military buildup in Syria: air raid sirens and hours in bomb shelters. Fortunately, Iran’s rocket attack was small enough for Israel’s vaunted missile defense system to protect its citizens without casualties. Unfortunately, this may not be the case if Iran or its surrogate Hezbollah choose to attack Israel again in the future...
Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently released a report accusing both Hamas and the Israeli government of committing war crimes regarding an incident in May 2019. During these hostilities, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) struck 350 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza after those groups launched roughly 690 rocket attacks into Israel...
The recent confrontation at the Israel-Gaza border between thousands of Gazans and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) took a heavy human toll, raising concerns about excessive uses of force and complex issues of international law. The Israeli High Court of Justice declined to order modification of the IDF’s rules and procedures that dictate when, where and how its forces may employ lethal force. These rules appear to reflect what some consider a controversial hybrid response to the Gaza confrontation, informed by both the law of armed conflict and the more restrictive rules on use of force derived from the traditional law enforcement paradigm…
Use of Force at the Gaza Border: A Hybrid Approach to Tactical Challenges