Ethical Dilemmas in Counterterrorism

[Azure-Shalem Center] Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Moshe Yaalon - Over the past six decades, the reason for the existential threat to Israel has remained unchanged: The refusal of many, if not most, governments and peoples in the Middle East to accept the existence of the Jewish state. In recent years, we have witnessed a shift from conventional warfare between armies and states to "subconventional" warfare (such as terrorism and rockets) and superconventional warfare (such as missiles and weapons of mass destruction). Accompanying this has been a profound political-ideological shift, from the prominence of nationalist-secular movements to that of religious-jihadist ideologies. This new type of warfare, and the ideology that fuels it, are defined by the intent to kill civilians. Terrorism, rockets, missiles, and WMDs all avoid engaging the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) directly, aiming instead at the general Israeli population. They do so primarily because of their belief that Israeli society is the weakest link in Israel's national-security chain. And indeed, attacks on Israeli civilians - and the military retaliation they provoke - are the kind most likely to arouse critical moral dilemmas for both the Israeli military and the democratic society it seeks to protect. Since September 2000, when Arafat launched the terror war, the IDF has faced a systematic effort by Palestinian terrorists to wreak death and destruction on Israeli society. This unprecedented onslaught, carried out by well-organized and well-funded groups, is in fact a full-blown and calculated armed conflict. Palestinian terrorists not only attack Israeli civilians in their homes, restaurants, shopping malls, and buses, but they also use their own civilians as human shields. They operate from highly populated civilian areas so as to complicate and deter Israel's ability to thwart their attacks. Israel has made use in recent years of the practice of "targeted killing" - surgical killings of terrorists, primarily high-ranking members of terror organizations. These operations are not used to punish terrorists for past acts; rather, they are used to prevent future ones. It is used as a last resort, when we have concrete, reliable intelligence regarding a terrorist's plans but no way to arrest him. Our preference is always to arrest terrorists, since they can then be interrogated and possibly provide vital, life-saving information. Furthermore, arrests also reduce revenge emotions. When targeted killings are carried out, the public may be assured that we felt we had no other, better option. In the seven years since the Palestinian terror war began, there has been only one case in which the IDF deliberately targeted a civilian, along with a terrorist, in an operation. The terrorist in question was crucial to the planning and execution of numerous suicide attacks. The first time we had the chance to kill him, he was with his daughters, and we aborted the mission to spare their lives. Six months later, we decided to target him when he was alone with his wife. Did the fact that his wife was also killed make our mission wrong? Was our delay in killing him - during which time many Israelis were killed on his orders - correct? The writer served as Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces from 2002 to 2005. He is currently a distinguished fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center.

2007-11-02 01:00:00

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