Skip links

Proportionality: Doing what it takes

First published in The Jerusalem Post

The overriding objective of Operation Pillar of Defense is to restore quiet in southern Israel for the foreseeable future. Peace is not foreseeable, but quiet must be. This legitimate goal has been embraced by most in Israel and abroad, as any sensible sovereign state would exercise its right of self defense in such a situation.

Nevertheless, the manner in which this objective will best be obtained remains an open question.

What needs to be done to bring to and end 12 years of Palestinian mortar and rocket fire on a million and a half civilians living in southern Israel? Twelve thousand rockets in 12 years. What is the proportional use of force needed to restore quiet? Many misunderstand the Proportionality Principle to mean an “eye for an eye” or “tit for tat.” For example, if Hamas launches 12,000 rockets against Israel, the IDF is entitled to do the same in return. That is wrong. Others say an Israeli life is of higher value than Palestinian life, referring to the recent Schalit swap in which 1027 Palestinian terrorists were released in return for one Israeli. Based on that market logic, 1,027 Palestinian casualties would be proportional to one Israeli casualty. That is also wrong.

According to international law (Additional Protocol 1, 51(5)(b) to the Geneva Conventions), proportional military attacks are considered as such if they are of military necessity and do not go beyond the direct military advantage anticipated.

In other words, proportionality means doing what it takes – and no more than that – to obtain a legitimate goal.

In the current round of violence, Israel is fully entitled to apply all the military force necessary to achieve its objective of restoring long-term quiet to Southern Israel. The IDF does not need to limit itself to attacks that are proportional to the damage caused by Hamas attacks. It needs to do what it takes to restore quiet for the foreseeable future.

In its efforts to achieve that goal, the IDF has constrained itself to targeting combatants and their facilities, whereas Hamas primarily and premeditatedly targets civilians and their homes. This is the difference between war heroes like Brig.-Gen. Mickey Edelstein, the commander of the Gaza Division, who before authorizing strikes diligently reviews operational details in order to verify civilian causalities are minimized, and the Hamas war criminals who target Israeli civilians while using Palestinian civilians as human shields.

Today’s Goldstones should take note that the IDF has and will continue to act proportionately. Had the targeting of Ahmed Jabari, the mass-murdering head of Hamas’ military wing, been enough to stop the rocket fire on Israeli civilians, then the IDF’s military operation would have ended at that point. It was not enough.

Had the targeting of Hamas headquarters and missile stockpiles been enough – so be it. But it wasn’t.

The IDF’s surgical aerial strikes have hurt Hamas but to this point have not deterred them from continuously targeting Israeli civilians. Therefore more military efforts are evidently necessary.

At the end of the day, whether it’s in this round of violence or in the next, the toppling of Hamas in Gaza may not be Israel’s objective, but it might very well be the only means to achieve its goal: quiet for the foreseeable future.

The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT).