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April 27, 2015 5:14 pm

Legal Report Explains Why IDF Targeting Practices Are Worthy of ‘Emulation’

avatar by Eliezer Sherman

IDF soldiers find a terror tunnel in Gaza last July. Photo: IDF

The IDF’s targeting practices are compliant with international law, keep with U.S. standards and even deserve “emulation,” a professor of international law and a military judge advocate concluded in a report published on Friday.

“While there are certainly Israeli legal positions that may be contentious, we found that their approach to targeting is consistent with the law and, in many cases, worthy of emulation,” wrote Director of the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at the U.S. Naval War College, Michael Schmitt, and John Merriam, U.S. army judge advocate.

“Broadly speaking, we concluded that IDF positions on targeting law largely track those of the United States military,” they wrote.

The two authors had been invited to investigate the IDF’s targeting practices and applications of the law of armed conflict shortly after last summer’s 50-day war between Hamas and Israel concluded. They published the abstract of their findings in the New York University academic legal journal, Just Security.

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The report did not focus specifically on last summer’s conflict, but rather standard IDF practice.

According to the authors, Israeli targeting practices are within the “mainstream of contemporary state practice.” But they are also “nuanced,” they wrote, because of the military context in which the IDF is engaged.

For example, the IDF’s destruction of a house that was used as a site to launch rockets may strike outside observers as “excessive,” the authors wrote, but to the IDF the high military advantage of destroying the site, which prevents future indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli population centers, “may justify … levels of collateral damage.”

Understanding Israel’s “acute casualty aversion,” Hamas has developed a network of underground tunnels to infiltrate Israeli positions. Hamas “masks its fighters among the civilian population close to Israeli communities in an effort to surprise and overwhelm,” they wrote.

“Therefore the IDF places a high priority on the destruction of tunnels and the infrastructure that supports them, and is willing to operate aggressively both by ground and by air to root out Hamas fighters from the civilian population among which they hide,” the authors wrote. “Strikes on tunnel entrances, on cement plants that Israel claims are used to construct the tunnels, and on Hamas concentrations in civilian settings sometimes lead outside observers to question the degree to which Israel honors the principle of distinction, the rule of proportionality, and the requirement to take precautions in attack.”

Also on Monday, a letter written by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon blasted Palestinian groups in Gaza for hiding weapons in U.N. schools that were not being used for shelters during the conflict last summer.

The letter was published together with a U.N. inquiry into the air strikes against U.N. compounds in the Gaza Strip during last summer’s hostilities. Ban also railed against Israel for actions that killed at least 44 Palestinians at U.N. facilities.

“I will work with all concerned and spare no effort to ensure that such incidents will never be repeated,” he wrote.

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