Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem recently told Israelis that "you know that war at this time will reach your cities." The statement bolsters the recognition that the Syrian strategy in a future war will be based on targeting population centers in Israel. It seems that after the enemy's attempts to act through conventional military means and terrorism failed, it tried to locate Israel's weak point. Damascus sees our cities as a weak point.
The Syrian minister's comments show the extent to which Damascus has adopted a terrorist modus operandi that is no different from that of Hezbollah or Hamas. Even though, unlike those groups, it has still not moved its rocket launchers into population centers whose residents are meant to serve as human shields, Israel is obliged to immediately issue a warning, in every important venue in the world, that Syria is acting in contravention of the laws of war. The kind of threat Syria issued requires a response that will ensure that the enemy will continue being deterred from carrying it out. Israel must also counter the ethical and legal implications of the Syrian threat.
As for the threat posed by Hezbollah and Hamas, the situation is more complicated. A recent conference at the Institute for National Security Studies set out the possible ways the Israel Defense Forces might act in a future confrontation with Hezbollah. Particular emphasis was given to the fact that the group is placing its weapons systems in southern Lebanon villages. As soon as Hezbollah opens fire in an attempt to target Israeli civilians, the modus operandi Israel adopted in the Second Lebanon War will become even more entrenched in the following ways: objectives that constitute real and present danger to Israeli civilians will be immediately targeted, while maximum effort is made to avoid targeting innocent civilians; Israel will warn civilians to evacuate the war zone, for their own protection; after the warning is issued, there will be a broad attack on Hezbollah targets in built-up areas.
Professor Asa Kasher suggested at the conference that there is a difference between "regular wars," in which the enemy accepts the burden of the laws of warfare, and "irregular wars," in which the enemy doesn't accept those obligations. During the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead, the enemy did not adhere to the laws of war, though Israel was obligated to carry the burden. Israel can announce that because of the lack of reciprocity in accepting the laws of warfare, it will adopt its own ethical doctrine. It will take into account the moral principles of the doctrine of just warfare, according to which the laws of war are preserved by both sides, but will adopt measures necessitated by the lack of reciprocity.
Just as the American doctrine in the war in Afghanistan has been partly publicized, it may be worth considering the possibility of officially publishing the IDF's ethical principles. The methods mentioned above could serve as the basis for such a doctrine, but their adoption is insufficient. Israel must announce what the principles of its modus operandi are, and make sure that, as much as possible, they are in accordance with the doctrines of the United States and other democracies.
The publication of the ethical principles, followed by a public relations campaign in Israel and around the world, will have the capacity to delegitimize the methods of the enemy, improve international understanding for the methods the IDF employed during Operation Cast Lead, and even strengthen deterrence and further delay a future confrontation. After all, the enemy will weigh seriously the price it will have to pay in such a confrontation.
The writer heads the military research program at the Institute for National Security Studies.