IDF Outlines Rules of Engagement in Populated Areas

Army incorporates lessons gleaned from Operation Cast Lead, Goldstone report and reports by human rights groups.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

For the first time, the IDF has produced a document defining rules of engagement for the military during combat in areas of civilian population. It incorporates lessons gleaned from Operation Cast Lead, the Goldstone report and reports by human rights groups on IDF activities in Gaza.

Palestinian youths in Gaza walking past the remains of a Hamas training camp bombed by the IAF.Credit: Reuters

The document, prepared two weeks ago in the IDF's Concepts and Doctrine Section headed by Colonel Meir Finkel, is the army's first attempt to formulate a theory regarding IDF commanders' expected conduct during combat in a populated area.

A senior ground forces officer said "most of the instructions in the document already exist, but following Operation Cast Lead we decided these issues needed clarifying, because today we look at them differently."

For example, the document instructs IDF commanders to make every effort to evacuate civilians from an area where combat is expected.

Despite attempts to make the population leave combat areas in Operation Cast Lead, with warning fliers released from the air, cellular phone messages and breaking into Palestinian media broadcasts, many families and individuals remained in the areas that IDF forces entered. Now commanders are instructed to fire a few warning shells on entering areas that may still be inhabited by civilians. They are also told to exercise judgment and use more accurate weapons, or lower-impact weapons.

The IDF realized following the Gaza offensive that due to the Strip's size, civilians have fewer places to run to.

The demand to clarify the rules of engagement in a populated area was also raised by field commanders, who were exposed to media reports and human rights watchdog groups' reports. The discourse in the IDF following the Goldstone report also led to extending international law studies and rules of engagement in advanced officers' courses and in the chief of staff's decision to appoint military legal advisers in combat divisions.

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