A great measure of political naiveté is needed in order to think that any of these revelations will have an effect on us, or that tomorrow morning someone will be showing forgiveness to our wars, or appreciate our bleeding efforts to fight while adhering to moral restrictions.
The Wikileaks reports, which made headlines worldwide and were promptly disregarded later on, the realization that no American or British JAG will launch a probe against his military commanders tomorrow, and the unavoidable comparison to the growing legal dominance in the IDF require us to think about this issue in depth.
We do not need to do this because we erred in placing a high bar in respect to combat tactics. The IDF’s purity of arms is proper on a week like this too, when the great democracies are embarrassed. We need to do some further thinking because there is a sense that we lost control of the way, of designating things we must not do and understanding the things we are permitted to do.
The legal reality in the IDF as of 2010 is grim. Soldiers and officers are being probed and indicted too easily over operational mistakes. Ever since the Goldstone Report, the term “war crime” has been modified and adapted to biased global criticism. The result is the cheapening of the term on the one hand, and the emergence of paths that circumvent reality on the other.
Value of silence
An illustration of it is the ongoing trial of Givati troops. As opposed to the recent trial of a well-known politician, where various dignitaries stood in line to offer supporting testimony, in the case of the two Givati soldiers there was no line. Their regiment and company commanders took the stand to testify in their favor, but no other military official arrived.
I tried to find out why this was the case. Was their sin so terrible that nobody was willing to recognize the mitigating circumstances, or say something in their favor? The answer I received explains it all: “Under the current legal reality within the IDF, it would be better for senior officers not to show up.”
As it turns out, testifying as to someone’s character or the complex realities on the ground could become a two-edged sword. The case of Colonel Itay Virob, the Kfir Brigade commander who arrived at court to provide such testimony (in favor of an officer under his command) and left court as an accused party himself has turned into a live warning sign.
The values of camaraderie, responsibility, and credibility are important, yet in the face of the media and inside the courtroom, only the value of silence remains. A commander who dares risk his career and testify in favor of his soldiers does so while armed to the teeth – with a heavy battery of lawyers. Otherwise, the risk is great.
So perhaps, despite the loud criticism, we are more advanced than Western powers when it comes to engaging in asymmetrical warfare under legal limits. At the same time, a good commander and a wise JAG should know that even when moving ahead quickly, we must always ensure that we’re not leaving good people behind.
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