Various norms have evolved over the course of man’s history in regards to the conduct of warfare. Chivalry, for example. With the vastly increased lethality of 20th century weapons, many nations sought to minimize the suffering of both combatants and noncombatants, and codified these through a series of agreements that have come to be known as the Geneva Convention.
Mind you, the key precepts of the laws of land warfare were written with a view of warfare between nation states and their organized armies.
Today, however, we’ve seen that much of warfare consists of non-state organizations, outside the norms that existed when the bulk of the Geneva Conventions were drafted. Reciprocity was the main means of encouraging compliance. You don’t use poison gas on us, we won’t use it on you. But international law has struggled to keep pace with the changes. One problem is that while nation states are constrained in their actions by the law, there is actually an incentive for non-state actors to willfully flaunt the norms of warfare.
Still and all, it is generally in a nation state’s own interests to abide by the acceptable laws of warfare. Neither you nor I would truly like to see our services wantonly killing non-combatants simply for the sake of killing or satisfying our bloodlust. On the other hand, we’ve seen rules of engagement that have become ever more complex, restrictive, and burdensome that legitimate targets of war have been spared either through delays in approval or fears of collateral damage.
Arguably no nation has gone so far out of its way to minimize civilian casualties in its military operations as Israel in its recent conflicts in the Gaza Strip. Routinely, the IDF will phone the homes surrounding a target and plead for the occupants to flee to safety. They’ve developed a tactic called “roof knocking” where a small guided rocket will hit the roof of a target to emphasize that a larger warhead is shortly enroute, to again encourage innocents to flee.
As a result, he expressed his fear that the IDF “is setting an unreasonable precedent for other democratic countries of the world who may also be fighting in asymmetric wars against brutal non-state actors who abuse these laws.”
Sharing his assessment was Pnina Sharvit Baruch, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and former Dabla chief.
She said legal advisers from other militaries around the world confront her with “recurring claims” that the IDF “is going too far in its self-imposed restrictions intended to protect civilians, and that this may cause trouble down the line for other democratic nations fighting organized armed groups.”
Michael Schmitt, director of the Stockton Center for the Study for International Law at the US Naval War College, also agreed that the IDF is creating a dangerous state of affairs that may harm the West in its fight against terrorism.
As noted, some people will instantly conclude that any military operation by any nation that doesn’t adhere to this technique will quickly come to be labeled as a war crime. The problem is, Israel’s ability to use these techiques, particularly the phone calls, is due to its unique relationship with Gaza and its in depth intelligence of the organization and structure of its opponents political and military arms. No other nation faces such a foe that it could in fact pursue these techniques.