Israel’s assault on Gaza is an expression of the Dahiya Doctrine
Opinion: The doctrine provides a basis for deploying massive force and showing reckless disregard for civilian life
‘In this context, all inhabitants of Gaza and indeed the entity itself can be – and have been – declared legitimate targets.’ Above, the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an offensive, in the east of Gaza City on July 26th. Photograph: Suhaib Salem/Reuters
The scale and nature of the Israeli assault on Gaza – destroying every piece of basic infrastructure available and predictably inflicting civilian deaths on a grand scale – has resulted not from extreme belligerence towards Palestinians but from a settled strategy Israeli leaders hope will soon be adopted (insofar as it has not been adopted already) by western powers in prosecution of the “war on terror”. On this reading, the repeated massacres cannot be put down to soldiers and air crews following irresponsible orders (or being the worst shots in the world). The devastation is coldly deliberate.
The assault is an expression of the Dahiya doctrine. The title refers to the Dahiya neighbourhood of Beirut, devastated in August 2006 in retaliation for the failure of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to defeat Hizbullah in clashes in southern Lebanon during which large numbers of civilians were either directly killed by bombs or crushed as they huddled in the rubble of their homes.
In October 2006 the head of Israel’s northern command, Maj Gen Udi Adam, resigned, taking responsibility for the failure. He was replaced by Gadi Eizenkot, previously military secretary to the office of the prime minister, subsequently deputy chief of the general staff.
More ruthlessnessWhat was needed was more ruthlessness, Eizenkot declared. Time to take the gloves off. “What happened in the Dahiya district will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on . . . We will apply disproportionate force and cause great damage and destruction. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.”
The author of the IDF’s code of conduct, professor of practical ethics at Tel Aviv University, Asa Kasher, incorporated the Dahiya doctrine into his rules of battle. The fact that the IDF employs an embedded ethicist is one of the bases for the regular claims of Israeli spokespersons that Israel’s is “the most moral army in the world”.
Kasher argues from social contract theory that the state has an imperative duty to protect its citizens, including soldiers in battle, and that this extends to killing the neighbours of enemy combatants.
Kasher fancied that the doctrine might prove popular with other powers. “We in Israel are in a key position in the development of law in this field because we are on the front line in the fight against terrorism. This is gradually being recognised both in the Israeli legal system and abroad . . . I am optimistic enough to assume that the world will soon acknowledge Israel’s lead . . . My hope is that our doctrine . . . will be incorporated into customary international law.”