Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak threatened Lebanon with the implementation of the “Dahiya doctrine” in the case of another war between Israel and Hezbollah in an interview with the Washington Post. Israel and Hezbollah have engaged in a war of words as of late over a potential new conflict in Lebanon.
The “Dahiya doctrine,” which is illegal under international law, refers to the Israeli strategy of applying “disproportionate force” and causing “great damage and destruction” to civilian and governmental infrastructure during a conflict. In the 2006 Lebanon War, Israel “inflicted massive destruction on Dahiya,” a neighborhood in Beirut, according to the Goldstone report.
In response to Jerusalem bureau chief Janine Zacharia’s question about what Barak means when he says that “Israel will hold the government of Lebanon responsible for any Hezbollah provocation,” Barak said:
It means that unlike what happened in 2006 where under request from the administration, [Secretary of State] Condoleezza [Rice] called at the time [Prime Minister] Olmert and asked him not to touch the precious government of Siniora, and we didn’t. I think that they’re responsible for what happens and if it happens that Hezbollah will shoot into Tel Aviv, we will not run after each Hezbollah terrorist or launcher of some rocket in all Lebanon. We’ll see the government of Lebanon responsible for what happens, and for what happens within its government, its body politic, and its arsenal of munitions. And we will see it as a legitimate to hit any target that belongs to the Lebanese state, not just to the Hezbollah. And somehow, we are not looking for it. I am not threatening. We are not interested in such a deterioration. But being surrounded by so many proxies that operate not just under immediate threat under them, but probably activated by other players for external reasons, we cannot accept this abnormality and I believe that no other sovereign would have accepted it.
The “Dahiya doctrine” was used during “Operation Cast Lead” in Gaza, as the Goldstone report documented, resulting in war crimes, including “the massive destruction of businesses, agricultural land, chicken farms and residential houses.” A direct consequence of this doctrine is a high death toll for civilians, as occurred during the Lebanon conflict and the Gaza conflict.
The Goldstone report had this to say about the legality of conflating military targets with civilian institutions:
The fundamental rule of international humanitarian law applicable to attacks against buildings and infrastructure is enshrined in article 52 of Additional Protocol I (“General Protection of civilian objects”). This provision is generally recognized as codifying customary law applicable to both international and non-international armed conflicts:
1. Civilian objects shall not be the object of attack or of reprisals. Civilian objects are all objects which are not military objectives as defined in paragraph 2.
2. Attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives. In so far as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage.
3. In case of doubt whether an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, it shall be presumed not to be so used…
The Mission rejects the analysis of present and former senior Israeli officials that, because of the alleged nature of the Hamas government in Gaza, the distinction between civilian and military parts of the government infrastructure is no longer relevant in relation to Israel’s conflict with Hamas. This analysis is accompanied, in the statements of Col. Gabriel Siboni and Mr. Matti Steinberg, by an explicit argument that Israel should “put pressure” on Hamas by targeting civilian infrastructure to attain its war aims.
392. The Mission is of the view that this is a dangerous argument that should be vigorously rejected as incompatible with the cardinal principle of distinction. International humanitarian law prohibits attacks against targets that do not make an effective contribution to military action. Attacks that are not directed against military (or dual use) objectives are violations of the laws of war, no matter how promising the attacker considers them from a strategic or political point of view. As a recent academic contribution to the discussion on whether “new wars” require “new laws” has noted, “if this argument [that attacks against political, financial or psychological targets may prove more effective than those against military or dual-use objectives] was decisive, in some societies – in particular in democracies – it may be hospital maternity wards, kindergartens, religious shrines, or homes for the elderly whose destruction would most affect the willingness of the military or of the government to continue the war.”