JOEL ROSENTHAL: Welcome to the Carnegie Council. I am Joel Rosenthal, president of this Council, and we are delighted to be hosting this event with our friends from Beit Morasha of Jerusalem—or should I say Yerushalyim? It is our hope and our goal to make you feel at home today.
Our topic this afternoon is central to the mission of this Council and of Beit Morasha. We are asking a challenging question: How do we draw upon the values and ethics of our societies to guide us in times of ultimate stress and conflict? It is a profound question, and I trust we are not being too provocative by titling this session in the affirmative. You will notice in a careful reading of the invitation it is "How to Achieve Military Victory and Maintain National and Personal Ethics."
The reason we can be so affirming is because of the extraordinary speakers who are about to take the floor. They have spent their lives not only thinking about this issue, but in applying their ideas in their personal and professional lives. Each of the speakers you are about to hear from is admired not only because of their accomplishments in public life, but also for their candor, intellectual honesty, and loyalty to principle.
I want to personally thank General Yaalon and Michael Walzer for sharing this afternoon with us, and for their long-term commitment to the work of Beit Morasha and Carnegie Council. Our organizations would be much diminished without them, their contributions to our work, and the power of their example.
I would also like to recognize and offer thanks and congratulations to Mel Salberg, in whose honor we are convening here today. I am sure we will be hearing more about that later. Mel's years of service to Beit Morasha, the Jewish community, and to our country are inspiring. Thank you.
Finally, thanks to our colleagues from Beit Morasha for organizing this program, especially Paul Wimpfheimer and Freda Rosenfeld Wallick. Thank you, Paul and Freda.
I also have to thank Melissa Semeniuk from our staff for working with us and other members of our staff who are here. It has been a team effort we have been enjoying. So thank you.
I am now going to turn it over to my friend and colleague, Prof. Benny Ish-Shalom. Benny's work is well known to many of you and is vital in connecting Jewish ethics and values to the development of Israel as a democratic state. Among the many things I've learned from Benny is that ethics is not a matter of abstraction; ethics is the basis for what we actually do as individuals and as a society. Benny is a thinker and a doer. That makes him our kind of guy. Thank you.
Thank you all for coming.
BENJAMIN ISH-SHALOM: Thank you Joel.
Good evening, everybody. I really appreciate and thank you all for coming and joining us in this special event. I would like to thank especially, again, Freda Rosenfeld from the Beit Morasha board of trustees; the Carnegie Council and staff, and especially to Melissa Semeniuk. Without her determination and commitment and sincereness we wouldn't sit here tonight.
I would like to welcome dear friends. All of you are dear to us, of course, but especially to mention Mr. Abe Foxman, a dear friend of ours; General Jerry Gershon who served for many years as the director general and CEO of the American Friends of IDF (Israel Defense Forces); and General Eli Schermeister with whom we worked for six-and-a-half years as the chief education officer of the IDF.
For us, ethics, especially military ethics, is not an imperative category; it is a question of identity, since as human beings we are examined and tested, not by our survivor instinct but by our moral consideration, before any action that we take. By doing this, we are distinguished from other biological creatures. Therefore, dealing with ethics is not a luxury issue; it is an essential existential issue for us as Jews and Israelis, and I believe for every human being all over.
We live, unfortunately, in a very unstable and violent region and area. Dealing and responding to security challenges, both on the personal level in our daily life in Israel and on the national level vis-à-vis a variety of enemies from all over and vis-à-vis the unstable world, generally speaking, we have to share our responsibility to the stability, to peace, and to the moral norms of our societies while we are struggling for survival or for progress or for any positive development.
Therefore, we launch this evening a very interesting and exciting cooperation between Beit Morasha, which deals with these issues in the Israeli arena, in the IDF, in the educational system, in the leadership arena in Israel, with Carnegie Council, led by Prof. Rosenthal, in order to develop new thinking, new thoughts, regarding these critical issues and to think out of the box, to try to be creative, and not to repeat all the usual politically correct statements, and to offer something which is refreshing and promising to our younger generation. I hope that this evening will contribute to this effort a significant contribution and to the benefit of all of us.
Thank you very much.
FRED SCHWAB: Good evening, everybody, and thank you for coming. My name is Fred Schwab. I am president of the American Friends of Beit Morasha, and I have been given the honor of introducing General Yaalon.
I have known "Bogie," as he is called by almost everybody in Israel, for a number of years now. But let me just give you a quick biography.
Like most Israelis, when he joined the army straight out of high school, he started as a private, and he worked his way up to being commanding general of the Israeli army. In between he was commander of a paratroop brigade, he was commander of an Israeli special forces unit, head of military intelligence. Educationally, he has a degree from the University of Haifa and also studied at the Staff College of the British Army at Camberley.
But more important than all our listing of educational achievements and things like that, he is a man of total integrity. He and I do not agree on a lot in politics. We have had some discussion, but never arguments. But what always impresses me about General Yaalon is that we work with the same set of facts. You don't talk past each other. You can disagree on what the results should be, but we are operating from the same set of facts, and in both cases you know that he is doing what he thinks is best for his country.
For those of you who are not that familiar with Israel, I should explain one other thing, which is the most respected position in Israeli society is not the president of the state; it is not the prime minister of Israel; it is the chief of staff of the army, because the life of the country depends on that. General Yaalon fulfilled that position with honor and with integrity and went on to become minister of defense of the State of Israel. He is now out of politics, temporarily we hope—but I won't go into that; excuse me.
But General Yaalon also did one other thing while he was commanding general of the army. He realized that he was having a problem with morale, that a number of his soldiers were not motivated. So, he was the person who came to Benny Ish-Shalom and said, "We've got to do something. Many of our soldiers don't know what they are fighting for. They don't understand their Jewish background," because unfortunately the typical secular Israeli child gets very little Jewish education. So, it was General Yaalon who came to Beit Morasha and asked Benny to come up with the program of teaching the officer corps Jewish values.
But more important than just teaching Jewish values, Jewish history, Jewish custom, was: How do you apply that to being a soldier? How do you act morally in your duties as a soldier? I believe that he has succeeded in doing so.
MOSHE YAALON: Shalom. Good evening, ladies and gentleman.
Prof. Ish-Shalom and Prof. Rosenthal, thank you for the cooperation; and thank you for hosting us in the Carnegie Council in cooperation with Beit Morasha; and thanks to everybody for coming here, without mentioning the names. We will have the opportunity to bless Mel later on.
I am glad to be here in New York to speak about this topic of how to achieve military victory while maintaining national and personal ethics, as we in Israel and we, the United States, representing you, fighting shoulder-to-shoulder based on the same values, based on the same interests, challenged by many elements, especially in our tough neighborhood in the Middle East, which try to actually violate and to challenge our very values.
I am here as a practitioner coming to share with you my experiences, which go back an unbelievable 48 years when I was drafted into the military, through all the ranks up to defense minister, who also has to make decisions about life and death on a daily basis.
For us in the West, this predicament in which we are faced by the dilemmas which I outlined, are familiar to combat soldiers and commanders from both our armies. Some will have faced these profound ethical issues in the heat of battle. They will have been required to make critical snap decisions, deliberating over competing and conflicting values. These predicaments do not exist in a vacuum. They have not appeared from nowhere. They are deeply rooted in our ethical tradition. The Bible tells us clearly, "You shall not kill." On the other hand, the rabbis of the Talmud instructed that, "If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first."
We have found some broad solutions to these conflicting demands, translating them into rules of engagement and some overarching dos and don'ts. However, this does not absolve the soldier or commander from the heavy responsibility of weighing a situation, of carefully evaluating the possibilities, and eventually deciding whether to open fire, whether to kill or injure an enemy combatant. War is by definition designed to achieve a strategic advantage, so death and destruction. As such, it has a potential to considerably blur the moral picture. In warfare, human beings are tasked with destroying, and yet they must maintain their self-control and preserve their humanity.
We like to assume that Western soldiers, in this case Jewish-Israeli soldiers and their non-Jewish friends in the IDF, are moral people, the product of a moral society. However, it remains a difficult, complex task for them to weigh their own lives, and often the survival of their country, against the lives of those they face in battle.
I would like to share with you my experience on the decision to target the leader of Hamas, the well-known Sheik Yassin. There are complex military dilemmas which can be resolved through a measured consideration of both moral principles and reasoned logic.
When the decision was taken to carry out the targeting strike against the notorious founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in 2004—I was then the chief of general staff—a number of elements were taken into consideration. First of all, there were the moral factors. We asked whether he was responsible for the murder of Israelis, and to what degree. Then we deliberated whether arresting or killing Yassin would save Israeli lives.
Another question: Was there any other way to stop Yassin's activities other than his death, and what would be the risk to our own troops by either arresting or killing him?
And then there were the logical considerations of a similar cost/benefit analysis. The potential benefits of such an operation included, most obviously, removing a potential threat from the scene. Killing Yassin would also be a hugely symbolic act. If he was not immune, no Hamas activist or leader would be immune. And so killing Yassin was potentially an important deterrent to prevent further terror.
But there were possible costs, too. It could ignite the Palestinians and other Arabs or Muslims all over, since this could prove to be the catalyst for revenge and perhaps for extreme attacks on Israelis.
All of this required careful analysis and scrutiny, not only in the case of Yassin, but other similar operations as well. Each situation is different, but there are three principles which must determine targeted killings. They combine both moral and logical considerations.
- First of all, the aim must be prevention, not punishment. For punishment we have the court.
- Such action must only be taken when arrest and detention is not possible.
- There must be minimal harm caused to bystanders.
Here we come to something which I claim is our space of maneuvering, of operating, deploying military force—the need for legitimacy. Conventional warfare presents difficult ethical challenges, so much more when it comes to terror. Terrorists are all too aware of how to distort the difference between civilians and combatants. They fully understand the advantages to be gained when this critical distinction is no longer clear. And so they use their own civilians as human shields, as a tactical weapon, and targeting our own civilians, deliberately violating the laws of war.
While their activities are obscured from view, masked by civilians, terrorists intentionally leave conventional Western armies with the predicament of risking civilian lives in order to fight their own. The terrorists who despise the values we stand to defend are very skilled at turning our morality into a weapon against us. They know that we will be judged by our own ethics, our own moral compass. So when we appear to violate this code, the legitimacy of our actions is called into question, and in a democracy every soldier, every army, needs legitimacy in order to use force.
The war on terror is not only a military battle. It is also very much a fight for legitimacy. Actually, our maneuvering space is based on legitimacy.
I have learned that in today's complex reality, Western efforts to combat jihadist terror rely heavily on national and international legitimacy. Without the popular backing to deploy force, the political and military will to combat the enemy will inevitably be eroded. I found three battlegrounds for legitimacy, and these battlegrounds must be concurred if we are to legitimately use force.
- The first one is personal moral legitimacy: Is the action I am taking consistent with my own value system? I call it the "mirror test": Can I look at myself in the mirror after the operation?
- The second circle of legitimacy is national legitimacy: The state sends soldiers into the battle on behalf of its citizens. Now the society views their actions as legitimate.
- The third circle is international legitimacy: Are the actions in question acceptable in the international arena?
Let's start with the personal moral legitimacy. Each soldier must carefully examine the conflicting values at stake. On the one hand, there is the sanctity of life and the dignity of each human created equally in the image of God. On the other hand, there is the requirement to protect your own life, the lives of your brothers-in-arms, your family, and the existence of your country. These are not simple calculations, and so each soldier sent into battle specifically to kill the enemy must believe wholeheartedly in the justice of his cause. In order to carry out the order to kill, each soldier must have absolute conviction in the righteousness of his actions.
National legitimacy: The individual soldier needs the backing and support of the country in order to fight and kill. This national legitimacy is often the source of their strength. It is proof that their actions are fulfilling a greater goal, that they are part of a wider and just cause.
However, this is not always as straightforward as it sounds. National legitimacy, especially in Israel, is often intrinsically intertwined with political viewpoints. Israeli soldiers are invariably sent to territories where national opinion is divided even by the language used to describe it. Is Judea and Samaria on the West Bank occupied land or land which has been liberated?
Meanwhile, some regard the Palestinian terrorists who are sent to fight as a response to occupation; while others view such terror as a mortal threat to Israel's very existence. Usually, those who subscribe to the former opinion demand that the actions of the IDF be restricted, while the latter typically call for the IDF to be given maximum freedom to act.
The bottom line is that national legitimacy is not derived solely from ethics and morality; it is inevitably fueled by political debate and opinion.
Last and not least, international legitimacy. In today's global village, wars are being fought live, in real time, on TV screens, and on social media platforms that cause alert. This is especially so when it comes to wars which are fought within civilian population centers, such as the war against Palestinian terror or the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. It means that the role of international public opinion is far more central to warfare than ever before.
Owing to the reality of instant communication, views and attitudes can shift dramatically in a single moment. A single image can alter millions of minds as people make a snapshot judgment of what they see before their eyes. They offer little room for context or explanation. And so a mistake on the battlefield, or even a shot fired without apparent cause, can do enormous damage to the legitimacy of an entire operation. It is an element of warfare that we simply cannot ignore, even though so much of it is based on manipulation, false propaganda, or prejudices, or simply naked political interest.
The State of Israel cannot afford to overlook even the wildest allegations of apartheid, war crimes, the Jenin massacre, the Rafah massacre, or the Qana massacre. These lies, these blood libels, may be based on all sorts of factors. Islamist jihadi ambitions, Arab nationalism, naïve liberalism, European guilt, or anti-Semitism—it makes little difference. These false charges have the potential to do real harm to our legitimacy.
Talking here in New York, close to the United Nations, the body established to keep the international world order consistent under international law, I wish that this organization and others will judge the State of Israel and the IDF without any bias, for the benefit of the entire Western civilization.
Here we come to the moral basis for harming civilians. The starting point to winning legitimacy on any of these three critical battlefields is the basic belief in the sanctity of human life. Every soldier must at their core recognize that each human being is made equal, even the enemy.
The question over the extent to which we are required to risk our life for others is discussed extensively in religious Jewish law. It is clear that under normal circumstances we are required to risk our own life in the cause of saving another. It is equally clear that we are required to kill before we are killed by an enemy soldier or terrorist. Unless there is another way to thwart their intentions, killing is unquestionably a last final resort.
The real difficulty comes regarding civilians who are associated with the enemy. They may not be directly involved in the battle against us. As such, they may pose little or no direct threat to our own lives. In these cases clarification is necessary. Quite clearly, harm to these uninvolved civilians must be avoided as much as possible. Sometimes we must go to enormous lengths to keep them safe. However, it is clear that there are moments when there is simply no choice but to place them knowingly in harm's way. There are times when those who are blameless will suffer because their innocence is vastly outweighed by the evil immediately nearby. Sometimes for the sake of the greater good we must be cruel to be kind. As we say, "By being merciful to the cruel we might be cruel to the merciful."
It is these heart-wrenching calculations which have ultimately determined operations against the likes of Sheikh Yassin and Hamas military leader Salah Shehade. It influenced the battle in Jenin during the Operation Defensive Shield, and I am sure that it guided the American decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well.
It is clear that in contemporary warfare harm to civilians cannot be avoided entirely. But it must be equally clear that such harm does not compromise the legitimacy of these actions. This type of collateral damage must never be taken lightly, but, by the same token, warfare is by definition cruel and ugly. Critical operations invariably involve unavoidable harm to innocent people. Only in fairy tales do the virtuous emerge entirely unscathed.
In some cases, when Israel has been too enthusiastic to engage in public examinations and recriminations over such difficult and weighty dilemmas, there is a danger that the accusations and retorts that they produce will impact the ability of our forces to strike our enemies where needed. The fear of harming civilians in enemy territory cannot ultimately be allowed to hamper the ability to protect our own civilians.
Now I would like to elaborate about what I see as the individual at war. In war the victor is the one who is able to overcome himself as much as the enemy. The question, "Who is a hero?" is often best answered with the response, "He who conquers his desires." In Hebrew, "Eizehu Gibor, h'Kovesh es Yitzro."
War is a parallel universe in which the senses can be blurred. All too often, war brings with it feelings of agitation, of the desire for revenge. It can even invite temptation to loot, steal, and, god forbid, to rape. And so a critical part of warfare, in particular the fight against terror, is through preparation of the soldier. Preparation doesn't simply mean the proficient use of weaponry or a clear understanding of battle tactics, or even the rules of engagement. Crucially, it also means mental preparation. It means education. It means a real comprehension of morality.
This is not limited to a clear understanding of the rules of engagement or code of conduct. It goes beyond procedure. There must also be open discussion and debate, analysis of real case studies. Soldiers must grapple with the conflict and the dilemmas which may lie ahead. Each soldier must be left able to envision their own moment of truth should it arrive. They should be clear what their response will be.
Just as much as soldiers must be properly prepared and educated, the responsibility falls to their commanders and officers to effectively monitor, and if necessary correct, their behavior. Such supervision is critical to maintain ethical standards. It is the responsibility of everyone in a command position, from the squad commander all the way to the chief of general staff.
In terms of values, the war on terror requires special vigilance. It is a battle which poses particular threats to morality owing to the following phenomena:
- The first one, numbness. There is a grinding routine in fighting terror. This monotony inevitably means that thought gives way to automatic responses. It leaves the door open to a dulling of senses, insensitivity.
- Another phenomenon: There is more gray than black-and-white. We are facing an enemy often embedded in civilian populations. Soldiers wonder if these civilians too are the enemy. And if they have aided the enemy, do they too deserve to pay the price? Should they also be taught a lesson?
- Another phenomenon: the enemy's reverse moral code. An enemy sanctifies death while we sanctify life. An enemy deliberately disregards the difference between combatant and civilian while we meticulously look for differentiators. The enemy uses ambulances to attack us. They deploy suicide bombers disguised as patients. Inevitably, some soldiers will ask, "Why do we continue to insist on playing by our rules?" But we must never surrender our morality to an immoral enemy.
- The next phenomenon is the end justifies the means. Soldiers must understand that this isn't always the case. Where exactly the line should be drawn is at the heart of ethical debate in warfare.
- Another phenomenon: dehumanization of the enemy. It is all too easy to say that those who deploy suicide bombers attach no value to life and to conclude that we are, therefore, under no obligation to value their lives. Yet, we are all human.
- And there are feelings of revenge. Fighting terror can bring with it anger, frustration, and fear. This must not evolve into the desire for revenge.
These are all emotions which can surface in the complex, stressful, and outright dangerous fight against terror. But each one of these temptations and dangers are our moral fiber. Therefore, these are issues which the individual soldier must contemplate ahead of time.
It is the responsibility of commanders and officers to discuss them and to educate about them effectively. They must constantly keep watch to ensure that the individual soldiers do not stumble, do not trip up. And should mistakes occur, they must be denounced, not swept under the carpet. Such errors should be exposed and transformed into an opportunity to educate the next generation of soldiers. By doing so, we can be increasingly certain that we are able to fight and win while maintaining our ethical values.
Military excellence has handed us an advantage on the battlefield, but this edge can only be maintained if we preserve our ethical superiority. And as the war on terror develops and intensifies, so must our determination to deliver an unequivocal moral response to the challenges it brings. We must defeat terror on both the military and moral battlefield. In both arenas, as in every battle, victory will depend on our strength, conviction, and resolve. We can, and have to, make it.
FRED SCHWAB: Thank you, Bogie.
It is my honor to introduce Professor Michael Walzer, a professor emeritus of the Institute of Advanced Study, one of the most prominent thinkers of our time who deals especially with political and ethical theory, and was an honored guest in our previous conference about three years ago in our Ed Koch Seminar.
I must say here that the most famous book of Professor Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, was translated into Hebrew and it is very influential, not only in the Israeli academia but also in the ethical discourse in the IDF, and we educate our commanders, soldiers, and officers in light of his discussions and research.
Professor Michael Walzer. Bevakasha.
MICHAEL WALZER: Thank you.
It is a special honor, and also a bit intimidating, to speak after someone who knows so much more about war than I do. I think that General Yaalon would probably enjoy a respondent who argued with him. Since I didn't disagree with anything he said, I am going to argue alongside of him.
I am not going to talk about, as he didn't, the question of how you deal with children with knives. I have spent many hours talking with American soldiers and with soldiers in the IDF and we have never addressed that question: How do you deal with a teenage boy or girl who might or might not have a knife and might or might not lunge at you or someone near you? That is police work, and it requires the training that police should get—sometimes get.
The rules of engagement for police are different than the rules of engagement for soldiers. One of the difficulties of the IDF as long as it operates on the West Bank—whatever the West Bank is called—is that it is going to be engaged simultaneously in police work and military work. It is a hard question, how you train young men and women to do those two kinds of work, how to respond as police should respond, with the restraints that are required of police, and still be ready to fight the wars that these soldiers might one day have to fight. That is a problem that we haven't addressed, and I don't know how to address it.
It is not a question only for the IDF. Asymmetric warfare, in which the U.S. Army is also involved, blurs the distinction between war and police work. That is the issue that I want to talk about. I will focus mostly on the war work, not the police work.
Asymmetric warfare is a struggle between a high-tech army and low-tech insurgents. It is a war that is greatly misunderstood because people assume the extraordinary superiority of the high-tech army. But, in fact, the high-tech army doesn't usually win. The United States was not able to defeat the Viet Cong in Vietnam. We have not been able to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. We were not able to defeat either the Sunni or the Shiite militias in Iraq.
One of the reasons that the high-tech army doesn't do well is because it loses the political battle, even when it wins, or could win, the military battle. It is the moral issue that General Yaalon has just been talking about that frames the political struggle. That is what I want to talk about.
Now, the insurgents, the Viet Cong or Hamas, face two critical moral questions: Do they aim their weapons against military or civilian targets; and do they use their own civilians as cover, deliberately exposing them to enemy fire, or not? Israel's enemies have generally given the wrong answers to both those questions, and so have many of America's enemies. Those wrong decisions, and particularly the second one—to fight from civilian cover—then pose critical moral questions for the IDF and the U.S. Army, and those are the questions that I want to address.
I should say a word about how I address them. I have written about just and unjust wars. I defend the just wars and criticize the unjust wars.
In 1967 I was running around the United States making arguments against the Vietnam War. And then suddenly, at the same time, I was making arguments in support and defense of Israel's preemptive strike against Egypt. That is the origin of my book: the unjust war was Vietnam and the just war was Israel in Egypt. I talked about a lot of other wars, but those were the two from which the book derives.
When I talk about just and unjust wars and conduct of wars in the United States, about the wars of this country, I talk as an American citizen. When I talk about Israel's wars, I always do it in association with friends in Israel. The difference is important because I understand the solidarity of Israeli society, which I am not part of, or not fully part of, and I also understand the vulnerability of Israeli society, which isn't my own vulnerability. So that is why I always associate myself, as you will hear me do in a minute, with Israeli friends.
Now, my Israeli friends are my age. They are old Mapainiks and Mapamnicks, and I suspect that many of them would have disagreements with General Yaalon, though not about the issues that he talked about here. I suspect that they wish, as I do, that he was still in the cabinet.
So, let's look at the question. I will do it initially from an American standpoint, but the questions are the same.
How should U.S. soldiers respond to Taliban militants firing from the roof of a small apartment building in an Afghan town where there are, or might be, Afghan families in the building? They might just be living there, or they might have been forcibly prevented from leaving. Or, how should the IDF respond to Hamas rockets fired from a schoolyard or a hospital parking lot?
So, the underlying question, the really hard question, is: How much risk can we ask our soldiers to accept in order to reduce the risks they impose on enemy civilians who are being used by the enemy? That is the really hard moral question. It is an Israeli debate and an American debate.
Asa thinks there should be no risk beyond the risks of the military mission; you shouldn't ask soldiers to take any additional risks. Avishai and I were arguing for additional risk, as I will do in a minute with regard to Afghanistan. Asa and I have also argued at academic conferences and in academic journals. But the argument isn't academic, as you can see.
I know the argument best from my encounters with the U.S. Army, when I lecture at West Point, because Just and Unjust Wars is a required text at West Point; or at Army War College in Pennsylvania.
Now, the example of Taliban militants firing from the roof of a small apartment building, which is probably a simplified example, was described to me by a colonel at the Army War College. I think he was one of the people who participated in the revision of the Army's rules of engagement—I'll come to that in a minute.
So American troops draw fire from the roof of this building. They don't know who is in the building. And what should they do? These are the options the colonel laid out:
- They can pull back and call in the artillery or an air strike. He said, "That's what we did in the old days. That's what we did in the old days before General McChrystal's new rules of engagement were announced in 2010."
- Or you can try to get soldiers onto the roof of a nearby building so that they can fire directly at the Taliban militants.
- You can try to get soldiers into the building to see if there are civilians in the building, families in the building, because if there are none then you can call in the artillery.
- "Or," he said, "if the junior officer on the ground thinks the risks of trying to get solider onto the roof of a building or into the building are too great, you can withdraw." Now, withdrawing violates the central principle of the U.S. army—probably of the IDF—never to leave the battlefield to the enemy.
- "But," he said, "in this case, according to the new rules of engagement, if the risks are too great for the other options, then you withdraw." And then he looked at me, because I had just given a lecture on the difficulties of the IDF in the First Lebanon War, and he said, "We don't have to worry about a ceasefire. We can fight a slow war." The meaning was the IDF always has to worry about whether they can accomplish the military mission before the world imposes a ceasefire. The IDF is always fighting a fast war. It was a wonderful moment for me because it was obviously an expression of sympathy of the sort that I have encountered again and again speaking at the military academies and at the War College. The American officer corps really does regard the IDF as the closest army in the world.
So those are the options.
And then the question is: What does the junior officer who has to make that decision do? According to General McChrystal's revised rules, you cannot call in the air strike, or at least you can't do that first. You have to accept some risk in order to reduce the risk to civilians.
The New York Times carried a whole series of interviews with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan after those rules were announced who were very unhappy about the rules. The officers I talk to at West Point are generally in favor of those rules, but soldiers on the ground said, "This makes the war more dangerous than we think it ought to be."
But the American rules of engagement—and I suspect the IDF rules—do require some degree of risk. That sounds right to me, though I do not believe that moral philosophers can specify what degree of risk. It is not 17 or 36. This has got to be a decision made on the ground by the junior officer who is there. That is why the training of junior officers—what you saw in the video [presented before the talk]—is so important, to make sure that the rules of engagement, whatever they are, are clearly understood, and understood in the same way, by all of the officers.
Of course, they are never understood in exactly the same way by all of the officers. The soldiers I have talked to who have been in Afghanistan and the soldiers I've talked to who have been in Gaza—they are the grandchildren of my Israeli friends—do say that different units fight differently depending on that junior officer: How smart is he? How calm is he?
An Israeli friend of mine who has been in, I think, all the wars said to me, "Brutality in war is most often the product of incompetence." I would add also emotion gone awry, fear, and anger.
So we are enormously reliant on those 20-something-year-old young men—it's mostly men—in those enormously difficult positions and we must be sure that they are trained for that decision-making.
Now, I want to say just a word about drones because I've just written an article about drones, in which I also defend almost exactly the same position on targeted killing that General Yaalon started with.
But there is an issue about drones which relates closely to what I have been talking about, risk-taking in warfare. Drone warfare is said to be risk-free—and it is, for the Americans in the hut in Nevada, with the screens in front of them and the radio contact with several people around the world. But the success of a drone attack—I mean the moral-political success, as well as the military success—depends on the accuracy of the strike, and that depends on on-the-ground intelligence from our own people or from what anthropologists call "native informants," and the work of those two groups is never risk-free.
So drone warfare in fact involves serious risk for some of the most important people engaged in it. Most of the mistaken killings in U.S. drone strikes have been the result of bad intelligence, sometimes from native informants who have their own agendas and who want the United States to kill their enemies rather than our enemies. So insisting on good intelligence means putting people at risk in order to reduce the risk that drone strikes impose on innocent men and women, and doing that with regard to drones and with regard to all of the aspects of asymmetric warfare is really crucial to winning the political battle.
Machiavelli says somewhere that the historians play an enormous role in deciding whether moral conduct is honored because they are the ones who write the history of that conduct, and, if they write it badly, we will honor the wrong people. Now, very often at the United Nations and in much of the world public opinion, we are missing the judgments that we need to make about asymmetric warfare.
It is very important, as General Yaalon said and as I have tried to stress, to act morally in this warfare. It is also very important to insist that moral action be recognized by the world, and that is a job of people who write, as well as people who judge, because we have, I'm afraid, a very large role now in deciding how people will fight.
BENJAMIN ISH-SHALOM: Thank you very much.
We will turn now to questions and answers led by Michael Salberg.
MICHAEL SALBERG: Thank you, Benny.
It is an honor for me, and the best thing that I could do is to make sure I stay out of the way of these two gentlemen in responding to your questions.
I just want to also acknowledge my former boss, Abe Foxman, from whom I learned a great deal when I left the law practice and entered the non-profit sector on the staff at ADL (Anti-Defamation League). So thank you, Abe.
The floor is yours.
QUESTION: Since the power of the press is very important and you have global TV everywhere, it seems like you have a different view from Fox, which is usually more pro-military, and a different view from other things.
Do you think there is fair reporting in the United States, as well as—take Al Jazeera away—but do you think there is fair reporting within the United States and throughout the world with military ethics? This is a general question.
MOSHE YAALON: As military commander, you have to take into account even the considerations of biased media. As I mentioned during my speech, in Israel we are offended by radical Islamists, Arab nationalists, unfortunately in many cases by many liberals who believe that the problem is apartheid in Israel—I don't understand really the effect, and I am liberal—and anti-Semitists.
When it comes to the media, it is difficult to find an honest, factual report. But you have to take it in account.
I can tell you that in many cases when I have to launch an operation I prefer to do it by night rather than during the daytime to avoid the media coverage of it. And if I knew that a certain operation needs more time but the time will be exploited by journalists who come to the arena to do coverage, I decided to dismantle it, to have short strikes, in order to avoid certain pictures which, without understanding the context, the background, the history, the real facts on the ground, you might harm your own legitimacy.
So yes, we have to take into account the fact that we are flooded by information, by TV coverage, social media, iPhones everywhere. You have to take it into account.
QUESTION: It seems in today's world that there doesn't seem to be any winners or losers in war, and it seems, as the two of you spoke, that the idea of overwhelming deterrence seems to be the new way to go. How do you reconcile instilling overwhelming deterrence when the outcomes seem to be, not necessarily winning, but deferring? And maybe I am wrong, but I would like you to relate to that if you could.
MICHAEL WALZER: Look, if Gaza were a democratic society, the last war would be a deterrent. I'm sure there would not be popular support for another Hamas war. But it isn't a democracy and things don't work that way.
Asymmetric warfare so far has not produced clear-cut victories, so that invites renewal, as we have seen in Iraq.
Now, I said earlier that the high-tech army doesn't win. There is a way of winning, as the Sri Lankan army demonstrated. If no one is watching, and if you can just kill and kill and kill, you can eliminate the civilian cover, in this case of the Tamil rebels, and you can win.
The U.S. Army and the IDF—first of all, the world is watching every minute; and secondly, neither of those armies could fight that kind of a war. So at this moment that kind of a victory is just not available.
MOSHE YAALON: I have to disagree. [Laughter]
We have to determine what we mean by victory. That's going back to the Six-Day War. It was a decisive military victory. But we saw that Israel failed the attrition war. So deterrence lasts for a year-and-a-half after this decisive victory.
Looking back to the Second Lebanon War—and I also have reservations as military commander about the conduct of war, but we enjoy already more than 10 years of returns.
Looking back to our military operation in Gaza, Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, since then, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas doesn't dare to launch, to shoot a single bullet. It hasn't. I don't know for how long, but this is a success.
So in this kind of what is called "asymmetric war," I am not looking for what is called decisive victory. There is no such image. But if you convince the other side, whether it is Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in the Gaza Strip, that terror doesn't pay off—and this is the case. If they were not deterred, they might go on keeping up the rocket attacks on a daily basis. They wish to make it, but they are afraid of making it.
Even going back to what the Palestinians call Al-Aqsa Intifada, it started on Rosh Hashanah in September of 2000. We absorbed hundreds of casualties as a result of homicide bombing attacks, just in 2002, 400. But we succeeded in eliminating the terror infrastructure. It was a long war. It isn't just the Defensive Shield operation.
First of all, of course, the best defense is a good offense. Whether it is judging on the other side, like Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza with such a price that they won't want now to go to escalation. It is against their interest to go. They are not Zionists.
But in Judea, Samalia, what we did at that time, when we moved from the defense to the offense, we started to eliminate the terror infrastructure, namely the terrorists, one by one, hundreds of them, to the point that the terror organizations today are not able to perpetrate their attacks. The motivation is there; they are not able—since we are enjoying intelligence dominance, the ability to arrest them in advance, and so forth. So in this regard it is not as decisive a victory as the Second World War or the Six-Day War, but this is a way to win these kind of wars.
QUESTION: I guess to follow up on what you said, the question is: How moral is it to put your population in a position where you are never getting a real surrender so you are never getting a real peace at the end, if you say peace comes from victory and victory historically has always been from surrender? The Allies in World War II didn't have to bomb Dresden the way they did, but it brought the enemy to their knees and it really brought about a surrender.
So where Israel finds itself now—or I guess where the West finds itself—is in a constant battle with terror where we become so obsessed with doing the moral thing. The question is: Do you leave your population in a moral position? At the end of the day you had sacrifices in Lebanon, you say it is a victory, but they have more missiles pointed at Israel today than they did before. Gaza is still a snake pit of danger to Israel.
So by turning this into a moral issue all the time vis-à-vis your position to the enemy, are you exposing your population to something that is not moral in the long run?
MOSHE YAALON: The question, first of all, is: What is Israel's strategic challenge? I believe it is not well understood.
In a nutshell, it is still the reluctance of too many parties in our region to recognize our right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people. That is why I claim the conflict with the Palestinians didn't start in 1967, it is not going to be concluded in 1967, and we have fought for about 150 years about our right to have a Jewish homeland.
Since the creation of the state, we still have to fight. In the beginning—and this is what I claim might be an optimistic view about the conflict—in the beginning they tried to prevent the creation of the state by Arab armed forces, five of them, ready to prevent any creation of the Jewish state. Then we fought conventional-type warfare against Arab armed forces, like the Yom Kippur War, invading our territory.
The good news is that this is not anymore a conventional type warfare threat to the State of Israel. Why? Because they were defeated in the conventional battlefield and they understand that armed forces, which are enabled by drones, enjoying intelligence dominance which enables them to intercept terrorists, even in a civil car or whatever—it is a formidable challenge for the intelligence guys, but we can do it.
So, Bashar al-Assad understands that in order to launch an air strike on a palace, for us it's like that; to destroy his armed forces it's like that. His tanks, artillery, batteries, missiles—we can intercept them or identify them by satellite, and if we have the military capability to destroy it, he knows it. That is why he is deterred. So the good news is the conventional type of threat for Israel is over.
Then they tried super-conventional, having nuclear capabilities. Two such countries, like Iraq and Syria, according to foreign sources, had to give up these capabilities. And Iran of course is on the agenda. But for the meanwhile we are challenged by rockets, missiles, and terror.
In this case, the idea is to bypass the IDF capabilities and to target deliberately our civilians. Why? Because they are told to believe that our weakest link in our national security chain is the ability of the society to stand. That's why Hassan Nasrallah named us "spider web" after our withdrawal from Lebanon.
In the last decade and a half, I believe and understand that that the Israeli society is not a spider web. Israeli society is ready to stand, to fight back, and even to absorb 1,500 casualties as a result of Palestinian terror; absorbing rockets, missiles, thousands of them; and not giving up the idea of the Jewish homeland.
Meanwhile, the IDF adopted certain capabilities on one hand to eliminate the terror infrastructure, especially in the West Bank in Judea and Samaria, and to intercept their capabilities as well, and to have these kind of defensive measures, like Iron Dome, David's Sling, and Arrows, which makes the missiles and rockets almost irrelevant. It is not enough, and when they faced our offensive measures, whether it was Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in the Gaza Strip, we reached a ceasefire based on deterrence.
Then they moved to the legitimization campaign, BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), unfortunately by manipulating even Western, like-minded people. The good news about it is that we succeeded in meeting these kind of military challenges. For how long?
Jabotinsky in 1923 wrote an article he called "The Iron Wall." But as one who grew up in the Labor Party, I am used to quoting Dr. Moshe Beilinson, who was the deputy editor of Davar, which was a Labor Party daily newspaper. In June 1936, after the breakout of what they called "The Great Arab Rebellion"—we called it in Israel, "The Incident;" today probably it would be called "intifada" and "terror"—he wrote an editorial in Davar, and the headline was "Until When?"—in Hebrew Ad Matai—until when will we have to live on our sword, we have to fight for our existence? The answer was very clear: Until our enemies, the last of our enemies, will realize the Jewish state is here forever.
So, I believe that we are on the right direction. We have many parties in the region signing agreements, having cooperation with Israel without agreements, which I believe more than agreements; but nevertheless, not any more conventional type warfare in sight for Israel.
Harassment by rockets and missiles, still it might be. This is not an existential threat for the State of Israel as we used to face in the past.
QUESTION: Gentlemen, by the time an officer gets to senior rank, hopefully he or she has absorbed the ethic of his or her profession, an understanding of armed conflict, what counts, what works, what it is like, what the standards are supposed to be.
The civilian leadership maybe, elected or appointed, not so much. Is there any way that the senior leadership of an army or the officer corps in aggregate can educate those civilians to an understanding which you spent a lifetime acquiring?
MICHAEL WALZER: I have spent a lot of time talking with officers in the U.S. Army and also with officers in the IDF, and I've always been struck—I didn't expect this when I first started—by their engagement with the moral issues and by their commitment to fight in a certain way.
The problem is the political leadership. In the U.S. Army, I think there was a lot of opposition to Guantanamo, to Abu Ghraib. There is a lot of opposition to the use of contract soldiers in Iraq. The officers are disdainful of contract soldiers who aren't subject to military code, who aren't subject to military discipline. If you look at the Iraq War and talk to the soldiers who fought it, you will understand that the crucial moral mistakes were the mistakes, or the crimes, of our political leaders and not of our military leaders.
But we are a democracy. The authority of the civilian leaders is critical. This is one of the dilemmas, that the people who know war best don't make the biggest decisions about when to fight and how to fight.
So you are right. How do you educate our political leaders? We see in today's American political campaign a candidate whom I am sure every officer in the U.S. Army dreads as commander-in-chief.
QUESTIONER: Two-thirds of the armed forces support Trump.
MICHAEL WALZER: I doubt that the two-thirds of the officers would.
QUESTONER: That's what Trump said [Laughter]
MICHAEL WALZER: We are committed to civilian leadership and we do need to educate our civilians.
MICHAEL SALBERG: General, in Israel most of the civilian political leadership have actually gone through the military, unlike here. I am curious how that impacts on what Professor Walzer was describing in terms of do they forget it once they become civilians?—I know you won't—versus those in the United States who never learned it, which was your point.
MOSHE YAALON: You know in Israel almost all the youngsters go through military service, but it doesn't mean they have military experience. [Laughter].
MICHAEL SALBERG: I listened to your remarks. It actually sounded like that was the goal.
MOSHE YAALON: Yes. But to cover this topic, first of all, I believe that it is very difficult to mobilize not just the army, but the people, in a democracy, to go to unjust war. That is the advantage of democracy, actually, the balances.
In a tyrannical regime, a dictator can make a decision to go to war, and that's it. In a democracy, as the prime minister, as the cabinet, you have to look at, first of all, whether the people are with you, then of course the military, and in a democracy it is quite overlapped.
If you think about unjust war, you are going to lose as a democracy. You will have the criticism from within, you will not be backed, and it harms very significantly the troops as well, because the troops are coming from all sides of the political rainbow. You might have soldiers who support the idea or those who do not support the idea.
We had such a crisis in the First Lebanon War in Israel. Without going into details, it appeared to be an unjust war. It became a political issue outside the military, and it affected the military as well. That is one element that I believe political leadership and democracy should take into account for sure.
Another challenge is the tension between the political leadership and the military leadership. It might be a tension in which the political leadership thinks that the best way now is to do something which, according to the professional point of view of the officers, might be unacceptable. Of course, the superiority of the political leadership is clear. But if you are in a position that the officers are not convinced that this is the right thing to do, it might create tension, even to create a crisis.
So it is not just to make a decision by political leadership. You have to look back to the people, you have to look back to your military, and whether to convince them to mobilize them to go to war with you; or to reconsider it if you are not backed by your people or by your military.
QUESTION: I don't believe that the support of the Palestinians by the Arab World ever really existed except as a tool to make Israel look bad or to keep the war alive. Now we are in a situation where the Middle East is in shambles, and these other Arab countries have their own problems to deal with, and the Palestinian issue has maybe dropped to the back burner or off the stove completely. Isn't this a time for a reversal or an enlightened approach to the possibility of a peace agreement with the Palestinians?
MOSHE YAALON: I believe that I have to answer this question. [Laughter] I will try to make the long story short.
First of all, I can tell you that we have tried in the last couple of years, and especially in the last year, to bring in the Sunni Arab regimes in the Middle East to facilitate any kind of regional arrangement, settlement, whatever. As you can understand, in the newly developing situation of the Middle East, we, Israel and the Sunni Arab regimes, are in the same boat.
How come? Iran is our common enemy. For them it is Shia versus Sunni, or Persians versus Arabs. The radical Shia acts as an enemy; they declare that Hezbollah is a terror organization—not yet by the European Union.
Most of the other elements in the region are our common enemies. For us, "Hammastan" in Gaza. For them, the internal enemy is political parties or terror organizations in Jordan and Egypt. And global jihad elements, like ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and al-Qaeda, are our common enemies. What is better than to share common enemies in order to have common interest?
So in this regard, those who talk about the Israeli-Arab conflict are irrelevant, for meanwhile there is no Israeli-Arab conflict whatsoever. There is an Israeli-Palestinian one. That is why we try to call them, to facilitate any kind of regional settlement. They don't want it. They could care less about the Palestinians.
My total explanation: The first one: Iran has a problem. They have the Muslim Brotherhood, the global jihad element. They have their own internal problems—all over facing many internal challenges. They could care less about the Palestinians.
Talking about the agenda of the Arab League in the last couple of meetings—where are the Palestinians? If they don't mention themselves, they are not mentioned.
The second reason is what you mentioned. They created the Palestinian problem as a weapon against Israel. Now, as we share common interests, there is no need for it. So you can't rely on them in talking about any kind of potential settlement vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
But here we come to what comes out of Israeli initiatives. It is a long story to myself, because I am reminded I grew up in the Labor Party, and I supported it also, I have to admit, to the point that I became the head of intelligence under the late Mr. Rabin. In August of 1995, in one of our working meetings—I had a working meeting with him every two weeks—I said, "Mr. Prime Minister, I have to warn you. This is a strategic early warning. I don't see any sign for reconciliation on the Palestinian side. To the contrary, I do see Arafat preparing his people, and especially the young generation, for jihad, holy war, and istishhad, martyrdom, to become martyrs."
I didn't have to use the most sophisticated intelligence sources in order to realize it—I just had to open the Palestinian textbooks—until now. It has been changed. We call it incitement. They educate their kids from kindergarten to hate the Jews, to hate the Zionists, to hate the Israelis, to wear explosive belts in kindergarten—to kill whom?
And for them Palestine it is not the 1967 lines. Forget about it. It is from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. In Arabic, [phrase in Arabic], "no room for the Jewish state." With this in mind, I claim no chance to go on with the process. That was my political awakening, not to believe that there is a chance to reach any kind of final settlement with these guys. Whether it was Arafat and today Abu Mazen, they rejected all the proposals.
Never mind. My idea, if you ask me what to do—first of all, I have realized that we have to give up solutions. We have to manage. As Western people, we have come to be solutionists—I call it solutionism. Humankind has reached the moon, how come we can't solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? How come?
And if he believes that there is a solution—"We want it now, immediately." We have become the generation of instant—instant food, so we want instant peace. We want instant democracy. It is an important influence in the region—"Food now," "Peace now," "Democracy now," even "Messiah now." I don't believe in it. We have to manage.
This is my proposal to the administration here on how to deal with the Middle East: Don't look for solutions. There are no solutions. You have to manage. You have to look, identify what are your interests, and to manage it.
With regard to the Palestinians, I don't believe that they even can be separated from the State of Israel. They are so dependent on the State of Israel they can't survive without the State of Israel. It's like Siamese twins: if you cut it, we are going to bleed and they are going to die.
But when they die they are going to suffer. They have a terror crisis and a security problem. They can't survive without our economy. There is no Palestinian viable economy without Israel. They are employed in Israel, they are employed in the Settlements, they are employed in the Israel Industrial Zone, they are employed as subcontractors of Israeli enterprises. Their exports, 88 percent from the Palestinian Authority to the Israeli market. The shekel is our common currency. Why don't they have a Palestinian currency? They know why. We are so connected.
We are not in the Gaza anymore. What about infrastructure? We provide them with water and electricity. We provide water to our neighbors in Jordan as well. Because we are smart enough to desalinate, to recycle, we have plenty of water we can supply to all the neighbors.
This is the case. They are dependent on us. Without us they can die. This is the case with security and everything. So my proposal: Let's leave alone all the initiatives.
All the speeches in the General Assembly—"Occupation, shmoccupation." This is not the case. It's about how to allow them to govern themselves. I do not want to govern them. They enjoy political independence. I don't want them to vote to the Knesset. They will have a parliament, government, president, municipalities—fine. They decided to be divided into two political entities—that's fine.
Let's make progress from the bottom up, step by step, for the benefit of the two peoples. That is what I did as defense minister, improving the economy, the infrastructure, the security. It is up to them to improve their government, avoiding incompetence and corruption. This is the only way to manage such an insolvable situation. [Applause]
MICHAEL SALBERG: Let me raise in the context, General, that you just described, of managing: When the military will have to act, when the anesthesia wears off and the military has to act, the element of international legitimacy and national legitimacy—within the personal legitimacy of the IDF you will continue to deal with and reinforce. But over time, how do you maintain the international legitimacy and the cohesion that is necessary for the national legitimacy when you are just in a process of managing and there is pressure externally to resolve?
MOSHE YAAOLN: As you can see, we manage. [Laughter] It seems against all odds.
But you know there are certain challenges that are very difficult to meet. If the Israeli military operation in Gaza was brought to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, consisting of Syria, Sudan, Libya, and they judged us, no chance. When it comes to the General Assembly, we have one Jewish state. How many Arabs? How many Muslims? Fifty-three countries. No chance. That is the problem with the international institutions. They were supposed to be the guardians of the international world order and international law, and they actually facilitate the other side in asymmetric war.
I can tell you a story. It was July 2013. I was the minister of defense. I hosted in my office in Tel Aviv two visitors. One was UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the other one was the president of the Red Cross.
I put on the table air photos of villages in Lebanon and neighborhoods in Gaza covered with red spots. Each red spot was either a rocket launcher, a rocket depot, Hamas headquarters, Hezbollah communication center. The villages in Lebanon and the neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip, including the well-known Sajaria [phonetic], were covered with red spots. I said, "Look at it. Hezbollah as well as Hamas use their own civilians a human shields. If Hezbollah had a special project in which Iranian engineers positioned rockets in Hezbollah activist houses—what you have in this house is the kitchen, the living room, the kids' room, and the rocket room with a removable roof, quite sophisticated, ready to be launched on one of our cities in the north."
I told Ban Ki-moon as well as the president of the Red Cross, "In such a case, no doubt that we will face collateral damage. We don't have a choice morally. I am not ready to allow them to launch rockets from houses harming our civilians to be immune because it is positioned in houses. If they allowed the positioning of the rocket in their house, I am going to launch an air strike to destroy it. Of course there will be civilian casualties." Then we said, "The one who is going to sleep with a Hezbollah rocket will meet an Israeli missile."
That was the case. From the moral point of view it is a dilemma, but we agreed to do it.
So I showed it to Ban Ki-moon as well as to the president of the Red Cross. They were quite impressed.
After the military operation in Gaza, exactly a year later, summer of 2014, both of them came. The president of the Red Cross decided to launch a project to examine the international laws of war. We went to a seminar in which we participated. We brought in our experience and so forth. He didn't condemn us. But Ban Ki-moon—he did not come to my office—visited Gaza, and then he of course condemned us blatantly.
With this in mind, what does it mean to encourage a terrorist to go on with such activities? This is the role of the United Nations as the guardian of the international world order. So there is a lot of work to be done among ourselves, those who do keep the international world order or those who do keep ethical rules, and of course the rule of law, and we have to be together rather than to fight each other or to condemn each other when the rogue elements are challenging us in this way.
MICHAEL SALBERG: Thank you. I think you have given all of us a lot of things to try and reduce down to 140 characters in a Tweet. [Laughter]