There are many issues raised or clarified by the war in Lebanon that can wait.
Whether one accepts Prime Minister Olmert’s dubious claim that a victory in Lebanon would for some reason serve to insure that the Hamas-Land his proposed massive retreat from the West Bank would create would not serve as a platform for firing thousands of short-range missiles into central Israel or not, the debate can wait. All agree, after all, that Israel is not retreating from the West Bank in the coming weeks or even months.
But there is one burning issue that urgently requires not only debate but also a clear and rational determination: the policy towards human shields.
Question: what do you do when a group of “innocent civilians” that has already been warned to vacate an area in which there are weapons that constitute a clear and present danger to Israel decline to leave?
Right now the official Israeli answer is: “do nothing”.
That’s “do nothing” even if that means that the consequence of respecting enemy “innocent civilian” human shields is that Israeli citizens die.
Let’s be clear about this: the Israeli decision to give priority to the lives of enemy human shields over Israeli lives is not dictated by international law. International law doesn’t require sovereign states to engage in such bizarre behavior.
What then is behind this Israeli decision?
Better yet, what Israeli authority has made this decision?
The IDF? The Minister of Defense? The Prime Minister? The Security Cabinet? The Cabinet? The Knesset?
The IDF mentions this position in its press releases but it isn’t clear if it is the result of a formal process or simply something that developed with time.
Minister of Defense Amir Peretz has talked about human shields but his position has been inconsistent over the course of the war, first stating clearly that human shields would not be allowed to prevent the IDF from acting to stop the rocket attacks against Israel only to publicly take the opposite position after Qara.
This policy question is far too vital to leave to the IDF to set.
As a sovereign democratic state, it is up to the democratically elected civilian Israeli authorities to establish and take responsibility for the IDF’s human shield policy. And the decision of these authorities should not be in the form of an off-the-cuff remark reflecting the investment of next to no serious thought regarding either the true moral issues at stake or the potentially devastating consequences of continuing to honor human shields.
Israel’s success not only in reestablishing its deterrence but in adequately protecting its citizens could very well hinge on this issue.
The longer the current half-baked policy remains in place, the greater the danger to the Jewish State.