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Israel Must Confront the Jihadist Desire for Immortality

Pro-Hamas demonstrators in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: Screenshot

Effective counter-terrorism is never just about strategy, tactics, or doctrine. Whatever an insurgency’s operational specifics, this area of national security planning should always remain starkly analytic and logic-centered. For Israel in the Islamic Middle East, this means a heightened conceptual awareness of death and “last things” as embraced by its jihadist foes.

It means, inter alia, that Israel’s counter-terrorism planners should continuously bear in mind the primacy of one consistently overlooked and underestimated form of power: the desire for immortality, or “power over death.”

Any promise of immortality is of course densely problematic. By definition, it lies beyond the boundaries of science and logic. How, then, should the desire of Israel’s terrorist adversaries for immortality be assessed by Israeli planners during the Gaza War?

Any such inquiry should begin with certain core questions. The principal query is this: How can one human being meaningfully offer eternal life to another? Reciprocally, it must also be asked: How can any terrorism-opposing state construct components of its national security program upon a determined enemy’s “hunger for immortality?” This phrase is taken from Spanish (Basque) philosopher Miguel de Unamuno’s classic treatise The Tragic Sense of Life (Del Sentimiento Tragico De La Vida; 1921). Unamuno  would never, however, have been sympathetic to the twisted idea of a murderous faith-based “martyrdom.”

Though these questions are difficult, they have answers. Even in our age of incessant quantification and verification, there is something in our unreflective species that yearns not for reason-based clarity but for mystery and faith. In facing jihadist terrorist ideologies that promise the faithful eternal life, Israel must remain wary of projecting ordinary human rationality upon Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and others like them.

Projections of decision-making rationality usually make sense in world politics, but there are enough major exceptions to temper hopeful generalities. If Israel’s national decision-makers were to survey the current configuration of global jihadist terrorist organizations (both Sunni and Shiite) from an analytic standpoint, the nexus between “martyrdom operations” and “life everlasting” would be conspicuous. At that point, Israel’s security planners would be in a much better position to deter murderous hostage-takers and suicide-bombers, both in microcosm (individual human terrorists) and in macrocosm (enemy states that support terrorists).

In such time-urgent matters, there are corresponding and converging elements of law. Jihadist insurgents who seek to justify gratuitously violent attacks on civilians in the name of “martyrdom” are acting contrary to international law. All insurgents, even those who claim “just cause,” must still satisfy longstanding jurisprudential limits on permissible targets and on law-based levels of violence.

As a matter of binding law, such humane limits can never be tempered by claims of religious faith. Faith is never legally exculpatory.

According to authoritative jurisprudence, the relevant legal matters are not inherently complicated or bewildering. Under longstanding rules, even the allegedly “sacred” rights of insurgency must always exclude any deliberate targeting of civilians or any use of force to intentionally inflict unnecessary suffering.

Law and strategy are interrelated; but at the same time, they are analytically distinct. Regarding the Gaza War and effective counter-terrorism, the legal bottom line is clear: Violence becomes terrorism whenever politically animated insurgents murder (intentionally kill) or maim noncombatants, whether with guns, knives, bombs, automobiles, or anything else.

It is irrelevant whether the expressed cause of terror-violence is presumptively just or unjust. In the Law of Nations, unjust means used to achieve allegedly just ends are always violations of the law.

Sometimes, martyrdom-seeking terrorist foes such as Hamas advance a supposedly legal argument known as tu quoque. This historically discredited argument stipulates that because “the other side” is guilty of similar, equivalent, or greater criminality, “our” side is necessarily innocent of any wrongdoing. Jurisprudentially, any such disingenuous argument is always wrong and invalid, especially after the landmark postwar judgments of the Nuremberg (Germany) and Far East (Japan) tribunals.

For conventional armies and insurgent forces, the right to use military force can never supplant the rules of humanitarian international law. Such primary or jus cogens rules (rules that permit “no derogation”) are referenced as the law of armed conflict, humanitarian international law, or the law of war. Significantly, these terms apply to both state and sub-state participants in any armed conflict.

Repeatedly, however, and without a scintilla of law-based evidence, supporters of Hamas terror-violence against Israeli noncombatants insist that “the ends justify the means.” Leaving aside the ethical standards by which any such argument should be dismissed on its face, ends can never justify means in the law of armed conflict. There can be no defensible ambiguity regarding such a conclusion.

The witless banalities of politics ought never be taken to accurately represent the expectations of binding law. In such universal law, whether codified or customary, one person’s terrorist can never be another’s “freedom-fighter.” Though it is correct that certain insurgencies can sometimes be judged lawful or even law-enforcing, allowable resorts to force must always conform to humanitarian international law.

Whenever an insurgent group resorts to unjust means, its actions constitute terrorism. Even if adversarial claims of a hostile controlling power were plausible or acceptable (e.g., relentless Palestinian claims concerning an Israeli “occupation”), corollary claims of entitlement to “any means necessary” would still remain false. Recalling Hague Convention No. IV: “The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited.”

What about Israeli attacks on Gaza? Though Israel’s ongoing bombardments of Gaza are producing many Palestinian casualties, the legal responsibility for these harms lies entirely with Hamas “perfidy,” or what is more colloquially called Hamas’s use of “human shields.”

It is also noteworthy that while Palestinian casualties are unwanted, inadvertent, and unintentional, Israeli civilian deaths and injuries are always the result of Palestinian terrorist criminal intent or “mens rea.” In law, there is a great difference between deliberately murdering innocent celebrants at an Israeli music festival and the lethal consequences of indispensable Israeli counter-terrorist operations in Gaza.

International law is not an intuitive or subjective set of standards. Such law always has determinable form and content. It cannot be casually invented and reinvented by terror groups to justify their interests. This is especially true when their inhumane terror-violence intentionally targets a designated victim state’s most fragile and vulnerable civilians.

National liberation movements that fail to meet the test of just means can never be protected as lawful or legitimate. Even if the law were to accept the questionable argument that relevant terror groups had fulfilled all valid criteria of “national liberation” (e.g., Iran-supported Hamas or Hezbollah), these groups would still not satisfy the equally significant legal standards of distinction, proportionality, and military necessity.

These enduring critical standards were specifically applied to insurgent or sub-state organizations by Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and by the two 1977 Protocols to these Conventions.

Standards of humanity remain binding upon all combatants by virtue of the broader norms of customary and conventional international law, including Article 1 of the Preamble to the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907. This rule, commonly called the “Martens Clause,” makes “all persons” responsible for the “laws of humanity” and for associated “dictates of public conscience.” There can be no exceptions to this universal responsibility based upon a presumptively “just cause.”

Under international law, terrorist crimes mandate universal cooperation in both apprehension and punishment. As punishers of grave breaches under international law, all states are expected to search out and prosecute or extradite terrorists. Under no circumstances are states permitted to regard terrorists as law-abiding “freedom fighters.” This ought to be kept in mind by states that routinely place their own presumed religious and geopolitical obligations above the common interests of binding law.

The United States incorporates international law as the supreme law of the land in Article 6 of the Constitution, and Israel is guided by the immutable principles of a Higher Law. Fundamental legal authority for the American republic was derived largely from William Blackstone’s Commentaries, which in turn owe much of their clarifying content to jus cogens principles of Torah.

Ex injuria jus non oritur. “Rights can never stem from wrongs.” The labeling by jihadist adversaries of Israel of their most violent insurgents as “martyrs” should have no exculpatory or mitigating effect on their terrorist crimes. As a practical problem, of course, these faith-driven foes are animated by the most compelling form of power imaginable. This is the power of immortality or “power over death.”

For Israel, a primary orientation of law-based engagement in counter-terrorism should always take close account of enemy attraction to “last things.” Philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’s observation that “an immortal person is a contradiction in terms” lies beyond intellectual challenge, but jihadist promises of “power over death” still remain supremely attractive to terrorists. It follows that Israeli counter-terrorist planners ought to focus more directly on the eschatology of its Gaza War terrorist adversaries.

For the foreseeable future, Hamas “martyrs” will present an incrementally existential threat to Israel. If these barbarous criminals should ever get their hands on fissile materials, however, this threat could become more immediately existential. Hamas would not require a chain-reaction nuclear explosive but only the much more accessible ingredients for a radiation dispersal device.

In a worst-case scenario, the use of a primitive nuclear device by Hamas or Hezbollah could spur Iran to enter into direct military conflict with Israel. At that point, Israeli policy considerations of “last things” could become all-important and determinative. For Israel, the primary battlefield will always be intellectual, not territorial. A jihadist enemy that links terror-violence against the innocent to delusionary promises of immortality poses a potentially irremediable threat.

Louis René Beres is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue and the author of many books and articles on terrorism and international law. His latest book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2nd ed., 2018). A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

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The Israeli Military Made Strategic Mistakes Before Oct. 7; Here’s How to Fix It

Israeli soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip. Photo: Reuters/IDF Handout

Until the 1980s, the occupation of territory and the transfer of warfare to enemy territory for the purpose of removing the threat of infiltration were central components in the IDF’s perception of warfare. But combat against guerrilla warfare in the security zone in Lebanon, and against terror and guerrilla warfare in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, caused a shift in this perception. The holding of conquered territory that contained an enemy population prepared to conduct guerrilla warfare was perceived as a liability rather than an advantage.

The transition of enemy behavior to a pattern of reciprocal firing, and the development of an Israeli response of counter-fire and active defense implemented in limited “cycles” in Gaza, almost completely removed the occupation of territory from Israeli military and public discourse. This diminished the IDF’s focus on maintaining the military capability meant to implement occupation: the land maneuver.

This trend can be seen in IDF strategic documents over the years. In the IDF Operations Concept document of Chief of Staff Dan Halutz (2006), for example, an emphasis was placed on developing the capability of systemic fire against armored fighting vehicles as an alternative to the strategy of occupying territory. Occupation was perceived as an unacceptable burden because of the guerrilla warfare to which occupying IDF forces would be subjected.

The prolonged influence of the IDF’s experience in Lebanon is evident here. In the IDF Strategic Concept document of 2015, written almost a decade after the Second Lebanon War, a return to land maneuver capability was stressed, but with two non-occupation-focused components: the “focused maneuver” against key political and authoritative centers and the “distributed maneuver” against enemy artillery fire and dispersed warfare infrastructures. Occupying territory to be used as a diplomatic bargaining chip was not defined as an objective.

The victory perception of Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi had three pillars: engagement in firefights, land maneuver, and defense, with an emphasis on “neutralizing capabilities” — in other words, maneuvering for the purposes of disrupting artillery firing capabilities, stopping enemy operatives, and destroying warfare infrastructure, but not for the purpose of occupying territory.

Israel’s operations in Gaza clearly illustrate the IDF’s preference for firing and defense activation. The maneuver was activated during Operation Protective Edge to neutralize the threat of the attack tunnels. Ever since the Second Lebanon War, the IDF has immediately withdrawn from every territory it conquered, forfeiting any achievement provided by the occupation of territory. In all documents and operations, occupation was meant to neutralize artillery fire or tunnels but was not viewed as an objective unto itself.

This is a narrow view, as occupying territory serves multiple purposes on all levels of warfare. On the tactical level, it can be used to capture advantageous positions from the enemy. On the operational level, it can disrupt enemy formations. On the strategic level, the enemy’s capital can be occupied for the purpose of regime change. On the diplomatic level, occupied territory can be a bargaining chip for negotiation.

There are three reasons why it is a serious mistake to devalue the achievement of occupying territory.

The first reason is at the diplomatic and strategic level: It’s the land, stupid. Losing territory is a painful loss for Israel’s enemies. Hamas in Gaza wants to “return” to Jaffa, Ashdod, Ashkelon (Majdal), and indeed the rest of the State of Israel, either through direct occupation, by exhausting Israel until it collapses, or by exerting enough political pressure to force the “right of return.” Hezbollah is fighting for the Galilee foothills, and the Rashidun force wanted to conquer the Galilee. Territory remains as important to Israel’s enemies as it ever was. Israel’s occupation and holding of enemy territory thus constitutes a serious loss for those enemies.

Holding territory is also a bargaining chip in diplomatic negotiations. This was the case with Egypt and Syria in the agreements on the separation of forces at the end of the Yom Kippur War, and later in the framework of the peace agreement with Egypt, which insisted on the complete return of Sinai.

This will always apply when Israel occupies territory. Hamas’ claim that it will return the captives as long as the IDF withdraws from Gaza’s population centers proves that occupied territory is once again a diplomatic bargaining chip.

The second reason is at the operational level: The occupation of territory gives the IDF a clear asymmetrical advantage. This is about military thinking that exploits enemy vulnerabilities and maximizes the IDF’s strengths. Only the IDF can occupy territory, clear it of the enemy, defend it against counterattack, use it to reduce the threat of infiltration, and hold it as a bargaining chip for diplomatic negotiations. None of Israel’s enemies can occupy territory and hold it for more than a few hours.

This asymmetry is especially important when it comes to firepower. Though the IDF is reluctant to admit this, a sort of symmetry has emerged between Israel and Hezbollah. Hezbollah has built a vast arsenal containing statistical rockets, short-range rockets, precision missiles, 120mm mortars, and drone-delivered explosives. The IDF has a highly sophisticated air force with precise intelligence-guided targeting capabilities on a world-class scale. The problem is that a symmetry has emerged. Both sides are capable of inflicting significant damage on the other, and victory in this operational space will be on points.

It has been argued for many years that occupying territory is not worth the price it will cost in terms of heavy casualties and exposure of IDF troops to guerrilla warfare. The “Iron Dome” war demonstrates that both these risks are limited in scope. It appears that with adjustments, territorial occupation can be restored during a future war in Lebanon. This can be done with relatively low attrition ratios (harder to achieve in Lebanon than in densely populated Gaza) and with the evacuation of the local population from the battlefield area (easier to achieve in Lebanon than in Gaza).

Territory captured in a future war must be cleared of warfare infrastructure. Residents should not be allowed to return until Israel’s desired diplomatic arrangement is achieved, even if this means the IDF stays for months or years in the enemy’s security zone. I stress that preventing the return of the population is not for the purpose of punishing them. Rather, it is for the same reason that they were evacuated before the war: to minimize the chances of their being harmed. Territory captured during ground combat will remain largely destroyed and will lack any basic electricity or water infrastructure, and it will be filled with ruins and explosive remnants. Fighting is also likely to continue to occur in the area, even if only sporadically.

The third reason is that warfare changes constantly, both globally and regionally. Unlike advanced science, which progresses forward, the phenomenon of warfare sometimes returns to old motivations and patterns. When Israel was perceived as the stronger side against Hamas, the limitations placed upon it were severe. The Western world expected Israel to defend its citizens solely with active defense systems and counter-fire, without resorting to ground action. In terms of internal legitimacy, the cost of occupying territory was believed to outweigh the benefits when each round of conflict ended with relatively minor damage.

But on October 7, 2023, both Israel’s and the world’s understanding of the conflict with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran changed completely. In response to Hamas’ brutal, genocidal massacre and mass hostage-taking, the State of Israel declared a comprehensive war. After a long period of “wars of choice” in which Israel was the stronger side, the Jewish State has returned to an era of “no-choice wars.” In a comprehensive multi-front war, which will include fighting against Hezbollah and Iran and possibly other elements, Israel will have to utilize all means at its disposal to defend itself. This includes occupying and holding territory.

Occupying territory in Lebanon — for the fifth time

Without attempting to broadly speculate on how the next war in Lebanon will unfold, we will consider a situation in which Israel has decided to enter Lebanon on the ground. In such a scenario, a defensive zone would be established and held as a security belt to protect the northern border settlements from surface-to-surface fire and ground attack until a diplomatic arrangement is reached. The conquered territory would remain “sterile,” with neither an enemy presence nor returned local residents, in order to protect those residents from the fighting that is likely to continue in the area as the enemy attempts to reconquer the territory or attack IDF forces.

Israel has a great deal of experience in Lebanon. During Operation Hiram in October 1948, the IDF captured 14 villages in the eastern sector. Israel withdrew half a year later as part of an agreement with the Lebanese government, but in Operation Litani in 1978, the villages were recaptured. In the First Lebanon War in 1982, they were captured a third time; in the Second Lebanon War in 2006, they were captured a fourth time. If we were to capture them a fifth time, as well as other areas along the border for a fourth time, we will need to ensure as much as possible that that will be the last time they pose a threat to the border settlements.

The way to do this, given the history I have described, is to gain internal and international legitimacy by turning these rural areas into a security zone under Israeli control. They should remain under Israeli security control until an agreement is reached that ensures that if Israel withdraws, the areas will no longer pose a threat.

Brigadier General (res.) Dr. Meir Finkel is head of research at the Dado Center and its former commander. He has written a series of books about the IDF’s senior headquarters: the Chief of Staff (2018), the General Staff (2020), Air Force Headquarters (2022) and Ground Headquarters (2023). A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

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October 7 Proved Now Is Not the Time for a Palestinian State

An aerial view shows the bodies of victims of an attack following a mass infiltration by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip lying on the ground in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, in southern Israel, Oct. 10, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ilan Rosenberg

The Biden administration and several Arab allies are working on a plan for an immediate “two state solution,” according to an article in The Washington Post on Thursday.

These talks, which don’t include either Israelis or Palestinians, reportedly aim to complete a full proposal prior to Ramadan, which begins on March 10. According to the Post, “The elephant in the planning room is Israel, and whether its government will acquiesce to much of what is being discussed.”

It is true that Israel is not likely to agree to any arrangement that endangers its safety, yet there is a much larger and totally overlooked “elephant in the room”: polls show that most of the Palestinian people don’t actually want a two state solution at all, on any terms, or in any borders.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashal summed up the prevailing Palestinian attitude in a recent interview, “…especially after October 7, there’s a renewed dream of the hope of Palestine from the river to the sea, from the north to the south … we reject [a two state solution], because it means you are required to recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist entity [Israel]. This is unacceptable. [This is] the position of Hamas as well as the majority of the Palestinian people.” (emphasis added).

Though Hamas’ leadership is not typically a source of reliable information, in this case, Mashal appears to be correct: according to Arab research sources, 74.7% of Palestinians desire a Palestinian-only state that entirely supplants Israel, while 72% support the October 7 massacre, which, to be clear, included burning Israeli babies, beheading, mass rape, mass murder, and large scale kidnapping.

The Palestinian Authority government (the presumptive leader of a future Palestinian state) has publicly committed to spending at least 2.8 million dollars per month out of its national budget as a cash reward to the individuals (including the terror operatives) who carried out the October 7 massacre. Palestinian support for the total annihilation of Israel and of all its people is, therefore, not limited to Hamas, nor would such support automatically disappear in a post-Hamas world.

To ask Israelis to entrust their safety to the Palestinian Authority, a government that both supported and has committed to funding perpetrators of the October 7 massacre, would be inappropriate and dangerous. To provide such a government with significant resources, including increased funding and international legitimacy, will both plant and water the seeds of more October 7 style massacres in the future.

The West has a long history of willful blindness in the Middle East.

For example, the 1990s saw widespread Israeli and Palestinian support for the Oslo peace process, but there was a critical difference between the two sides. Whereas Israelis envisioned the peace process as bringing an end to the conflict, both Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as well as over 72% of Palestinians did not. To the contrary, the prevailing Palestinian vision at the time was to accept the benefits and resources provided by the Oslo process, but without any intent of actually ending the conflict.

Despite this data being readily available, Western nations, with Israeli support, initiated a massive influx of funding, resources, weapons, training, and international legitimacy, in the naive hope of somehow changing Palestinian priorities. Nonetheless, much of these resources flowed to a variety of Palestinian terror organizations, thus vastly increasing the power and destructiveness of those groups, right up to the present day.

Since that time, decades of academics have sought to explain why Oslo failed, often placing blame on Israel and the West for not providing even more resources, offers, and concessions than they already had. However, history shows that a peace agreement cannot possibly work if one of the sides does not actually want peace. That was the case with respect to the Munich Agreement with Hitler in 1938, a mistake of historic proportions that empowered and emboldened the German war machine.

Some might ask, is there any way at all to ensure a better future for Israelis, Palestinians, and the world at large?

Aggressive dictatorships rarely ever transform into peaceful and prosperous democracies, but there are at least two historical examples: post-war Germany and Japan. Both cases began with complete defeat of the regimes that initiated war, followed by total and unconditional surrender. During post-war “reconstruction,” the pre-existing governments were completely dismantled. Local populations were made to understand, unequivocally, that any dreams of achieving victory through violence would have no possibility of succeeding, ever. Only as these processes began to truly take root, over the course of years, did Germany and Japan gradually rejoin the international community as functional and prosperous independent states.

Less thorough efforts, such as in Afghanistan and Iraq, have resulted in disaster. It is notable that Iran played a role in undermining stabilization efforts in those regions, just as it is presently doing in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza, and attempting to do throughout the Red Sea shipping lanes and within Israel.

What kind of future does the international community envision for Palestinians? A future resembling modern day Germany and Japan, or alternatively, Afghanistan and Iraq? If the world desires the former, history and common sense demand we take the same steps that achieved it: including total dismantling and reconstruction of Palestinian governing institutions, accountability for all Palestinian leaders who have supported terror, justice for Israeli and international victims of that terror, and an unequivocal demonstration to the Palestinian people that the goal of supplanting Israel and the tool of violence stand absolutely no chance of success. Of course, none of this vision will be possible without first defeating or at least massively deterring Iran and its proxies to the point that they no longer hold any influence whatsoever in the Middle East. This may sound like a tall order, but anything less will result in a danger to Israel, an ongoing threat to the world, and a disaster for the Palestinian people.

Daniel Pomerantz is an expert in international law, an adjunct professor at Reichman and Bar Ilan Universities in Israel, and the CEO of RealityCheck, an nonprofit NGO dedicated to clarifying global conversations with verifiable data. Daniel lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, and can be found on Instagram at @realitycheckresearch or at

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To Understand the IDF and Hamas, Look at Their Military Texts

The bodies of people, some of them elderly, lie on a street after they were killed during a mass-infiltration by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip, in Sderot, southern Israel, Oct. 7, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Studying battles, territorial gains and losses, or the impact on those directly affected by the violence in a war is not enough for a full understanding of a conflict. It’s also necessary to examine the belligerents’ ideological roots, and their founding documents and doctrines, in order to weigh the justice (or injustice) of each side’s cause.

For example, when studying the American Civil War, a comparative analysis of the United States of America and the Confederate States of America’s constitutions and declarations of independence/secession clearly shows the values that each side held and how it influenced their war aims and conduct.

So, too, with the current war between Israel and Hamas, to fully understand the conflict, it is important to examine the differences in both the ideological underpinnings and battle ethics of the Israeli military and the Gaza-based terror group.

It becomes clear that this war is an asymmetric battle between a military force that places a premium on life and human dignity, and an organization that finds all human lives expendable in its eternal fight against the Jewish state.

Purity of Arms: The Israeli Battle Ethic

The IDF’s battle ethic, commonly referred to as “purity of arms,” traces back to before the creation of the State of Israel, when the Jewish community took up arms against marauding insurgents during the Great Arab Revolt in the late 1930s.

Following the creation of the state and the establishment of the Israel Defense Forces, Israel’s military ethic integrated the purity of arms doctrine (the use of arms in order to fulfill the mission and to use only when necessary) with the norms established by international law.

In the 1990s, this ethic became enshrined in The Spirit of the IDF, which explicitly laid out the Israeli army’s guiding moral principles and values.

According to this code, one of the core values espoused by the IDF is human dignity, which holds that “every individual is of inherent value, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender or status.”

Arising from this core value is the value of purity of arms, which states, in part, that “The soldier will not use their weapon or power to harm uninvolved civilians and prisoners and will do everything in their power to prevent harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property.”

Commensurate with these values is one of the IDF’s chief principles: “The IDF serviceman will treat enemy troops and civilians in areas controlled by the IDF in accordance with the letter and spirit of the laws of war and will not exceed the limits of his authority.”

These basic moral values and principles have been upheld by the IDF’s leadership and have served as the basis for reprimands by the army’s command when soldiers have acted outside the parameters set by the code of ethics.

Even today, as Israel battles Hamas terrorists who have embedded themselves among Gaza’s civilian population, the IDF’s code of ethics guides it as it aims to damage Hamas’ terror network while also trying to reduce the number of civilian casualties.

As John Spencer, an American military veteran and the chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point, recently wrote, “Israel has taken more measures to avoid needless civilian harm than virtually any other nation that’s fought an urban war.”

Hamas’ Doctrine of Indiscriminate Cruelty & Barbarism

To understand Hamas’ battle ethics, one of the key documents is The Warrior’s Guide: Jihadi Version, an eight-page booklet that was recovered from the body of a dead terrorist following Hamas’ barbaric October 7 invasion of southern Israel.

This manual, which was first brought to light by Israeli President Isaac Herzog during a CNN interview, contained a detailed chart on the IDF’s hierarchy, in-depth analysis of the Israeli military’s arms and technology, as well as step-by-step instructions for taking Israeli hostages.

Included in the nine-step process were directions on how to assert control over the captives using threats, electric shocks, gunfire, and incapacitating grenades, the killing of hostages when necessary, and the use of hostages as human shields, regardless of their gender, age, or ethnic identity.

This barbaric guide is rooted in Hamas’ chief ideological documents, its 1988 charter which calls for a “struggle against the Jews,” and its 2017 declaration of General Principles and Policies, which asserts that resistance against Israel “with all means and methods is a legitimate right guaranteed by divine laws and by international norms and laws” (emphasis added).

Thus, between Israel’s efforts to reduce civilian casualties and Hamas’ flagrant use of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians as pawns for their own nefarious purposes,  it is clear that the values imparted by the IDF’s and Hamas’ texts are being fully expressed by each side on the battlefield.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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