Precision strikes aim to minimise deaths

By Robbie Sabel, November 15, 2012
Netanyahu announces (Photo: AP)

Netanyahu announces (Photo: AP)

Israel’s killing of Ahmed Jabari, the commander of the military wing of Hamas in Gaza, raises questions about the legality of targeted killing.

Is it permissible to target an individual from the air? It could be claimed that, in effect, military officers serve as prosecutors, judges and executioners all rolled into one, without giving the defendant any notice of the charges or semblance of a fair trial.

The response of international law is that a la guerre comme a la guerre. In time of armed conflict, all enemy combatants are legal targets.

The commander of enemy forces is by definition a legitimate military target — and usually a very valuable target.

The peacetime human rights rules of trial and evidence are not relevant as regards an enemy combatant in hostile territory.

It is quite clear that in the Second World War, for example, it would have been perfectly legitimate for the Allies to have targeted enemy military commanders — and vice versa.

Non-combatants, however, are not legitimate targets and it is the duty of the attacking force to take all reasonable steps to minimise civilian casualties.

This rule applies even where, as is the case of Hamas in Gaza, the enemy deliberately places its rockets and ammunition supplies close to civilian areas or buildings.

In such situations there is no way to avoid completely civilian casualties, but nevertheless there is still a duty to try and minimise them. The surgically accurate Israeli strikes are clear proof that Israel is indeed making such an effort.

Ambassador Robbie Sabel is former legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry

Last updated: 6:45pm, November 15 2012