From a New York Times Memo From Tel Aviv, December 25, 2009, by ISABEL KERSHNER:
TEL AVIV — In the year since Israel launched its devastating military offensive against Hamas in Gaza, the country’s political and military leaders have faced intense international condemnation and accusations of possible war crimes.
But Israel seems to have few qualms. Officials and experts familiar with the country’s military doctrine say that given the growing threats from Iranian-backed militant organizations both in Gaza and in Lebanon, Israel will probably find itself fighting another, similar kind of war.
Only next time, some here suggest, Israel will apply more force.
“The next round will be different, but not in the way people think,” said Giora Eiland, a retired major general and former chief of Israel’s National Security Council. “The only way to be successful is to take much harsher action.”
Such talk has raised alarm among some critics in Israel, but so far it has stirred little public debate.
Both the three-week campaign in Gaza, which ended on Jan. 18, and Israel’s monthlong war in 2006 against the Shiite Hezbollah organization in Lebanon have brought relative quiet to Israel’s borders.
Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, the chief of Israel’s military intelligence, said the source of the quiet was “not the adoption of Zionism by our enemies.” The main factor, he recently told an audience at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, is Israeli deterrence, starting with the war in Lebanon and continuing with the Gaza operation that the Israelis called Cast Lead.
But decisive victory against irregular forces has been elusive. In the military’s assessment, the calm is temporary and fragile; Hamas and Hezbollah are said to be rearming, making another confrontation only a matter of time.
While the Israeli military has a clear advantage in fighting conventional armies, it is still adapting to the new and complicated demands of asymmetric warfare. The military says it is contending with enemies who fight out of uniform and hide behind civilians, intentionally firing rockets out of populated areas into densely populated areas of Israel.
Israel’s objective, according to Gabriel Siboni, a retired colonel who runs the military program at the Institute for National Security Studies, is to shorten and intensify the period of fighting and to lengthen the period between rounds.
...Military officials strenuously deny that Israel plans to hit economic or civilian infrastructure to cause suffering to the local population, in the hope of turning it against the war.
Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, chief of the Israeli military’s Operations Department, told reporters at a recent briefing in Tel Aviv that the army would not shoot at targets that had no proven link “with any form of terror.” But, he added, “we are going to use fire.”
General Kochavi said that Israel would never deliberately fire on civilians but that civilian buildings containing weapons or rocket launchers would be bombed after residents had been warned to evacuate.
With the war in Gaza, however, the distinction between military and civilian infrastructure seemed to become increasingly blurred.
Among the targets destroyed in Gaza were the parliament building and the central prison. ...Israel never claimed that the parliament building was being used to store or fire weapons. But after Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, Israel says, the parliament building became part of the Hamas infrastructure, and therefore a legitimate target to be destroyed.
David Benjamin, a lieutenant colonel in the reserves and a former senior adviser in the Israeli military’s legal department, said that Israel did not need to “buy in” to Hamas’s definitions of what was military and what was political. Israel considers all of Hamas a terrorist organization. The distinction, Mr. Benjamin said, is “artificial in my view.”
...Critics both inside and outside Israel denounce what they — and at least one senior Israeli Army commander — have called the “Dahiya doctrine,” referring to the intention to inflict immense damage and destruction, an approach that would inevitably lead to civilian deaths.
A recent report by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, a local advocacy group, pointed to what it called a “significant change” in the Israeli military’s combat doctrine. It said the shift was legally and politically dangerous and cast a “moral stain” on Israeli citizens, and it called for public debate.
But Israeli officials and security experts contend that other Western countries are facing similar challenges in their conflicts abroad. What must change, they say, is not the Israeli military’s conduct but the interpretation and application of the laws of war by the rest of the world....