For the past eleven years, Bashar al-Assad has waged a bloody war on his own people, not simply ignoring the laws of war but actively flouting them—yet he is about to be welcomed back into the community of nations. Russia, which assisted in this war with equal unscrupulousness, has been rewarded by Europe with gas pipelines and other economic benefits. Meanwhile, Israel has gone to unprecedented lengths to limit civilian casualties in a decades-long war with Palestinian terrorists happy to hide missile launchers in kindergartens, and is subject to constant condemnation from European and sometimes American leaders—not to mention from self-styled human-rights groups. A cynic might conclude that the Jewish state would be better served exploiting the tactical advantages of brutality, since it will be the object of censure no matter what. Not so, writes Yossi Kuperwasser:
The IDF is careful to uphold the principles [of just warfare], not only because doing so anchors its ability to defend itself against lawsuits in the International Criminal Court and other foreign courts, and not only because of the need for international legitimacy to use force, which directly affects the country’s ability to import appropriate weapons. The IDF upholds them, first and foremost, because the laws of war align with [Israel’s] own moral codes, which obligate the IDF, as an army in a democratic state, to the rule of law.
It could be argued that in a specific situation, not adhering to the laws of war could lead to greater success in the war on terrorism and in securing deterrence, and reduce the danger to Israel in the short term, but the cost of doing so would be insufferably high. It would harm uninvolved persons, as well as our ability as a people to face ourselves. The moral advantage actually increases Israel’s power in the long run.