Practice Relating to Rule 42. Works and Installations Containing Dangerous Forces
Section A. Attacks against works and installations containing dangerous forces and against military objectives located in their vicinity
Israel’s Manual on the Laws of War (1998) states:
One of the additions in the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions (which, as already stated, is not binding on the State of Israel but nevertheless widely accepted as a binding provision) is the prohibition of striking installations which hold back dangerous forces. This refers to installations that might indeed afford the enemy military or strategic benefit, but if damaged would incur such severe environmental damage to the civilian population that it was decided to prohibit their destruction. The section mentions dams, embankments (for protection against floods) and nuclear power stations for generating electricity. It is clear in each of these examples that destruction will indeed reduce the infrastructure of the enemy state (for example, damage to its power supply), however, it will lead to the unleashing of destructive forces, such as the huge flooding of a river or nuclear fallout resulting in tens of thousands of civilian victims, and therefore it is forbidden. In addition, it is imperative to refrain from attacking military targets within such installations or in close proximity to them, if such an attack results in the unleashing of such forces.
Israel’s Manual on the Rules of Warfare (2006) states:
Installations containing dangerous forces: one of the items in the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions (even though the State of Israel is not bound by these protocols, these provisions are considered customary and are consequently binding) is the ban on attacking installations if doing so would damage the environment.
The reference is to installations that are of military or strategic benefit to the enemy, but where attacking them would involve environmental damage of such significance to the civilian population, that it has been determined that such an attack is prohibited. The clause mentions dams, dykes and nuclear power stations. Attacks on such installations have the potential to weaken the enemy (for example, an attack on its electricity supply), but could result, for example, in the massive flooding of a river, nuclear fallout, etc. causing the death of tens of thousands of people, which is why they are forbidden. Attacks on military targets located inside such installations or adjacent to them should also be avoided.
The manual further states:
In any attack, it is a duty to ensure that:
- The attack will not activate resources whose effects are uncontrollable.
The Manual on the Rules of Warfare (2006) is a second edition of the Manual on the Laws of War (1998).
According to the Report on the Practice of Israel, decisions concerning attacks on installations containing dangerous forces are mainly based on whether the installations serve a direct or indirect military advantage and on the principle of proportionality. The report points out that Israel has not concluded any bilateral or multilateral agreements with neighbouring States concerning works and installations containing dangerous forces, although one possible exception could be paragraph 3 of the “Grapes of Wrath Understanding” of 26 June 1996, which prohibits attacks against “civilian populated areas, industrial and electrical installations”. The report further notes that the potential result of an attack on such works or installations on a civilian population or object will be factored in from the pre-attack planning phase. The attack will not be launched if the damage, loss or injury to civilians is expected to be excessive in relation to the possible military advantage.