Practice Relating to Rule 17. Choice of Means and Methods of Warfare
Israel’s Manual on the Laws of War (1998) states: “One should plan the means of attack in a way that will prevent, or at least reduce, the injury to the civilian population.”
Israel’s Manual on the Rules of Warfare (2006) states:
The rules of war have laid down a number of rules of engagement in a theatre of war containing civilians:
- The means of attack should be planned in such a way as to prevent or at least minimise casualties among the civilian population.
The Manual on the Rules of Warfare (2006) is a second edition of the Manual on the Laws of War (1998).
The Report on the Practice of Israel states:
During the pre-attack planning phases, the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] incorporates all feasible precautions in order to ensure, as far as possible, that incidental civilian loss, injury or damage is minimized. These measures include: detailed and continuous assessment of all available information in relation to the target; use of best available ammunition or weapon systems which enable minimizing incidental damage; and timing of the attack to minimize, as far as possible, incidental damage.
In 2009, in a report on Israeli operations in Gaza between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 (the “Gaza Operation”, also known as “Operation Cast Lead”), Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs listed a number of targeting precautions required of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) commanders:
225. The document [operational order] further confirmed the importance of minimising incidental harm to civilians and civilian facilities. The operational order provided that … “any attack on a legitimate target was to be planned to minimise collateral harm to civilians and civilian objectives, including by the determination of: … the means of attack … etc.”
255. Third, the IDF gave considerable care to the choice of munitions. Wherever possible, and even though it is not strictly required under international law, the IDF conducted pinpoint surgical aerial strikes, using precision guided munitions. Several missiles were diverted moments before impact for this reason. In total, about 80 percent of the air missiles fired by Israel were precision guided.
257. Fifth, in several cases, military targets were destroyed from the ground using mechanical equipment, rather than bombed from the air, in order to minimise collateral damage. This approach enabled the orderly evacuation of civilians and kept damage to surrounding areas at a minimum, although it exposed IDF personnel to additional risk.
258. Sixth, to the extent feasible, the IDF timed attacks on targets so as to cause minimum collateral damage. For example, buildings normally occupied only during daylight hours, and military targets which were located in proximity to such buildings, were struck at night. Similarly, moving vehicles were planned to be hit when they had travelled as far away as possible from civilian bystanders.
In July 2010, in a second update of its July 2009 report on Israeli operations in Gaza between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated:
58. … IDF [Israel Defense Forces’] orders include the obligation to take all feasible precautions in order to minimize the incidental loss of civilian life or property, such as by adjusting … the means of attack …
65. … The Israeli forces employed a burst of four 120mm “Keshet” mortar rounds, fired in quick succession. The Keshet mortar contains advanced target acquisition and navigation systems and was the most precise weapon available to Israeli forces at that time. …
66. Israel acknowledges that, while the strike was effective in removing the threat to Israeli forces, it also resulted in the regrettable loss of civilian lives. Although the MAG [Military Advocate General] found that the IDF had not violated the Law of Armed Conflict with respect to this incident, as part of Israel’s efforts to minimize civilian casualties under all circumstances, the MAG reiterated the recommendation of the special command investigation to formulate more stringent definitions in military orders to govern the use of mortars in populated areas and in close proximity to sensitive facilities. The IDF Chief of General Staff has ordered the undertaking of staff work to draft the required orders.