Kudos to Inter-Press Service’s Daan Bouwens for this piece of reporting in which he reminded readers that Israel’s strategic decisionmakers had integrated a policy of major, intentional destruction of civilian targets into their war-planning for certain contingencies considerably before they launched the assault on Gaza, December 27.
Bouwens quotes Valentina Azarov, a legal expert with the Israeli human-rights group HaMoked as arguing that the IDF’s operations in Gaza, “were part of the military strategy called the ‘Dahiyah policy’, being that of indiscriminate killing and the use of excessive, disproportionate force.”
Azarov and Bouwens were at pains to point out that this was Azarov’s own personal assessment. However, she had adduced considerable evidence to back it up.
‘Dahiyah’ is, in this context, a reference to the the heavily populated southern suburb (dahiyeh) of Beirut, in which Hizbullah maintained its headquarters for many years prior to the Israeli assault of summer 2006– and which it has substantially rebuilt since 2006.
But during Israel’s 33-day war against Lebanon that year, it just about leveled the entire Dahiyeh, which was a neighborhood of densely packed eight- to ten-story buildings, most of them residential, but including numerous schools, mosques, shops, and so on, along with more than a few offices for Hizbullah’s extensive social-service bodies, political bodies, and yes, also their military bodies.
The best online resource about the Dahiyah Doctrine is this contribution that Ben White made to the Guardian‘s ‘Comment is free’ section last October. This Wikipedia page on the ‘Dahiya Strategy’ is also helpful.
The White piece has good hyperlinks, including to the then-recent interview in which the GOC of the IDF’s ‘Northern Command’, Gadi Eisenkot, talked openly about the Dayiha Doctrine in these terms:
“What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on,” said Gadi Eisenkot, head of the army’s northern division.
“We will apply disproportionate force on it (village) and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases,” Eisenkot told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.
“This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved,” Eisenkot added.
In terms of “deterrence theory”, this is a pretty standard threat of “massive retaliation.” (Added to, I guess, a specifically Israeli version of Henry Kissinger’s “Madman theory of deterrence”, as indirectly alluded to here.)
But the results– whether in the Dahiyah or in Gaza– have been devastating.
Back in October-November of last year, when Eisenkot was making his pronouncements about the doctrine and Israelis were commenting on it– sometimes with great approval– just about all the discussion seemed still to be solely about Lebanon and Hizbullah, and future prospects in that theater.
But as we know, Israel’s military planners were meanwhile already working hard to plan an upcoming operation against Gaza– one of the key goals of which was to “restore the credibility of Israel’s deterrence” and to wipe away the stale traces of defeat, flat-out operational ineptitude, and flawed leadership decisionmaking that had marked Israel’s previous war of choice, in 2006.
Only a few of the commentaries in Israel– e.g., this one from Gabriel Siboni– noted the applicability of the Dahiyah Doctrine to Gaza.
With an outbreak of hostilities, the IDF will need to act immediately, decisively, and with force that is disproportionate to the enemy’s actions and the threat it poses. Such a response aims at inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes. The strike must be carried out as quickly as possible, and must prioritize damaging assets over seeking out each and every launcher. Punishment must be aimed at decision makers and the power elite.
… This approach is applicable to the Gaza Strip as well. There, the IDF will be required to strike hard at Hamas and to refrain from the cat and mouse games of searching for Qassam rocket launchers. The IDF should not be expected to stop the rocket and missile fire against the Israeli home front through attacks on the launchers themselves, but by means of imposing a ceasefire on the enemy…
It was left to one of Siboni’s colleagues at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National security Studies, Zaki Shalom, to raise some significant questions about the new doctrine.
The last of his questions had particular significance to the situation in Gaza:
Finally, how will the plan be applied if it becomes evident that village inhabitants are shunning a mass exodus? Would the IDF activate massive fire that results in hundreds or possibly thousands of civilians killed?
Okay, forget about “village”. (Israelis tend to just assume that all Palestinians live in “villages”. The Dahiyah is not a village, and most of the residents of Gaza don’t live in villages, either.)
But what, more germanely, happens to the plan if there is no place for the civilian residents of the area targeted to safely flee to— as was certainly the case in Gaza?
… Anyway, it seems clear that my longtime acquaintances Richard Falk and Richard Goldstone, both of whom are charged by the UN with investigating Israel’s conduct during the war on Gaza, have an ample paper trail to look to– and hopefully, also to follow up further on– regarding the specific intent of Israel’s political and military leaders to engage from the get-go in avowedly disproportionate operations inside Gaza, including against specifically civilian targets.
Goldstone had a generally good track record in the waning days of his country’s apartheid system, in investigating some of the grosser excesses of the “securocrats”, including the high level securocrats, who ruled the country in those days. Let’s hope he brings that same sensibility, that same doggedness, and that same refusal to be rolled by all the securocrats’ many excuses, special pleadings, and specious arguments, to his current task regarding Israel.