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“The Dahiya doctrine” or how Israel theorized the disproportionate use of force

Mentioned in 2008 by an Israeli general, the “Dahiya doctrine” theorizes a disproportionate use of force to weaken the enemies of the Jewish state and deter them from launching future attacks. A security concept for which civilians pay a high price and which could be at work today, according to several experts. What the Israeli army denies.

Is a “disproportionate use” of force deliberately taking place on Israel’s side? After six weeks of bombings then a ground invasion launched three weeks ago, the Israeli army announced, Monday, November 20, to extend its operations in the north of the Gaza Strip, despite criticism from part of the international community faced with the scale of the destruction and the number of civilian victims.

According to the latest report provided by the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health, 13,300 people, including more than 5,600 children and 3,550 women, were killed in Israeli bombings. Furthermore, the UN considers that more than two thirds of the 2.4 million Gazans have been displaced by the war. On the Israeli side, 1,200 people, the vast majority civilians, were killed, according to the authorities, in the terrorist attack of October 7 while 67 Israeli soldiers fell in combat during the offensive carried out in the Palestinian enclave. .

In retaliation, Israel is carrying out an offensive in Gaza with the aim of “wiping out” Hamas’ military capabilities. To achieve this, the Jewish state deployed unparalleled firepower in the enclave. According to the NGO Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, the Israeli army dropped more than 25,000 tons of explosives on this 365 km2 territory, one of the most densely populated in the world, between October 7 and 31. Today, half of the buildings in northern Gaza have been destroyed or damaged, according to satellite data, matching UN estimates.

“To mow the lawn”

According to several experts, the high number of Palestinian civilian victims could partly be explained by the “Dahiya doctrine”, named after the southern suburbs of Beirut, a stronghold of Hezbollah, massively bombed in 2006 by the Israeli army while the movement Shiite had taken Israeli soldiers hostage.

“What happened to Dahiya in Beirut in 2006 will happen to all villages that serve as bases for firing against Israel. We will use disproportionate force and cause great damage and destruction there. This is not a suggestion but a plan that was approved,” explained General Gadi Eisenkot, who joined the current Israeli war cabinet, in a 2008 interview with the Haaretz newspaper.

The same year, Professor Gabi Siboni of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, a think tank close to the government and security circles, published an analytical note in which he called on the armed forces to act against Hezbollah “decisively and with force disproportionate to the enemy’s actions and the threat it poses.”

“This doctrine no longer makes a distinction between military targets and civilian targets,” explains teacher-researcher and doctor of military history Tewfik Hamel, according to whom the Israeli army’s primary concern is to limit losses even if it means “ shifting the risk onto civilian populations, which poses a real problem under international law, particularly the 1949 Geneva Convention.”

According to this unofficial doctrine, the massive use of force in an asymmetric conflict where armed militants hide among the population should provide a window of security for Israel before the next battle. “Destroying bridges, roads or electrical installations must force the enemy to devote all its time to rebuilding rather than organizing and rearming,” analyzes Nadav Weiman, former Israeli special forces and director of the Veterans NGO Breaking the Silence, opposed to the occupation.

“This is part of so-called ‘deterrence’ operations even if this term does not have at all the same meaning as for the Western strategic community. To describe this strategy, some Israeli researchers use the expression ‘mowing the lawn'”, specifies Tewfik Hamel.

A doctrine applied to Gaza?

Beyond inviting Israel’s enemies to think twice before taking action, the objective of this massive and assumed destruction of civilian infrastructure must also encourage a turn of public opinion against armed groups. who fight Israel, according to the supporters of this doctrine.

In 2009, the Goldstone report, drawn up at the request of the United Nations, concluded that these principles were applied during Operation Cast Lead. A doctrine intended to “punish, humiliate and terrorize the civilian population”, affirmed the authors of this very critical report towards Israel.

Does “the Dahiya doctrine” apply in the current operation in Gaza? Contacted by France 24, the Israeli army denied this. “This doctrine has never been written in an official military document. And I have never seen a single order or a single operation correspond to the ‘Dahiya doctrine,'” says Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, spokesman for the Israeli army. “What I see are troops with clear objectives: to dismantle Hamas and its military capabilities and bring back our hostages while complying with the laws governing armed conflict, that is, distinction, proportionality and necessity.” .

Read alsoHow can Israel get rid of Hamas being submerged, hidden among the population in Gaza?

While it is still too early to say that this doctrine is indeed at the heart of the current operation in Gaza, it has nevertheless permeated all of Israeli strategic thinking during the wars waged since 2008 against Hamas, assures Nadav Weiman. With Breaking the Silence, the veteran collected numerous testimonies from soldiers which tend to prove the deliberate destruction of civilian buildings.

“We notably collected testimonies from soldiers after Operation Protective Edge in 2014 who explained to us that a house in which they had spent a night or two had been destroyed after their departure. It was not booby-trapped and no Hamas tunnels were there,” says Nadav Weiman.

“Why are we still at war?”

According to the former IDF sniper, the Israeli army’s rules of engagement in urban environments also endanger civilians. After ordering the population to evacuate, an entire neighborhood can be considered a battlefield and everyone still present as a potential threat.

“Urban warfare has its own rules which are not those of conventional warfare. However, the rules of engagement, professional training and equipment of the Israeli army, which favors overwhelming force, are not made to waging an urban war,” said Tewfik Hamel.

Since the start of the Israeli offensive, the colossal destruction in Gaza has fueled accusations, made by several countries and UN officials, of Israel’s disproportionate response and possible war crimes. In return, the Israeli army is increasing communications operations justifying this collateral damage through the use of “human shields” by Hamas and the intermingling between civil and military infrastructures in Gaza.

“Faced with an enemy who uses everything that is supposed to be protected on the battlefield, such as hospitals, schools, ambulances… We are doing everything possible to protect civilians and provide them with humanitarian aid” , affirms for his part Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus.

Last week, Israel carried out a controversial operation in Al-Chifa hospital, the largest in the Gaza Strip, suspecting Hamas of having set up a major command center there and hiding weapons there. Although military equipment was found on site, according to videos released by the Israeli army, many observers remain doubtful about the presence of an operational command center for the Palestinian Islamist movement.

Read also“Weapons cache, Hamas HQ”: al-Chifa hospital in Gaza, at the heart of a communications war

Beyond the fundamental ethical problems raised by “the Dayiha doctrine” which promotes and theorizes a disproportionate use of force, including against civilians, Nadav Weiman questions its effectiveness. “Hezbollah and Hamas are more powerful than in 2006,” notes the director of Breaking the Silence. “There is no military solution in Gaza, otherwise why are we still at war and why were so many Israelis massacred on October 7? The solution can only be political in Gaza.”

“For the moment, Israel has not proposed any solution for the post-war and until now, the announced objectives have not been fulfilled, judges Tewfik Hamel. Israel has not stopped launching rockets, has not recovered its hostages, nor killed all the Hamas leaders. This makes the situation very worrying because the government is unable to present to the public opinion achievements justifying all these losses. There is therefore a strong possibility that Israel, in the days to come, will further intensify its bombings unless international pressure increases further, particularly from the United States.”

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