On the night of Tuesday, August 11th, in light of assessments on the ground and unfolding recent incidents, the IDF issued new instructions that clarify the manner in which their forces are to deal with threats that may not constitute a clear and immediate danger to their lives.
Central command issued the updated ROE in the West Bank. This is the first dramatic change in the Israeli ROE for operations in the West Bank in the past 15 years. The previous ROE (Can we call them old, already?) were set by the 2000 Israeli government, led by then-Prime Minster Ehod Barack (1999 to 2001). They were in need of being modified, as the reality in the West Bank changed every day, especially after incidents such as the murder of Shalhevet Pass.
Back then, the ROE was basically about no direct fire, but included several warning phases (vets know the drill from Iraq/Afghanistan), which eventually permitted a soldier to fire a single shot toward an open space next to a ‘suspect,’ only in the worst case permitting direct fire. The defense establishment wishes to avoid situations in which the IDF gunfire leads to the death of an alleged terrorist, a development that is liable to spark widespread protest and further fan nationalistic flames.
Before we look at the new ROE, please keep in mind that those orders are oriented around scenarios such as active-shooter situations, riots, hit-and-run strikes, or a lone-wolf terrorist attack. So let’s check some highlights:
- A soldier is not allowed to use direct fire/lethal force against Molotov throwers. Only warning shots fired at 60° angles to the target are permitted.
- Terror attacks that are carried out by individuals with a cold weapon (knives, for instance, but not guns) are not to be handled with lethal fire, only with warning shots. That is, unless the soldiers involved believe they are in imminent danger; then they may use lethal force. (To my understanding, it also states that when the terrorist tries to escape, no direct fire is allowed, or at least it depends on the scenario itself.)
- In an active-shooter scenario, a soldier is allowed to use lethal force only when the armed individuals are still in the area. If the active shooters (terrorists, rebels, separatists, etc.) are escaping, soldiers are not to initiate a pursuit unless otherwise instructed.
- The use of lethal force/live fire will be employed only when the individual believes that his life is in imminent danger. (How ambiguous is that, eh?)
So you get the picture. It’s a set of rules that limit and prevent the effectiveness of a soldier in his daily operational routine. How did it used to be, you ask? Back in our time, it was pretty much like this:
- If the individual possesses the will, capability, and means to cause harm, in most cases, you are clear to use lethal force.
- Escalation phases: First, you warn the suspect when he gets too close. You warn him before you shoot—presenting your rifle in a threatening way. Then you shoot in the air (60° from the ground, not more, not less). If the suspect is 25 meters away and he ignores your warning shouts, you can shoot his knees (and at the same time, call a lawyer). If that doesn’t work—say he starts to sprint toward you or he possesses the three above-mentioned prerequisites—then you’re clear to light ’em up.
- If the individual is holding a Molotov cocktail, you are clear to shoot to kill. However, in some specific AOs, this order was prohibited.
- Any individual with an IED or in the process of planting one is to be handled with lethal force.
- An individual with a ‘hot weapon’ is a threat and use of lethal fire is allowed.
Yes, this ROE has more and more categories, but it’s what I normally heard in the briefings we’d receive before direct action operations in the West Bank. Although the average soldier might rant and bitch, “Why cant we fuck ’em all up?” there are a number of strategic reasons for this new set of ROE. They honestly remind me of a series of directives issued by General McChrystal limiting close air support over populated areas. The reason behind it was McChrystal’s dogma of avoiding civilian casualties. As the paradox saying goes, ”The more successful the counterinsurgency, the less force that can be used and the more risk that must be accepted.” That is exactly what’s going on in Israel. So why is the IDF revising the rules of engagement across Judea and Samaria?
The short answer? To prevent more Palestinian deaths, and by doing so, preventing a possible third intifada (which, fuck it, we all know has already started). The long answer: During the past few months, Israel has experienced a sharp increase in domestic terror attacks, carried out by Arabs with Israeli passports and aimed against civilian and military targets. The current acts of terrorism consist of cold-weapon attacks, Molotov cocktail attacks, stone throwers in crossroads (which has, in fact, caused fatalities), and cars speeding into crowds of civilians in Jerusalem and other cities. Obviously the list goes on.
As they say, behind every successful man, there is a past full of mistakes. In our case, behind a successful resistance, there is a trail of bodies. IDF soldiers and civilians are being forced again and again to use deadly force to fight back against terrorist attacks. It’s a catch-22: A dead martyr is a dead martyr, but it’s also a great opportunity for enemy manipulation to encourage hatred and additional attacks.
There is another reason why the ROE were changed so dramatically. Mahmoud Abbas. The president of the Palestinian National Authority wants these new ROE because he knows one thing: If the body count continues to rise, he won’t be able to hold back the crowd, or tell them to calm down. He won’t be able to stop those poverty-stricken people, the majority of the Palestinians in the West Bank, from taking to the streets, eventually starting an intifada.
It will also hinder his efforts to get American support at the UN (my opinion). But do not mistake it as a friendly gesture; it’s merely a situation where his and Israel’s goals align.
What I think about this change to the ROE, like it or not, is that they are a smart move given the current situation and circumstances. What is not correct is that the media is being notified about this by central command and making a circus out of it. Our enemy reads and watches the same news channels we do. Why do I agree with these new ROE? Well, first, because ‘going viking’ on people only solves problems in the short term. COIN operations are complicated and require more than fancy equipment and optics; they require intelligence, understanding, and the ability to view your enemy’s culture from a neutral perspective. Being quick on the trigger because ”they asked for it” does not really work in the long term.
Strategically, in the Middle East, being quick on the trigger will simply result in a regenerating conflict. Yes, it will also result in authority, something the other side understands as part of their mentality, but that is not the way democracy works.
(Featured image courtesy of idfblog.com)