[JURIST] Amnesty International [advocacy website] on Wednesday accused Israel of deliberately inflicting unnecessary damage [press release] on Lebanese civilian infrastructure during the Middle East conflict [JURIST news archive], acts which Amnesty says rises to the level of war crimes. In its report [text], Amnesty cited as evidence instances of Israeli airstrip's on remote bridges "of no apparent strategic importance," the destruction of entire villages in southern Lebanon, deliberate attacks on supermarkets and water pumps and treatment plants, which Amnesty says violate prohibitions against attacks on infrastructure necessary to human survival, and statements by Israeli officials suggesting that the Israel Defense Forces intentionally targeted civilian infrastructure to turn the Lebanese population against Hezbollah. According to the report:
Direct attacks against civilian objects are prohibited [by the international laws of war], as are indiscriminate attacks. Indiscriminate attacks are those which strike military objectives and civilian objects without distinction. One form of indiscriminate attack is treating clearly separate and distinct military objects located in a city, town, village or concentration of civilians, as a single military objective. If two buildings in a residential area are identified as containing fighters, bombardment of the entire area would be unlawful.Amnesty said the report is aimed at convincing the UN to launch a full-scale investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes.
Disproportionate attacks, also prohibited, are those in which the "collateral damage" would be regarded as excessive in relation to the direct military advantage to be gained. Israel maintains that the military advantage in this context "is not of that specific attack but of the military operation as a whole".
This interpretation is too wide. Overboard interpretations of what constitutes a military objective or military advantage are often used to justify attacks aimed at harming the economy of a state or demoralizing the civilian population. Such interpretations undermine civilian immunity. A legitimate military advantage cannot be one that is merely "a potential or indeterminate advantage". If weakening the enemy population resolve to fight were considered a legitimate objective of armed forces, there would be no limit to war.
A spokesperson for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs [official website] told AP that the UDF only targets civilian infrastructure when it is "exploited" by Hezbollah, and when Hezbollah puts civilian infrastructure into play, the international law of war permits such responses. Read a legal backgrounder from the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs website on issues of proportionality in the conflict with Hezbollah. AP has more.