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Moral Question re Civilian Casualties:

Israel's daring commando raid in Tyre Friday night, reportedly killing several Party of God missile experts in charge of firing on Hadera (near Tel Aviv) in their apartment raises a very interesting moral issue. According to at least one press report I saw, Israel said that it could have simply leveled the building with a bomb, but it wanted to avoid civilian casualties. Let's assume this is true. Meanwhile, two Israeli soldiers were killed in the raid, and eight wounded, two seriously.

Here's the question: let's say you are an Israeli officer in charge of taking out the Party of God commanders in question. Your analysis shows that a bomb is 90% likely to be effective, as is a commando raid. Expected losses from an air attack to your forces are zero. Expected losses from the commando raid are two killed, eight wounded. The only reason to prefer the commando raid is to avoid civilian casualties (this may not be true in this particular case, but play along). How many civilian casualties do you need to avoid to justify the deaths and injuries of your own men? What if five civilians live in the building and would likely die from the raid? Ten? Fifty? One hundred?

Assume also the the target is sufficiently important that even one hundred deaths on the other side would be considered "proportionate" under whatever standard you use for such things. Further assume that the war is a just one. To what extent, if ever is morally justified for a commander to risk the lives of his own soldiers to keep civilians out of harm's way? (Avoid the complicating factor that the Israeli army, despite calumny from many, takes pride in trying to avoid civilian casualties, and this pride may increase the army's motivation. And of course, forget about the p.r. implications. I'm trying to avoid the practical issues here, and focus on the moral dilemma.)

UPDATE: If it helps you focus on the issue at hand, ignore Lebanon completely, and think about, say, the U.S. in WWII. The U.S. is going after an important German military target. The options are air raid or commando raid. How many German civilians need to be saved to justify two dead, eight wounded soldiers in the commando raid?

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Moral Question re Civilian Casualties Revisited:

Having suffered grievous losses in recent battles, IDF soldiers wonder why they are being sacrificed in ground combat, when bombings could have cleared the villages of Party of God hideouts, which also happen to be civilian homes: "What really bothered us is that in all of the villages we passed through the houses are standing and are untouched. The IDF's morality during war is exacting a very high price. We can flatten the territory, without ground forces, but from the air."

Thinking about my prior post on this issue, and again putting practical, as opposed to purely moral, concerns aside, it strikes me that military commanders should think of themselves as agents for their soldiers. Instead of looking at things from a collectivist perspective (how many soldiers should be sacrificed for how many civilians?),the question, perhaps, is, "what risk of losing your own life would an average soldier take in return for what reduced risk of killing civilians." The answer would depend, in part, on how complicit the civilian population is aiding and supporting the government--perhaps a different answer in occupied Belgium than in Dusseldorf in WWII. No easy answers, but I think at minimum it's safe to say that most soldiers in a civilized country would be willing to take something more than a non-zero risk to avoid a very high chance killing purely innocent civilians, but would not be willing to take a very high risk (or perhaps any risk at all) to avoid a small chance of avoiding harm to those who, e.g., purposely serve as human shields.

Again, this question is arising specifically in the context of the Lebanon situation, but it has implications for any modern war for any civilized nation, so please avoid using your comments to vent on other issues concerning Israel/Party of God/Lebanon.

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