In the past, Hezbollah and Palestinian militias subjected Israel to cross-border raids.  
Israel had responded to Hezbollah’s ‘provocation’ by threatening to “turn back the clock in Lebanon by twenty years.”[1] Barely within fourteen days, Israel released missiles and shells leading to the deaths of approximately 400 people, mostly civilians. Many of the victims of this retaliation were children, about 700,000 people were made homeless. It has been reported that the Israeli Air Force[2] drop US-made incendiary devices on Lebanon, which has caused a huge infrastructural damage to Lebanon. Indeed, the raid literally turned back the clock in Lebanon by twenty years. Ports, bridges, power stations, the airport, motorways, neighbourhoods, churches, mosques, including hospitals were not spared.
Interestingly, history reminds us that before the conflict between Israel and Lebanon took international dimension, Israel was in a battle with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.[3] Israel had sent its troops back to the territory to rescue the captured soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed in the process as bombings increased in the Strip.[4] In the name of alleged terrorism, Israel then took away half the freely and fairly elected members of the Palestinian cabinet.
Does Isreal’s response to the attacks with such overwhelming force amount to self-defense or has the state gone beyond this principle of international law? There are views that Isreal’s reaction is an act of aggression. The state could face allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. And perhaps more worrisome is that there are fears that Israel’s retaliation may amount to a moral justification for war between the states.[5]
Ideally, not a few states believe that Israel should have asked the Lebanese government to take steps in its own territory to free the captured soldiers before resorting to the use of reasonable force.[6] Upon failure by the Lebanese government to do so, Israel may then find ustification in taking reasonably proportionate actions to set its soldiers free.
What really is the position of International Law?

While conceding that International Law is not meant to be an instrument of war, it is also certainly not a suicidal weapon. Reasonably, no state will fold its hands and watch its citizens killed for the purpose of complying with the provisions of the law. On the other side of the coin, no state will also wait for long before launching violent attacks to protect themselves against any overwhelming retaliation, proportionate or otherwise.

From an international law perspective, every use of force by states must be justified on two grounds. First, the use of force must be with regard to the justness of the cause, and secondly, with regard to the justness of the means. The universal right of anticipatory self-defense[7]permits of Israel’s use of force against weapons of terrorist attacks in Syria. This is supported by applying the right of self-defense provided in Article 51 of the UN Charter. Therefore, any planned transfer of arms to Hezbollah by Syria is a clear violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.[8]
However, even when it can be determined that a state does have a basic right to use force against another, this provision does not automatically suggest that such action is in clear compliance with the law of armed conflict. Also, it is important that we do not use threats of international terrorism to excuse unreasonably violent use of force, otherwise we risk returning to the pre-World War era. Perhaps, this is what Said Mahmoudi, Professor of International Law at Stockholm University, is also trying to draw our attention to when he writes:
“The same moral and ethical values that led us in 1945 to put a general ban on the use of force in order ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our life-time has brought untold sorrows to mankind’, should also guide us to resist expanded use of force. We should withstand any effort to go back to the legal situation that prevailed before the adoption of the Charter even if it is in the name of ‘human dignity’ and ‘decency’. International terrorism and human tragedies should not become an excuse for the unwarranted use of force.”[9]
Let’s conclude this discussion next week, shall we?
                                                           


[1]According to srael’s Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz.    
[2] According to the British Middle East Minister Kim Howells,  the Israeli Air Force has up to 600 jets flying sorties over Lebanon.
[3] This battle was over the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit.
[4] The Strip is inhabited by over 1.4 million Palestinians, making it one of the most densely populated places on earth).
[5] International reaction to the conflict has mostly condemned both Hezbollah and Israel, with many nations expressing concern over a possible escalation of the conflict. The US, UK, Germany, France and Canada has acknowledged Israel’s right to defend itself. 
[6] And such force should always be a measure of last resort.
[7] This customary international law doctrine entitles a state that is endangered to resort to reasonable force pre-emptively, if it is an imminent danger.
[8] In particular paragraph 15. Specifically, certain prohibitions on state assistance to terrorist or pro-terrorist acts by a state can be found in Article 3(f) and 3(g) of the 1974 General Assembly Definition of Aggression.
[9] Said Mahmoudi, “Self-Defence and International Terrorism” 48 Scandinavian Studies in Law (2005), p. 212.

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