It’s a rare and remarkable event when a government broadcasts ahead of time its intent to commit war crimes. Yet that’s just what senior Israeli military officials recently did in the pages of The New York Times.
Israeli military officials gave friendly Times correspondent Isabel Kershner a provocative briefing, warning (in her words) that in the “almost inevitable next battle with Hezbollah . . . many Lebanese civilians will probably be killed, and that it should not be considered Israel’s fault.”
Claiming that the militant Lebanese Shiite organization has stationed arms and fortified positions in various southern villages, the anonymous Israeli military briefers accused their foe of using civilians as a shield. The officers were “blunt” that those villages “will most likely be the scene of widespread destruction” and heavy civilian casualties in the wake of an Israeli response to rocket attacks.
The reporter made little attempt to check the officers’ claims about Hezbollah, but that really wasn’t the point. Her story was an apparent trial balloon to test international reaction should Israel undertake an all-out military campaign against the local population, as it did in Lebanon in 1978, 1982 and 1996, and in Gaza in 2008-09 and 2014. Aside from critical notice by a few watchdog bloggers, there has been almost no reaction. The collective silence may lead Tel Aviv to believe the world is willing to give Israel the green light for mass killing of civilians.