Former Israeli Prime Minister and Defence Minister Ehud Barak ordered the targeting of densely populated areas in the 2008 war on Gaza.
The revelation was made yesterday by Israeli newspaper Maariv, which reported that Barak had been frustrated by his failure to stop the firing of primitive Qassam rockets from the besieged Gaza Strip. In response, he ordered any location from which the rockets were fired to be hit with 155mm artillery shells, regardless of the population density and the destructive consequences of the proposed shelling. He made the remarks about six months prior to the start of Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’ offensive on Gaza in December 2008.
However, Barak’s order was denied by then Chief Military Advocate General Avichai Mandelblit, who told the prime minister: “The order you want to be approved by the chief of staff is illegal”. Mandelblit – who is now Israel’s Attorney General – stressed that Barak would be “defined as a war criminal” and could be “convicted by the International Court of Justice at The Hague” if he went through with the order.
Mandelblit suggested that though rockets could be fired from densely populated areas, this does not justify turning the civilian area into a military target. He argued:
The proportionality of the response must be examined in light of the danger posed by the source of the shooting, and it would be inconceivable to kill 100 civilians in a hospital in order to destroy one rocket launcher.
In addition, Mandelblit said that it was necessary to “respond with weapons with high precision when it comes to a specific target, rather than responding with a shell which causes shrapnel to scatter in a very wide area,” stressing it was “very doubtful” that artillery shells would hit the target.
When Mandelblit rejected the order, Barak met with him and then Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. Barak claimed that Mandelblit was not the army commander, but rather that Ashkenazi was, and so he should carry out the order as instructed. However, Ashkenazi replied: “You are right, Avichai [Mandelblit] is not the commander of the army and I am the commander, but I am telling you that this order will not be implemented […] I am not willing to carry out such an order which is illegal and immoral.”