The Dahiya Doctrine and Israel’s Use of Disproportionate Force

December 07, 2012 IMEU

A central tenet of Israeli military policy is "deterrence." This is embodied in the so-called "Dahiya Doctrine," which dictates the use of overwhelming and disproportionate force - a war crime - and the targeting of government and civilian infrastructure during military operations. It received its name from the Dahiya neighborhood of Beirut, a stronghold of Hezbollah, which Israel destroyed almost completely during its assault on Lebanon in the summer of 2006.

  • In October 2008, Gabi Siboni, Director of the Military and Strategic Affairs Program at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), a quasi-governmental think tank with close ties to the Israeli political and military establishments, published a policy paper entitled "Disproportionate Force: Israel's Concept of Response in Light of the Second Lebanon War." It stated:
    'With an outbreak of hostilities [with Hezbollah], the IDF will need to act immediately, decisively, and with force that is disproportionate to the enemy's actions and the threat it poses. Such a response aims at inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes. 'Israel's test will be the intensity and quality of its response to incidents on the Lebanese border or terrorist attacks involving Hezbollah in the north or Hamas in the south. In such cases, Israel again will not be able to limit its response to actions whose severity is seemingly proportionate to an isolated incident. Rather, it will have to respond disproportionately in order to make it abundantly clear that the State of Israel will accept no attempt to disrupt the calm currently prevailing along its borders. Israel must be prepared for deterioration and escalation, as well as for a full-scale confrontation. Such preparedness is obligatory in order to prevent long term attrition.'
  • In an analysis piece also published in October 2008 entitled "IDF plans to use disproportionate force in next war," military correspondent Amos Harel of Israel's Haaretz newspaper quoted a senior Israeli General, Gadi Eisenkot, commander of Israeli forces in the north, describing the Dahiya Doctrine as applied to a future war with Lebanon:
    'We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective, these are military bases... This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized.'
  • Two and a half months later, after breaking a ceasefire that had been in place for six months, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a devastating three-week military onslaught that killed approximately 1400 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians, including more than 300 children.
  • Subsequent investigations by the United Nations as well as Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights organizations documented numerous cases of Israeli forces committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the disproportionate use of force, the use of white phosphorous in heavily populated areas, and the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure. In May 2009, Amnesty International released its country report for Israel and the occupied territories, which found:
    '[During Cast Lead] Israeli forces repeatedly breached the laws of war, including by carrying out direct attacks on civilians and civilian buildings and attacks targeting Palestinian militants that caused a disproportionate toll among civilians.'
  • In February 2009, shortly after the end of Cast Lead, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a cabinet meeting:
    'The government's position was from the outset that if there is shooting at the residents of the south, there will be a harsh Israeli response that will be disproportionate.'
  • The Israeli army continues to operate according to the Dahiya Doctrine, despite huge civilian casualties inflicted in Cast Lead and other military operations and the condemnation of human rights organizations.

Read the IMEU's Casualty Comparison Fact Sheet here.


Further References: