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Israeli Colonel Discusses Ethics of War When There’s No Time to Consider 


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The life-and-death decisions frequently faced by Israeli soldiers obliges them to try, as best they can, to factor ethics and morality into the grim business of nearly unrelenting warfare. 

Typically, an officer has about eight seconds to make a judgment call that will almost certainly take—or spare—human life.
Despite the harrowingly small window of time to consider such things, there is a process that soldiers are expected to follow, explained Reserve Col. Bentzi Gruber of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Invited to speak at the Columbus School of Law on Nov. 4 by The Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion and The Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, Col. Gruber’s remarks, “Morality in War: A Discussion of the IDF Approach to Ethics in the Field” outlined the Israeli approach to decisions such as when to call in an airstrike on a target like a truck or car suspected of transporting opposing fighters.
As vice commander of Division 252, Gruber has spent years on the frontlines of such hazardous areas as the Gaza strip. He shared with the mostly professorial audience his behind-the-scenes view of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and described the daily challenges of both ensuring Israel’s security while also maintaining its military code of ethics.
Gruber said that when making tactical decisions in the field, senior officers are expected to ask themselves such questions as: Is the force used only to accomplish the mission? And, is the collateral damage proportional to the immediate threat?
“The rule is, if you have a doubt, don’t shoot,” said Gruber.
Showing video clips of real-life examples, Gruber demonstrated a situation where a truck being stalked by an Israeli helicopter for a missile strike suddenly darted in the garage of a private home for cover. In response, the helicopter pilot was able to change the trajectory of the weapon so that it exploded near, but not upon, the house.
Gruber conceded that Israeli attempts to limit engagement to enemy combatants and not children or bystanders will never be mistake free. But he said the country remains committed to its ethical protocols, even as the seemingly endless skirmishing goes on.
“We have to win each war. There is no other choice,” he said.
The post-talk questioning was led by law school Professors Marshall Breger and Robert Destro, along with Dr. Stephen Schneck, director of Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.