EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: In the years ahead, Israel could face the growing prospect of WMD terrorism – i.e., attacks involving chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons. In this connection, it is vital that Israeli officials do their utmost to prevent perfidious enemy manipulations of humanitarian international law. This is especially urgent with regard to enemy use of “human shields,” an illegal form of military deception that could be used to deter Israeli retaliation. Perfidy can originate with both state and sub-state foes, and could conceivably involve primitive nuclear devices such as “dirty bombs” (weapons that do not involve genuine chain reactions, but instead attach conventional explosives to fissile materials).
Under authoritative international law, the practice of moving civilians into designated military areas, or, vice versa, of moving military assets into civilian towns or villages, violates the law of war (aka the law of armed conflict or humanitarian international law). This violation is generally regarded as a species of “perfidy,” but informally, it is more often referred to as the problem of “human shields.” Whatever one might prefer to call such barbarous behavior, Israel’s senior military planners must ensure that it will never get in the way of essential counterterrorism.
This obligation would be especially critical in circumstances involving terror attacks using weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The most obvious current source of concern would be a terrorist force such as Hezbollah planning a WMD attack against Israel from somewhere in Lebanon or Syria or even the Golan Heights. It would seek to protect its preparations from Israeli preemption by
(1) secreting pertinent military assets among vulnerable civilian populations, and/or (2) placing portions of vulnerable civilian populations in designated military areas.