Israelis need to slow down and think

As Israel responds to the barbaric attacks by Hamas on innocent civilians on October 7, 2023, their reactions seem characterized by a hot-blooded desire for vengeance, and not by cool-headed strategic thinking.

They seem to be falling into a strategic trap that may have been cleverly laid by Iran, with the goal of killing and reversing any rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab states.

The very barbarism of the attacks by Hamas appears to have been designed to provoke a blind rage on the part of the Israelis, and blind actions aimed at securing vengeance.

By laying siege to the Gaza Strip, cutting off food, water, electricity and other supplies, Israel appears to be violating the most fundamental norms of international humanitarian law, also known as the law of war or the laws of war.

Falling into a trap that may have been set by Iran, Israel is responding to the barbarism of Hamas with what appears to be a strategy that entails the commission of war crimes.

Important consequences, perhaps opaque to the hot-headed warriors demanding vengeance, are likely to follow.

First, it may in the future become hard for Israeli soldiers and officials to travel to any of the 123 countries which are parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Israeli leaders could be indicted by the ICC, in the same way that Vladimir Putin has been indicted. Individual countries, exercising what is known as “universal jurisdiction” could also bring proceedings in their own courts.

Second, the Israelis may, by the commission of actions such as imposing a siege on the Gaza Strip and conducting widespread bombing killing and injuring civilians beyond the limits of the principle of “proportionality” which is part of international humanitarian law, be creating future generations of terrorists and other enemies of Israel throughout the Arab world.

Finally, Israeli overreactions, as they blindly fall or jump into the apparent Iranian trap, may set back for generations any prospects of closer ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and otherArab states.

In short, if Israel overreacts and commits war crimes in response to Hamas’ barbarous attacks, it may simply be contributing to the success of Iran’s strategic plan.

So, the best advice for our Israeli friends, for whom we have the greatest sympathy and understanding of their pain, may simply be:


The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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