What is the implied MRS for dead vs. kidnapped Israeli soldiers?

by on August 8, 2014 at 9:57 am in Current Affairs, History, Law, Philosophy, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

If a captive soldier is known to be in a certain vehicle, Mr. Amidror said, it is permissible to fire a tank shell toward the engine of the car. “You for sure risk the life of the soldier, but you don’t intend to kill him,” he said.

Asked whether it was morally acceptable to risk a soldier’s life in this way, Mr. Amidror said: “You know, war is very controversial. Soldiers have to know there are many risks in the battlefield, and this is one of them.”

That is for Israeli soldiers and it is called the Hannibal Procedure more generally.  The subtext is that an Israeli soldier captured by the enemy can end up being traded for a thousand or more imprisoned Palestinians.  The persistence of the kidnapped state for the soldier may create an intolerable situation for the Israeli public, more than would seem to be the case for a deceased soldier, and arguably it damages morale for future soldiers to a greater extent.

Not everyone likes the Hannibal Procedure:

“The procedure is morally flawed,” said Emanuel Gross of Haifa University, an expert in military law and a former military judge. “We have no right to risk the life of a soldier only to avoid the payment for his return from captivity.”

Instead, Mr. Gross said, Israel ought to stand more firmly against the inflated demands of the captors.

I wonder how the opinion of the median soldier or soldier-to-be on this policy compares to the opinion of the median Israeli citizen.  Our philosopher readers will also note the connection of this debate to the longstanding conundrums over whether a person ceasing to exist can be said to harm that person, a topic discussed by Derek Parfit among others.

The full story is here, interesting throughout.

1 Sam August 8, 2014 at 10:10 am

“Soldiers have to know there are many risks in the battlefield”

Just like the hungry should know there are risks to not having enough food. Knowing the risks doesnt make a difference when service is not a choice.

2 Israeli August 8, 2014 at 10:14 am

Knowing the risks doesnt make a difference when service is not a choice.

Israelis mostly regard service in the IDF as the laudable and dutiful thing to do.

We tend not to be hyperindividualists.

3 Dan Weber August 8, 2014 at 10:20 am

It tends to inform the policy. Everyone knows that it might be their son/daughter/nephew being asked to make this risk.

Is this being done *just* to kill the soldier, or is it “this has a 10% chance of letting us save the soldier but a 80% chance of killing him?”

4 Israeli August 8, 2014 at 10:11 am

I wonder how the opinion of the median soldier or soldier-to-be on this policy compares to the opinion of the median Israeli citizen.

My guess is that among soldiers and non-soldiers there would be a strong inclination to make every “reasonable” attempt possible to rescue the captive (ie. a 5% risk would be worth taking, 50% probably not).

5 Jack August 9, 2014 at 12:28 pm

The policy of the Israeli government is to label all soldiers captured in combat to be ‘kidnapped’ not POWs. It is also the policy to kill them.

6 Taeyoung August 8, 2014 at 10:12 am

Isn’t the way around this to give soldiers cyanide pills (or something of that sort) so they can commit suicide to avoid capture at their option? Is suicide under those circumstances morally unacceptable? Or is it just that no one thinks the soldiers are willing to kill themselves to avoid their country releasing thousands of hostile terrorists to secure their release? If the latter, that suggests something about the views of the median soldier, though I suppose the median soldier behind the “veil of ignorance” is somewhat different from the median soldier actually in barbarian captivity.

7 Israeli August 8, 2014 at 10:14 am

Is suicide under those circumstances morally unacceptable?


8 Ugly American August 8, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Care to expand on that a bit? I don’t think of suicide as a moral issue, thought it is a religious one and I acknowledge the two can be hard to separate.

9 Wolf August 8, 2014 at 10:15 am

why is hamas so foolish?

10 Jack August 9, 2014 at 12:30 pm

You mean they won’t surrender unconditionally to Israel so that the expansion of the borders of Israel can continue. I’m shocked that you can’t understand that.

11 samuel August 8, 2014 at 10:35 am

The first paragraph seems to bring up the doctrine of double effect.

More generally, related to the MRS question – IDF soldiers are paid a lot more than Hamas, that is they have a much higher market value. But is the ratio that high? Maybe 10 to 1 at most. But it seems Israel values their soldiers orders of magnitude more than that. So the question is this: Is the social value placed on life a nonlinear function of the market value? ie When my strict market value, my labour productivity, increases one unit, does my social value (what govts or family are are WTP) increase by more than one unit? Another way to look at it is that Israel values Palestinians significantly *under* their market value.

12 Israeli August 8, 2014 at 10:44 am

Another way to look at it is that Israel values Palestinians significantly *under* their market value.

That’s probably what Tyler had in mind when he asserted that it was “deontologically immoral” for Israel to try to end the rocket attacks when Hamas is firing from civilian areas etc.

13 Jack August 9, 2014 at 12:34 pm

You left out the important fact that this invasion of Gaza occurred after the murder of three Israeli citizens and not rocket attacks at Israel.

How many years has that blockade of Gaza been going on now? How many settlements on Palestinian land outside the 1967 borders of Israel is that now?

14 Ignoto Fiorentino August 8, 2014 at 10:56 am

Tyler, I don’t understand your reference to the literature on posthumous harm. Surely it is a harm to the captured soldier to be killed in a failed rescue attempt (though perhaps, depending on his or her preferences, not relative to the harm of being held as a hostage for an extended period of time.) Can you clarify?

15 Shiran Pasternak August 8, 2014 at 11:18 am

There is also the angle of deterrence on the part of would-be captors. If Hamas is aware that the IDF is willing to escalate its use of force to avoid capture, then maybe it is more likely to avoid haphazard kidnappings?

16 Ed August 8, 2014 at 11:42 am

This isn’t really unusual. During World War II, the Japanese Army leadership was very successful in convincing Japanese soliders that they should commit suicide to avoid capture. The Red Army also went to great lengths to avoid their soldiers surrendering or letting themselves be captured.

On the other hand, these policies are generally not looked on as examples to be followed. The Isreali approach to prisoner exchange also seems to be flawed. What are the Israeli and Hamas attitudes towards the Geneva Convention? This probably has some bearing, it did on the World War II Japanese and Russian attitudes.

17 Israeli August 8, 2014 at 12:07 pm

What are the Israeli and Hamas attitudes towards the Geneva Convention?

Israel subscribes to the Geneva conventions.

However Obama, MSNBC commentator Cenk Yugur and others adopt the view that the Geneva conventions don’t apply to Hamas. According to them Hamas deserves at most mild censure.

Specifically: firing rockets at civilian targets is generally considered a “crime against humanity”. But Obama does not mention this as criminal but thinks only that Hamas is “extraordinarily irresponsible” because they choose to do it from schools and hospitals

18 sd August 8, 2014 at 7:13 pm

Except of course for the parts that it chooses to ignore like Article 49 of the fourth convention.

19 Jack August 9, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Israel subscribes to the Geneva Convention? That’s why soldiers captured in combat are labelled “kidnapped” and Hamas fighters are labelled “terrorists”.

20 Lindt August 16, 2014 at 5:50 pm

The Japanese Army during WWII also used POW’s as test subjects and captured civilians for the purpose of forced prostitution. At least in most of Asia, the behaviors of the Japanese army during WWII are equivalent to Nazis in the West.

I don’t think “others have done it” is any justification.

21 Rob August 8, 2014 at 11:42 am

Seems like many (including the article) are missing the real point. An Israeli soldier in captivity may be subject to all kinds of torture, humiliation or degradation. After all “water boarding” (which the West has now decided meets the definition of torture) will not show if he is later traded. If *I* were that soldier, freshly captured and being spirited off the battlefield to a very uncertain future that might result in years of captivity, *I* would certainly be happy for them to risk my life to end my capture quickly.

Think of ANY hostage raid carried out by any western country: the hostages always bear *some* risk and most of us seem to think that’s OK, so why not here?

The article would have benefitted greatly from the opinions of some actual soldiers that this applied to, as opposed to college profs in nice cushy chairs.

Lastly, I’m reminded of the _Dune_ books by Frank Herbert. Whenever the Fremen lost a soldier that they believed was a hostage, they immediately held a funeral and declared them dead. Later, no negotiation was possible, because the soldier was dead as far as they were concerned. Small, surrounded underdogs (which describes Hammas and also Israel) can’t always play by the same rules as big, important powers.

22 Barak August 9, 2014 at 4:22 am

Is anyone taking into account the impact of religious values? These days much of the combat personal is from religious upbringing, if the Rabbi approves these orders soldiers are more likely to follow.

In my time the orders were different in the West-Bank vs Gaza and the North. i.e., dependent on the probability of a successful rescue operation

23 Mesa August 9, 2014 at 10:28 am

Harm to (or the death of) one person can certainly cause great psychological or financial harm to others. Legally this is certainly a common concept. A dead person can’t sue, but his representatives/heirs can. If the Israelis’s want to trade at 100:1 that is their calculus. What I think it really says is the military value of holding the 100 prisoners in reduction of force terms is very small, potentially only useful for exchange even at unfavorable terms.

24 J August 10, 2014 at 1:05 pm

It’s all about creating a conditioned reflex in the terrorists’s nervious system. To disincentivate and inhibit agression by them, each and every aggression must be punished rapidly and decisively. The reponse must be hurtful and disproportionate to be effective. If it hurts us more than them, that’s life.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: