“Perfidy” and Growing Risks of Mega-Terror Against Israel

Some of Israel’s terrorist enemies will likely use “human shields” in their next aggressions. This practice of “perfidy,” if unchallenged worldwide, could enlarge the probability of unprecedented WMD terror attacks against Israel

The illegal practice of moving civilians into designated military areas, or into those places most apt to be targeted, has a precise name. In international humanitarian law, the specified term for this violation is “perfidy.” Moreover, among other things, perfidy can also involve moving certain military assets into populated areas.

Significantly, perfidy always represents an “egregious” violation of the law of war, one identified as a “grave breach” of international humanitarian law at Article 147 of Geneva Convention No. IV.

History is instructive. During the Gaza wars, perfidy was used with some tactical success by Hamas, but perhaps more importantly, with still greater propagandistic benefit. This is because the carefully orchestrated practice of “human shields” allowed the Palestinian side to allege Israeli “disproportionality” continuously. These were, of course, wholly concocted and false claims; nonetheless, they proved plainly effective in mobilizing world public opinion against Israel.

Looking ahead, unless there is much wider understanding that perfidious behavior by an insurgent group always places legal responsibility for any corresponding harms on that group, and not on its state victim, certain terrorists could sometimes decide to escalate their chosen levels of violence sharply. Such escalations could eventually include assorted mega-assaults, that is, literally unprecedented insurgent aggressions involving weapons of mass destruction.

Terrorism, like perfidy, is a codified crime under the authoritative international law. Jurisprudentially, therefore, any human shields-based deception by anti-Israel terrorists would add, ipso facto, a second layer of illegality to the first. In the volatile Middle East region, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, and Hezbollah insurgencies are all illegal in themselves.

Operationally, Hamas, which enthusiastically seeks to bring the fighting into Israel itself, maintains three regiments in Gaza, and is now actively preparing for a simultaneous and multi-pronged attack to be launched out of several specially designated terror tunnels.


In law, deception is not prima facie impermissible. Instead, certain forms of deception are permitted to states and possibly also to lawful insurgents (those with arguably “just cause”) under the laws of war. Still, the use of human shields is always illegal; for all combatants, both state and sub-state.

During Israel’s several Lebanon wars, Hezbollah, assisted by Syria and Iran, intentionally placed weapons and fighters directly in the areas of Arab civilian populations. Presently, ISIS, which at some point could be ready to confront Israel directly – in this sense, more-or-less resembling Sunni Hamas and Shiite Hezbollah – is routinely employing a human shields strategy in the ongoing battle for Mosul, Iraq. In the past, such a strategy was indispensable in providing ISIS with meaningful tactical advantages.

In coming years, certain perfidious violations of the laws of war by any of the Middle East terror groups could involve the calculated placement of chemical, biological, or (ultimately) crude nuclear weapons in populated Arab/Islamic towns and cities. Over time, this insidious practice could effectively deter sorely needed Israeli resorts to anticipatory self-defense. In turn, therefore, terror group perfidy could expose Israel to increasingly large-scale levels of homeland destruction.

Sooner or later, certain of Israel’s Arab/Islamic enemies, under deliberate cover of perfidy, will likely begin to magnify their terrorist goals and operations. Predictably, these enemies will systematically strive to exploit the particular methods and harms offered by WMD violence.  There is little compelling evidence to suggest that these efforts could never succeed.

There are, says Albert Camus, “crimes of passion, and crimes of logic.” But the precise boundary between these seemingly discrete crimes is substantially unclear, vague, and porous. Understood in terms of an ever-expanding mega-terrorist threat to Israel, the crimes in question could display both passion and logic. Over time, impassioned anti-Israel terrorists could decide to do “more” in order to achieve their still-unhidden exterminatory goals. Here, annihilationist logic could spawn new passions, which would then, in turn, reinforce strategic logic. Combining careful cost-benefit calculations with a virulent religious frenzy, these killers could then reason that “ordinary” suicide bombings had become ineffectual or simply “old-fashioned,” and that maintaining an “adequate” level of Israeli fear (a level that could impel even more territorial surrenders) must call for new and conspicuously higher spasms of harm.

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Unless Israeli authorities have prudently anticipated such escalations of violence, and are also prepared to dominate any resultant escalatory processes, the number of Israeli civilian terror victims could grow to previously unimagined or even unsustainable levels.

There is more. The dangers of unconventional terrorism could be enlarged in the wholesale absence of logic. This danger might even become more consequential if pertinent terrorist enemies of Israel and their allies had already become more expressly oriented toward crimes of passion. Now animated only by the clarion call of jihad, and also operating well beyond the ordinary rules of rationality in making policy decisions, these terrorists could then opt for inflicting chemical, biological, or even nuclear destruction upon Israel. For the moment, the nuclear terrorist threat would likely be limited to a so-called “dirty bomb” attack, although it could also already extend, at least in principle, to conventional assaults upon Israel’s plutonium nuclear reactor.

It is possible, moreover, that the choice of WMD terror would be detached from any rationally considered calculations of presumed geopolitical advantage.

Writing about the species of fear arising from tragedy, Aristotle emphasized that such fear “demands a person who suffers undeservedly,” and that it must also be felt by “one of ourselves.” This fear, or terror, has little or nothing to do with any private concerns for impending misfortune to others, but rather from our own perceived resemblance to the victim. Terror is generally fear referred back to ourselves. The plausible threat of chemical, biological, or nuclear terrorism could thus prove manifestly purposeful, from the comprehensive standpoints of enemy passion and enemy logic.

Israel must take special heed. Facing certain identifiable crimes of either passion or logic, it should expressly communicate to its most dedicated terrorist foes that Jerusalem always remains prepared to dominate escalation, and that any planned terrorist excursions into higher-order destructiveness could never elicit an Israeli capitulation. To ensure that such communications have the best possible chance of success, it is also vitally important that Israel’s terrorist enemies recognize absolutely no foreseeable advantages from launching “perfidious” assaults upon the Jewish State.

In lay language, this means taking appropriate measures to ensure that Israel’s relevant terrorist adversaries have little or no reason ever to fall back upon a strategy of human shields.

Reprinted with author’s permission from Israel Defense

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