A Table Against Mine Enemies
By Larry M. Goldstein
Amazon: $19.83 hard cover;
Reviewed by Michael Sever
Taken from the 23rd Psalm, the title of this book colorfully describes its relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict. But the subtitle, “Israel on the lawfare front”, arguably better describes its theme and contents. Paraphrasing the 19th century Austrian diplomat Klaus von Metternich, lawfare is the extension of the battlefield to the forums of international law. At this point in history, such is not a simple matter. This book, well-researched and eminently suited for a general audience, details how terms such as “battlefield” and “international law” are understood in the present context.
Few will need reminding that wars are changing. Even within conventional or "symmetric" warfare, the rapid evolution from manned or closely supervised weapons systems to increasingly autonomous systems (such as robots or unmanned aerial vehicles, drones for short) is unmistakable. Perhaps more profoundly, wars are increasingly asymmetrical, and this trend will undoubtedly continue. One party to a conflict, confronted by superior conventional forces, will naturally seek to expand the conflict to theaters where it holds compensating advantages. Terrorism and cyber warfare are examples of such. Lawfare is another.
National military establishments such as those of Israel and the United States  are undergoing major changes in this context. So are corresponding national diplomatic establishments . This book describes how such contrasts with the evolution of the articulation and application of international law. The laws of war, however well-articulated, remain based on familiar concepts from conventional warfare: necessity of a particular military action; reasonable efforts to avoid “collateral damage”; proportionality of the expected benefits of an action to the expected casualties resulting; and avoidance of “shielding” techniques. In contrast, broadly recognized, operational definitions of cyber warfare, or of terrorism, have not been adopted. These terms continue to be used, and abused, as expedient, typically rationalized by “the end justifies the means” .
Additionally, the familiar institutions for the determination and application of international law, such as various United Nations agencies, the International Criminal Court, and the International Court of Justice, often lack the mandate, desire, resources or enforcing power to address apparent violations of international law. Such is aggravated, of course, by the egregious political bias identified with such organizations.
As this book describes in detail, the Israel Law Center has represented Israel admirably in the lawfare arena, indeed winning some meaningful contests. For example, one of the planned Gaza flotillas was reduced to naught by Israeli efforts to prevent the flotilla organizers from obtaining the required insurance or GPS tracking services!
This book is about Israel, and exhibits a clear pro-Israel predisposition in the context of the Arab-Israel conflict. Objectivity suggests that we ask about the other side. Current events in the region hardly testify to excessive concern among the various Arab states for scrupulous observation of the laws of war. But argument can be made, however tentative, that such is a transitional phenomenon [3, 5], and that, at some future time, the Arab-Israeli battlefield could be materially moved to the forums of international law.
1. Rosa Brooks, "How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything", Simon and Schuster, New York, 2016.
2. Alan M. Dershowitz, "Why Terrorism Works", Yale University Press, New York and London, 2002.
3. Suleiman Mourad, "The Mosaic of Islam", Verso, London and New York, 2016.
4. Geoffrey Allen Pigman, "Contemporary Diplomacy", Polity Press, Cambridge, 2010.
5. Mary C. Wilson, "King Abdullah, Britain and the Making of Jordan", Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987.
Michael Sever is Professor of Mathematics (Emeritus) of the Hebrew University