Haaretz outlines new rules of engagement (ROE) for the IDF in civilian areas. This is part of a trend of tighteing the ROE in the wake of Operation Cast Lead. It is also another example of how despite complex politics, the IDF remains pragmatic and focused on achieving missions. Some of the highlights of the new ROE include:
1) A focus on evacuating civilians from combat areas. This is an important shift, and commanders are now instructed to fire warning shots in order to disperse civilians. Ideally, the most successful evacuations would be before the troops arrive altogether, as the U.S. did in Amara, Iraq for example. And warning shots that are composed of white phosphorous should be a definite no-no. But attempts to clear civilians before combat are always a good thing.
2) Use of lower impact weapons. The IDF took flack in Operation Cast Lead for shooting sabot shells at a UN school where Hamas insurgents had been engaging the IDF. Lower impact, higher accuracy weapons will ultimately reduce civilian casualties and mitigate political damage from IDF operations.
3) The article claims "The IDF realized following the Gaza offensive that due to the Strip's size, civilians have fewer places to run to." If true, this indicates that the IDF is starting to understand that trying to protect civilians (as Israel clearly did in Cast Lead with flyers and cell phone messages) is not the same as actually protecting them. This is an impressive realization by the IDF, especially in an Israeli political climate where respect for Palestinian rights is not at a particular high.
I wish more of the principles of counter-insurgency had been incorporated into these rules but it would be unrealistic for the IDF to assume it would get the kind of resources necessary for COIN. Still, these rules of engagement changes are important, and should restore some faith in the IDF's ability to understand that human rights protection is a security strategy. The changes are commendable.