'IDF Did More To Safeguard Civilians In Gaza Than U.S. & British Forces Have Done In Iraq & Afghanistan'
'In Gaza, Hamas Forced Palestinian Women & Children To Ignore IDF Warnings To Leave Areas About To Be Attacked: Hamas Also Trained & Equipped Palestinian Women & Children For Military Roles'
British Army Colonel (ret) Richard Kemp knows a thing or two about fighting a guerrilla war; Kemp has served as commander of the British contingent to the NATO force now fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. In a lecture to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on June 18th, Colonel Kemp compared the conduct of the IDF during the Cast Lead Operation in Gaza with that of the British and American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. His conclusion: 'The Israel Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare'. Nonetheless, the pro-Palestinian Human Rights Council of the UN has published an enquiry, based mainly on Palestinian allegations and chaired by Judge Richard Goldstone, that alleges the IDF perpetrated war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.
Listen to the lecture on www.jcpa.org
Read excerpts of Colonel Kemp's lecture:
'I will examine the practicalities, challenges and difficulties faced by military forces in trying to fight within the provisions of international law against an enemy that deliberately and consistently flouts international law.
Soldiers from all Western armies, including Israel's and Britain's, are educated in the laws of war.
In the most basic form these rules tell you when you can and when you cannot open fire.
Enemy forces sometimes adopt the other side's uniforms as a deception or ruse. But in the type of conflict that the Israeli Defence Forces recently fought in Gaza and in Lebanon, and Britain and America are still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, these age-old confusions and complexities are made one hundred times worse by the fighting policies and techniques of the enemy. The insurgents that we have faced, and still face, in these conflicts are all different. Hizballah and Hamas over here, Al Qaida, Jaish al Mahdi and a range of other militant groups in Iraq. Al Qaida, the Taliban and a diversity of associated fighting groups in Afghanistan. They are different but they are linked. They are linked by the pernicious influence, support and sometimes direction of Iran and/or by the international network of Islamist extremism.
Tactics tried and tested on IDF soldiers in Lebanon have also killed British soldiers in Helmand Province and in Basra. These groups are trained and equipped for warfare fought from within the civilian population.
They know that a British or Israeli commander and his men are bound by international law and the rules of engagement that flow from it. They then do their utmost to exploit what they view as one of their enemy's main weaknesses. Their very modus operandi is built on the, correct, assumption that Western armies will normally abide by the rules. It is not simply that these insurgents do not adhere to the laws of war. It is that they employ a deliberate policy of operating consistently outside international law. Their entire operational doctrine is founded on this basis. In Gaza, as in Basra, as in the towns and villages of southern Afghanistan, civilians and their property are routinely exploited by these groups, in deliberate and flagrant violation of any international laws or reasonable norms of civilised behaviour for both tactical and strategic gain. Stripped of any moral considerations, this policy operates simply and effectively at both levels. On the tactical level, protected buildings, mosques, schools and hospitals, are used as strongholds allowing the enemy the protection not only of stone walls but also of international law. On the strategic level, any mistake, or in some cases legal and proportional response, by a Western army will be deliberately exploited and manipulated in order to produce international outcry and condemnation. And in sophisticated groupings such as Hamas and Hizballah, the media will be exploited also as a critical implement of their military strategy.
In Gaza, according to residents there, Hamas fighters who previously wore black or khaki uniforms, discarded them when Operation Cast Lead began, to blend in with the crowds and use them as human shields. We have of course seen all this before, in Lebanon, in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
Like Hamas in Gaza, the Taliban in southern Afghanistan are masters at shielding themselves behind the civilian population and then melting in among them for protection. Hamas of course deployed suicide attackers in Gaza, including women and children. Women and children are trained and equipped to fight, collect intelligence and ferry arms and ammunition between battles. I have seen it first hand in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Female suicide bombers are almost commonplace. Schools and houses are routinely booby-trapped. Snipers shelter in houses deliberately filled with women and children. Every man captured or killed is claimed as a taxi driver or a farmer.
British and American troops now routinely search mosques in Afghanistan and Iraq and when necessary we bring down fire on those locations. This is not done, or should not be done, in a trigger-happy or careless manner but rather in a proportionate way and always with the aim of minimising wider suffering. Obviously this kind of action is undesirable - but faced with the enemy we face, there is no alternative.
General Stanley McChrystal, the new US commander of forces in Afghanistan, has said the reduction of unnecessary civilian casualties is one of his top priorities. It should be. That is also a high priority of British commanders in Afghanistan.
I have spoken of the considerable British and American efforts to operate within the laws of war and to reduce unnecessary civilian casualties. But what of the Israeli Defence Forces? The IDF face all the challenges that I have spoken about, and more. Not only was Hamas's military capability deliberately positioned behind the human shield of the civilian population and not only did Hamas employ the range of insurgent tactics I talked through earlier. They also ordered, forced when necessary, men, women and children , from their own population to stay put in places they knew were about to be attacked by the IDF. Fighting an enemy that is deliberately trying to sacrifice their own people. Deliberately trying to lure you in to killing their own innocent civilians.
And Hamas, like Hizballah, are also highly expert at driving the media agenda. They will always have people ready to give interviews condemning Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting incidents.
Their people often have no option than to go along with the charades in front of the world's media that Hamas so frequently demand, often on pain of death.
What is the other challenge faced by the IDF that we British do not have to face to the same extent?
It is the automatic, pavlovian presumption by many in the international media, and international human rights groups, that the IDF are in the wrong, that they are abusing human rights.
So what did the IDF do in Gaza to meet their obligation to operate within the laws of war? When possible the IDF gave at least four hours' notice to civilians to leave areas targeted for attack.
Attack helicopter pilots, tasked with destroying Hamas mobile weapons platforms, had total discretion to abort a strike if there was too great a risk of civilian casualties in the area. Many missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were cancelled because of this.
During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. This sort of task is regarded by military tacticians as risky and dangerous at the best of times. To mount such operations, to deliver aid virtually into your enemy's hands, is to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable.
But the IDF took on those risks.
In the latter stages of Cast Lead the IDF unilaterally announced a daily three-hour cease fire. The IDF dropped over 900,000 leaflets warning the population of impending attacks to allow them to leave designated areas. A complete air squadron was dedicated to this task alone.
Leaflets also urged the people to phone in information to pinpoint Hamas fighters vital intelligence that could save innocent lives.
The IDF phoned over 30,000 Palestinian households in Gaza, urging them in Arabic to leave homes where Hamas might have stashed weapons or be preparing to fight. Similar messages were passed in Arabic on Israeli radio broadcasts warning the civilian population of forthcoming operations.
Despite Israel's extraordinary measures, of course innocent civilians were killed and wounded. That was due to the frictions of war that I have spoken about, and even more was an inevitable consequence of Hamas' way of fighting.
By taking these actions and many other significant measures during Operation Cast Lead the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other Army in the history of warfare.'The professional assessment of British Army Colonel Richard Kemp on the IDF's Cast Lead Operation into Gaza tasked with halting the more than eight years of Palestinian rocketing of Israeli civilians.