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Friedman, 'Al-Hama Rules' & Israel

New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman Compares IDF's Cast Lead Operation Into Gaza With Syrian President Hafez Assad's Massacre at Al-Hama

IsraCast Questions: How Would Friedman Have Reacted If His Daughters Were Being Rocketed Day And Night For Eight Years?

Are U.S. & NATO Allies Not Conducting Similar Military Operations In Afghanistan With Far Less Concern For Civilian Lives?

Is Friedman's Warning That Israel May Risk Her Legitimacy By Responding To More Attacks Stripping The Jewish State Of Her Right to Self Defense?

IDF troops near the Gaza Strip

 To say that most Israelis were shocked by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman is putting it mildly. Did Friedman really compare the IDF's Cast Lead operation last year with Syrian President Hafez Assad's massacre of twenty thousand or more of his own people in the town of Hama in 1982? In the view of IsraCast analyst David Essing, Friedman has made the appalling comparison in order to attack Israeli settlement policy. However, Friedman appears to have forgotten that it was former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who launched Operation Cast Lead and who also offered unprecedented concessions to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that Abbas refused to accept.

 Tom Friedman's article comparing the IDF's 'Cast Lead Operation' with Syrian President Hafez Assad's massacre of some 20,000 or more Syrians in the city of Hama is as baffling as it is fallacious. The Pulitzer Prize winner is considered by most to be an 'honorable man', but not in the Shakespearean sense, and a masterful journalist. So how has he written such a vile column that simply does not bear up to the facts. But first a question? In a former column, Friedman once expressed deep concern that his daughters would inherit a dangerous future, so how would he have reacted if his daughters were rocketed even once from neighboring Mexico or Canada? What if Friedman and his family were faced day and night by the threat of rocketing for eight years? We can judge only by Friedman's gung-ho support for America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11. (Even Pat Buchanan once said that if the U.S. had been rocketed by her neighbors: 'I would have been over the border within 24 hours!')

It's not as if Friedman is some egghead, who pontificates in his ivory tower from afar, without having a clue as to what is happening on the ground. On the contrary, Friedman has reported from Beirut and Jerusalem even writing a book about his experiences. So how does he ignore the unprecedented steps taken by the IDF to prevent Palestinian civilian casualties during 'Cast Lead' with Syrian President Hafez Assad's massacre of tens of thousands of his own people as a lesson to the Muslim Brotherhood.

IDF forces in ground operation in the Gaza Strip

While Assad bombed, shelled and razed Hama to the ground in February 1982, the IDF actually telephoned, yes telephoned, Palestinian civilians in the area to be attacked, warning them to evacuate immediately. In addition, Israeli aircraft dropped warning leaflets as well as specially devised mini-bombs on the roofs of the Palestinian buildings that made a loud noise but caused no damage.(In the IDF, it was to become known as the 'knock on the roof' message as compared with ' knock on the door'). All these precautions were taken to protect innocent Palestinian civilians.

In a recent CNN interview Richard Holdbrooke, the U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan, when asked about the civilian deaths inflicted by U.S. and NATO forces, reacted something like this: ' The U.S. forces during the Marjah offensive had actually warned Afghan civilians to evacuate, a step that possibly endangered the operation and I don't know of any other precedent in military history'. Holdbrooke was wrong. The fact is that this was normal procedure by the IDF during Cast Lead in December 2008. In fact, Col.(ret.) Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, who probably knows at least as much about fighting a guerrilla war as does Tom Friedman, visited the area and later said that in his view the IDF was more moral than the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. In the Colonel's words: 'The IDF is probably the most moral army in the history of warfare !' Yet Friedman vilifies Israel for daring to go after the rocket launchers 'without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties'. He then has the chutzpa to issue this warning to the Jewish state: 'The risks to Israel's legitimacy of another war in Gaza, Lebanon or the West Bank in which Israel could be forced to kill even more civilians to squash rocket attacks launched from schoolyards by fighters, who wear no uniforms, will be staggering'. Excuse me Mr. Friedman have you just nullified Israel's right to self-defense? There is a Jewish proverb: ' He that would come to kill you, rise up and kill him first'. Is that not what the U.S. is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Not only did Friedman choose to ignore the Israeli precautions taken in Gaza, he compared the IDF operation to the Syrian massacre in the town of Hama. From a mere statistical viewpoint consider this. During the Cast Lead operation, an estimated 1300 Palestinians were killed. Most of them were guerrillas, up to 1,000. The remaining 300 were civilians, although Hamas used women and juveniles not only as human shields but in military roles. Hamas leaders deliberately surrounded themselves with a cordon of civilians for protection when moving from one place to another.

IDF soldiers entering the Gaza Strip

In this warfare where Hamas also exploited civilian buildings as firing positions and arsenals as well as booby- trapping others, one Palestinian civilian was killed for every three or four guerrillas during Cast Lead. Compare this with the number of Iraqi and Afghan civilians who have been killed, and are being killed today. One study by Johns Hopkins University and the Washington Post estimated that some 600,000 civilians were killed in Iraq. In Afghanistan, civilian casualties or what is termed 'collateral damage' have been so high that Afghan President Hamid Kharzai has repeatedly complained about the numbers of innocent Afghans being killed. Of course, the U.S. and her NATO allies try not to harm innocent civilians and President Obama, Secretary Clinton, Gen. McChrystal and now Commander Petraeus have all apologized for the civilian death toll. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that if the IDF had waged war the way the U.S. has in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Palestinian civilian casualties during Cast Lead would not have been in the hundreds but possibly in the tens of thousands. Civilian deaths and collateral damage are inevitable in all warfare but more so in the guerrilla warfare by the Taliban, al Qaeda, and yes, even Hamas. They all exploit civilians as human shields. The problem with Friedman is that he does not give Israel the same leeway for defending her people as he does his own country and her allies. Does he propose that Israel should have endured another eight years of terrorism before responding because the rockets are fired from inside the schoolyards of Gaza?

There is another aspect. Israel's political and military leadership are well aware that international pressure will be brought to bear on halting any Israeli military operation if a shell or bomb goes astray and accidentally harms innocent civilians. Before Cast Lead, the troops were briefed that Hamas would be setting traps to actually draw Israeli fire at civilians. Friedman's theory that the IDF was out to teach the Palestinians a brutal lesson is preposterous. In fact, less than 48 hours before Israel launched Cast Lead, Prime minister Olmert went on Al Jazeera TV pleading with the Palestinians to stop the rocketing before it was too late. But to no avail.

All this begs the question of what motivated Friedman to draw such an odious and unfounded comparison between Cast Lead and Hama. Was Friedman carried away by the former campaign waged by the Obama administration against Israel? His column was published on June 27th before the President's sudden about face to Netanyahu on July 6th. Was Friedman sort of saying: 'Although I'm Jewish, I'm American first and support Obama'. Not convincing. Possibly a more plausible explanation is that Friedman is so opposed to Israeli government policies that maybe he views just about everything Israel does through the prism of West Bank settlements. Friedman in fact warned Israel against resuming settlement construction after the freeze expires on September 26th. But even if Friedman is categorically opposed to settlement building, as are many Israelis, that is a far cry from railing against Israel's right to self-defense in the face of undeniable provocation. Moreover, Friedman seems to have overlooked that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert launched Cast Lead and not Binyamin Netanyahu and it was the same Olmert, who also offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas unprecedented concessions that Abbas refused to accept.

David Essing

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