Saturday, December 31, 2011
Stop ignoring the facts about Cast Lead
It featured the lowest ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in any asymmetric conflict in the history of warfare.
An Israeli soldier takes a position behind a wall on which 'Liberate Gaza' is written during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron against the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, 2 January 2009. Credit: Getty Images
Three years ago, Operation Cast Lead saw Israel send troops into the Gaza Strip in response to the thousands of rockets and mortars launched into Israeli civilian areas. Which other government in the world wouldn't defend its citizens in such circumstances? If some wish to portray this operation as a "massacre", they would have to ignore the facts to do so. John Stuart Mill wrote in 1862 that "war is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things". Indeed today, even with laws, regulations and technology intended to lessen the horrors of battle, war is always ugly and tragic. But sometimes, it is still an essential response to something far uglier.
In 2006, following the Israeli disengagement and pullout from the Gaza Strip, there was an increase of 436 per cent in the number of Palestinian rockets launched towards Israel from that very territory. For some time, Israel resisted a large-scale military response to such acts deliberately aimed at civilians. As a result, the attacks got worse, and every country, including Israel, has the moral responsibility to defend its people from such actions.
Increased Palestinian terror attacks from Gaza were the cause of Operation Cast Lead. Yet Israel's is a conscript army. Indeed Israel goes to extraordinary lengths to protect its young soldiers (witness the efforts make to secure the release of the kidnap victim Gilad Shalit), and does not send them to war easily.
In the three years since the operation, there has been an unprecedented 72 per cent decline in the number of rockets launched from Hamas-controlled Gaza. No surprise, then, that Israel's Defence Forces Chief of Staff should call the operation "an excellent operation that achieved deterrence for Israel vis-a-vis Hamas". (However, that deterrence is still not enough to have prevented Palestinians from launching 1,571 rockets since the operation, including one attack with an anti-tank missile on a clearly identifiable Israeli school bus.)
Just as Israel's erection of a security fence to prevent homicide bombers from infiltrating Jerusalem saw a bigger than 90 per cent reduction in such attacks, Operation Cast Lead was undeniably effective in reducing terror attacks from the Gaza strip. The numbers speak for themselves.
Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, has repeatedly commented that, "during its operation in Gaza, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare." Furthermore, he points out that the steps taken in that conflict by the Israeli Defence Forces to avoid civilian deaths are shown by a study published by the United Nations to have resulted in, by far, the lowest ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in any asymmetric conflict in the history of warfare.
Kemp explains that by UN estimates, the average ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide is 3:1 -- three civilians for every combatant killed. That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan. But in Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to have been 4:1. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia. In Gaza, it was less than one-to-one.
Since the 22-day Gaza operation, Israel has also been demonstrably fastidious in its efforts to protect civilian lives while targeting combatants. The Israel correspondent for Jane's Defence Weekly sites Israel's record this year, saying "the IDF killed 100 Gazans in 2011. Nine were civilians. That is a civilian-combatant ratio of nearly 1:10."
In fact, Israel's effort to combat the Hamas regime in the Gaza strip, while still safeguarding the rights of civilians, can be seen in her actions away from the battlefield as well. Despite the continued and sustained terror attacks from the area, around 60 per cent of Gaza's electricity comes from Israel, rather than from Gaza's other neighbour, Egypt, against whom no missiles are launched by the Palestinians.
Israel allows thousands of tonnes of goods to pass into Gaza weekly, and provides a large amount of the strip's water. If destroying infrastructure were truly Israel's aim, as some claim, this goal could be achieved without the risk to Israeli soldiers inherent in operations which see them sent into the Gaza strip.
It is time to stop blaming the Israeli government and defence forces for protecting Israeli civilians. Instead, we must demand that Palestinian leaders (and their apologists) work towards improving the welfare of their own citizens, rather than constantly attacking Israel's.
Jonathan Sacerdoti is director of the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy