Sauce for the Israeli goose … 4

… is not the same for the Coalition gander.

General Dempsey reported on Israel’s extraordinary efforts to avoid harming civilians.

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, told an audience in New York that he believed the Israel Defense Force went to “extraordinary lengths” to limit civilian casualties in this past summer’s military conflict in Gaza.

The military leader was speaking to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

In addition to praising the IDF’s efforts to limit civilian casualties, Dempsey also said that the Pentagon sent a team to Israel to see what lessons could be learned from the IDF’s expertise during Operation Protective Edge. This included observing the measures taken by the IDF to prevent civilian casualties and the way in which the Israeli military dealt with the terror tunnels.

The reason this is such extraordinary news is that Israel was criticized harshly and repeatedly for failing to prevent the heavy loss of civilian life during the conflict, which saw more than a thousand Gazans die, including many civilians and children. Various human rights entities accused and continue to accuse Israel of committing war crimes. Even the White House and State Department repeatedly claimed Israel failed to do enough to prevent civilian casualties.

But when asked to address the alleged “callous indifference” by Israel to the extensive damage and civilian deaths, Dempsey told the audience that he thought the IDF “did what they could” to avoid civilian casualties.

“I actually do think that Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties,” Dempsey told the group. “In this kind of conflict, where you are held to a standard that your enemy is not held to, you’re going to be criticized for civilian casualties,” he added.

Dempsey said Hamas had turned Gaza into “very nearly a subterranean society” with tunneling throughout the coastal enclave.

“That caused the IDF some significant challenges. But they did some extraordinary things to try and limit civilian casualties,” Dempsey said, which included “making it known that they were going to destroy a particular structure,” Dempsey said.

In addition to dropping warning leaflets, Dempsey said, the IDF developed a technique called “roof-knocking.” This involves dropping a low-yield explosive or non-explosive device on a rooftop. This “knocking” is a warning to residents to leave the building before it is shelled. Of course, even this effort to limit civilian casualties was criticized for not being gentle enough.

Dempsey said civilian casualties during the summer’s conflict were “tragic, but I think the IDF did what they could” to avoid them.

“The IDF is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They’re interested in stopping the shooting of rockets and missiles out of the Gaza Strip and into Israel,” Dempsey said.

(It  should also  be remembered that Hamas, the elected government of Gaza, used civilians – children in particular – as human shields, often forcing them to remain in the very buildings they had been warned were to be bombed.)

Whatever lessons the team from the Pentagon learnt from the IDF’s expertise at taking measures to prevent civilian casualties, were apparently not applied by the US when the Air Force bombed IS/ISIS/ISIL in Iraq.

AP reports:

US bombing kills children in Iraq.

Iraq’s prime minister on Wednesday ordered his first major shakeup of his military since taking office three months ago, relieving 26 army officers of their commands and retiring 10 others as a monitoring group said airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group and other extremists in neighboring Syria have killed more than 860 people, including civilians, since they began in September. …

On Wednesday, three bombings in and around the Iraqi capital killed at least 17 people and wounded nearly 40, police and hospital officials said.  …

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, said on Wednesday that at least 50 civilians, including eight children and five women, also have been killed in the airstrikes, the group said.

The mainstream media do not feature these deaths. The TV news screens of the West are not filled with images of these dead children. They are of less concern than the dead children of Gaza. Because the hearts of the hardboiled media bleed only when the Israelis are doing the bombing.

What did the Obama administration have to say about all this?

When Israel launched Operation Protective Edge to stop the flood of rockets being launched at its cities, and particularly when it mounted a short ground operation to locate and destroy infiltration tunnels under the border, there was the predictable response from the UN, the NGOs and Israel’s usual critics that it was causing ‘disproportionate’ civilian casualties in Gaza. Surprisingly (or not), the Obama Administration and State Department joined the chorus.

You probably recall John Kerry’s sarcastic remark that Israel had carried out a “hell of a pinpoint operation”.  And you may remember that back in July, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that “there’s more that could be done [by Israel]” to reduce civilian casualties. There are also reports of a particularly “combative” phone call from President Obama to PM Netanyahu during the war.

So [on November 8], the intrepid Matt Lee of the AP asked Psaki whether the Chairman of the JCS knew what he was talking about:

QUESTION: Yesterday, the ICC made its decision that there was no case to prosecute for war crimes in Gaza. But also yesterday – and you spoke about that very briefly here. But also yesterday, General Dempsey, who is no slouch when it comes to military things, told an audience in New York that the Israelis went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage during the Gaza war.

And I’m puzzled, because I thought it was the position of the Administration – or maybe it was just the position of the State Department and the White House – that Israel was not doing enough to live up to its – what you called its own high standards. Back on August 3rd, there was the statement you put out after the UNRWA school incident, saying that the U.S. “is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling’. And that was some pretty fierce criticism.

How do you reconcile these two apparent divergent points of view? When this statement came out, the United States was appalled? Did that just mean the State Department was appalled?

  1. PSAKI: No, that is the position of the Administration; it remains the position of the Administration. As we made clear throughout the summer’s conflict, we supported Israel’s right to self-defense and strongly condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks that deliberately targeted civilians, and the use of tunnels, of course, of attacks into Israel. However, we also expressed deep concern and heartbreak for the civilian death toll in Gaza and made clear, as you noted in the statement you pointed to, that we believed that Israel could have done more to prevent civilian casualties, and it was important that they held their selves to a high standard. So that remains our view and position about this summer’s events.

QUESTION: Okay. But I’m still confused as to how you can reconcile the fact that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – who knows a bit about how military operations work, I would venture to guess; I don’t know him, but I assume that he wouldn’t be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff if he was – if he didn’t —

  1. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: — says that the Israelis essentially did the best that they could and lived up to – by extension lived up to their high standards by taking – by going to, quote, “extraordinary lengths” to limit the collateral damage.

  1. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to the chairman’s team for his – more specifics on his comments. But it remains the broad view of the entire Administration that they could have done more and they should have taken more – all feasible precautions to prevent civilian casualties.

But the Coalition is not required to do the same? Apparently not.

So is there an element of special treatment for Israelis? Do anti-Semitic Europe and anti-Israel pro-Islam Obama set the moral bar higher for Israelis than for any others – or for themselves?

To borrow a saying: We report, you decide.

  • Kidyard Rupling

    I try ( and admittedly sometimes fail ) in an attempt to maintain an objective and emotionally detatched approach to history whether in regard to enemies, allies or those who fall in between those categories.

    Just as the US has it’s own scattered instances of military shame ( Korean War, Bridge at No Gun Ri / Viet Nam, My Lai / Afghan War, the Haditha 12, etc ) so does the Israeli Military. One example is quite astounding.

    The IDF’s complicity, via Gen. Arial Sharon, in the 1982 massacre of Muslim civilians at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Lebanon should not be swept aside. In brief, the IDF by securing control of the camps, basically held the door open in order to allow the Lebanese Christian militia, aka the Phalange, an uninterrupted three day period to slaughter up to 2,000 Muslim non-combatants. A turkey shoot for sure. This episode had a very damaging effect upon Sharon’s image and his career, and rightly so.

    Citing this example does not make meI an Israel basher. I greatly admire the IDF and have read about their elite forces ( Pal’mach, Sayeret Mat’kal, Sayeret Golani, etc ) I just believe in giving credit where credit is due regardless of whether it flatters or condemns.

    Anyone who follows the history of WW 2 should not forget the allied practice of intentionally bombing targets with no actual military value ( incidentally, at the urging of Churchill who eventually convinced the reluctant Americans to relent and join the practice of redefining civilians as viable military targets. ).

    What a difference in military doctrines from then until now.

    • I was in Lebanon at the time of the Chatila massacre (nothing happened in Sabra). You might be interested in the chapter (36) on Sabra & Chatila in my book “The PLO: The Rise and Fall of the Palestine Liberation Organization”. (Now available for almost nothing as an ebook.)

      A few points worth picking out: The (Israeli) Kahan Commission’s report was not a whitewash. It rightly found the Israelis who had been in charge, including the Prime Minister, Defense Minister and Chief of Staff, indirectly responsible because they did not give sufficient consideration to the danger of a massacre if they let the (Christian) Kataeb forces – the private militia of the Lebanese President’s own faction – into the camps; did not examine means to prevent a massacre; did not take proper heed when reports began to come in about the actions of the Kataeb; did not immediately draw proper conclusions from them; and took no “energetic and immediate actions” to restrain and stop them.

      The Commission found that the Kataeb was directly responsible for the massacre. They, the Christians who actually perpetrated the massacre, were never examined or rebuked by any authority, or even suitably criticized by the media. All blame by the “international community” fell on Israel alone.

      Why did the Christians do it? [No excuses coming up, just history.]

      On September 14 1982, President Bashir Gemayel was assassinated. The Israelis, fearing a revenge massacre, asked the Lebanese army to move into West Beirut to keep order. The Lebanese army refused, so Israeli troops went in, against the wishes of the United States.

      The camps of Sabra and Chatila sheltered 2,000 to 3,000 PLO terrorists. The Lebanese army had consistently refused to go and “clean them out”. The Israeli commanders were unwilling to risk more of their own soldiers’ lives, and told the Kataeb that it was time they took a more active part in ridding their country of the fedayeen. They reached an agreement with the Kateab that their men would enter the camps and round up the PLO men.

      The Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, David Levy, warned that the Kataeb might use the opportunity for revenge. But the Minister of Defense, Ariel Sharon, did not heed him. On Thursday, September 16, 1982, the Kataeb entered the camps. Firing was coming from Chatila as they entered. Within the first hour two Kataeb men were wounded, and soon after two were killed.

      By the Friday morning, September 17, the Israelis knew there had been killing and maltreatment of civilians. They ordered the Kataeb men out of the camps, but it was not until the morning of Saturday, September 18, that the last of the Kataeb men obeyed the orders and left. The Red Cross and the press went in and found that a massacre had been perpetrated.

      The number of those killed was hard to assess. (Reasons given in my book.) There were certainly some hundreds. (Nothing remotely like “up to 2,000 non-combatants” as you have said.) Of the 460 dead who were counted, most were fighting men of several nationalities including Iranian and Syrian. But 15 were women and 20 were children. As I note in my book; These deaths came on top of an estimated 95,000 killed in civil strife in Lebanon between the spring of 1975 and the summer of 1982 (when the Israelis entered to expel the PLO).

      The massacre remains a stain on the reputation of the IDF. That Israel and the IDF fully acknowledge it is commendable, but does nothing to lessen it. And Israel, justly or unjustly, is always held to higher standards in waging defensive war than any other country.

      • Nadir

        Very Informative. Thank you.

  • liz

    In other words – “the facts and evidence don’t matter, we’ve already made up our minds to blame the Jews.”