The IDF: The Moral Army

The most humane army in the world -- and in human history.

On October 16, 2009, British Colonel Richard Kemp testified regarding Israel’s behavior in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead (Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008-9 ), as part of the UN’s evaluation of the Goldstone Report.  Colonel Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, who served with the UN and NATO, commanded British troops in Northern Ireland, led UK forces in Bosnia and Macedonia, participated in Gulf War 1, spent considerable time in Iraq during Gulf War 2,  and served on the UK’s joint international commission on terrorism, testified as follows:

“Based on my knowledge and experience, I can say that during Operation Cast Lead, the Israel Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in the combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.  Israel did so while faced with an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capacities behind the human shields of the civilian population.”

But have we not heard, for decades, from Israel’s critics, detractors, and enemies (including some who call themselves Israel’s friends), from the podia of the UN, Western mainstream media, the college classroom, church pulpits, and human rights organizations that Israel commits war crimes; deploys munitions banned by international law; routinely uses excessive force; targets civilian populations; is a “state terrorist” waging terror war against innocent, helpless, harmless civilians; and in general behaves like a rogue state hell-bent on genocide and ethnic cleansing?

Even a brief overview of Israeli military actions proves these accusations false.  Israel is the only nation in the world, and across all of world history, that has intentionally consistently placed its concern for the lives of enemy civilians ahead of its concern for the lives of its own civilian and military populations.

The evidence to support Colonel Kemp’s testimony, and the above assertion, is irrefutable.

During April 1-11, 2002, the IDF invaded Jenin to neutralize terrorist forces based there, as part of its Operation Defensive Shield, after a deadly string of terror attacks including the infamous Park Hotel massacre (March 27, 2002).  The IDF knew that terrorist forces in Jenin were expecting the invasion, and had prepared for it with numerous booby traps and ambush forces hidden within the civilian population, in Arab homes, mosques, hospitals and public places.  Common sense and military practice would require that the IDF engage in safe long-distance attacks from the air and with artillery, to reduce or eliminate Israeli casualties.  But Israel chose instead to send in ground forces, going house to house, urging civilians to leave, accompanying those who did so until they reached safety, employing local residents to urge others to leave, and urging terrorists hidden in homes to surrender; and in doing so, the Israeli soldiers themselves easy targets for the terrorists.

Although UN debates and international media teemed with accusations of massacre and bloodbath, war crimes and crimes against humanity, western and even Arab sources admitted later that there was simply no evidence to support such infamy.  A total of 54 Arabs, almost all armed terrorists, and 23 Israeli soldiers were killed in Jenin.

Had Israel chosen to launch an aerial and artillery attack, no Israeli soldiers would have been killed, but hundreds or perhaps thousands of civilian Arabs would have died.  Israel chose the death of its own soldiers in order to minimize harm to Arab civilians.  Although as yet unrecognized as such, the IDF made similar decisions during the Second Lebanon War (12 July – 14 August, 2006).

Israel has been the object of much calumny and opprobrium, including the accusation of war crimes violation, for its use of cluster bombs during its invasion of Lebanon in 2006.  Cluster bombs have long been the subject of debate in legal circles, but in 2006 there had been no definitive ruling as to the legality of cluster bombs. Only in August, 2010, did an international ban on cluster munitions take effect following the ratification of the “Convention on Cluster Munitions.” Therefore Israel violated no law with its use of cluster bombs.  Nonetheless, there is a moral question.

Cluster bombs are air-to-ground or ground-to-ground ordinance which consist of a large capsule containing hundreds of marble-sized bomblets which, upon the large capsule’s impact, shoot out randomly over a wide area, exploding upon contact, causing indiscriminate damage, and thus posing a significant risk to civilians, since the bomblets cannot be aimed at a specific target.  A secondary but no less lethal risk is the fact that many bomblets do not explode after dispersion, can remain on the ground in a live state indefinitely, and can detonate if someone steps on them or picks them up.  This creates danger to civilians even long after hostilities have ceased.

So why did the IDF, the supposedly most humane army in the world, deploy them extensively in Lebanon in 2006? Because it was the best way to maintain Israel’s commitment to minimizing harm to the enemy civilian population, even at the expense of Israeli civilians and soldiers.

Here’s how it works.

The bomblets, while lethal to people, are mostly ineffective against brick or stone walls and armor.  Thus a hit on or near an unarmored rocket launcher will most likely kill the launcher’s operators and thus disable the launcher, but even a direct hit on a fully encapsulated armored launcher will merely make a horrible noise, and probably leave the operators, protected inside the armored operating area, pretty much unharmed and able to continue firing rockets.  Therefore, the use of air-to-ground cluster bombs against armored rocket launchers is doomed to be far less effective than would be the use of conventional air-to-ground rockets.  Israel’s choice of cluster bombs instead of conventional rockets meant that more Hezbollah rocket launcher crews would survive Israeli attacks and be able to continue launching rockets into Israel, killing more Israelis.

So why did Israel make such a counter-productive choice? Because Hezbollah intentionally stationed it launchers in places that would put nearby civilians in danger, just as Hamas did in the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah rocket launchers on the roof tops of hospitals and schools created severe and imminent danger to the civilians inside of those buildings, because Israeli attacks with conventional missiles would be likely to penetrate the roof and kill innocent Arabs below.  Even a direct hit on a launcher would endanger Arabs in the lower floors because the explosion could cause the roof to collapse, dropping the launcher and its exploding rockets directly into the hospital wards and classrooms of the buildings beneath the Hezbollah launchers.

With cluster bombs, Hezbollah terrorists operating the launchers might be killed, but the roof would not collapse and the civilians below would be unharmed.  But if the rocket launchers were armored, they could continue to bombard Israeli civilians, because, protected by armor, the Hezbollah operators would be unharmed in the spray of bomblets.  Similarly, Hezbollah stationed many rocket launchers in narrow alleys of dense residential areas.  Conventional rocket attacks would have destroyed most launchers but carried the risk of penetrating the walls of nearby homes and killing civilians.  Moreover, a direct hit from a conventional rocket could ignite the unfired munitions of the Hezbollah launcher, sending them exploding into nearby buildings of the civilian population.  Cluster bomblets, however, could destroy launchers in the streets, but would not penetrate brick or stone walls, and would not ignite the unfired rockets.  Israel intentionally used ordnance that was less effective against enemy positions, but safer for Arab civilians.  As a result, many rocket launchers survived Israeli air-to-ground missile attacks and continued bombarding Israeli civilians. This was the price that Israel chose to pay in order to avoid harming Arab civilians.

But Israel went even further.  After the war, Israel published a map identifying the Hezbollah positions which sustained cluster-bomb attacks, so that the UN and the Lebanese army could search those areas for unexploded bomblets and thus reduce risk to Arab civilians living in those areas.

Israel behaved in a similar manner before and during its invasion of the Gaza Strip. Prior to the invasion, Israel dropped tens of thousands of leaflets into Gaza, telling the civilians to leave what would soon become the combat zones within the Gaza Strip.  Israel also broke into Hamas radio broadcasts to announce the imminent invasion and tell civilians to flee.  Then, hours before the operation, hundreds of Israeli Arabic-speaking technicians prepared recorded phone messages that were dialed into the phones of more than 160,000 Arabs in the Gaza Strip, warning them to flee in advance of the invasion.  By doing so, the IDF forewarned Hamas as to when and where the combat would be.

No nation anywhere in the world, throughout all of world history, has ever done so much to protect enemy civilians:  and all this while Hamas and Hezbollah intentionally put their own civilians in harm’s way, and boasted about it (see here, here and here).  These terrorists use their own as human shields precisely because they know that the IDF will do whatever it can to avoid harming civilians, even to the detriment of its own operations, even when it endangers its own soldiers.

Hamas and Hezbollah know what Israel’s detractors deny: no army anywhere in the world, at any time in history, has ever done what Israel does routinely to protect enemy civilians even at the cost of endangering its own, military and civilian, and reducing the effectiveness of its military in combat.

Colonel Kemp is correct.

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