A member of a group of international former chiefs of staff and officers who reviewed the 2014 Gaza War says:
"None of our armies went to the extent that the IDF did to minimize civilian causalities."
The 14 independent military and security professionals came from around the world to form the High Level International Military Group this year.
They conducted in-depth research into Operation Protective Edge, receiving unprecedented access to the IDF and the government, before releasing their full version of their report this week.
“No country would accept the threat against its civilian population that these rockets and tunnels present to Israeli population centers. Members of the High Level Military Group, some of whom had never visited the country prior to our fact-finding visits, were united in our view that Israel’s efforts were entirely necessary and justified in the defense of that country’s national security,” the report’s executive summary stated.
“We can further be categorically clear that Israel’s conduct in the 2014 Gaza Conflict met and in some respects exceeded the highest standards we set for our own nations’ militaries. It is our view that Israel fought an exemplary campaign, adequately conceived with appropriately limited objectives, displaying both a very high level of operational capability as well as a total commitment to the Law of Armed Conflict,” the report said. “The IDF not only met its obligations under the Law of Armed Conflict, but often exceeded these on the battlefield at significant tactical cost, as well as in the humanitarian relief efforts that accompanied its operation.
“Where the high standards of conduct the IDF sets for its personnel have not been met, incidents are investigated, including criminal investigations, through an independent mechanism under the oversight of the democratic institutions of the State of Israel. This mechanism clearly meets the requirements of legal recourse, judicial independence and democratic oversight that our own nations set for ourselves,” the authors said.
“Hamas in turn not only flagrantly disregarded the Law of Armed Conflict as a matter of course as part of its terrorist-army hybrid strategic concept, but rather it abused the very protections afforded by the law for military advantage. Embedding its entire military machinery in civilian locations and sensitive sites, including those of the United Nations, Hamas indiscriminately targeted Israeli civilians throughout the conflict with extensive rocket fire and willfully sought to draw the IDF into battle in a prepared urban stronghold amid the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza, for which it located its operational headquarters in Gaza’s main hospital,” they said.
The High Level International Military Group is comprised of top military officials from several democratic states, and the members have had extensive battlefield experience. The group included Gen.
Klaus Dieter Naumann, who was the former chief of staff of the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, and served as chairman of the NATO Military Committee from 1996 to 1999.
Other members include Gen. Vincenzo Camporini, who is the former Italian chief of defense, and ex-deputy chief of defense general staff. He later served as chief of staff of the Italian Air Force, as well as chief of defense general staff.
Lt.-Gen. David A. Deptula is a former three-star general in the US Air Force with extensive operational experience. Deptula was the principal attack planner for the Desert Storm coalition air campaign in 1991. He served as director of the Combined Air Operations Center in Afghanistan and as the first deputy chief of staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance at Air Force Headquarters.
In addition was Adm. José María Terán, who serves in the Office of Strategic Assessment of the Spanish defense minister. A former chief of the joint staff and chief of the Strategic Analysis Group, he has also served as director for Reorganization of the Spanish Intelligence Service.
Maj.-Gen. Andrew James Molan served as the chief of operations for the Headquarters Multinational Force in Iraq. He is a former commander of the Australian Defense College and has served as adviser to the vice chief of the Australian Defense Force on Joint Warfighting Lessons and Concepts.
Col. Richard Kemp was commander of British Forces in Afghanistan and has served in Iraq, the Balkans, South Asia and Northern Ireland. He has led the international terrorism team at the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee and served as chairman of the strategic intelligence group for COBRA, the UK national crisis management committee.
Other senior former officers came from India, France and Colombia.
The group made two fact-finding visits to Israel and four more research trips between June and August of this year, and its members said they received “unprecedented access, undoubtedly in excess of what our own countries would afford in similar circumstances,” meeting with all ranks of the IDF, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and members of the IDF’s Military Advocate General’s office and the IDF’s International Law Department.
“Hamas’s strategic concept rests in large part on a deliberate unlawful tactic of embedding its military operations deep within the urban civilian infrastructure of Gaza and drawing the IDF into that territory’s urban centers. Hamas thus exploits the advantages of fighting on pre-prepared urban terrain in addition to exploiting the constraints brought about by the IDF’s strict adherence to the Law of Armed Conflict,” the report said. “Fighting in urban terrain is one of the most complex, dangerous and challenging operations of war.”
Additionally, the group concluded, “Israel adheres to the accepted norms and rules that make up the Law of Armed Conflict, including rules embodied in conventions to which Israel is not party, where these form part of customary international law.”
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post by phone from the US, Deptula said, “I am very familiar with the laws of armed conflict.”
“Clearly, what had happened was that Hamas abused international norms and procedures to obtain goals that otherwise cannot be achieved by political or other military means,” he said. “It used law as a weapon. What is so frustrating is to see international organizations, like the UN, fall into the trap and even giving these heinous terrorists the time of day.”
The international US-led coalition currently engaging the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq in an air campaign is facing “the exact same kind of lawfare,” he added. “This is really something that modern, peace-loving nation-states have to be very concerned with.”
In 2014 the IDF went “well beyond what is necessary according to the rule of armed conflict, to assure minimal loss of life and avoid unintentional civilian casualties,” he continued. “I think the IDF showed enormous restraint. It often accepted higher levels of risk for its own forces that were necessary under the laws of armed conflict.”
Measures included calling in warnings to civilian to evacuate a facility “known to be harboring Hamas operations,” dropping warning pamphlets and dropping small charges as warning signs on buildings before actually striking them.
“Hamas understood these actions, and prevented civilians from leaving the area. That is absolutely criminal. If anyone should be taken to the International Criminal Court, it is Hamas,” the lieutenant- general argued.
Addressing the ongoing fight against Islamic State, he asked, “What is the logic of a policy that restricts the use of air power to avoid the possibility of collateral damage while allowing the certainty of the Islamic State’s crimes against humanity?” During their visit, the group met IDF units that uncovered cross-border Hamas attack tunnels.
“We really had unrestricted access, not just to the military, but to the political elements of Israel’s leadership,” Deptula recalled.
Democracies forced to deploy force against terrorist- guerrilla forces “need not to be cowed by information operations and propaganda,” he said. “Using truth as a weapon is very important in many cases.
We’ve ceded the information domain to propaganda and lies.”
Kemp told the Post by phone from Britain, “I think the IDF made many efforts to minimize civilian casualties.”
He added, “None of our armies have gone to this extent. Also, the IDF’s actions went well beyond requirements of the Geneva Convention. The real picture... is totally different from the picture the media presents. That was very striking for all of us.”
Israel’s high level intelligence on Gaza enabled discriminate precision strikes, Kemp said. The approximately 50-percent civilian casualty rate in Gaza is far lower than the civilian casualty rate in Iraq and Syria, he added, because “the West is not trying to deal with the problem of the Islamic State. The majority of the operation in Syria and Iraq is for presentational purposes. No politician can stand up and say we are bombing Islamic State and doing something. They can be extremely selective about what they hit. If there is any chance of civilians near the target, [we] don’t need to do a thing.”
Even mass casualty incidents like the Paris terrorist attacks pale in comparison to the risk posed to Israeli civilians from Hamas, Kemp added.
“Hamas fired barrages of rockets into Israel from a short distance. The problem Israel [is facing] is absolutely immediate. It had to be dealt with effectively.
If not, Israeli civilians would have died, and the government would fall. Israel had to take strong action,” he said. “The other point is that Hamas wanted to get their civilians killed.”
Hamas “deliberately lured Israel into a situation in which it had to kill innocent civilians. Hamas planned operations and positioned forces in every way so that [Gazan] civilians would die.”
Looking ahead at the global effort to engage Islamic State (or lack of it), Kemp said, “I don’t think we’d ever be able to match the intelligence Israel has in Gaza with intelligence we’d have on Syria. I know Israel has much better intelligence than we do on Syria, and that it is sharing it with us, which does help.”
If Western countries ever committed ground forces to destroy Islamic State on the ground, they would not be able to mimic the IDF’s efforts to warn civilians, Kemp said.
“It would be impossible for us to issue the range of warnings that Israel gave to the population in Gaza.
British commanders would not be able to send text messages to people in Raqqa telling them to evacuate their homes – we don’t have their numbers,” he said.
“I didn’t feel that the IDF were running a propaganda operation or spinning things,” he added.” I have 30-years experience, and know when I’m being lied to. The same is true of other officers, some of whom were much senior to me. People will say that Israel knows it’s in trouble. But Israel recognizes that its reputation is on the line, that it has come under heavy criticism and it wants to mitigate that.”
For more information regarding the report, www.high-level-military-group.org