TEL AVIV — In a speech following Israel’s defensive 2014 war against the Hamas terrorist group, embattled White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster sidestepped a question about whether the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) conducted itself in an ethical manner, instead providing what McMaster admitted was a “non-answer.”
The IDF is known to go to extreme lengths to operate ethically and protect civilians when fighting Palestinian jihadists who use civilians as human shields, launch rocket attacks from civilian zones and house their terrorist infrastructures in densely populated civilian areas.
Audio of the speech can be heard here. (McMaster’s Israel comments start at the 56 minute mark).
At a December 4, 2014 speech to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, an audience member asked McMaster a direct question about the ethics of the IDF’s conduct in that year’s war against Hamas and in other wars.
McMaster was asked: “Firstly, would you consider the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] conduct of the recent war and prior wars as a template for the ethical conduct of war?”
Here is a transcript of McMaster’s reply, which he admitted was a “non-answer”:
Okay. So quickly on that, in terms of the IDF actions and how to evaluate them, I think you could evaluate them based on jus ad bellum sort of criteria of proportionality and distinction and so forth. I’m not the best judge of it. I’ve been following it in the media. I can’t really tell. I do know that they’re responding to attacks.
What you’re asking is, was the response proportional? Now, there’s different kinds of proportionality. There’s proportionality in war, and then there’s a broader sort of humanitarian standard that I think, at times, doesn’t apply as a complete transfer over to wartime situations. So that’s kind of a non-answer, sorry, to your first question.
A defender of Israel or even an objective observer would have noted that Israel goes beyond what almost any other country does to protect civilians and that the IDF is one of the most ethical militaries in the world. The IDF operates under the guidelines of international law, including the Law of Armed Conflict, and imposes its own, even stricter codes.
The IDF regularly warns those in civilian areas of incoming attacks with phone calls and text messages even though the terrorist targets will likely also learn about the warning. It employs “roof knocking” – or firing warning shots before any aerial bombing where civilians may be present. If civilians still don’t evacuate, the Israeli army many times makes announcements on loudspeakers. In the 2014 war, the IDF called off numerous military raids because civilians were in the way.
Despite its enormous firepower, the IDF severely restrains itself in order to minimize civilian casualties. To protect Palestinian civilians, the IDF has many times risked the lives of its own soldiers on house-to-house missions and other urban combat instead of using aerial power.
The IDF relates of the 2014 war:
The IDF took various steps to mitigate the risk of harm to civilian objects and the civilian population, including measures not required by the Law of Armed Conflict. Precautionary measures included a multi-layered system of effective advance warnings, sophisticated verification procedures, and the careful choice of means and methods of warfare (including munitions, timing and angle of attack). …
In addition, Israel requires that any means of warfare used during its military operations accord with Israel’s obligations under international law. Thus, for example, high-explosive artillery was required by IDF directives to be used in accordance with the rules of the Law of Armed Conflict. Beyond these requirements, the IDF puts great efforts and resources into minimizing the possibility of harm to civilians that results from the use of such weaponry – for instance, by imposing stringent limitations on the use of certain weapons (including high-explosive artillery) in populated areas.
The 2014 war started after Hamas broke a ceasefire and launched multiple rockets into Israel aimed at civilian neighborhoods. Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip in 2005 in hopes that the territory would be used to create a moderate coastal enclave. Instead, Hamas took over and has since utilized Gaza to build an enormous terrorist infrastructure – much of which utilizes civilian zones, including terror tunnels that snake under cities. Palestinian jihadist groups, including Hamas, have used Gaza to stage attacks against Israeli cities.
On Wednesday, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest pro-Israel group in the country, released an analysis of McMaster’s policies and reported views, concluding that he should be reassigned outside the NSC after it found that McMaster may be undermining Trump’s stated national security agenda.
The analysis states:
We find it hard to understand how someone who clearly has animus toward Israel, who supports the disastrous Iran nuclear deal, who opposes calling out radical Islamist terrorists, who fires Trump loyalists and supporters of Israel and opponents of Iran, who hires those opposed to President Trump’s policies especially on Israel and Iran, who refused to acknowledge that the Western Wall is in Israel, who opposes Israeli counterterrorism measures, and who shuts down joint U.S. counterterrorism programs that are of enormous value to U.S. security, can faithfully serve President Trump as top national security advisor. President Trump made it crystal clear, both before and since his election, that supporting Israel and the U.S.-Israel alliance, abrogating or at least vigorously enforcing the Iran deal while calling out and sanctioning Iran’s violations, confronting radical Islamist terrorism, and draining the Washington swamp were key, distinguishing policies of his administration.
The ZOA’s analysis cited Breitbart News articles from this reporter on McMaster’s background.
Earlier this week, Breitbart News reported that McMaster served at a UK-based think tank financed by a controversial, George Soros-funded group identified by the Obama White House as central in helping to sell the Iran nuclear deal to the public and news media.
From September 2006 to February 2017, McMaster was listed as a member of International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), where he served as consulting senior fellow. The IISS describes itself as a “world-leading authority on global security, political risk and military conflict.”
Breitbart also reported that IISS is bankrolled by multinational corporate firms doing billions of dollars in business in Iran.
And IISS quietly took in about $32.5 million in funding from Bahrain, a country whose constitution explicitly enshrines Sharia Islamic law as its governing doctrine, Breitbart News documented.
The funding from Bahrain, a repressive regime with a dismal human rights track record but also an important regional U.S. ally, reportedly amounted to one quarter of the think tank’s total income.
A significant portion of the Bahraini funding reportedly pays for the think tank’s annual conference in Bahrain, the Mamana Dialogue. The original agreement between IISS and Bahrain to finance the conference contained a clause calling for the memorandum of understanding to remain confidential, according to the document, which was leaked by a watchdog and published by the Guardian newspaper last year.
As a member of IISS, McMaster participated in the Sixth Mamana Dialogue summit in Bahrain from December 11 to December 13, 2009, Breitbart News found. He is listed in IISS literature as being part of the Mamana Dialogue’s four-person panel that year on “military transformation, intelligence and security cooperation.”
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
This article was written with additional research by Joshua Klein.