Defenders of Israel’s conduct of this summer’s war in Gaza got a significant boost Thursday when General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorsed Israeli policies and procedures saying that Israel went to “extraordinary lengths” to prevent civilian casualties.
The Times of Israel reported the comments made at a forum at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in New York City. “I actually do think that Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties,” said General Dempsey. “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’s comments contrast with those of Amnesty International, who issued a report Wednesday accusing Israel of war crimes in conducting operations in Gaza. AI said Israeli forces “brazenly flouted the laws of war” and showed “callous indifference to the carnage” caused by attacks on civilian targets. In some cases, said AI, Israeli airstrikes on inhabited Palestinian homes “amount to war crimes.”
israel blasted the AI report as being one-sided Hamas propaganda.
Dempsey stressed that Israel faced some special dangers in Gaza. The Hamas tunnels, he said, “caused the IDF some significant challenges.” Dempsey added that the Israelis “did some extraordinary things to try to limit civilian casualties, to include… making it known that they were going to destroy a particular structure.”
Dempsey listed Israel Defense Forces measures such as the “roof-knocking” (dropping small bomblets on the roof of a building to let those inside know the building was going to be hit soon) and the dropping of warning leaflets in neighborhoods and buildings where military targets existed as part of Israel’s attempts to protect civilian lives.
“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 argued.
In fact, revealed Dempsey, an American delegation visited Israel three months ago to learn about how Israel handled the particular challenges of the war, particularly to learn about methods for preventing civilian casualties and how to counter Hamas tunneling.
The Gaza war, known as Operation Protective Edge, left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead. There is some dispute as to how many of those casualties were civilians, with Hamas claiming high numbers and Israel asserting that most of the casualties were Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives. Israel also says that numbers of civilians killed was unnecessarily inflated by Hamas because that organization uses civilians as human shields and fires rockets from densely populated areas.
The summer war lasted 50 days. During that time, Hamas fired thousands of rockets and mortars at Israeli cities, including targeting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Hamas also had a network of cross-border tunnels that were used for attacking Israeli military installations in southern Israel, and which put nearby Israeli towns in danger of attack.