July 13, 2014

Israel and Gaza - disproportionate force?

Israel's almost one-week long bombing operations against HAMAS targets in the Gaza Strip is reminiscent of similar conflicts in Gaza in 2009 and 2012. It follows a familiar pattern: HAMAS (or affiliated groups) launch rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israeli population centers, Israel retaliates first with an air campaign that damages the infrastructure of Gaza, followed by a short ground incursion that further damages public and private property, and then the international press excoriates Israel for its "disproportionate" response to the rocket attacks on its territory.

2014 is shaping up to be no different. The air campaign has started, and Israeli troops are positioned on the Gaza border in preparation for a possible invasion. The bombing campaign had not been ongoing for more than a few days when the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, demanded that the Israel Defense Forces and HAMAS abide by international law.

However, she only addressed Israel's action in her comments: "We have received deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes. Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law."

Ms. Pillay did allow that the Palestinians are not without responsibility, saying that "all sides must refrain from launching attacks or putting military weapons in densely populated areas." Under international law, civilian homes are valid military targets when used for a military purpose.

Let's talk about "disproportionate" when it comes to military force. First, some comments from an Arab observer.

These are excerpts of an article that appears in Spookd, a blog written by a former colleague. Click on the logo and read the entire article to make sure I am not misrepresenting the guest author's comments. Based on the name, I am guessing that the author's family is originally from Jordan and they are of Palestinian origin.

-- Begin ---

By: Zaid G AbulGhanam

This whole conflict is a joke now.

This breakdown of organization and the lingering, lasting effects of Israel controlling Palestinian imports [oil, gas, food, water, medicine, concrete, etc.] has led to this dismantling of the Palestinian society. I feel for my fellow Arabs, and I wish there were a peaceful solution for them. However, there isn't, and, although I don't condone Hamas shooting bottle rockets into the city, I equally don't condone Israel targeting charity houses and other civilian infrastructures.

Israel has all the technology, and yet they show little remorse and empathy with the Palestinians. You can't compare the damage Israel has caused to what Hamas has done. Israel will always have more blood on their hands.

Israel is being built by Zionists for Zionists and favors them over other citizens making those citizens less equal. They are building an empire tat will empower themselves to become the future world leaders. If we stay complacent and let them continue getting away with present day genocide, then eventually we will all be next.

Stand up for the Palestinians, because if you don't, we will be next!

-- End ---

First, this conflict is not a joke. Between the dead and wounded, there are over a thousand casualties in this round of the ongoing conflict between HAMAS and the Israelis. The overwhelming number of these casualties are in the Gaza Strip. There are a host of reasons for this disparity. Some have to do with technology, some with geography and others with political decisions.

"Bottle rockets" is a grossly inaccurate term. Granted, prior to the conflict in 2012, the primary weapon for HAMAS and the Islamic Jihad was the homemade, inaccurate al-Qassam rocket with a limited range, but enough of a warhead to cause significant damage to the border cities close to Gaza. They also were in possession of some longer range Grad rockets that could reach as far as Ashkelon, Ashdod, Be'er Sheva and even the southern outskirts of Tel Aviv. (See my earlier article, Sderot, Israel - "Rocket City" opens new school).

However, since 2012 HAMAS has acquired - via Syria and Iran - an extensive arsenal of longer range rockets. This new arsenal includes the Iranian Fajr-5 (used to great effect by Hizballah in the 2006 conflict with Israel) and the Chinese-designed, Syrian-manufactured M-302 long range artillery rocket. The M-302 can deliver a 385 pound high-explosive, shrapnel-laden warhead to a range of 100 miles - that covers almost all of Israel.

No, sir, these are not bottle rockets, these are modern weapons of war.

As for comparing the damage done by Israel and that of the HAMAS rockets, and the statement that "Israel will always have more blood on its hands," this is typical of those who do not understand military conflict, or the American concept of overwhelming military force. That is the threat of the employment of so much violence that the enemy will not attack, or if it does, the infliction of an unacceptable level of death and destruction that the enemy ceases hostilities. War is not soccer - there is no requirement to "play fair."

In Gaza, the population is packed into a small area with large, built up cities. The population density is at least 10 times greater than that of Israel. Dropping even precision-guided munitions (virtually all Israeli weapons are PGMs) into these close quarters will by definition cause civilian casualties (what is sometimes called "collateral damage").

Despite this well-known fact, HAMAS has shown no reluctance to place its rocket launchers, weapons storage areas and command centers not only in civilian areas, but actually in civilian residences and what we call "culturally sensitive" buildings - mosques, hospitals, schools, etc. In the wars in Iraq (1991 and 2003-2011), the Iraqis were fully aware of the American military's prohibition on striking such targets and used them for that very reason.

It appears that HAMAS has made this same calculation. The Israelis try to limit damage to these areas and facilities, but do not operate under the strict American guidelines - just this week they struck a mosque used by HAMAS to hide rockets.

To their credit, the Israelis have dropped leaflets warning of impending airstrikes in specified neighborhoods. They also have used what is similar to a "reverse 911" calling system to warn residents to evacuate building before they are struck, as well as dropping an empty shell on a targeted building - called "roof knocking" - prior to the actual airstrike.

On the home front, the Israelis have an extensive warning system all over the country, combined with numerous bomb shelters. Most bus stops in the country are made of rebarred concrete to be used as shelters in the case of rocket/missile attacks or air raids.

Perhaps the most effective defense against HAMAS's rockets is the American-funded, Israeli-developed anti-rocket system known as Iron Dome. Although it cannot cover all of Israel at this time, it has proven very effective in the areas where it is deployed. It is credited with the fact that despite HAMAS's more lethal rockets, no Israelis have been killed thus far.

On the other hand, the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have chosen not to develop a warning system or build shelters.

Of course the damage between an established state with professional armed forces employing state of the art weaponry against a relatively untrained guerrilla force trapped in a small, congested urban environment will be disproportionate.

The solution to that disproportionate bloodshed and damage? Stop firing rockets - today. The Israelis have no interest in mounting a ground incursion into Gaza, but they will if they think there is no other way to halt the rocket attacks on Israel.

This will not end until one side blinks. It does not look like it will be the Israelis.