Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A British military expert tells truth to prejudice

Melanie Phillips

During Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza at the turn of the year, when it was being demonised daily for its ‘disproportionate’ response to Gaza’s rocket attacks and accused (falsely) of recklessly or wilfully killing huge numbers of Palestinian civilians, particularly children, the BBC conducted an interview which shone out like a diamond on a dunghill in those dark and bigoted days. It was with Colonel Richard Kemp, formerly both commander of British forces in Afghanistan and the intelligence co-ordinator for the British government.In that interview, Col Kemp disconcerted the BBC’s boilerplate group-thinking presenter by stating that

I don’t think there’s ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today in Gaza.

Now Col Kemp has amplified his remarks in a speech at a conference in Israel. It is worth watching or reading this remarkable speech in full -- because he says things that are as well-informed, obvious and decent as they are rare and poorly understood in the society that he has spent his life defending. He points out, for example, that Britain, America and Israel are up against the same type of enemy which operates under a new and very different set of rules:

Hizballah and Hamas over here, Al Qaida, Jaish al Mahdi and a range of other militant groups in Iraq. Al Qaida, the Taliban and a diversity of associated fighting groups in Afghanistan. They are different but they are linked. They are linked by the pernicious influence, support and sometimes direction of Iran and/or by the international network of Islamist extremism. These groups, as well as others, have learnt and continue to learn from each others’ successes and failures. Tactics tried and tested on IDF soldiers in Lebanon have also killed British soldiers in Helmand Province and in Basra. These groups are trained and equipped for warfare fought from within the civilian population.

Do these Islamist fighting groups ignore the international laws of armed conflict? They do not. It would be a grave mistake to conclude that they do. Instead, they study it carefully and they understand it well. They know that a British or Israeli commander and his men are bound by international law and the rules of engagement that flow from it. They then do their utmost to exploit what they view as one of their enemy’s main weaknesses.

Their very modus operandi is built on the, correct, assumption that Western armies will normally abide by the rules. It is not simply that these insurgents do not adhere to the laws of war. It is that they employ a deliberate policy of operating consistently outside international law. Their entire operational doctrine is founded on this basis. In Gaza, as in Basra, as in the towns and villages of southern Afghanistan, civilians and their property are routinely exploited by these groups, in deliberate and flagrant violation of any international laws or reasonable norms of civilised behaviour for both tactical and strategic gain.

Stripped of any moral considerations, this policy operates simply and effectively at both levels. On the tactical level, protected buildings, mosques, schools and hospitals, are used as strongholds allowing the enemy the protection not only of stone walls but also of international law. On the strategic level, any mistake, or in some cases legal and proportional response, by a Western army will be deliberately exploited and manipulated in order to produce international outcry and condemnation. And in sophisticated groupings such as Hamas and Hizballah, the media will be exploited also as a critical implement of their military strategy. [my emphasis]

And of course the British and American media have done everything they can to act as the jihadis’ fifth column against the west – nowhere more so than in Israel, on which Col Kemp had this to say:

What is the other challenge faced by the IDF that we British do not have to face to the same extent? It is the automatic, Pavlovian presumption by many in the international media, and international human rights groups, that the IDF are in the wrong, that they are abusing human rights.

So what did the IDF do in Gaza to meet their obligation to operate within the laws of war? When possible the IDF gave at least four hours’ notice to civilians to leave areas targeted for attack. Attack helicopter pilots, tasked with destroying Hamas mobile weapons platforms, had total discretion to abort a strike if there was too great a risk of civilian casualties in the area. Many missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were cancelled because of this.

During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. This sort of task is regarded by military tacticians as risky and dangerous at the best of times. To mount such operations, to deliver aid virtually into your enemy’s hands, is to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. [my emphasis] But the IDF took on those risks.

In the latter stages of Cast Lead the IDF unilaterally announced a daily three-hour cease fire. The IDF dropped over 900,000 leaflets warning the population of impending attacks to allow them to leave designated areas. A complete air squadron was dedicated to this task alone. Leaflets also urged the people to phone in information to pinpoint Hamas fighters vital intelligence that could save innocent lives.

The IDF phoned over 30,000 Palestinian households in Gaza, urging them in Arabic to leave homes where Hamas might have stashed weapons or be preparing to fight. Similar messages were passed in Arabic on Israeli radio broadcasts warning the civilian population of forthcoming operations. Despite Israel’s extraordinary measures, of course innocent civilians were killed and wounded. That was due to the frictions of war that I have spoken about, and even more was an inevitable consequence of Hamas’ way of fighting.

By taking these actions and many other significant measures during Operation Cast Lead the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other Army in the history of warfare. But the IDF still did not win the war of opinions – especially in Europe.

Israel’s military therefore observes a high standard of ethical behaviour and concern for innocent life which is simply without parallel or precedent anywhere else in the world. And yet it is Israel which the west singles out for demonisation and delegitimisation for ‘war crimes’ -- so much so that the very same Israeli military eulogised by Col Kemp cannot set foot in Britain without a ‘human rights’ lawyer trying to arrest them for ‘crimes against humanity’ as soon as they step off the plane.

Go figure..

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