The government of Israel on Sunday published an unprecedentedly a detailed report on last summer's Gaza war aimed at mitigating condemnation likely to come in UN debate during the international organization's on its own commission of inquiry scheduled for the end of the month.
In its 253-page report entitled "The 2014 Gaza Conflict: Factual and Legal Aspects," Israel provided context for events leading up to the July 7th launch of Operation Protective Edge; detailed the measures Israel took to reduce death and injury to Gazan civilians; and the myriad ways Hamas intentionally launched rockets and mortars against Israel from civilian areas, including hospitals, mosques and schools.
It noted that of the approximately 2,125 Palestinians killed during the 50-day war, at least 44 percent "have been positively identified as Hamas militants or militants or other terrorist organizations."
The report offered maps, graphs and other data to underscore the enemy's strategy of "deliberately drawing hostilities into the urban terrain" and how, it contends, Hamas exploited its civilian population "for tactical advantage and political gain."
It enumerated cases where Israel Defense Forces (IDF) forces "faced militants disguised as civilians and as IDF soldiers;" how residential homes were converted to military command centers and underground assault tunnels; and how civilian structures were used for storing weapons or waging attacks against Israeli civilians or soldiers.
The report cited Hamas training manuals and doctrinal materials confiscated during the operation as evidence attesting to "intentional efforts to draw the IDF into combat in densely populated areas and to actively use the civilian population in order to obstruct the IDF's military operations."
As for Israeli targeting procedures and rules of engagement, the report devoted several chapters to how the IDF trains and how judicial authorities strive to uphold the Law of Armed Conflict. It noted that IDF lawyers essentially have veto rights over commanders on all pre-planned targeting attacks.
"IDF lawyers are available at different command levels to provide advice before, during and after operations … Israel undertook to attack objects only when there was reasonable certainty — based on reliable intelligence — that they constituted military objectives in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict," the report maintained.
Insisting repeatedly that Israel does not intentionally target innocents, it conceded numerous instances of "collateral damage" during the 50-day war, many of which were referred for investigation.
"Despite the best efforts of military forces, there is always the possibility that as events unfold in real-time, forces may not be fully aware of the operational picture, technology may suffer malfunctions, and the employment of force may result in unintended consequences," the report noted.
"Without ignoring the unfortunate nature of such consequences, they must be assessed in light of the Law of Armed Conflict and the reality of hostilities in a complex and rapidly changing urban terrain against an adversary that deliberately seeks to cause harm to its own civilian population."
It concluded that the IDF is not only committed to conducting operations in accordance with international law, but often makes efforts "beyond its legal obligations, to mitigate the risk of harm to civilians when doing so."
Endorsement from Western Military Commanders
Similar conclusions were reached by an international fact-finding group of senior military officers and specialists from NATO and several wWestern countries, including the United States, Britain, Columbia, Holland, Italy, Spain and Australia.
In a report published June 13 by UN Watch, the high-level group led by Gen. Klaus Naumann, former chief of staff of the Bundeswehr and Cchairman of the NATO Military Committee, found that Israel took extraordinary measures to reduce civilian casualties.
"Some have suggested that the IDF lacked restraint or even deliberately targeted innocent civilians. Our findings lead us to the opposite conclusion," the officers wrote.
"None of us is aware of any army that takes such extensive measures as did the IDF last summer to protect the lives of the civilian population in such circumstances."
Sponsored by Friends of Israel Initiative, a pro-Israel nongovernmental organization, the high-ranking group conceded "mistakes" made by the IDF, "including errors of judgment, confusion and technical failure."
Nevertheless, officers and experts unanimously blamed Hamas for the death and devastation of last summer's war.
"We recognize that some of [Palestinian civilian deaths] were caused by error and misjudgment … But we also recognize that the majority of deaths were the tragic inevitability of defending against an enemy that deliberately carries out attacks from within the civilian population.
"We must therefore consider that Hamas and its terrorist associates, as the aggressors and the users of human shields, are responsible for the overwhelming majority of deaths in Gaza this summer," the experts noted.
Their report concluded, "Our overall findings are that during Operation Protective Edge last summer, in the air, on the ground and at sea, Israel not only met a reasonable, international standard of observance of the laws of armed conflict, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard."
Members of the Ggroup, who visited Israel May 18-22 and were given extensive access to senior leaders and operational data, included:
- Giulio Terzi, former foreign minister of Italy;
- Klaus Naumann, former chief of staff of the Bundeswehr and chairman of the NATO Military Committee;
- Vincenzo Camporini, former chief of the Defence Staff of Italy;
- Jose Maria Teran, former chief of the joint staff of Spain;
- Pierre-Richard Prosper, former US State Department ambassador at large for war crimes issues;
- Rafael Bardaji, former Spanish national security advisor;
- David Deptula, former joint force air component commander, US Pacific Command;
- Jim Molan, former chief of operations at multinational force headquarters in Iraq and former commander of the Australian Defence College;
- Eduardo Ramirez, member of the Columbian Congress and former chief of security in Columbia;
- Vincent Alcazar, former US Air Force officer in Iraq and Afghanistan;
- and Richard Kemp, a retired British colonel and former commander in Afghanistan.