BalkanBlog, crisis management, Middle-East

Minimizing Collateral Damage In Gaza Conflict

During its operation in Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”(Richard Kemp in the UN Human Rights Council hearing after Operation Cast Lead)


The role of civilians during ongoing operation Pillar of Defence is traditional one: Hamas and other Palestinian terror organizations intentionally target Israeli civilians and use the population of Gaza as human shields, storing and firing rockets from within populated areas. In stark contrast, Israel does not intentionally target Palestinian civilians; in opposite the Israel Defence Force (IDF) takes extraordinary measures to avoid Palestinian civilian deaths. Israel uses early warnings and sophisticated missile defence system to protect its own population while the role of civilian population in Gaza seems again to be that of cannon fodder and their value only propagandist.

Hamas has systematically fired rockets over 12,000 at the Israeli Home Front for the past 12 years. Since November 14, over 350 rockets fired from Gaza hit Israel, many of them directed at densely populated areas. Over the past months Hamas has armed itself with the Fajr-5 missile, an advanced weapon with a range of over 75 kilometers, which places 3.5 million civilians at risk. Out of 824 rockets fired from Gaza at Israel over the past few days, 270 of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system and 100 have landed in Gaza itself, IDF statistics show on18th Nov. So one part of civilian deaths in Gaza might have come from their own rockets.

Strategy of Hamas is fatal for population

The Operations of Hamas are targetted to kill Israeli civilians. Thanks to sophisticated early warning system and Israeli missile defense the casualties of Israeli civilians are small. The oposite is true with civilian population in Gaza due the fatal tactics of Hamas. Hamas (like Hezbollah in Lebanon, like the Taliban in Afghanistan and like al-Qaida and the Shi’a militias in Iraq), use their own people as both tactical and strategic weapons of war.

Hamas has intentionally used the civilian areas of Gaza as staging grounds for their attacks on Israel. Knowing that the IDF wishes to avoid civilian casualties, Hamas places its own civilians in the line of fire in order to hide and protect its own operations. Women and children, victims of the Hamas human shield tactics, usually ignore warning signals to evacuate buildings prior to an IDF strike. The victims remain in the house with Hamas members, knowing ahead of time that the IDF will not target civilians. Many innocent bystanders are killed as a result of Hamas’ abuse of its own civilians. Instead of keeping its citizens out of harm’s way, Hamas encourages and even forces its population to join the violent resistance against Israel, sometimes forcing women and children to remain in the positions that they would use to launch attacks from. Hamas used their people too on the strategic level, luring IDF troops to attack and kill them. People whose deaths would be callously exploited in the media as a means of discrediting the IDF.

There are several reasons for this: Hamas, of course, operates from within a civilian population and conceals its arsenals in built-up areas. The same is true of missile launchers, rockets and more. In addition, most Hamas militants make sure not to remain above ground most of the day. They stay in the network of tunnels built by Hamas beneath the Gaza Strip in recent years and, in effect, are at very low risk compared to the vast majority of the Gaza population. And the process of launching the rockets is extremely quick and is sometimes done by remote control, so that the ability to strike at those militants is very limited.

Israel’s strategy is to limit civilian casualties in Gaza

The following are some ways the IDF uses in order to avoid civilian casualties. While these warnings ruin the element of surprise and can help the enemy escape, the IDF believes that it must take these steps whenever possible in order to avoid harming innocent bystanders.

  1. Phone calls: During the last 24 hours of the operation, thousands of Israeli phone calls were made to residents of the Gaza Strip, warning them of IDF strikes in the area.
  2. Leaflets: The Israel Air Force has dropped leaflets over Gaza that warn civilians to “avoid being present in the vicinity of Hamas operatives.”
  3. Diverting missiles in mid-flight: During Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, the IDF aborted many missions seconds before they were to be carried out, due to civilians being present at the site of the target.
  4. Roof Knocking: “Roof knocking” is when the IAF targets a building with a loud but non-lethal bomb that warns civilians that they are in the vicinity of a weapons cache or other target. This method is used to allow all residents to leave the area before the IDF targets the site with live ammunition.
  5. Pinpoint Targeting: The IDF, whenever possible, singles out terrorists and targets them in a way that will endanger few or no bystanders. This can often be hard to do, since terrorists prefer to hide in crowded areas. As example IDF video about the pinpoint strike on Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari and an other one (On Nov. 18, 2012, when the Israel Air Force targeted an underground rocket launching site near a mosque in Gaza. The strike was precise, and the mosque was unharmed.)
  6. In previous Cast Lead operation IDF left at least four hours’ notice to civilians to leave areas designated for attack

Israel helps patients in Gaza

One problem which civilians in Gaza have is the long standing shortage of medicines and medical supplies. The main reason is a dysfunctional relationship between the Palestinian Ministries of Health in Gaza and Ramallah. The conflicts between the two offices have resulted not only in a shortage of medicines and supplies, but also in restricted access to medical treatments for patients outside of Gaza. To help situation an Israeli State agency The Coordination and Liaison Administration to Gaza (CLA)works to ensure that patients from Gaza have the access they need to get medical treatments e.g. Following way:

  1. Of the thousands of patients that requested permits to enter Israel for medical treatments, 99.3% were approved. Patients were only denied permits when it was determined that they could receive necessary treatment inside Gaza (Sept 2012). This year (2012)more than 14,500 permits were issued by the Gaza CLA for patients and their chaperones to leave Gaza through the Erez Crossing.
  2. All the requests for medical supplies (equipment and medicine) submitted by the international community to the Gaza CLA have been approved for entry into Gaza.
  3. Since September 2012, international organizations, in coordination with the Gaza CLA, have impoted 32 trucks of drugs and medical supplies through Kerem Shalom Crossing. This has included spare parts for dialysis machines, helium for MRI machines, and three fully equipped ambulances. An additional five loads of medicine were imported into Gaza through the Erez Crossing through special coordination.

According to the World Health Organization, the process of referrals for patients from Gaza to receive treatment in Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan was suspended for nearly 10 days due to disagreements between the Ramallah and Gaza Health Ministries. As a result, a 38% reduction in monthly referrals left several hundred patients without necessary treatment. The WHO reports that due to the failure of the Palestinian Ministry of Health to pay its accruing debts to Jordan, Jordanian hospitals refused to accept government referrals of patients from Gaza. Medical suppliers are often reluctant to sell supplies to Gaza since there are issues with non-payment.

Despite the problematic security situation due ongoing operation Pillar of Defence and the ongoing rocket fire, the help from Israel to Gaza continues. On 18 November 2012, 10 Red Cross trucks with medical supplies and one UNRWA truck entered Gaza via Kerem Shalom Crossing. Two trucks have been designated as being of particular importance as they are carrying much needed anesthetics and bandages.

Media War with Pictures

They [Hamas] are putting these rockets in schools, in mosques, near hospitals, even in homes. We have pictures of rockets in homes because they not only have a military strategy. They have a media strategy. They want pictures of civilian casualties to make the front page of newspapers around the world,” (Michael Oren, Israel Ambassador to the United States)

The grand tradition of Pallywood has succeed again also with some respected medias, such as BBC, in which Palestinians on stretchers suddenly come back to life. It was usual also during earlier conflicts to bring the dead out from the hospitals in front of the cameras as victims of “Israel’s aggression”. Anybody who had died or who had been murdered for reasons of crime during these wars were brought to the CNN cameras as victims of “Israel’s aggression”

Yet another fake “Gaza” photo has used against Israel during the Pillar of Defense operation. An Arab news site called Alarab Net released the photo, which shows a family who was allegedly ‘massacred’ in Gaza on its Facebook page on Sunday, November 18. The caption in Arabic roughly translates into English as “martyred massacred family in Gaza shortly before…”

Thanks to Tazpit News Agency’s investigative work, it was found that the photo had been originally published on a news site based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates called Moheet one month earlier on October 19. On the Moheet website, the photo was titled “Syria killed 122 Friday…Assad Used Cluster Bombs.”

The original massacre, in Syria.

The “recycled” massacre, transplanted to Gaza.

And here another example where the Alqassam Brigades published an image which was taken in during the Syrian civil war weeks ago and attempted to pass it off as a picture taken in Gaza during current conflict.

Bottom line

Whatever the measures the residents of the Gaza Strip will continue to be the ones to pay the price and if ground operation starts, this price will be much higher than so far. As a result of Hamas’ strategy of using civilian areas for military purposes, it is inevitable that there will be civilian casualties in Gaza. Nonetheless, the IDF goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties and to minimize collateral damage.

As a result of Hamas’ strategy of using civilian areas for military purposes, it is inevitable that there will be civilian casualties in Gaza. Nonetheless, the IDF goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties and to minimize collateral damage. IDF however notes that despite all precautions, IDF forces may have mistakenly targeted sites and hurt Palestinian civilians. According IDF it is fully committed to ensuring that every allegation of wrongdoing be fully and fairly investigated, though this will happen after the conclusion of the operation.

The former Commander of the British Armed Forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp, gives an insider view to civilian casualties in conflicts:

The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to-one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed. That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one. In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia. In Gaza, it was less than one-to-one.”

As example Col.Kemp probably has earlier Gaza operation Cast Lead (2008-2009). I think that Hamas has learned some lessons from this and now, if Israel goes to ground maneuvers, the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths will be considerable higher. This makes the threshold to start next phase much higher than before.
More about IDF activities to avoid civilian damages in Gaza e.g. In this IDF video and to balance my story a bit here also a view (video) from Hamas side: 


More about Operation Pillar of Defence in my previous article:

Hamas Miscalculated: Israel Started Operation Pillar of Defens



Hamasin kohtalokas virhearvio – Israel aloitti vastaiskun

Israel sai lopulta tarpeekseen Hamasin voimistuneista rakettihyökkäyksistä ja vastasi liki miljoonan siviilinsä kärsimään terroriin aloittamalla viime keskiviikkona ”Puolustuspilari” (Pillar of Defence) operaation. Hamas ehkä laski sen varaan ettei Israel vaaliensa edellä vastaisi provokaatioon. Tämä strateginen virhearvio saattaa osoittautua järjestölle kohtalokkaaksi.

Sitten lauantain 10.11. Gazasta laukaistiin Israelin siviilikohteisiin yli 120 rakettia kunnes Israel eliminoi Hamasin sotilassiiven johtajan Gazassa. Hamas puolestaan käytti Iranista saamiaan Fajr-5 ohjuksia iskiäkseen Tel Aviviin ja nyt myös Jerusalemiin, etäämmälle kuin koskaan aikaisemmin. Israel puolestaan on ohjusten pudottamisen ohella keskittynyt ilmaiskuillaan tuhoamaan ensisijassa maanalaisia ohjustukijkohtia ja maanpäällisiä laukaisualustoja. Merkittävä määrä Israelin armeijan joukkoja on siirtynyt Gazan läheisyyteen ja Israelilla on valmius aloittaa maaoperaatiot välittömästi.

Skenaarioni tulevasta on, ettei Israel kykene tuhoamaan edes kaikkia pitkän- ja keskipitkän matkan ohjuksia ilmaiskuillaan eikä niinikään valtaosaa Gazan ja Egyptin rajan alittavista 1200 salakuljeyustunnelista. Hamasin johto lienee taas jo painunut maan alle joten nämäkin maalit ovat vähenemässä. Mikäli erityisesti Tel Aviviin ja Jerusalemiin yltävien Fajr-5 ohjusten käyttö jatkuu se nostaa Israelin ohjuksille uhanalaisen väestön määrän kahteen miljoonaan siviiliin. Tässä tilanteessa pidän maaoperaatioiden aloitusta väistämättömänä. Siviilien osa Gazassa on tällöin jälleen toimia tykinruokana ja propagandavälineenä Hamasin jälleen lymytessä siviilirakenteissa käyttäen kansalaisiaan suojakilpinä. Tällöin nähdään vastaava näytelmä kuin 2008-09 edellisen Cast Lead -operaation aikana: merkittävä määrä siviiliuhreja ja merkityksetön vielä suurempi määrä pontevia kansainvälisiä julkilausumia ja yleistä paheksuntaa. Kohun laannuttua palataan takaisin lähtöruutuun mutta mikäli Israel eliminoi Hamasin vaikutuksen Gazassa saattaa vallanperijäksi tulla vieläkin radikaalimpi joukko militantteja.

Maanalainen Fajr-5 ohjustukikohta siviilikohteiden keskellä (rajattu punaisella)

En ymmärrä lainkaan miksi Hamas välttämättä halusi provosoida Israelin nyt alkaneeseen operaatioon. Kuluvana syksynä merkittävä arabijohtaja Qatarin Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani vieraili Gazassa; toinenkin valtionpäämies, Bahrainin Sheikh Al Khalifa valmisteli omaa matkaansa Hamasin vieraaksi. Mielestäni nämä vierailut lisäsivät Hamasin kansainvälispoliittista uskottavuutta luoden sille mahdollisuuden vaihtaa painopistettä sotilaallisesta toiminnasta poliittiseksi liikkeeksi, terrorijärjestöstä jopa Israelinkin hyväksymäksi Gazan asukkaita edustavaksi neuvotteluosapuoleksi.

Syinä Hamasin valitsemaan strategiaan saattaisivat olla halu ottaa aloite Abbasin PA:lta, johtajuuden varmistaminen Gazassa toimivien radikaalimpien islamistiryhmien puristuksessa tai myös Iranin kauko-ohjaus pakottaa Israel siirtämään huomion Gazaan Iranin ydinlaitosten pommittamisen sijaan. Oli syy mikä tahansa niin nähdäkseni Hamisin johto teki strategisen virhearvion. Sulkiessaan mahdollisuuksien ikkunan kohota poliittiseksi avaintekijäksi se samalla altistui Israelin vastaiskulle joka saattaa siirtää järjestön yhä mitättömämpiin marginaaleihin.

Edellä kuvattua aihepiiriä kuvailen tarkemmin pääblogini artikkelissa

Hamas Miscalculated: Israel Started Operation Pillar of Defense