Could Israel really have done more?

I support Israel’s right to self defense, but…

This is how many of the criticisms over Israel’s Gaza incursion last summer began by self-declared “friends of Israel”. They were mostly followed by a barrage of borderline self righteous assertions that, in essence, negated Israel’s right to self defense. This is characteristic of the foreign arguments we often heard being hurled at the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The underlying message of these types of criticisms were eloquently summed up by State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki when she told the world, “There’s more that Israel can do” in regards to limiting civilian casualties in Gaza.

The problem with these types of criticisms was that they were almost never followed by any substantial suggestions on just how the IDF could operate more accurately. Exactly what specific techniques or tactics could Israel have implemented that wouldn’t have recklessly sacrificed Israeli lives? Should Israeli soldiers not return fire at their attackers because Hamas deliberately chose to embed itself among civilians?

Would the international community be happier had the IDF been sent into Gaza, in a defensive war to protect their families from rockets and terror tunnels, without aerial support? Will you tell those of us with friends and family members in the IDF that we are wrong for wanting our loved ones to return home safely?

Israeli soldiers should not pay the ultimate price, their lives, because of Hamas’s repugnant tactics.

Israel’s civilian to militant casualty ratio was near or below the average for similar conflicts of asymmetrical nature across the globe. Exact numbers are hard to distinguish due to Hamas’s repeated use of illegitimate tactics like wearing civilian clothing or firing from civilian buildings. Yet even so, the reported numbers still fall below international standards. The UN puts the number of those killed at roughly 68% civilians, not far from Hamas’s reported numbers. Israel claims the percentage of civilians killed was somewhere closer to 55%. Similarly, during Operation Cast Lead in 2008, disagreements existed between the two sides on casualty figures. In 2008, Israel claimed that roughly 40% of those killed were civilians. This figure was widely dismissed by the UN in favor of a number closer to Hamas’s estimate of 83% civilian deaths. Months after the war, a Hamas official openly admitted the true number of militants killed; and it was almost identical to the IDF’s estimate.

Yet even if Hamas’s numbers are to be taken at face value, they still fall below the international averages. Most estimates mark the percentage of civilians killed in Afghanistan as roughly 67% while in Iraq that number stands at around 73%.

There seems to be a growing divide between military leaders and political leaders when it comes to Israel’s conduct in the recent conflict. While Ms. Psaki claims Israel didn’t do enough; General Martin Dempsey, the highest ranking military officer in the US, came to the complete opposite conclusion. Dempsey told the media recently that


Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties.

If we are to believe those who have actual experience dealing in asymmetrical combat, like Dempsey or even Colonel Richard Kemp (the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan), than Israel does more than enough to minimize civilian casualties. The Colonel has also raised his voice in defense of Israel’s record, openly stating that

No army in the world acts with as much discretion and great care as the IDF in order to minimize damage.

So who knows best? It is certainly not the ultra-progressive Westerners including misinformed and extremely vocal college students, who have no real experience serving in a war zone. The “Israel can do more” criticisms always seem to be spoken by individuals sitting far away from the conflict, safe and secure from the fighting. On the other hand, sits the soldier’s family, who are constantly worried about the safety and security of both their own children, and their country. To tell them Israel can do more, without suggesting how, is unconstructive.

If top military commanders like Kemp and Dempsey can’t seem to find the solution to just how Israel can further limit civilian casualties, without recklessly endangering Israeli soldiers, then who can? Anyone out there with that information should speak out because Israel is open to suggestions. Until then, Israel simply cannot and should not take such criticisms earnestly.

About the Author
Naor Amir is a Senior Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Florida. He is a founder of the pro-Israel advocacy group Zionist Gators and is currently a CAMERA Fellow for the University of Florida.