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Martin Sherman

INTO THE FRAY: Misplaced moral outrage-moronic, mendacious, or malevolent?

Israel seeks to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas seeks to maximize civilian casualties and use them as a propaganda tool.

“Israel has taken more steps to avoid harming civilians than any other military in history]S[teps that Israel has taken to prevent casualties [are] historic in comparison to all these other wars.”John Spencer, Chairman of Urban Warfare Studies, West Point, February 17, 2024.

[Immediately after taking office] Obama authorized two Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, which, combined, killed an estimated one militant and 10 civilians, including between four and five children. “Obama’s Embrace of Drone Strikes Will Be a Lasting Legacy”, New York Times, January 12, 2016

 

In recent years we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikesin Afghanistan, Iraq,  and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injuredwith little accountability.Amnesty International at US Senate Judiciary Council hearing, |February 9, 2022.

Note to readers: As I was finishing off this article, reports came in of Joe Biden’s designation of Israeli military action in Gaza as “outrageous”. This presumably enhances its newsworthiness, but beyond that, it will show just how outrageous Biden’s “outrageous” slur really is.

The recent accidental deaths of 7 foreign aid workers in Gaza sparked an eruption of anti-Israel vitriol, which highlights the vicious Judeophobic prejudice that is sweeping much of the globe today. This is something that defies all—and any—tenets of morality and reason. Indeed, by any conceivable criterion of human decency, there is no conflict in the annals of recent history, in which the gulf between good and evil, between wanton barbarism and humanitarian restraint, has been so clearly delineated as that between the protagonists in the ongoing war in Gaza.

Painstaking Israeli restraint

The tragedy of collateral damage, and the killing of non-combatants, has been a lamentable element of warfare ever since nation-states began to displace dynastic monarchies as the dominant structural element in the international system—and perhaps even before that.

Indeed, rarely—if ever—has one of the belligerent parties—let alone the victim of a brutal unprovoked attack on its civilians—demonstrated such painstaking care to avoid harm befalling enemy civilians. This is reflected in the unequivocal declaration of the former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp: “…I have fought in combat zones around the world including Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Macedonia and Iraq. I was also present throughout the conflict in Gaza in 2014. Based on my experience and on my observations the Israel Defense Forcedoes more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

In Gaza, the vulnerability of non-combatants is greatly exacerbated by the malicious actions of their leaders, who cynically exploit them by deliberately placing them in harm’s way and coercively preventing them from seeking safe havens. Thus, as a Wall Street Journal piece underscoresIsrael seeks to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas seeks to maximize civilian casualties and use them as a propaganda tool.”

Israel setting gold standard for avoiding civilian casualties

Indeed, the chairman of urban warfare studies at West Point, John Spencer,  described Israel’s achievements in avoiding collateral casualties as “unprecedented,” particularly given the complex combat conditions above and below ground. According to Spencer, Israel is setting the “gold standard” for avoiding civilian casualties.

Likewise, Richard Kemp praised the IDF for its record of avoiding civilian casualties during its operations in Gaza and pointed out that the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in Gaza is about 1 to 1.5, while according to the United Nations, the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in urban warfare has been 1 to 9—six times higher!!

The issue of civilian casualties in Gaza is hugely complicated by Hamas’s heinous practice of exploiting medical facilities as a cover for its terror activities. This includes the copiously documented abuse of ambulances for the transportation of terror-related personnel and materiel.

Indeed, Israeli moderation is underscored by comparison with non-combatant fatalities in other military encounters involving democracies at war. Thus, in WWII, between 1939 and 1945, nearly 600,000 European civilians were killed by Allied aerial bombardment of German cities which were reduced to rubble and ashes. Moreover, cities in other countries in Nazi-occupied Europe were also bombarded—including their non-combatant civilian residents. One of the most grisly and tragic of these events occurred in Copenhagen, Denmark (March 1945) when the RAF was sent to bomb the Gestapo headquarters in the city, inadvertently hitting a nearby school, killing 123 Danish civilians including 87 schoolchildren.

And of course, then there were the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—neither of which was ever designated as a military target—of whom between 100-200 thousand were incinerated and irradiated by the US in early August 1945.

There is always a cost to defeat a great evil.”

Half a century later (during which hundreds of thousands of civilian fatalities in East Asia (Indo-China), including innumerable non-combatant victims, were killed in the US carpet bombing of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) NATO launched a war against Serbia in response to Serbian excesses in Kosovo and Bosnia. This was done despite the fact that Serbia had not committed any hostile act either against any NATO citizen or any NATO territory. The NATO campaign consisted of high altitude—and hence far-from-accurate—bombing raids that regularly hit civilian targets—including residential neighborhoods, old-aged sanitariums, hospitals, open-air markets, columns of fleeing refugees, civilian buses, and trains on bridges, and even a foreign embassy. When the then-NATO spokesman Jamie Shea was pressed on the issue of the significant numbers of civilian casualties, his response was: “There is always a cost to defeat an evil. It never comes free, unfortunately. But the cost of failure to defeat a great evil is far higher”—which echoes precisely the Israeli sentiment concerning the rationale of the IDF’s operation in Gaza.

But those were not the only post-WWII instances of pervasive human suffering induced by large-scale US-led military operations across the globe.

More Iraqi babies died than in Hiroshima

For example, after Saddam Hussein’s 1991 takeover of Kuwait, the US and its allies imposed sanctions on the Iraqi regime and dispatched forces to repel the invasion. These measures resulted in tremendous suffering to the civilian population, the scale of which can be gauged by a 1996 interview on 60 Minutes with the late Madeleine Albright, former US ambassador to the UN and Secretary of State under Bill Clinton. Albright was quizzed by the interviewer, Leslie Stahl, about the ravages that the US-led measures wrought on the Iraqi population.

Stahl asked:We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright responded: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.”

Of course, it should be underscored that—unlike Israel’s post-October response to a massacre of its citizens on its sovereign territory—at this (pre-9/11) time, neither the US homeland nor any US resident had been harmed by the Iraqi regime. But more on that a little later.

“Tremendous human toll…” 

In 2001, in response to the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York, in which almost 3000 people died, a US-led military coalition (in which the UK had a prominent role), invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government and uproot A-Qaeda that perpetrated the lethal attack. Here it would be apt to point out that the 10/7 attack on Israel that led to the IDF action in Gaza was—in proportion to Israel’s population—almost 35 times the scope of the 9/11 atrocity—i.e., the equivalent of almost US 50,000 fatalities.

Although reliable figures regarding the toll the war inflicted on the civilian population of Afghanistan and neighboring countries impacted by it, are not easy to obtain, an estimate published by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs states that “The U.S. post-9/11 warshave taken a tremendous human toll on those countries” and puts the 1921 assessment of Afghani civilians deaths directly related to these wars at almost 47,000 but adds a proviso that “Several timesmore have been killed as a reverberating effect of the wars — because of water loss, sewage and other infrastructural issues, and war-related disease”.

Thousands of civilians hit with little accountability.

However, US strikes, where clearly civilian targets were hit are a matter of undisputed record. Over the course of the 20-year war, several weddings/parties/processions were struck by drones—inflicting hundreds of fatalities, including women and children. Such strikes took place not only in Afghanistan but in other countries, including neighboring Pakistan and more distant Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and even Somalia.

Summing up the consequences of the US air strikes in America’s protracted “Global War on Terror” a statement by Amnesty International (USA) stipulated: In recent years we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikes and U.S.-led Coalition airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria  and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injured by U.S. air strikes (both using drones and manned aircraft), with little accountability.

Finally. the 2003 invasion of Iraq by a US-led coalition—launched on the dubious (at least unsubstantiated) allegations that (a) Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein was implicated in the 9/11 attacks and (b) he had instigated a program for the production of weapons of mass destruction–wrought untold misery on millions of Iraqi civilians and death on of upward of 300,000 non-combatants.

Why I wrote this article

I wrote this article after a rather sharp exchange with an old school friend of mine, now resident in the US, someone of exceptionally high moral character, mildly supportive of Israel, and fiercely supportive of the Democratic Party. He was very critical of Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza, appalled by the fate of the Gazan population, and concerned that it would sharply erode support of Israel in the US.

I hope after reading this, he will realize how misplaced his criticism and concern are—and how unfair and unfounded—indeed how outrageous—the current vogue of berating Israel is. Lending it any support or sympathy will only serve to fan the flames of today’s smoldering antisemitism that will eventually engulf the ill-informed, un-informed, and mis-informed diaspora Jews, who naively believe that there is any merit in it.

Dr. Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

About the Author
Dr. Martin Sherman is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies a member of the research team of the Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF)-Habithonistim, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project. . He served for seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli Defense establishment, and was a ministerial adviser to Yitzhak Shamir's government. Sherman also lectured for 20 years at Tel Aviv University in Political Science, International Relations and Strategic Studies. He holds several university degrees: a B.Sc. (Physics and Geology), an MBA (Finance), and a PhD in political science and international relations. He was the first academic director of the internationally renowned Herzliya Conference and is the author of two books, as well as numerous articles and policy papers on a wide range of political, diplomatic and security issues. Sherman was born in South Africa and has lived in Israel since 1971.