Operation Protective Edge – a challenge for the international law
Since 2012 Colonel Eli Bar-On is deputy General Advocate in the IDF. Since 1994 he had various positions in the law department of the IDF. His main focus is the support of soldiers travelling as Israel’s „Ambassadors“ to correct the image of Israel in media and universities. „Our Soldiers speak “ renders invaluable services when the NGO „Breaking the Silence“ is damaging the excellent reputation of the IDF. The second focus is his work in the „Israel National Defense College“ Within the IDF about thousand lawyers are busy with military related legal causes.
His theme is: Asymmetric Warfare, a case study of „Operation Protective Edge 2014“, international law as a challenge.
The total of the Gaza Strip covers 350 km2, which are, except the densly populated three cities Gaza City, Khan Yunis and Rafa, sparsely populated and used for agriculture, expect the sand dunes. In the Hamas controlled coastal region live almost 1.9 million inhabitants. The high density of population is relevant for the populated areas only and therefore the propaganda figure of 5000 inhabitants per square km is not relevant.
All military activities of the IDF were carried out within built-up areas. What were the challenges the IDF had to face?
In 2014, up to the begin of „Operation Protective Edge“ July 8th, 2014, a total of 4.525 missiles and rockets has been shot at Israel’s civil inhabitants. 2.621 landed in Israel, 156 landed in the sea, the remaining where too short and landed in Gaza or have been intercepted by the Iron Dome.
An extreme difficult challenge was the tunnel system. Usually the tunnels begin within a private building in Gaza and end up as a principle within or as near as possible to a sensitive and soft target in Israel. Kindergarten and schools are very vulnerable, also the borders of the kibbutzim nearby can be infiltrated. One of the best equipped tunnels had more than 30 entries and exits and ended beside a kindergarten.
July 17th an attack of 13 armed terrorists against the kibbutz Sufa has been fended of successfully by the IDF. The terrorists have been observed leaving a tunnel 250 meters behind the border and 2000 meters distance to the kibbutz. Despite immediate fire by the IAF they managed to escape though the tunnel.
Changing warfare and battle fields which have nothing in common with „classical“ wars is a worldwide observed development. With changing warfare the number of civil war victims, unfortunately, changed too. The war of Yom Kippur has been fought entirely in open uninhabited areas. There was only one single civil victim. The numbers increased in the following military operations.
The reasons are for the Israelis of an other nature as for the Gazans. What are those reasons?
Our terror-enemies are no longer national armies but so called „Non-State-Actors“ (NSA), terror organizations, self-proclaimed „Fighters“, Jihadists, who are not related to a state-run army.
Battlegrounds moved from unpopulated areas into densely populated areas within cities. From there NSA-groups have all options to act from specially sensitive places.
Past „old operations“ in Israel took just few days, to date they last up to 54 days, as experienced last summer.
Previously there were explicit winners and losers. After 2nd WW, Germany and Austria were clearly the losers with all consequences. The winning powers too with all consequences: France, Great Britain, USSR and the USA. Who and what has been lost or won was settled bindingly in contracts. This was namely the case with Austria and Germany, the occupation of both ended in May 1951, whereby the German independence was finally re – established in 1991.
Today and namely in the Near and Middle east this is not really obvious. In 2014 the terror organization Hamas celebrated its victory over Israel, despite the scrapping of their weapons and despite their incapability of action. The unreasonableness for reality is due because of the massive overestimation of the capabilities of the Arabs and the necessity to prove their distressed fellow Arabs that they are still strong.
Some examples of the peculiar kind of asymmetric warfare in Gaza:
From within the school „Abu Nur“ in Shujaiyah, a total of 54 missiles have been shot. This is a clear war crime. The school, an entirely civil building, was abused as a storage and launching site for weapons, which made it practically impossible to react militarily.
The same protection enjoy too: Schools and buildings of the UNO and UNWRA, mosques, graveyards, hospitals and old age homes. Of the reliable certainty that the IDF will be reluctant about retaliations, Hamas made use by establishing in these buildings weapon deposits, launching sites and tunnel entries. Some of these buildings have been built by Israel before withdrawing in 2005. Pictures and films are proving this.
A most dramatic example is the shelling of the hospital al–Wafa in Shujaiyia.
After many launches from the hospital IDF phoned the administration of the hospital and urgently insisted to evacuate the hospital. The following day the evacuation was confirmed by the hospital administration despite ongoing launching of missiles from there. Hence the IDF began to shell the hospital. That the hospital was a weapons deposit became clear after secondary explosions, which were much more powerful than the actual hits.
A good example of the false reporting in media is here.
Journalists were permitted to report from outside of the buildings only, because increasingly „civil“ buildings were equipped with booby-traps.
Soldiers of every national army wear uniforms making them identifiable. Among the terror organization Hamas this is not the case. Hamas terrorists are wearing uniforms for parades only, when celebrating their „victories“. When fighting they wear civil clothes to disguise them as civilians. Or, a new tactic in the last operation was to wear women clothing to hide their weapons. This is obscuring the number of victims regarding their status as civilians or fighters. Because according to international laws a civilian is automatically a soldier if he is involved in war or fighting activities.
How may the number of victims on both sides be explained? Israel is accused repeatedly about 70 victims only (!), and in Gaza allegedly more than 2000 victims. This sounds as if Israel must excuse itself that it protects their habitants with bunkers, shelters and the Iron Dome. Precautions and an advanced warning system against missiles and rockets reduced the number of victims in Israel. It is cynical and inhuman but typical for the anti-Israel picture we are confronted with in the media. The question is rather, how come, that Gaza had so many civilian victims?
Israel begins an attack only when it may be expected that the military benefit is clearly much higher than the expected colateral damage. Related to the example al-Wafa hospital, it signifies that without the repeated, and explicit „ no, nobody is in the building“ no bombardment would have been made!
The IDF identified in Gaza more than 2000 „sensible“ targets. The list is continuously renewed. Ground offensives were only there, where tunnel entries and exits have been identified for elimination. Before every single action the civil inhabitants have been warned with various media to evacuate the area. After SMS, flyers, telephone calls as a first step, the second step, also criticized in media, was “knocking” with a special missile. After about half an hour the real shelling followed to damage or destroy the building.
Unfortunately, as admitted by the IDF, the evacuation of civilians did not take place as planned. Many inhabitants were forced by Hamas to serve as human shields on roofs.
It sounds cruel, but a civilian involved in active fights is loosing his status as a civilian and is considered a fighter. This is why Hamas notoriously abused the civil inhabitants of Gaza, if possible including women and children. This is clearly a violation against human rights and a war crime.
In the „statistics“ of Hamas these people appear as civilians, which is a falsification of the figures.
© esther scheiner, israel