A new report by an multinational group of distinguished military officers has lauded Israel for carrying out an “exemplary campaign” that fully adhered to the norms of international law during the 2014 war in Gaza.
The High Level Military Group (HLMG), which authored the report, was established earlier this year with a remit to examine “the implications for warfare where democratic nations are engaged in fighting enemies who disregard the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) but exploit our own nations’ adherence to LOAC for their gain.”
Rafael Bardaji, a spokesman for the group, emphasized that “In the absence of the appropriate military and legal expertise, the cumulative failure of international institutions and organisations to come to a more accurate assessment of events during the 2014 Gaza Conflict, their attempt to impose unwarranted legal norms, and their failure to make important moral distinctions between the adversaries is a problem not just for Israel.”
Bringing together senior officers from the U.S., Europe, South America, and Asia, the HLMG’s roster includes Gen. Klaus Naumann, the former German armed forces chief of staff who later served as chairman of NATO’s Military Committee; Lt.-Gen. David A. Deptula, the former director of the Combined Air Operations Center in Afghanistan; Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan; and Lt.-Gen. Kamal Davar, who served as the first director general of India’s Defense Intelligence Agency. The report was compiled on the basis of six fact-finding trips to the region, with its preliminary findings announced in June.
The report asserts that the Gaza war unfolded in three phases. Missile attacks executed by Hamas and other Islamist terror groups constituted the first phase, when, as the HLMG notes, “roughly 70 percent of Israel’s population was a potential target.” The second phase commenced after “Israel determined that the continued rocket fire and the threat from Hamas’s assault tunnels necessitated a limited ground operation.” The final phase began “with Hamas continuing rocket fire against Israel and the IDF striking launch sites and other military objectives in Gaza,” before hostilities ended with an August 26 ceasefire.
Critically, while the report accepts the commonly agreed figure of over 2,000 deaths during the fighting, the HLMG nevertheless emphasized that “there are serious questions about the classifications of these deaths.”
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) information on Palestinian casualties relies on figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas… However, even these figures show a disproportionately large percentage of casualties that were men of fighting age – about 70 percent… Efforts at categorisation are hampered by Hamas’s deliberate strategy of blurring the distinction between its fighters and civilian casualties and inflating Palestinian civilian casualty counts. Hamas’s Ministry of Interior in the Gaza Strip has gone as far as publishing guidelines urging its supporters to ensure they add the moniker ‘innocent civilian’ to descriptions of casualties.
The report argues that Hamas’ “strategic concept” outright rejects the Law of Armed Conflict, or LOAC, while it simultaneously exploits Israel’s adherence to the same. In that regard, the report highlights the “unlawful tactic of encouraging the use of human shields to avert strikes on its military infrastructure embedded in urban Gaza” adopted by Hamas. Eighteen months later, that same tactic is now on display in areas under the control of Islamic State, such as the city of Ramadi in western Iraq.
Conversely, IDF planners received high praise from the HLMG for instituting a “multi-stage process for approval in order to ensure LOAC compliance” in the selection of military targets. The group determined that “IDF investigative mechanisms and procedures are sufficiently independent, subject to recourse in the civilian legal system and organised according to valid principles which we recognise from our own and other democratic systems of judicial oversight of military operations.”
“We can be categorically clear that Israel’s conduct in the 2014 Gaza Conflict met and in some respects exceeded the highest standards we set for our own nations’ militaries,” the HLMG concluded. The report further noted that “in reviewing commentary from the United Nations Human Rights Council, a number of NGOs such as Amnesty International, and sections of the media commentary on the 2014 Gaza Conflict, there are stark, unwarranted condemnations of the IDF’s conduct that do not accord with our own examination.”
Assessing the implications of the Gaza war for other democracies facing the threat of Islamist terrorism, the report observed that “democratic values and our individual nations in the current era already has and will likely continue to necessitate military action…Israel’s experience carries important strategic, tactical and operational lessons for other democratic nations’ armies battling some of the most brutal and dangerous adversaries since the Second World War.”
HLMG coordinator Davis Lewin underscored this last point during a telephone interview with The Tower. “The HLMG has recognized that these politically motivated slanders directed against Israel could eventually compromise, perhaps fatally, the efforts of other democracies to combat terrorism,” Lewin said. “Too many NGOs who claim to be defending human rights don’t have the expertise to make credible judgements on either the conduct of military operations or the laws of war.”
[Photo: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung / Flickr]