Colonel Richard Kemp, who led British troops in Afghanistan and has fought in another half-dozen campaigns, has long been a defender of the IDF, which he has described as “the most moral army in the world.” He looked at what Israel achieved in the first four days of Operation Shield and Arrow and come away with a heightened appreciation for the Israeli military. More on his observations on the campaign can be found here: “‘A grave slur against IDF’: UN plays right into Islamic Jihad’s hands,” by Colonel Richard Kemp, Ynet News, May 11, 2023:
Operation Shield and Arrow has been carried out to date with breathtaking effectiveness. The shield of Iron Dome and David’s Sling have prevented major loss of life among the civilian population, although so far one man has been tragically killed and some have been injured, despite a barrage of 547 deadly rockets fired at Israel at the time of writing [as of Friday, May 12, that number had increased to 937].
Israel managed to decapitate Palestinian Islamic Jihad, taking out by the fourth day of battle six of its senior commanders, including both the head, and the deputy head, of the PIJ’s rocket program. The IAF struck 197 targets in Gaza, including PIJ weapons storehouses, weapons fabrication plants, training centers, rocket launchers, and underground tunnels.
The arrows of targeting intelligence, air strikes and missile attacks have decimated the Gaza terrorist leadership and destroyed many of their weapons. No other military is capable of defending its people with the ferocity and precision the IDF has been showing.
How precise was Israel? It managed to locate the precise apartments where PIJ commanders had been hiding, and hit exactly those targets, sparing all but a handful of civilians – mostly, the wives and children of the commanders, though in the initial attack on May 9, three civilians living in an apartment adjacent to the one the IAF had targeted, also died. It managed to follow, from the skies, PIJ leaders as they moved from one apartment to another. In one case, the Israeli pilot held his fire while a PIJ leader was still with his family in an apartment, waiting until he had left them and gone, alone, to another hiding place, where he assumed he would never be found. And at that point, the Israeli pilot proved him wrong.
Unfortunately, some of Israel’s arrows have also killed uninvolved civilians. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said yesterday that the civilian deaths in Gaza are “unacceptable” and called on Israel to “abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law”….
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is wrong. There is no obligation under “international humanitarian law” to avoid all civilian casualties. No army in the history of the world has ever achieved that. He was also wrong to pass over in silence the PIJ’s practice of using women and children — family members of the terrorist commanders — as human shields. The IDF has a duty, rather, as do all other armies, to make efforts to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. This is exactly what the IDF did in Gaza. When they thought that they might be able to hit a commander when he moved away from his family, the Israeli pilots waited for the right moment. They called off airstrikes altogether when they detected the presence of too many civilians. By Friday night, May 12, Israel had conducted airstrikes on 197 targets inside Gaza. And how many people were killed in all those strikes? The Ministry of Health in Gaza itself admits that ministry of health in Gaza published final data about the number of Palestinians killed and wounded in Operation Shield and Arrow; according to the data, 33 Palestinians were killed, 22 fighting men, six children, three women and two non-combatant elderly men. Three Palestinian children and one man were hit by a PIJ rocket that fell short in Gaza. Another Palestinian was working in Israel and was hit by a PIJ rocket. In other words, of the total of 33 Palestinians killed, 22 were fighters with either the PIJ or the PFLP, and five were Palestinian civilians hit by PIJ rockets, leaving only six civilians who were killed by Israeli fire. And if it turns out ultimately to be two or three times that number, it would still astonish.
Guterres’s comments. — and their echoes in the media and among human rights groups — also play directly into the hands of terrorists whose prime operational objective, short of its destruction, is international vilification of Israel. The UN Human Rights Council’s condemnation of the IDF that will follow this conflict as night follows day, flowing from thinking such as the Secretary General’s, will help ensure that Islamic Jihad and terrorists everywhere continue to use human shields and will cost many more lives.
Israel does not deserve to be condemned – though condemned it most certainly will be, up and down the squalid corridors of power at the UN, and in such malign media as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, the BBC, Agence France-Presse, and The Guardian – but should be praised for the precision of its targeting and its unbelievable ability to minimize civilian casualties, even as the PIJ fires nearly one thousand rockets indiscriminately into Israeli cities and towns, and about that, Antonio Guterres has not a word to say.
Knowing the IDF as I [Col. Kemp] do, I can be confident that they are closely adhering to — and going beyond — international laws of war in this conflict. But there is another question as well. Should they have been given political direction to conduct offensive operations in Gaza, knowing that innocent civilian lives would be lost? Some argue, following Guterres’s line that civilian deaths are unacceptable, that Israel’s shield is sufficient to blunt the rockets and protect its population without the accompanying arrows….
Should Israel, Col. Kemp asks, have simply relied on its defenses – chiefly the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system but also, now, the medium-range David’s Sling – to protect its people from incoming rockets, and not gone on the offensive against PIJ? No, because the PIJ would have kept firing thousands of rockets into populated parts of Israel. PIJ has an insatiable appetite for violence; it has gone to war twice before with the IDF. Though it was badly defeated both times, its malevolence remains, and the Israelis have clearly concluded that it has to be dealt a blow so crushing that it will take years for the PIJ to recover.
After the PIJ fired more than 100 rockets into Israel on May 2, just after the death of the PIJ hunger-striker, Khader Adnan, Israel turned that to its advantage. It had been preparing for a long time to attack the PIJ, and by May 9 it was ready, letting loose with its devastating first strike that killed three senior commanders in a single attack. The PIJ was so stunned that it took a full day for it to respond with a rocket barrage of its own, that began late on May 3. That delay may have been the result of fear on the part of the remaining PIJ leaders – they must have worried that after the three senior commanders had been eliminated, they could be next, or to confusion as to who was now in charge and had the authority to order rocket attacks. In any case, the PIJ rallied late on May 10, starting its barrage of rockets. Though the IAF struck 197 targets, the PIJ continued to launch rockets and mortars into southern Israel. But they were either intercepted by the Iron Dome missiles (and in one case, by a David’s Sling mid-range missile, intercepting a rocket hurtling toward Tel Aviv) or fell harmlessly into open fields, save for a half-dozen that hit dwellings.
No country can be expected in wartime to be able to avoid all civilian deaths among its enemies. Guterres should know that it is always a question of proportion: has Israel caused thousands, or even hundreds, of civilian deaths? No, not one hundred, not fifty, nor forty, nor even thirty. Israel never wantonly bombs enemy territory, indifferent to where its bombs fall, which is quite a contrast to the practice of the PIJ. Does Israel, instead, engage in pinpoint targeting of those who direct one of the most ferocious of terror groups, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad? We all know the answer to that.