Israel has released a 160-page report defending Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The report aims to answer charges that the Israeli counterterror offensive was a “disproportionate” response to Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians, and accusations of war crimes.
The report, titled The Operation in Gaza (27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009): Factual and Legal aspects, is available online through the government website.
The stated goal of the paper is “to place the Gaza operation in its proper factual and legal context.” The paper offers a limited response to some accusations, “as the IDF is still conducting comprehensive investigations” into allegations regarding the conduct of IDF soldiers.
Hamas is blamed for the operation, with the report's authors explaining that Israel had “a right and an obligation” to defend its citizens, who were under “almost incessant” rocket and mortar shell attacks from Gaza. Not only was Hamas launching increasingly frequent attacks and deliberately targeting civilians, particularly children, but the terror group was actively working to increase the range and quality of its rockets.
While the report firmly supports Israel's counter-terror operations in Gaza, it also expresses regret for civilian casualties in Gaza. “Israel makes no attempt to minimize the human costs incurred.” However, the authors point out, “civilian deaths and damage to property, even when considerable, do not necessarily mean that violations of international law as such have occurred.”
The report makes use of Israeli statistics regarding casualties of the Gaza operation. Israeli investigators found that 1,166 Gaza residents were killed in the operation, the majority of them terrorists. Hamas, which does not define Hamas “police” or Hamas fighters aged 16-18 as terrorists, disputes the numbers, and claims that more than 1,400 Gaza residents were killed, most of them civilians.
In defense of Israel's method of counting terrorists, the report makes use of Hamas propaganda and obituaries to prove that Hamas “police” are also active members of Hamas' openly terrorist armed forces.
Pictures Show Use of Civilian Shields
The report includes several pictures and aerial photographs backing Israel's claims that Hamas put Gaza civilians in danger by using them as human shields. Photos show terrorists firing rockets at Israeli towns from within Arab civilian centers, and setting up rockets and mortar launchers near private homes.
Newspapers and human rights groups are also quoted to provide proof of Hamas' abuse of its civilian population. In addition, the report makes use of testimony from Hamas terrorists captured during the operation, who admit to firing rockets from Gaza schools in order to reduce the chances of an Israeli response.
Hamas' weapons arsenal is also illustrated in several pictures, as is the damage caused by Hamas rockets that have hit Israeli towns.
Detailed Response to Allegations
The report gives detailed responses to several specific allegations involving civilian casualties. In some cases the IDF found that deaths were caused by IDF error, while in other cases investigators found that soldiers acted properly, and civilians were killed after choosing not to evacuate despite several warnings of immediate danger.
In still other cases, the IDF found that alleged Air Force strikes never took place, and the “civilians” listed as having died in the strikes were actually Hamas terrorists who had died in fighting elsewhere in Gaza.
Use of White Phosphorous
One of the controversies surrounding the Gaza operation was the IDF's alleged use of white phosphorous explosives. In fact, the IDF did not use white phosphorous as an incendiary or a weapon, but did use the substance to provide illumination or to create a smokescreen.
White phosphorous is not a banned weapon as human rights groups have claimed, the report states, as international treaties banning the use of incendiary weapons ban only those weapons used offensively, to create fires, and not those used to provide a screen.
If the IDF had refrained from using white phosphorous altogether, it would have risked more casualties, the report argues. In many cases, the use of smokescreens containing white phosphorous “prevented the need to use explosive munitions whose impact would have been considerably more dangerous,” it states.