General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Thursday that Israel went to "extraordinary lengths" to limit civilian casualties in the recent war in Gaza, Reuters reports.
Dempsey acknowledged recent reports criticizing civilian deaths during the 50-day Gaza war this year but told an audience in New York he thought the Israel Defense Forces "did what they could" to avoid civilian casualties.
Dempsey was asked about the ethical implications of Israel's handling of the Gaza war, during an appearance in New York at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
"I actually do think that Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties," Dempsey told the group, according to Reuters.
"In this kind of conflict, where you are held to a standard that your enemy is not held to, you're going to be criticized for civilian casualties," he added.
Dempsey said Hamas had turned Gaza into "very nearly a subterranean society" with tunneling throughout the coastal enclave.
"That caused the IDF some significant challenges. But they did some extraordinary things to try and limit civilian casualties, to include ... making it known that they were going to destroy a particular structure," he noted.
He said the IDF, in addition to dropping warning leaflets, developed a technique called "roof-knocking" to advise residents to leave sites they planned to strike.
Dempsey said the Pentagon three months ago sent a "lessons-learned team" of senior officers and non-commissioned officers to work with the IDF to see what could be learned from the Gaza operation, "to include the measures they took to prevent civilian casualties and what they did with tunneling."
The general said civilian casualties during the conflict were "tragic, but I think the IDF did what they could" to avoid them.
"The IDF is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They're interested in stopping the shooting of rockets and missiles out of the Gaza Strip and into Israel," Dempsey stressed.
Earlier this week, the London-based Amnesty International released a report in which it claimed the IDF showed "shocking disregard" for civilians during the Gaza war.
Amnesty claimed eight cases in which the IDF attacked homes "without warning," asserting that "at least 104 civilians including 62 children" were killed. The rights group admitted terrorist targets were identified in some cases, but claimed "the devastation to civilian lives... was clearly disproportionate," adding the IDF may have "directly and deliberately targeted civilians or civilian objects, which would constitute war crimes."
On the other side, Amnesty lightly admitted "Palestinian armed groups also committed war crimes, firing thousands of indiscriminate rockets into Israel killing six civilians including one child." The figure does not take into account the 66 IDF soldiers killed in the operation.
Israel's Foreign Ministry released a statement on the report, noting Amnesty ignored "documented war crimes perpetrated by Hamas, including the use of human shields, as well as ammunition storage and firing at Israeli civilian population centers from within schools, hospitals, mosques and civilian neighborhoods in Gaza."
A detailed study after Operation Protective Edge proved 49% of the casualties in Gaza were terrorists, meaning the IDF achieved a 1:1 civilian to combatant ratio almost unprecedented in urban warfare.
The IDF has revealed Hamas's deep embedding of its terrorist infrastructure in the heart of the civilian population, including UN facilities, and cynical use of human shields to protect terror targets.