Who Noticed the 459 Civilians Killed in US Strikes on ISIS?

The Israeli military fought with one hand tied behind its back in Gaza, but maybe that can change now.

Benyamin Korn

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Bert Korn

Four hundred and fifty-nine innocent civilians have been killed by U.S.-led air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq over the past year, according to a new report. It will be interesting to see how the international community reacts.

The new figures were released August 3 by Airwars, an independent monitoring group that tracks and reports on air strikes against ISIS. Airwars says that it verifies its information by using "two or more generally credible sources, often with biographical, photographic or other evidence."

The Obama administration, however, has acknowledged only two civilian deaths from its air strikes. That's a pretty significant discrepancy -- 459 versus two. One wonders how the news media will treat that anomaly. When Arabs accuse Israel of killing large numbers of civilians, and the Israelis say that only a small number were killed, the Israeli position is routinely met with scoffing and derision from reporters . 

Who could possibly accuse President Obama of being reckless with Muslim lives?
Whether the number is 459 or 2, reasonable people would agree that the Obama administration is surely doing everything it can to avoid civilian casualties, so whatever the number, it must be an inevitable byproduct of war, not the result of American recklessness. Who could possibly accuse President Obama of being reckless with Muslim lives?

Somehow I doubt that Obama's bombers have been going as far as the Israelis did in Gaza last year, to avoid harm to civilians. Are U.S. military personnel telephoning civilians in the area of planned anti-ISIS bombing raids, urging them to evacuate? Are U.S. planes dropping warning leaflets in areas they are planning to hit? Not likely. Because doing so would mean giving up the military's advantage of surprise--something the Israelis did, but I doubt President Obama is demanding.

Obama administration spokesmen undoubtedly will point out that the ultimate responsibility lies with ISIS. After all, it is ISIS that started this war, so ISIS is really to blame for the consequences. It does matter "who started it." That is what determines who is the aggressor, and who is acting in self-defense. That is one of the main differences between the moral side and the immoral side in any conflict.

Which, of course, is why the massive civilian casualties that America inflicted upon Japan and Germany in World War Two were justified. And why the civilian casualties in Gaza last year were justified. 

Now here's where things get really sticky. During the Gaza war, the Obama administration repeatedly chastised Israel over Palestinian civilian casualties. The administration complained that Israel's response to Hamas rocket terror was "disproportionate," and that Israel should "do more" to avoid them. 

Obama's pressure worked. Israeli Army officers have acknowledged that many planned strikes against Hamas were called off because civilians were in the area. Many Israeli air planes returned to base with their bombing load still intact, because the pilots saw civilians near the intended targets. The Israeli military fought with one hand tied behind its back--but that still was not sufficient to deter Obama's criticism and pressure.

I am not suggesting that Israel should denounce the anti-ISIS air strike as "disproportionate." I am not proposing that Israeli officials lecture the United States on the need to "do more" to avoid them. On the contrary: Israel should praise the Obama administration's military conduct. Israeli officials should publicly hail the new Obama doctrine of bombing terrorist targets, even if civilians are likely to be killed.

There is no need for any more telephone calls to local residents. No need for leaflets. No reason to surrender the advantage of surprise. The Obama administration has, in effect, given Israel license to fight terrorists with neither of its hands tied behind its back. And if the United Nations or the New York Times point an accusing finger, Israel can say, with a perfectly straight face, that it is following President Obama's guidelines.

(Mr. Korn, the former executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent and the Miami Jewish Tribune, is chairman of the Philadelphia Religious Zionists.)