Colonel Richard Kemp, the former commander of the British military forces in Afghanistan, spoke to Arutz Sheva on Wednesday about the ongoing conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the accusations that Israel has responded "disproportionately" to the over 3,700 rockets which have been fired at it by terrorists in the Gaza Strip over the last week and a half.
"It is a disgrace to say, as many journalists and others have, that Israel is being disproportionate," Col. Kemp stated. "The casualties on both sides are uneven, but many commentators seem to be suggesting that it would be better if more Jews were dead to balance the books."
He explained: "Proportionality has a specific meaning in war and is nothing to do with opposing sides’ body counts. If an army attacks an enemy target where civilians are known or thought to be present then the commander must factor in a number of issues. First, is the attack really necessary, or could it be foregone without significant affect on the mission — in this case to defend Israel’s population."
"Second, if the attack is necessary, the commander must decide whether the number of civilian casualties is likely to be disproportionate to the expected military advantage in attacking. In that case he may not attack. It is not an exact science, but a military judgement that the commander may have to justify later.
"Third, efforts must be made to discriminate between fighting troops and civilians, targeting fighters and avoiding civilians as far as possible. The IDF are the world leaders at achieving this, maintaining unrivalled intelligence and surveillance on a target to ensure commanders have as accurate a picture as possible. They warn civilians to leave using a combination of text messages, phone calls, leaflet drops and radio broadcasts. If civilians still do not leave the IDF then drops a specially designed munition on a building which makes a loud noise but does not destroy or kill, to warn them to leave. Sometimes even this isn’t effective because Hamas often force civilians to remain in a target area. The IDF maintain surveillance over the area and if they believe most or all civilians have not left, they often abandon a strike. I have spoken to several IDF pilots who have aborted a mission in these circumstances," he said,
When asked about the death toll in Gaza and the number of air strikes which Israel has carried out, Col. Kemp cautioned against relying on the figures provided by the Health Ministry in Gaza.
"It is difficult to make a general calculation on the number of civilian deaths per strike or comparison with other theatres of war, especially at the moment when figures aren’t confirmed. Palestinian Ministry of Health figures can’t be relied on although many in the media parrot them as though they are fact," he said,
Col. Kemp noted that "the health ministry is controlled by Hamas and obey their every command. Their lies have been exposed in past wars. For example, during this conflict, hundreds of Hamas rockets have fallen short and landed inside Palestinian territory. Some of these have caused deaths among Palestinian civilians and all are reported as deaths caused by Israel by the ministry of health. Hamas demands that, because their entire strategy is built around the deaths of their own civilians. That is why they start these fights, not to defeat Israel which they cannot, but to persuade the world that Israel is responding disproportionately and committing war crimes. This is so that Israel becomes vilified and isolated in the world, including by the UN and EU. Hamas is the first “army” in history to use their own civilian population as a primary weapon of war."
He said that the success of the Iron Dome missile defense system has saved lives in Gaza by allowing Israel to show greater restraint, but reiterated that the system's success does not mean that Israel should not respond to the rocket fire..
"Iron Dome has been spectacularly successful in this conflict. A 90% success rate against some 4,000 rockets is extremely impressive. This has in fact saved Palestinian civilian lives as well as Israeli lives. It has meant that the IDF can be more deliberate, considered and precise in its response. Had hundreds of Israelis died as a result of Hamas rocket attacks the IDF would have had no choice but hitting Gaza much harder and quicker and probably going in on the ground. Unavoidably, this would have led to many more Palestinian civilian deaths. Even if Iron Dome was 100% effective, Israel would still have to respond. No country ever has or ever will accept a concerted attack on its civilian population or territory, which has severely disrupted daily life as well as the economy. In these circumstances — even without any civilian deaths — it would be the duty of any government to act decisively to end the attacks.
When asked what other countries, especially Western nations, would do if faced with attacks similar to what Israel is experiencing, Col. Kemp responded that other nations would respond with even greater force than Israel has.
"Every country in the world would react to attacks like this as Israel has, except probably with greater ferocity and a higher proportion of enemy civilian casualties, as no-one else has Israel’s capabilities in this situation," he said. "In 1944 Britain was attacked with a sustained bombardment of thousands of German V1 and V2 rockets, which killed many people. Britain sent in heavy bombers to strike at the factories building these missiles, storage sites, railway tracks and roads transporting them and at launch sites. Many civilian casualties were sustained during these strikes, an unfortunate consequence of having to protect the population of your own country."
Col. Kemp stated unequivocally that Hamas bares the blame for the casualties on both sides of the current conflict. "Every single casualty, civilian and military, in both Gaza and Israel, is the direct responsibility of Hamas who launched this aggression without provocation from Israel, as they have done many times before. Not one casualty would have been sustained were it not for Hamas aggression. The greatest victims are Gaza civilians, who have been sold out, betrayed and abused by their own leadership for twisted political gain."
In 2015, the High Level Military Group, an organization of former military leaders, including Col. Kemp, released a report in which it stated that it was "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."
According to Col. Kemp, the organization would likely reach the same conclusion about the current conflict with Hamas.
"One of the observations of the High Level Military Group was that our own militaries would struggle to reach the extremely high bar set by Israel in avoiding civilian casualties in war. I am confident that the findings of the group would be exactly the same today in light of this conflict. If anything perhaps they would be even more impressed because the IDF hasn’t been wasting time since 2014. They have been developing greater intelligence and surveillance coverage and perfecting their own techniques and procedures including through conducting military training exercises. The HLMG, made up of former chiefs of staff and generals from many countries, were not alone either. General Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff also sent a team out to Israel at the time to study the IDF techniques so that the US forces could learn from them and implement appropriate measures," he said.
When asked why the accusation that Israel engages in "disproportionate" responses to Hamas rocket fire persists, Col. Kemp answered: "Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian leaders encourage the view that Israel acts disproportionately. They are part of the greatest slur campaign in the history of the world — against Israel. This has used immense efforts and vast financial resources."
"The results are seen daily during this conflict in the world’s media, at the UN, in human rights groups and among many university professors and high school teachers who have done their best to indoctrinate their students with anti-Israel lies. Some of this is the result of ignorance and some of willful ignorance, in other words malice," Col. Kemp said.