Cast Lead 311.
(photo credit:Associated Press)
Maj.-Gen Yoav Galant has the experience and qualifications necessary to be a
successful IDF chief of General Staff, save for one crucial area. Like his
predecessors, Galant has shown little understanding of the political, legal and
moral framing that accompanies – and often determines – the outcome of 21st
For over a decade, this shortcoming has severely
affected the IDF’s ability to defend the Israeli population from attack. But
most of the time, only long after the damage was done, did senior officers, or
the Defense Ministry, perceive there was even a problem.
At the end of
September 2000, violent Palestinian confrontations with the IDF were staged in
Gaza for political and media impact. That included filming what is now widely
acknowledged as the staged “death” of Mohammed al-Dura in the arms of his
The footage (dubbed “Pallywood” by Prof. Richard Landes) was
filmed by a Palestinian cameraman working for France 2 television, and
immediately circulated the globe. Influential NGOs such as Human Rights Watch,
Amnesty International, together with local partner, B’tselem, led campaigns that
wrongly condemned the IDF for killing this child.
The pattern of specious
accusations regarding the killing of civilians – who were deliberately put in
harm’s way for precisely this purpose – was employed in the Jenin ‘massacre’
during Operation Defensive Shield (2002), the Second Lebanon War (2006),
Operation Cast Lead (2008/9), the flotilla incident (May 31), and in many other
examples. In each case, the IDF, totally unprepared, responded slowly and
ineffectively to dramatic images of civilian suffering accompanied by
allegations of systematic moral and legal transgressions.
Ten years after
al-Dura, the Israeli military has still not developed a serious
Galant was in the thick of many of these events during
his IDF career, especially as officer in charge of planning and directing
Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Militarily, the operation was a major success:
there were very few Israeli casualties, and the offensive largely ended the
daily rocket attacks on southern Israel.
But Galant, like other senior
IDF officers of the past decade, did not consider or develop a successful
strategy to thwart the legal and moral distortions of this war.
the war, hundreds of reports alleging numerous human rights and legal abuses
were submitted. These were assembled in the UN’s Goldstone Report, which called
for legal proceedings and warcrimes charges against IDF officials and political
Nearly two years after the war, the IDF and Israeli government
is still scrambling to counter these claims. In a few cases, it is belatedly
filing charges in cases where appropriate.
Had Galant and the IDF officer
corps, including current Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi,
understood the political and legal battlefield before the war began, they would
not have barred professional journalists from reporting from Gaza. This left the
field to Al-Jazeera and to local stringers under the control of Hamas, so
civilian casualty claims and accompanying war-crimes allegations were
Similarly, the IDF should have limited the use of certain
weapons that create the appearance, if not substance, of excessive force, such
as white phosphorous.
The operations in Gaza complied with international
law, but, as in the case of al- Dura, the media images and distorted
“testimonies” led by Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division, created
irreversible damage on the political battlefield.
On this new
battlefield, the role of the IDF Spokesman’s Office must be completely revised.
Rather than an afterthought, this must become a fully integrated part of the
battlefield, capable of winning the war with the anti-Israel NGO divisions on
Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter.
As chief of General Staff, Galant will
have to revise intelligence priorities, and develop the military tactics and
strategy to face this new reality. This challenge is as important and difficult
as any he will face from Iran, Hamas or Hizbullah.The writer is a
professor of politics at Bar- Ilan University and heads NGO Monitor.
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