Fresh out of a meeting with Knesset members and following visits to sites affected by rocket fire from Gaza, Col. (ret.) Richard Kemp sees a tough road ahead for Israel.
“Hamas has shown huge resilience, they learned from [operations] Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense. Their commanders are skulking underground while the fighters and civilians die… They are a formidable enemy. I think what they have been doing in those tunnels is extremely impressive. It is very difficult for intelligence to detect them,” he said.
Kemp, who served in Northern Ireland and commanded British forces in Afghanistan, has become an outspoken supporter of the “unprecedented steps” Israel has taken to prevent harming civilians during its last major operations in Gaza.
He is in Israel to try to “get as close to the situation as possible,” he explained in a sit down with The Jerusalem Post.
“I have thirty years of experience in exactly this type of conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans, where the tactics were similar. I find a great deal of media reporting outside of Israel is grossly distorted and doesn’t comprehend the reality of what’s happening,” he said.
Kemp argues that Israel has persevered very well despite being at a “natural disadvantage” in the media and international spotlight, saying that “Hamas used this tactic of human shields. It is win-win for them. The first win is if they can stop the IDF from attacking a target, whether it is a headquarters or ammunition point. Equally, if the IDF does attack the target and there are civilian casualties, they also win, because it means they scored a propaganda victory.”
In meetings with pilots, soldiers and naval personnel, he related stories where they had frequently refrained from attacking targets where civilian casualties might have resulted.
Although the perception is that the IDF is harming civilians, he argues that many armies actually look to Israel to learn how the country minimizes casualties while fighting in an urban environment.
“I don’t know of any method used in this kind of scenario to [further] reduce civilian casualties. When [US President Barack] Obama and [British Prime Minister David] Cameron say that [there is], then they should how to,” he said.
He sees international criticism of Israel’s actions as encouraging terrorists to copy the Hamas strategy of using human shields and undermining Israel’s ability to defeat the group.
Kemp advises against the tendency to demand a timetable to end the operation, and warned that the country must be prepared to face casualties similar to what the British faced fighting in Afghanistan.