Adapted from a speech by the former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan,
who spoke in Tel Aviv this week to a group of young professionals and IDF
It is an honor for me to stand in the same room as those of you
in IDF uniforms. You might think that you’re simply defending your country, but
in fact you are fighting against violent jihadist terrorism for the whole of the
Western world, and you are at the front lines of the battle.
quite a lone voice, mine was certainly a very lonely voice among the many dozens
of speeches endorsing the Goldstone Report and repudiating Israel that were made
over the two days of the UN Human Rights Council hearing after Operation Cast
Lead. This is what I said to the Council: “During its operation in Gaza, the
Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat
zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”
What was behind my
comments? Apart from basic decency and humanitarian considerations, the
commanders of the IDF knew, as do British, American and other NATO commanders,
how vital to a counterinsurgency conflict is winning over the hearts and minds
of the people, especially in a conflict where they could be sure that killing
innocent civilians is exactly what the enemy would be trying to lure them to
Because Hamas (like Hezbollah in Lebanon, like the Taliban in
Afghanistan and like al-Qaida and the Shi'a militias in Iraq), use their own
people as both tactical and strategic weapons of war.
Hamas used them on
the tactical level as human shields, to hide behind, to stand between Israeli
forces and their own fighters, sometimes forcing women and children to remain in
the positions that they would use to launch attacks from.
their people too on the strategic level, luring IDF troops to attack and kill
them. People whose deaths would be callously exploited in the media as a means
of discrediting the IDF. And this is exactly what insurgents do almost daily too
in Afghanistan, seeking to provoke NATO and Afghan forces to kill the local
people. In these most difficult circumstances, IDF commanders took unprecedented
measures to minimize civilian casualties. When possible, they left at least four
hours’ notice to civilians to leave areas designated for attack, an action that
handed a distinct advantage to Hamas.
Attack helicopter pilots had total
discretion to abort a strike if there was too great a risk of civilian
casualties in the area. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of
humanitarian aid into Gaza, and even unilaterally announced a daily three-hour
ceasefire knowing this would give Hamas vital time and space to re-group,
re-equip and re-deploy for future attacks. A factor often forgotten, but this of
course added to the danger to the IDF’s own troops.
The Israelis dropped
a million leaflets warning the population of impending attacks, and phoned tens
of thousands of Palestinian households in Gaza urging them in Arabic to leave
homes where Hamas might have stashed weapons or be preparing to fight. Similar
messages were passed on in Arabic on Israeli radio broadcasts.
despite Israel’s extraordinary measures, a number of innocent civilians were
killed and wounded. This was inevitable. Let us not forget: Hamas was
deliberately trying to lure the Israelis to kill their own people.
Many have contradicted my assertion about the IDF.
But no one has been able to
tell me which other army in history has ever done more to safeguard the rights
of civilians in a combat zone.
In fact, my judgments about the steps
taken in that conflict by the IDF to avoid civilian deaths are inadvertently
borne out by a study published by the United Nations itself, a study which shows
that the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in Gaza was by far the lowest in
any asymmetric conflict in the history of warfare.
The UN estimate that
there has been an average three-to one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in
such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant
That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to
In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be
four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in
Chechnya and Serbia.
In Gaza, it was less than one-to-one.
extremely low rate of civilian casualties flatly contradicts many of Goldstone’s
original allegations, and the bleating insistence of various human rights groups
about Israel’s alleged crimes against humanity.
And last month, even
Judge Richard Goldstone changed his mind.
As with Cast Lead, the tragedy
of the Gaza Flotilla incident, a year ago, has been widely exploited as part of
the conspiracy to delegitimize Israel.
There is every reason to believe
that the activists on board the Mavi Marmara set out deliberately to provoke the
Israeli boarding party into an attack that would cause bloodshed to be exploited
in the world’s media. The Turkish group IHH was prominent among the organizers
of the flotilla, and had purchased the Mavi Marmara for that purpose.
well as being a genuine humanitarian aid group, the IHH is a radical Islamic
organization. The IHH is vehemently anti-Israel and anti-America, and has
extensive connections with international jihadist groups, including al-Qaida.
According to a French investigative magistrate specializing in terrorism, the
IHH played an important role in an al-Qaida plan to carry out a mass-casualty
attack at the Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the
Many who should know better have stridently proclaimed that
the Gaza blockade itself is illegal. But does not the government of Israel the
right – the duty – to protect its citizens against the re-arming of Hamas and
other jihadist groups in Gaza, which continue to attack the civilian population
with rockets, and undoubtedly desire to expand their conflict in line with the
proclaimed objective of destroying Israel as an entity?
Today, Israel faces a
conspiracy of delegitimization, which aims to give validity and justification to
attacks on Israel by groups such as Iran’s proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, allowing
them to strike at Israel with impunity, and encouraging the view that any
retaliatory or defensive measures by Israel are by definition disproportionate
and should be criminalized.
The more traction this idea is allowed to
gain, the greater the instability between Israel and its neighbors. This lessens
the chances of any lasting peace, and consequently increases the blood that will
be shed on all sides in the region.
The most powerful weapons in this
conspiracy are legal, diplomatic and media. Fundamentally, we are talking about
a war of words, words that are given unprecedented potency by the internet, by
the globalization of the 21st century.
If this is a war of words, we must
also use words to counter attack.
The conspiracy seeks to undermine the
right of Israel to exist as an entity. And it is this that we must stand up
against. As we would stand up vigorously against any movement that seriously
sought to undermine the existence of any legitimate, democratic state.
this war of words, all that is necessary for this evil conspiracy of
delegitimization to triumph is for good men to say nothing. I have enough
experience of the IDF to know that the harsh condemnation all too frequently
applied to them, usually by those with an anti-Israel agenda, is, more often
than not, completely unjustified.
Like all other armies, including my
own, the IDF is far from perfect. They make mistakes like other armies, mistakes
that are often compounded by the fog and the friction of war. And like other
armies, they have their share of bad soldiers as well as good.
personal knowledge, Israel’s armed forces and security services have often
proved to be firm friends of Britain and the British people. Two events stand
out in my mind.
The first happened when I was sent out to be Commander of
British Forces in Afghanistan in 2003. We were confronted with an enemy whose
many tactics included suicide bombings. This was the first time British troops
had to confront suicide attackers, and we had no policy with which to counter
them. I telephoned an Israeli contact of mine, who arranged for a
Brigadier-General in the IDF to meet with me in London.
This man (at the
time, serving as a full-time commander of an operational unit) took the time to
fly to Britain within two days. For four hours, we sat in a lobby in a London
hotel. He spoke; I took notes. And it was from that meeting that my policy for
countering suicide bombers in Afghanistan was devised – a policy that was
subsequently adopted by all British forces, and has saved lives.
second incident occurred a couple of years later, after the terrorist attacks in
London on July 7, 2005. We in the UK were deeply shaken by the attacks, the
first suicide bombings Britain had experienced at home. At the time I was
working for Cobra, the UK national crisis management committee. Very soon after
the terrorists struck, I received a call from my contacts in the Israeli
security forces who offered every assistance they could provide. I received few
other such calls from our allies around the world.
It was then that we
knew who our real friends are.