Former British commander in Afghanistan: No army acts with as much discretion as IDF does

Col. (res.) Richard Kemp told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel's army is more careful than the US and UK forces.

Richard Kemp (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Richard Kemp
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel’s ratio of civilian to military casualties in Operation Protective Edge was only one-fourth of the average in warfare around the world, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan Col. (res.) Richard Kemp told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Wednesday.
Kemp pointed out that, during the operation, there was approximately one civilian casualty for ever terrorist killed by the IDF, whereas the average in the world is four civilians for every combatant, and that, when taking into consideration Hamas’s use of human shields, this shows how careful the IDF is.
“No army in the world acts with as much discretion and great care as the IDF in order to minimize damage. The US and the UK are careful, but not as much as Israel,” he told the committee.
Kemp, who has long openly admired the IDF’s military tactics and testified in Israel’s favor to the Goldstone Commission following Operation Cast Lead in 2009, visited Israel during Operation Protective Edge.
The retired colonel was invited to the committee by Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Ze’ev Elkin to share his knowledge on law and ethics in war.
“The IDF’s actions during Operation Protective Edge were very reasonable, especially in light of the fact these actions were meant, first and foremost, to strike Hamas as a military organization,” Kemp told the panel.
“During the whole operation Israel was very careful under all the limitations of international law. Even if there were exceptions, there were very few and in cases when there was no possibility, and there was no intention to hurt civilians.”
According to Kemp, Israel had legitimization, under international law, to strike hospitals, schools and places of religious worship that were being used to store weapons or launch missiles.
The legality of hitting such a site, risking civilian lives, is “a difficult question for anyone to answer,” Kemp said, one that a commander on the ground or ordering an air strike would have to answer in the moment.
“The guiding principles within the laws of armed conflict relate to necessity and proportionality. If it’s a hospital that has civilians, but it’s also being used, let’s say, as a command center” he said, making a reference to Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, “then the person making the decision will have to say ‘I reckon I will kill 30-40 civilians but I will remove a significant command center, which will bring the collapse of the enemy.’” In other words, he explained the commander has to “justify that the military value of the attack is worth the death of civilians” and that Britain and America make decisions in the same way.
As for legal advisers’ omnipresence in the IDF, Kemp said the situation is the same for the UK and the US, quipping that “the law is everywhere.”
He said that, in any case, commanders should have enough knowledge of the law to make their own decisions, and lawyers often don’t give a clear-cut answer as to the legality of an action.
In response to a question by MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) about Muslim extremism in the UK, Kemp said “we didn’t realize it, but we have been fighting this since 2001.”
The retired colonel pointed out that thousands of British Islamists fought in Syria and many came back with blood on their hands, positing that some may intend to carry out attacks in the UK.
“It’s dangerous and a great concern. I think Britain is waking up to it now,” he said.