Israel’s use of force was justified
Israeli forces took extraordinary steps not to harm Gazan civilians and yes, claims about misuse of weapons are being investigated
By Uri Dromi, Guardian UK, February 24, 2009
Foreign journalists who entered Gaza when the operation was over reported that the initial stories about the damage were grossly exaggerated.
In the wake of the Israeli operation in Gaza, aimed at putting an end to years of Hamas harassment of the south of Israel, there are now media reports about the possible use by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) of white phosphorus and flechette shells. Now Amnesty International issues a report reiterating these claims.
Some words about these weapons.
White phosphorous is a chemical substance dispersed in artillery shells, used primarily to conceal the movement of troops. It burns on contact with oxygen and creates a smokescreen to mask the military manoeuvre. Unfortunately, it may have a negative side effect: when it comes into contact with people, it causes severe burns.
Flechettes are an anti-personnel weapon designed to strike a large number of enemy men. Basically, they are tiny metal darts packed into120mm shells. These shells explode in mid-air and scatter many flechettes in a conical pattern over an area around 300 metres wide and 100 metres long.
As frightening as they sound, these weapons are not banned by international law. Therefore, when the Israeli army used them in Gaza, it did nothing unprecedented. Peter Herby, the head of the Red Cross’s mines-arms unit, told the Associated Press: “In some of the strikes in Gaza, it’s pretty clear that phosphorus was used.” However, he added: “It’s not very unusual to use phosphorus to create smoke or illuminate a target. We have no evidence to suggest it’s being used in any other way.”
As for flechettes, whether we like it or not, they are standard weapons for most armies. Again, international law doesn’t prohibit their use. Even so, the IDF established a commission of inquiry to investigate whether there were cases in which flechettes and white phosphorous were misused.
Amnesty International, however, didn’t wait for any such investigation. Quick as ever to blame Israel, the organisation paid lip service to the launching of thousands of rockets by Hamas on Israel during the last years, aiming intentionally to kill innocent civilians. It hardly denounced them and then went on to conclude that it was Israel that had committed “war crimes”.
Alas, war is a messy business. In urban areas, where the enemy is elusive and is using women and children as human shields, war is even messier. Remember Fallujah in Iraq, in 2004, when during Operation Phantom Fury US forces destroyed one out of every four dwellings of this 40,000-home city, killing 1,350 fighters and an undisclosed number of civilians. No one blamed the US for war crimes, and no one dared threaten to drag American generals to tribunals at The Hague. When it comes to Israel, however, double standards reign.
Go explain to Amnesty, or to the world media, that Israel, in trying to hit Hamas operatives only, took extraordinary steps not to harm civilians. Millions of leaflets were scattered over Gaza, warning the locals to evacuate certain areas before they were attacked. Phone calls were made to specific residents to leave their homes, because Hamas terrorists operated from there and thus turned them into military targets (yes, read again: you call your enemy and you implore him to leave the area so he is not hurt). Last but not least, after exhausting all those warning measures, the IDF fired close to such homes and gave the residents enough time to leave them safely, before the houses were hit.
No other army in the world goes to such lengths to try not to hurt civilians. Yet once a military operation is launched, and especially in a heavily populated area such as Gaza, things happen. Was there a disproportionate use of force? The IDF is checking it. Was there misuse of white phosphorous or flechettes? Again, Israel, as a vibrant democracy, is investigating the matter thoroughly. In the meantime, foreign journalists who entered Gaza when the operation was over reported that the initial stories about the damage were grossly exaggerated.
Last but not least, the Israeli use of force must be put in context. Only after exhausting its patience vis-a-vis an onslaught of Qassam rockets did Israel decide to use its military power, in the most justifiable act of self-defence. If there is one commodity in short supply among the Hamas leaders, it is accountability. Hamas brought on the people of Gaza the wrath of the IDF – white phosphorous and flechettes included. Now its supporters are pointing fingers at Israel.