This month I wanted to express my opinion on the investigations of the “war crimes” supposedly committed during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. A number of anonymous soldiers have testified to various news sources that during this latest military operation they felt that Israel had conducted itself unethically and attacked civilians as well as destroyed property in a style of “shoot first and ask questions later”.

As background I would like to point out a few things.

  1. All Israelis are required to serve in the army which is significant as you will get a number of people that will never agree with any level of violence as it may not be in their nature to be troops.
  2. The enemy in this scenario is not another army but a terrorist organization that makes use of suicide bombers and human shields making it very difficult to limit civilian casualties but under normal circumstances Israel is well documented to be better at limiting civilian casualties than any other army including the USA.
  3. Israeli politics and culture allows for if not even encourages people to express their opinion so this kind of rhetoric by troops after a conflict is nothing new. In fact, it is welcomed for troops to report war crimes which are then heavily investigated and acted upon.
  4. Finally, if you get 3 Jews in a room you end up with 4 opinions so complaints about any action taken by Israel even by Israelis is expected.

As to the allegations, my opinion is that it is very possible that this last military engagement may have had harsher rules of engagement then normal but this is really do to point 2 above. No organized military in the world is currently well equipped or trained to combat terrorist organizations using the methods that Middle East ones do in an urban setting without casualties. I believe that the Israeli army provides adequate warning to civilians prior to an attack but it has been well documented that the civilians often do not heed the warning or receive threats from the terrorist organizations not to heed them. These civilians are critical to a terrorist organization’s defense (human shields) and offense (media coverage of dead civilians) therefore the terrorist can’t afford these civilians to simply step aside and allow the conflict to occur between the two armed forces.

I will admit that recent failures in some of the Israeli conflicts may have prompted a harsher approach but I think based on the approach that organizations like Hamas take with Israel this is well warranted. In addition, based on the fact that most if not all of the complaints are coming from anonymous soldiers I have to question the validity. In closing I want to leave you with two thoughts.

One, if it was your son or daughter entering an urban setting with potential land mines, suicide bombers and civilian clothed militia, how many questions would you want them to ask before shooting?

Two, has anyone noticed that even some of the Arab leaders had compared the way Israel conducted itself to that of the terrorist groups? While I don’t ever want to see Israel sink to their level it is ironic to me that Israelis bulldoze a few buildings by mistake and they get this kind of negative coverage but Hamas shoots rockets at kindergartens and hospitals and nobody blinks.

In closing, I guess for those reading this that do not have any sons, daughters, cousins or friends serving in the Israeli army it will always be hard to understand why I support them being cautious in a way that may cause an accidental civilian death but keep the troops out of harm’s way. I think there is only so much precaution that is worth the death of an Israeli soldier and for people that really want to see an end to civilian casualties they should attack the heart of the problem – which is the way that terrorists situate themselves among these civilians.

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Peter Rabbit writes a monthly column on politics and world events for The Casual Observer, specializing in the Middle East. His articles can be found in Carrots of Wisdom.

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