During and after Operation Cast Lead the Israel Defence Force (IDF) was vilified for ‘war crimes’ and the notorious Goldstone Report which concluded that Israel had a deliberate policy to kill civilians and destroy property has become a major vehicle for attacks on Israel.
Israel always maintained that in war mistakes are made but it was never its policy to target civilians. The IDF has conducted and continues to conduct its own investigations and has rebutted many of the specific accusations in the report.
As is the nature of attacks on Israel, the mud always sticks and anything ranging from truth to downright lies will pass as truth as long as it carries a negative image of the State of Israel with which its enemies can beat it.
Now there is an ironic echo of how Israel characterised its campaign in December 2008 to January 2009 and how NATO is conducting its ‘surge’, Operation Moshtarak, against the Taliban. There is an uncanny similarity in the language and also the situations that NATO has confronted.
Let’s draw one important distinction between Cast Lead and Moshtarak; Gaza is a heavily populated, built-up, narrow strip of land which is very difficult terrain in which to carry out a military campaign; Helmand is open country with relatively sparsely populated villages and towns.
Both Israel and NATO have stated that they have no argument with civilians. Israel went to extraordinary lengths to warn civilians of impending strikes by leafleting, mobile phone calls and even dropping special munitions on houses which sounded as if they were explosive devices but were only designed to warn those inside to get out.
NATO are fighting an extremist Islamist group who have repeatedly targeted NATO forces with IED’s; Hamas was rocketing Israeli civilians for several years sending over thousands of rockets into southern Israel.
No NATO country is directly threatened by the Taliban; Israel is not only directly threatened but Hamas have stated in their own charter that their goal is to destroy Israel and kill Jews.
Yet look at the different way the world’s press and especially the UN responds and reacts to operation Moshtarak:
the BBC reports :
Taliban militants are increasingly using civilians as “human shields” as they battle against a joint Afghan-Nato offensive, an Afghan general has said.
Gen Mohiudin Ghori said his soldiers had seen Taliban fighters placing women and children on the roofs of buildings and firing from behind them….
It is difficult for the Afghan army and Nato to storm Taliban-held areas because to do so may inflict heavy civilian casualties and there are still a lot of civilians in Marjah.
“Whenever they launch an attack, the Taliban take refuge in civilians’ homes.
Now isn’t that exactly what the IDF claimed Hamas were doing in Gaza and Goldstone found no evidence of this, or more specifically Fact-finding mission member Colonel Travers could find no evidence?
And then this in the same report:
US Marines fighting to take the Taliban haven of Marjah have had to call in air support as they come under heavy fire.
They have faced sustained machine-gun fire from fighters hiding in bunkers and in buildings including homes and mosques.
Now hang on, this is what the Israelis said Hamas were doing but not only did Hamas deny it but Goldstone again found little evidence and our friend Travers could find no evidence of mosques being used despite Israeli videos which conclusively proved the opposite and also an important independent witness Col. Tim Collins.
And then there was the incident where NATO said twelve civilians had been killed by a missile that had malfunctioned only later to correct this by saying that the intended target was hit but thy didn’t realise civilians were in the building.
Gen Carter confirmed on Tuesday a missile that struck a house outside Marjah on Sunday killing 12 people, including six children, had hit its intended target.
Gen Carter said the rocket had not malfunctioned and the US system responsible for firing it was back in use. Officials say three Taliban, as well as civilians, were in the house but the Nato soldiers did not know the civilians were there.
Initial Nato reports said the missile had landed about 300m (984ft) off its intended target. Gen Carter blamed these “conflicting” reports on “the fog of war”.
Now I urge you to cast your mind back to Operation Cast Lead where Israel was saying very similar things and the result was a UNHRC investigation, war crimes accusations and a threat that figures in the IDF and government would become international criminals – indeed some have already decided this is the case.
So where are the calls from the UNHCR now? How soon will Judge Goldstone regather is little band of men and women and go straight to the Taliban and ask then if they committed any war crimes (answer will be ‘No’) and give evidence of the many crimes of NATO. Will he then come up with a 500 page report recommending senior NATO commanders and politicians in NATO countries be taken to The Hague on charges of war crimes? Will Brown and Miliband, Obama and Clinton, Sarkozy and the rest be hauled before a tribunal? Will the US, UK and other NATO countries become international pariahs? And look at the difference: they were fighting far from home an enemy they claim is a threat to their national security. Did any UN body ever dispute this? Israel was fighting an enemy on its doorstep that was killing its civilians and targeting them on a daily basis for years and years before it took any action.
Now I know what you are thinking: in Gaza hundreds of civilians were killed; what about white phosphorus, white flags etc. Now just compare the terrains in Gaza and Afghanistan as I have already pointed out.
Israel has admitted mistakes; it may be that its interpretation of international law in respect of some of its actions differs from others; it may be that some of its soldiers acted disgracefully writing graffiti and trashing property. They should be disciplined. Are these war crimes? If so NATO is certainly guilty. And what about the Iraqi who was beaten up by British soldiers and died of his injuries? Is that not a war crime? Where is the UN on that? Where is the UN on Abu Ghraib? Where is the UN on Guantanamo Bay? Will the UN regard the Taliban as a legitimate military in the same way Goldstone and the UN regard Hamas?
What’s the difference?
I’ll tell you in case you didn’t already guess: Israel. Always Israel. They are not considered to be capable of regulating or examining their own conduct like the US or the UK or any European country or any great power such as China or Russia. Where are the resolutions on Chechnya? South Ossetia? Where Tibet?
The UN acts like a bully; pushing around small countries, especially Israel is fine but the big boys are exempt.
The UN is no longer fit for purpose because it is run supposedly along democratic lines but is numerically dominated by countries which are not. This same bunch of tyrants and dictators have a natural antipathy to Israel, not least that most of them are Muslim states. This means that whenever Israel tries to defend itself it will always be vilified and demonized. America can kill hundreds of thousands of Muslims. Sunnis can kill tens of thousands of Shia and vice versa. They can attack the others’ holy shrines and you just hear the odd ‘tut tut’. All Hamas have to do is show a dead baby and the entire world is calling for Israel’s destruction.
Isn’t that called anti-Semitism? Used to be. Doesn’t get Israel off the hook for real crimes or human rights violations but if there is never any differentiation or fairness with regard Israel’s actions then any genuine criticism which every country should be subject to, will be dismissed as vilification. If genuine criminals like Mugabe or Bashir are not pursued with the same vigour as legitimate Israeli politicians, if George W Bush and Tony Blair aren’t guilty but Tzipi Livni is then where is the justice? Think extraordinary rendition. Think torture. So why is Israel always the bogeyman?