As the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva published last week its controversial report on the 2014 conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, which concludes that both Israel and Palestinian terror groups may have committed war crimes, a group of former US senior military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan have criticized the report for the weakness of its military expertise.
“I am very disappointed by the composition of the UNHRC commission of inquiry which didn’t include a military expertise and relied instead mostly on testimonies collected by local non-governmental organizations. Moreover the report didn’t recognize the unique challenges posed by ‘non-state organizations’ , like Hamas, with military capabilities combating in a urban environment”, Major General Michael D.Jones, a former Chief of Staff of U.S. Central Command, told a briefing organized Wednesday by the AJC Transatlantic Institute in the European Parliament.
Maj.Gen Jones was a member of a task force who carried out an independent report on the Gaza conflict titled “2014 Gaza War Assessment : The New Face of Conflict” and commissioned by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a Washington-based think-tank focusing on issues of national security.
“We looked at the conflict in order t determine what lessons should the US learn from it in view of our future national security challenges as US forces will increasingly confront ‘hybrid’ non-state actors pursuing unrestricted warfare,” he said, .
The 72-page report by the military task force came to the following observations :
- Hamas demonstrated a wide range of combat capabilities more commonly associated with conventional militaries than with a non-state actor.
- Hamas did not deploy these advanced combat capabilities to achieve a military victory but to create conditions on the ground that would serve its strategic objective of generating international pressure that would force Israeli concessions.
- Hamas violated the Law of Armed Conflict and exploited misunderstanding of its requirements to undermine Israel’s perceived moral standing and international support.
- Israeli military operations in Gaza met or exceeded the requirements of the Law of Armed Conflict as part of an extensive effort to avoid civilian casualties. But exceeding the requirements of the Law of Armed Conflict did not effectively prevent effect-based condemnations and risks further incentivizing the exploitation of civilian casualties by hybrid enemies such as Hamas.
- Hamas supported false claims against the IDF by distorting stories and images to serve the organization’s narrative and by manipulating stories in the international media.
- The IDF underappreciated the extent of Hamas’s recent tactical and technological innovations, especially tunnel warfare.
“A lot of these tunnels started or ended in houses and places where you can move from place to place. They use them to manoeuvre on the battlefield, as an infiltration method to go behind the enemy lines, some of which came up near IDF positions and Israeli communities,” explained Maj.Gen. Jones.
“If you look at what the Israeli objectives were at the beginning of this conflict, it did not include a ground incursion. It was only after determining that there were these infiltration tunnels and knowing they couln’t detect their location, they decided to have this limited ground incursion to go find out where these tunnels originate from to be able to destroy them”.
He continued, “We concluded that the IDF consistently applied lawful criteria in their targeting. Conversely, we concluded that based on verifiable information on the launch sites, weapons and ammunition storage, command locations, and the trajectories of fired weapons, that Hamas habitually violated the law by attacking civilian targets with no military value, and deliberately placing Gazans at risk without military necessity.”
Prof. Geoffrey S.Corn, a former US Army‘ senior law of war expert who advised the JINSA-commissioned task force, stresses that “the purpose of humanitarian law is not to prevent civilian casualties but to strike a rational balance between military necessity and civilian risk mitigation.”
“If we start from the premise that the purpose of humanitarian law is to prevent casualties, it fundamentally alters this historic balance. It supports the false narrative and encourages efforts of the enemy to increase the risk of civilian casuaties because it is perceives as an ipso facto violation of the law.”