The fact that the IDF killed no civilians in Jenin is a marvel

In most operations in urban areas, even those conducted by Western armies, more civilians than fighters are killed

Article published in The Jewish Chronicle, 6 July 2023. © Richard Kemp

The IDF defensive operation in Jenin — the most intensive military action in the West Bank since 2002 — has concluded after 48 hours of fighting without any civilian deaths. That is a remarkable achievement unparalleled in any comparable campaign worldwide. Twelve Palestinians were killed, at least eight of whom have been claimed as fighters by the terrorist groups involved.

In most high-intensity operations in urban areas, even those conducted by Western armies who adhere strictly to the laws of war, more civilians than fighters are killed, sometimes in a ratio of 3-5 to one. This is of course not deliberate but an unavoidable consequence of fighting an enemy among the population who themselves dress as civilians, occupy civilian buildings such as mosques, schools and hospitals as bases of attack, and use innocent civilians as human shields.

Israel’s enemies in Gaza and the West Bank go further still, using tactics that deliberately try to lure the IDF to kill their own citizens. You might wonder why any force that sets itself up as protectors of its people would do that. It is because they know they can never defeat or severely damage the IDF on the battlefield, and they can rely unfailingly on journalists, academics, international bodies and activists to blame Israel for these deaths, leading to vilification, condemnation and isolation.

This tactic was used in Jenin and as a consequence around 100 people were wounded, some of whom were civilians. Despite close surveillance, strict rules of engagement, extensive training in preventing civilian casualties and tight battle discipline, it would have been impossible in these circumstances to completely avoid any uninvolved civilians getting hit. To understand that you just have to put yourself in the boots of a young Israeli soldier in a fast moving and chaotic situation with explosives and gunmen potentially around every corner, bullets maybe with your name on scything through the air and every step you take liable to set off a lethal booby trap. Don’t forget, operating on their own turf, the terrorists had plenty of time to prepare the ground for the incursion they knew would come sooner or later.

In this situation it is quite remarkable that the IDF were able to avoid killing any civilians at all. I doubt any other army would be able to achieve that. I was in Israel a few years ago with a group of retired generals from around the world, some former chiefs of staff of their own armies, investigating IDF operations in Gaza. Strikingly, and contradicting widespread media distortions and UN propaganda aimed against Israel, their unanimous opinion was that their armed forces would not be able to match or even approach the IDF in its ability to prevent the deaths of enemy civilians on the battlefield. This view echoed the words of General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who after the 2014 Gaza conflict, said: “Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties”. He dispatched a team of officers to learn lessons from the IDF that could be applied to US forces.

Of course there would have been no civilian casualties if the IDF hadn’t gone into Jenin. But the government had no choice than to send them there. The city has descended into a hotbed of jihadist terrorism, and large numbers of murderous attacks against Israeli civilians have been launched from its streets, intensifying in recent months. Much of this violence has been directed, funded and armed by Iran on the direct orders of Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei. Last month he emphasised this element of Iran’s violent multi-front strategy against the State of Israel: ‘The growing power of the resistance groups in the West Bank is the key that can bring the Zionist enemy to its knees, and it is crucial that we continue along this path.’

The upsurge of violence in Jenin should have been dealt with by the Palestinian Authority security forces, which British officers have extensively trained, with the UK spending millions of pounds developing their capability. But corruption, weak leadership and internal division meant they have in the main stood by and watched as terrorist groups flourished while Tehran fuelled the flames.

We will have to wait and see what impact the Jenin operation has had on the worsening situation in the West Bank, but one thing is for sure: Israel will have to go in again and again, and much of the world’s media and the UN will, again and again, have a field day condemning the IDF for taking unavoidable action to protect its citizens while risking its own soldiers’ lives to avoid killing or wounding innocent civilians.