Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 16 May 2018. © Richard Kemp
On Monday the Iran-backed terrorist organisation Hamas achieved its baleful objective when more than 50 people were killed. This is what it had hoped for when it dispatched thousands of Gazans, including women and children, to the border with Israel under orders to break through the fence. This carefully planned operation – which continued on Tuesday – had nothing to do with protest or the so-called right of return of Palestinians to Israel. It was only about grabbing headlines and creating a situation that the Israel Defence Force had to deal with by lethal force.
Knowing they cannot defeat the IDF by military means, this has been Hamas’s long-term strategy: to cause international outrage aimed at isolating Israel. Previously it has fired rockets and dug attack tunnels, both intended to murder Israeli civilians, leaving the IDF with no option other than to defend its people with force. Hamas’s use of human shields in each of these situations guaranteed civilian deaths.
Hamas has brought these tactics to a new and sickening low in recent weeks, making its human shields the actual weapons of war, with inevitably bloody consequences. This is the first government in history that has deliberately sought to compel its enemy to kill its own people.
You have only to look at yesterday’s world headlines to see that these tactics are more effective than before. While Western commentators, human rights groups and politicians can recognise rockets and attack tunnels as aggressive military actions, it is harder to understand the same thing of apparent demonstrations such as are frequently seen in most capital cities of Europe.
How has the IDF responded to this aggression, which in reality is very far removed from anything seen so far in Europe? Over recent days, I have visited IDF commanders and snipers at the border and observed their actions for myself. They have employed graduated measures, starting with warning Gaza civilians against approaching the border, by leaflet drops, phone calls, SMS and radio broadcasts. They even directly appealed to bus company owners not to bring people to the border.
When crowds still assembled and threatened the fence, non-lethal weapons including tear-gas and evil-smelling “Skunk” liquid to were used. Despite the IDF’s deployment of drones to disperse these weapons more precisely, they are relatively ineffective in this situation.
Next the IDF fired over-head warning shots and then disabling shots aimed at ankles and legs. Only as a last resort, in the face of immediate threat by terrorists with weapons and explosives, have soldiers shot to kill.
As a British soldier with 30 years’ experience, including commanding troops facing violent rioters with terrorists among them, I know of no other effective means of handling this situation. Although human rights groups, media analysts and political leaders, including Jeremy Corbyn, have said the IDF should have acted differently, not one has suggested how.
Many have condemned Israel for using excessive and disproportionate force. I cannot assess every incident, but I can say for sure that this is not the case. The IDF has strict rules of engagement, similar to our own, which conform to the laws of war and, when appropriate, to human rights law. IDF commanders exercise tight control over use of force, and I stood beside a battalion commander on the border as he directed operations in his sector.
Those who say it would be no big deal if the crowds reached the border fail to understand the potentially catastrophic implications. If they succeeded in breaking down the fence, thousands would pour through, intent on violence against Israeli civilians. Among them would be armed terrorists with orders to reach border communities and carry out mass murder. Some villages are just a few minutes’ dash from the border. Hamas social media provided Google maps marked with routes from the border to the communities they intended to attack. Had that horrendous scenario occurred, the IDF would have defended these communities with lethal force and many more people would have died.
All of this is no doubt hard to fully understand, especially if you are conditioned to see Israel in a bad light. But those who wrongly accuse Israel of using too much force play into the hands of Hamas.
I am in no doubt that the international reaction to conflict in Gaza has validated Hamas’s human shield tactics and encouraged them to step up their violence. This has contributed to the death toll. Anyone who is genuinely interested in human rights and concerned to improve the wretched lives of the people of Gaza should support Israel’s lawful efforts to defend its sovereign territory and condemn Hamas, which so malevolently oppresses its people and throws away the lives of innocent men, women and children.
- Richard Kemp commanded British forces in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans
Image: Israel Defense Force