The United Nations issued condemnations—not against those who bombed the area, but against the use of civilians as a “human shield.” The New York Times, which constantly condemned Israel during Operation Protective Edge, argued mostly with Trump: “Taken together, the surge of reported civilian deaths raised questions about whether once-strict rules of engagement meant to minimize civilian casualties were being relaxed under the Trump administration.”
One might have assumed that since 2003, or maybe only from 2008, the strict rules of engagement had led to minimum civilian casualties. Well, the figures show that 268,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq since the war began there in 2003. There is no proof that former President Barack Obama reduced the number of casualties. The use of drones, for example, was 10 times higher during the Obama era than during the George W. Bush era.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey has admitted in the past that in an effort to reduce the number of civilian casualties, he sends his officers to Israel, which “went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties” in Gaza. That did nothing to lower the level of hostility towards Israel. Neither did the guidelines issued for Hamas militants, ordering them to operate from within a civilian population in order to increase the number of innocent casualties, so as to increase the pressure on Israel.
It’s clear that from a comparative perspective, the number of civilian deaths caused by Israel is much lower. Hamas spokespeople, even more than ISIS fighters, have repeatedly boasted that they use civilians—mainly women and children—as a human shield. ISIS learned from Hamas, hoping that the same international pressure exerted on Israel would be exerted on the coalition forces as well. The organization’s fighters were stationed on the roofs of bombed buildings. The mission was accomplished. Hundreds of civilians were killed.
I am writing this because we are already hearing the sounds of the drums of war in the background: there has been a rise in the number of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, Hamas has elected a militant leader, Yahya Sanwar, and like all jihad organizations, it is investing in the industry of death—in tunnels and rockets rather than in the strip’s reconstruction. As soon as the conflict begins, the global response will be the exact same response as in the previous rounds. The protests will be against Israel, not against Hamas.
That doesn’t mean that there is nothing we can do. There is. Israel should initiate a dramatic, far-reaching proposal to end the blockade on the strip. The formula should be reconstruction in exchange for demilitarization. If Hamas says yes, Israel will benefit. If Hamas says no, Israel will gain important diplomatic leverage.
Israel is neither the US nor NATO. Israel is not treated like the rest of the Western states. As soon as the first reports about civilian casualties emerge, international pressure will begin, including demonstrations, protests and condemnation articles. Forgiveness and restrain in such situations are reserved for every other army, but not for Israel. And we should admit that the international protest, which turns Israel into a criminal, affects tactical and strategic decisions during the fighting.
An Israeli initiative won’t eliminate the anti-Israel hypocrisy, but it will help Israel deal with the traps prepared by Hamas in order to increase the number of civilian casualties. Israel is preparing for the next conflict. The preparations should focus on diplomacy too.