Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Based on its track record, the US has no business chastising Israel about accidentally killing civilians

The mistaken targeting of the aid workers from the World Central Kitchen should never have happened. Whoever was responsible for the airstrike decision should be removed from their posts immediately. It is not only a human rights catastrophe, but it also hurts Israel and the IDF tremendously.

However, the reaction from the world is more indicative of assuming that this is a pattern of neglect by the IDF, which is an absolute falsehood.

It is woefully underreported that the IDF is doing an amazing job in this war. Most of the things the IDF is doing are literally unprecedented by any army in history. Military colleges will study this campaign for decades to come.

While some of the groundwork was of course set up beforehand - notably the tight integration between the air force, navy, ground troops and artillery, where ground troops can call in a strike from the other parties and - the actual implementation was done on the fly, with mostly reservists learning the procedures on the job with only a couple of weeks of training. 

The IDF has been able to retrieve intelligence and make it actionable in hours or days, not months. It has been able to test out brand new methods of urban and tunnel warfare never before seen - face recognition and other new technologies, robotics, AI, and many new methods that are still under wraps. 

Importantly, the IDF is flexible. It has changed the military campaign at the turn of a dime several times. It has improved itself in real time. 

Even more impressive are the logistics - the dividing up Gaza into hundreds of areas and directing people to avoid airstrikes using phone messages and drones with speakers, as well as old fashioned leaflets. Scanning and passing through humanitarian aid. Coordinating the aid with multiple third parties. 

Much of this is brand new and never before seen in any war. All wars are complicated, but the complexity of this war is far beyond what any media is talking about. Israel didn't choose the timing for this war. It is like building a basic space shuttle to take off in two weeks and being expected to upgrade it every day while it is flying. Every mistake is magnified and criticized, while the fact that it is even off the ground and improving every day on the fly is beyond amazing.

It is doing all of this under the most scrutiny of any army in history. And it has gone beyond what other Western armies have done to minimize civilian loss of life in urban warfare. Never before Hamas has an enemy relied on civilian deaths as a major part of their strategy. 

The US, UK and other Western powers have killed tens of thousands of civilians over the past two decades during wars. No one accused them of targeting civilians deliberately even  though they killed thousands of civilians in  much less challenging environments. 

9,000 civilians were killed by the US-led coalition in Iraq between 2003-2005. 

In July 2008, the US hit an Afghan wedding party, thinking they were a large number of terrorists. 47 Afghan civilians were killed including the bride. And in November, a similar airstrike at a wedding killed 37 civilians, mostly women and children. 

Between 86 and 147 Afghan civilians were killed in another 2009 US airstrike. 

In September 2012, a US drone shot at a truck in Yemen, killing 12 civilians, including three children and a pregnant woman. 

In 2015, the US fired over 200 shells at a hospital building in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 42 patients and staff. Days later, it admitted the mistake, saying that it had intelligence that the Taliban were in the building.  

In March 2017 , the US dropped a 500-pound bomb on a building where about 50 people were sheltering in ISIS-controlled Syria.

In 2018, the US Army shot a Hellfire missile at a mother and daughter in Somalia, and when one tried to flee, it hit them again, killing them. . 

In 2021, a US drone shot and killed 10 civilians in Kabul, including an aid worker and seven children.  It wasn't a split second decision - they watched the vehicle for eight hours without considering that perhaps the people they were watching were innocent. 

Last May, the US announced the killing of an Al Qaeda leader - but the victim was really a 56-year old former bricklayer.

As recently as February of this year, US airstrikes in Iraq killed civilians

In nearly all of these cases, the US didn't admit their mistakes until weeks or months later, if ever, and only when pressured would they release any results of investigations. 

So when Joe Biden, who was president and vice president during a great number of these US airstrikes killing so many civilians, says he is "outraged" at Israel, he is being more than a little hypocritical The US track record on transparently investigating mistakes and taking responsibility is horrible compared to Israel's. 

There is one other difference between US and Israeli airstrikes. US citizens are not directly threatened by terrorists in the Middle East, but the spouses and parents of Israeli soldiers are only a minute away from being killed by a rocket or a terrorist every day. A mistake in the other direction, allowing a terrorist to live, can have devastating consequences for the people who live, work or study only a couple of hours drive away. 

Wars  are complex. There are a lot of people doing a lot of things and the communications between the different sections are not always perfect.  Mistakes are made by even the best armies.   And the most professional armies in the world, with the best human rights protections, sometimes kill civilians despite their best efforts to avoid it.

If Biden is so outraged at Israel's mistakes, he should take personal responsibility for the US killings of civilians to the extent that Israel does.  As far as I can tell, he hasn't publicly apologized for a single killing of civilians by his armed forces as Netanyahu did Tuesday. 

Not to excuse Israel's airstrike - it shouldn't have happened and you can be certain that the mistakes that led to that strike will be reviewed and fixed. But this outrage over what happens in every war by every Western power is more than a little disingenuous. 

Hamas started this war, Hamas benefits from the deaths of aid workers, and Hamas is the party ultimately responsible for their deaths. Defeating the terrorists is the moral thing to do, and that cannot  always be done as antiseptically as everyone would like. 

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