Tuesday, July 02, 2024

  • Tuesday, July 02, 2024
  • Elder of Ziyon

It isn't as if Hamas' strategy of using Gaza civilians as military assets ha only started last year. It's been a major strategic objective of Hamas since it took over the sector.

A report from the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence published in 2019 analyzes the Hamas' use of its human shield strategy between 2008-2014. It explains - and understates - the importance of putting civilians in harm's way to Hamas.

Hamas' playbook is explained in detail:
From  a  diplomatic  perspective,  Hamas  uses  human  shields as a military practice to earn points in the global and regional arena (as well as in the Palestinian one). This is used to weaken Israel’s ability to justify its claims regarding the Palestinian problem, to create continuous political  pressure  through  international  institutions  (e.g.  the UN and the EU) and NGO groups, and to support and promote sanctions and prosecution by international tribunals. Hamas records most incidents in which civilians are killed and injured by the IDF, and then uses this “evidence” to demonstrate the IDF’s alleged lack of legal and moral standards. This also serves Hamas in the diplomatic theatre, as any collateral damage caused by the IDF usually yields harsh criticism from the UN and its institutes, Israel’s rival countries (e.g. Turkey), and sometimes even friendly countries (e.g. UK, Germany, France, Sweden).

Hamas' military tactics are spelled out: 

The populated areas are the main battlefield, in which Hamas conducts uncompromised fighting while blending in with the local population. Hamas thus responds to the IDF’s military and technological supremacy by creating an asymmetric equation, leveraging terrain advantages and using civilian populations to protect their military assets.

The paper underscores how this strategy was vindicated and further encouraged by the 2009 Goldstone Report:

A UN fact-finding mission headed by Judge Richard Goldstone was established in April 2009 following the [2008-2009] war, and published its 574-page report in September 2009. ... The final report criticised Israel harshly for attacking civilians and civilian facilities. It disputed Israel’s claim that the Gaza War was initiated as a response to rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, claiming that, at least in part, the war was targeted against the “people of Gaza as a whole.” 

...The mission  found  no  evidence  of  Palestinian  armed  groups  placing  civilians  in  areas  where  attacks  were  being  launched, or engaging in combat in civilian dress, or using a mosque for military purposes or to shield military activities. This statement contrasted with both Israeli and international media reports that Hamas fighters wore civilian clothes and concealed their weapons. Despite placing the blame on both sides, the mission de facto rejected Israel’s claims that the IDF had only attacked  Hamas’  targets,  and  that  civilian  casualties  were  caused  mainly  due  to  Hamas’  use  of  civilians  as  human shields. This was a severe diplomatic blow to Israel. In fact, the international community barely distinguished between the activities of a terror organisation and those a sovereign state. 

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights endorsed the report ...UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged “credible” investigations by both sides into the conduct of the Gaza conflict “without delay.” The European Parliament passed a resolution endorsing the Goldstone Report in March 2010. ....These declarations, as well as others, demonstrate Hamas’ triumph in controlling the narrative. Hamas’ ability to control the narrative limits Israel’s strategic choices, and in doing so it causes reputational damage that limits any claim Israel might have regarding the fact the Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation. Pictures of dead civilians have the immediate and short-term impact of limiting  Israel’s  freedom  to  exercise  retaliatory  military  power.  As  a  further  consequence  of  the  use  of  such  evocative images the international community places pressure on Israel to cease fighting (even if they did not initiate the conflict or if Israel’s national and military objectives were not achieved).
Hamas' lawfare playbook for the current war is predicted with clarity:
Hamas  aspires  to  exploit  its  rival’s  commitment  to  normative  and  explicitly  defined  international  law.  Acknowledging Israel’s military and technological supremacy, Hamas’ use of human shields is one aspect of its asymmetric response, utilising another form of warfare: lawfare. In practice, Hamas employs the best of both worlds: if indeed the IDF uses kinetic force on a massive scale, and the number of civilian causalities surges, Hamas will be able to use that as a weapon in the lawfare it conducts. It will be able to accuse the IDF (and Israel) of committing war crimes, which in turn could result in a wide array of sanctions.  On the other hand, if the IDF limits its use of military force in Gaza in order to avoid collateral damage, Hamas will be less susceptible to Israeli attacks, thus protecting its assets, while continuing to fight.
If anything, the paper soft-pedals Hamas' human shield strategy. Its 15 authors were not aware of the extensive military tunnel infrastructure under Gaza cities, only briefly mentioning the smuggling tunnels under Rafah. Placing civilian directly between IAF planes and the terrorist tunnels is as explicit a human shield strategy as possible.

The only suggestion it has for states confronting similar threats (which is the point of the paper) is weak. They mostly recommend better messaging and psy-ops. But even the authors know this won't work:
 However legitimate a targeted strike may be from a legal perspective, first impressions frame the narrative, and public opinion tends to be influenced more by images of horrific tragedies than by well-thought-out legal arguments
Hamas continues to use human shields because the international community has vindicated that strategy.

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

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