The Israeli Assault on Gaza: How Surgical Are the Strikes?

The Israel Defense Forces insist that Operation Defensive Pillar is taking pains to minimize civilian casualties by "cleaning the target" before a strike. The fatalities may be low compared with the previous Gaza conflict, but Sunday in the coastal strip was still bloody

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ALESSIO ROMENZI for TIME

Palestinians shout at the Al Shifa Hospital morgue after the arrival of the body of Ramez Harb, an Islamic Jihad militant killed by an Israeli airstrike on the Shuruq building in Gaza City, Nov. 19, 2012.

On the day they buried Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas commander blown apart in what Israel calls a “targeted killing,” a man named Jihad Misharawi cradled the corpse of his 11-month-old son, killed when an apparently errant Israeli shell pierced the roof of their Gaza home. The father’s grief was captured in a compelling Associated Press photograph that Misharawi might have appreciated in his professional capacity: he works for the BBC as a photo editor, the job that involves deciding what images to send out to the world when the story becomes the death of civilians, as it is becoming in Gaza.

Until Sunday, the number of Palestinian bystanders killed in the Israeli assault on the crowded, poverty-stricken stretch of sand may have been as low as 16, barely half the number of fatalities among militants across the first four days. That proportion, if it had stood, would have been exceptional for any war — some researchers say civilians historically account for 80% of war deaths — but especially for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) doing battle in the Gaza Strip. The last time the IDF went into Gaza, four years ago, 1,400 Palestinians were killed, at least half of them civilians. Israel emerged from its victory facing a torrent of international approbation and a U.N. inquiry alleging war crimes.

(PHOTOS: A New Gaza War: Israel and Palestinian Militants Trade Fire)

The Jewish state was not keen to repeat the experience. The rhetoric coming out of Israel can be incendiary: Monday’s Jerusalem Post contained an op-ed by Gilad Sharon, the youngest son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, arguing, “We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima — the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki too.” Earlier, Interior Minister Eli Yishai declared that the goal of the current operation is to “send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.” But Israel’s most senior officials appear keen to maintain the approval of Western governments, both by emphasizing that Gaza militants provoked the assault by firing hundreds of missiles toward Israeli communities and by arguing their answering offensive — more than 1,350 air, tank and warship strikes so far — is both fierce and restrained. The public relations section of the IDF is proactive on the question of minimizing civilian deaths, posting videos from earlier operations showing the trouble Israeli pilots take to avoid injuring bystanders while pursuing military targets. Several show gunsight footage of pilots diverting their bombs — after release, in flight — when the car they are aiming at enters a garage, or pulls up beside a cluster of pedestrians. The missiles explode a safe distance away.

“We are learning, and we are improving from last time,” a senior Israeli officer told TIME late last week. “But eventually we will make a mistake, and there’ll be an accident. There’ll be a picture of children who have been hit, and it will be devastating for us.”

That’s what happened on Sunday. An Israeli air strike leveled a house in Gaza City, and among the 10 people killed were four children and four women. The home apparently belonged to a militant, and an Israeli official said the occupants had received a telephone call warning them that the house was going to be bombed. “Apparently they didn’t leave,” the official said.

Such warning calls — which Palestinians describe in a video the IDF compiled — are among the precautions Israeli forces say are intended to minimize loss of life and also forestall a repeat of the torrent of criticism that Israel faced four years ago, in Operation Cast Lead. In the command center during that campaign, according to a military source, a policy that reflexively directed fire to the location from which a rocket had just been launched surely raised the number of civilian casualties. Israeli commanders are not doing that in the current operation.

(MORE: Psychological Warfare with Missiles: Why Tel Aviv Matters)

In Operation Defensive Pillar, as the ongoing assault is officially known, specific efforts are made to avoid hitting bystanders, Israeli officials maintain. When approaching a target where civilians are believed to be, Israeli pilots will make a first pass to drop a sound bomb (or feeble live charge) near the target, intending to scare people away. Commanders refer to this as “cleaning the target.” The aircraft then returns to deliver live munition meant to destroy the missile launcher, weapons cache or — lately — home. Since Wednesday, Israeli forces have destroyed at least 14 Gaza residences belonging to a Hamas minister or commander. Again, Israeli officials say care is taken to limit damage to surrounding structures and bystanders, using a penetrating munition that detonates deep inside the structure, causing it to collapse inward.

Any contrast with Cast Lead is intentional. That operation began with a massive attack on a police graduation, cutting down dozens of cadets standing in formation. From the start, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu framed Defensive Pillar as a series of “surgical strikes,” and five days later, the relatively refined approach may be having an effect. Though Israel has called up 40,000 reserves in preparation for a possible ground assault, attention shifted over the weekend to the terms of a possible cease-fire, mediated by Egypt, that would avoid a ground war neither side seems to want. Officials say Israel’s primary demand is a total cessation of rocket fire into its territory (900 of which have been fired since Wednesday, resulting in three Israeli deaths). For Hamas, the primary demand is for a promise that Israel will stop killing its senior officials and commanders.

The sheer number of Israeli air strikes challenges the effort to confine the damage to military targets. Between dusk on Sunday and dawn on Monday, another 150 massive explosions echoed across the densely packed enclave, as Israeli warships joined warplanes in pounding Hamas police stations located throughout Gaza. Each strike involves complex coordination among several agencies — typically including Israel’s internal security agency, Shin Bet, which runs informants in Gaza, military intelligence and the Israeli air force. The potential for something to go amiss rises with each outing. “Statistical probabilities are working against us,” the Israeli officer tells TIME.

(MORE: Has Israel’s Assault on Gaza Made Tel Aviv Vulnerable?)

By Sunday night, the independent Palestinian news service Maan had tallied 72 Palestinian deaths in Gaza, including 24 on Sunday alone. The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, using figures from a few hours earlier, counted 53 fatalities, including 29 civilians, 11 of them children. Those killed on Sunday included an 18-month-old boy named Eyad in the al-Bureij refugee camp, 9-year-old Tasneem Nahhal in the al-Shati camp and Jumana Abu Asaifan, age 1.

“You talk about surgical strikes,” the Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood said to a senior Israeli official at a news conference in Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon. “I’ve actually just come here straight from Gaza, and the idea that the strikes are surgical is, um, not quite accurate. And actually the casualty toll has increased quite a lot in the last 24 hours. A lot of them are civilians. A lot of children are now being killed.”

The Israeli official was Moshe “Bogi” Ya’alon, whose titles include deputy prime minister and Minster for Strategic Affairs. In the 1990s, he was Chief of Staff of the IDF. He stood by “surgical.” “It is within our values as well as our interest to avoid what is called collateral damage, or hitting noninvolved people,” Ya’alon said. “For our soldiers, hitting noninvolved people — I’m talking about women and kids — is a failure. Not like it is in the other side. They target deliberately our civilians. But when they use their own civilians as human shields, what is our choice? To allow them to hit our civilians?”

— With reporting by Aaron J. Klein / Tel Aviv

VIDEO: New Yorkers Take to the Street over Gaza

172 comments
BorderJumper
BorderJumper

If Israel had as much influence as people think, how did they not stop Caliph Obama being President, twice!

Why did 50% of Americans vote for a haji who's dedicated to the destruction of Israel, the USA and Britain?

dassa0069
dassa0069

Since 1947: A Slow Motion Genocide, tacitly approved by The West.

mobie
mobie like.author.displayName 1 Like

Did anyone notice that they reported a boy was killed in a REFUGEE camp.  Why would the Palestinians keep their own people in refugee camps for over 60 years in their own territory. 

mrcamillon
mrcamillon

there are no uninvolved if you sleep with dogs you wake up with fleas they purposefully involve citicens store weapons in the school were children are being indocrarated to hate and kill jews and americans no one is innocent if any one would have tryed to teach my children to kill or hate i would have taken my children and leave as should all of the would be innocents should do

YerzhanJanaykhan
YerzhanJanaykhan

shame on American...without American,isreal can do this..

mrcamillon
mrcamillon like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

i give support to israel and dont care what you think stop firing rockets at israel i understand the blockade  but there is a land route no weapons of any kind ever thing is allowed

arvay
arvay

This "human shield" stuff is nonsense.

The Palestinians are fighting back against a punishing Israeli blockade -- imposed because Israel did not like the results of a free election -- from the crowded territory in which they are confined, by Israel.  

Did  Polish resistance fighters who battled the SS "use human shields" by inviting the expected and actual massacre they  saw?

Deserving honorary SS membership:

Monday’s Jerusalem Post contained an op-ed by Gilad Sharon, the youngest son of former Prime Minister ArielSharon, arguing, “We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima — the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki too.”

Comparing the residents of Gaza to Imperial Japan that overran large swaths of Asia, is, of course, routine bs from the Israeli right. A force that's running Israel right now.

Time has long past to disengage ourselves from these lunatics. The aircraft and missiles killing these people have our name written on them. Yes, mom, your child died courtesy of the US, which supports Israel to the hilt in the struggle against your dead child's future.

mrcamillon
mrcamillon like.author.displayName 1 Like

lucky for them if we did it my way bulldose the whole place

Human
Human like.author.displayName 1 Like

@arvay So many lies in one post...

No, the Israeli blockade was not because of a free election. First of all, Hamas took over Gaza brutally; the free elections were for parliament, not for presidency. Second, the Israeli blockade was because Hamas continues attacks on Israeli territory (Does the name Gilad Shalit tells you anything? he was ambushed inside Israel, long after Israeli soldiers left Gaza), ad of course smuggling weapon.

Regarding Gilad Sharon's comment - You have to view it in the right context, which is how to respond when fighting against people who's ideal in life is killing women and children (hint: they view 9/11 as a great victory, and celebrated it in the streets at the time).

afeifer
afeifer

You mention that there have been 1350 air strikes, and hence you find it hard to believe that the attacks are surgical strikes. A few paragraphs later, you mention that as of Wednesday, there have been a minimum of 900 rockets launched from Gaza. I am having trouble understanding why 1350 seems like such a high number in comparison that it makes it hard to believe that the attacks are surgical. Every time a rocket is launched, the goal is to shoot down the launch pad. You are now talking about 900 hits as a minimum. Beyond that you have stockpiles of rockets. If 900 have been launched in such a short amount of time, can you imagine how many are still stored. Do you imagine that 900 rockets are all stored in one place. Lets say that each storage unit for rockets can store 100 units (and that is an exaggerated number). You are now talking about at least 9 more locations that need to be taken down, plus at least double that for storage units that still contain rockets in them. Beyond that, you have hundreds, HUNDREDS, of tunnels that are used to transfer rockets from Egypt. If these tunnels are not shot down, what is to stop more civilian aimed rockets from coming in? And when we are done with all that math, add to that the houses of the leaders of the terrorist organizations located in Gaza. I have trouble understanding where your problem with the number of air strikes comes from.

fibonacci2
fibonacci2 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@afeifer Simple math, if Israel were trying to kill people then they have the absolute worst aim and kill record of any military in the world.

Françoise
Françoise

@fibonacci2 Check facts and compare before doing your simple maths! Stop the slogans, make informed choices in your stands. When the United States, was subject to just such an attack on 9/11, our response was swift. We launched a full scale invasion of Afghanistan. Thousands of troops. The RAF Tornado force. A Royal Navy carrier task force.Britain and her allies lost over 3,000 service personnel, with a further 20,000 wounded. Over 14,000 civilians were killed. That was our proportionate response to the threat realised by 9/11. And that was an attack perpetrated by guys armed with box cutters, boarding passes and a few hours on a flight simulator.

Source: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danhodges/100190047/would-britain-react-like-israel-has-to-a-few-rockets-yes-we-would-and-we-have-before/

Hear what a British Colnel has to say on the matter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WssrKJ3Iqcw&feature=plcp

JonathanPollardU.S.SpyTraitor
JonathanPollardU.S.SpyTraitor

What the evil zionists are proving . . . is that the whole world hates israel.

mrcamillon
mrcamillon like.author.displayName 1 Like

hardly i support israel and not wit words with money fool israel is neighbors with savages that will commit suicide to kill jews also teache there children to hate and murder they want to die 72 virgins get real

BillPearlman
BillPearlman like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@JonathanPollardU.S.SpyTraitor shove it up your ass scumbag

JonathanPollardU.S.SpyTraitor
JonathanPollardU.S.SpyTraitor like.author.displayName 1 Like

@BillPearlman Why don't you do it for me?  Oh, you don't dare.  You can't because you are so tough . . .tough killing women and children in Gaza.  You're not tough.  zionists are tough .  If your nasty kind is so tough, whey don't you go ahead and attack Iran?  Want to know why you don't . . .it's because the Iranians would put their big fat shoe up your paper tiger idf's butt.  That's why.waaaahhhh   waaaaaahhhh please obama attack Iran for us because we're too chicken and we can't whoop Iran, waaaaahhh  waaaaaahhhh  please do it for us.LOL at ya sissy

Françoise
Françoise

@Robertshad  My friend, 1. There have never been "Palestinians". Listen to what "Palestinians" themselves say about it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=qp1OS-20Bzc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbuM91PeSOs&feature=related

2. You mean they gave place like this?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UmO6IBMEbc

3. Some Gazans are poor people, because Hamas steal from them and repress them.

Look  what "Palestinians" say about it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXIaCaW3POE

Love from Jerusalem

mrcamillon
mrcamillon like.author.displayName 1 Like

they make there selfs poor all of there time and energy goes bombs to kill americans and jews they should homes for there  people not bombs for murder

Robertshad
Robertshad

@fibonacci2 and all americans : If you check the history palestinians gave place for israeli refugees. Its an arab land and israel is trying to kill poor people.

mrcamillon
mrcamillon

iran aint nothin if it were up to me america would take iran out to pasture for good

StanMiller
StanMiller

@JonathanPollardU.S.SpyTraitor @BillPearlman I'll bet a $1000 you don't have any higher education and possibly are a high school drop out. you're analyses of events is very sophomoric. you are like the kid in grammar school,  who who knew nada and picked his nose in class.

AdamSmith
AdamSmith like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@JonathanPollardU.S.SpyTraitor @BillPearlman  

M0r0n, the "Zionists" took on the combined Arab armies many times their size and beat them every time.

It is the Palestinian "fighters" who are hiding behind women and children and causing their deaths. By placing rocket launchers in civilian homes and in residential areas, they give the Israelis no other choice than taking them out by air - unless you think a ground war will produce fewer casualties.

 It's simple - no rockets no response. Protecting it citizens is the first resposnsibility of any government, and if the Palestinians continue to fire rockets at Israeli civilian populations, they leave the Israelis no choice.

 All blood, Israeli and PAlestinian, is on the Palestinian hands.

BillPearlman
BillPearlman like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

You start a war from a populated area. And then you complain when you get hit. There is NO other military on earth, NONE that tries to avoid civilian casualties likethe idf. It's also good to know that Karl Vick takes the palestinian news service had gospel. Saves him the trouble of getting off his ass

shrimper
shrimper like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

I do feel for the innocent being killed in Gaza. The truth is that Israel is also being bombed. The Israeli's would

be delighted if their rockets only hit civilians, but Hamas fires their rockets from the middle of civilian populations

for the reason of inflaming international feeling. Don't for a minute think that Hamas would'nt hit a school or

 hospital if they had the rocket guidance to due so.

fibonacci2
fibonacci2

@shrimper Simple math, if Israel were trying to kill people then they have the absolute worst aim and kill record of any military in the world.

JonathanPollardU.S.SpyTraitor
JonathanPollardU.S.SpyTraitor

Evil is what the zionists are.  All of israel is guilty.  We Americans need to kick these evil people to the curb.

bimkaamur
bimkaamur

this is the precursor to the big one, America is still economically depressed, and things are going to get uglier in the Mid East so Sheldon Adelson better start digging into his pockets if he want america to "have his back"

Dachman
Dachman

I want to hear more about that terrible blockade that keeps out food and medical supplies. I wonder if they didnt spend all of their money to make rockets while their kids starved, the blockade would open up and they would have all kinds of extra money.

The sad part is the rest of the Arab world could really care less about the people of Gaza, they are used to further the destruction of Israel. If Israel was wiped out the Muslims would start fighting each other the next day.

honestbroker
honestbroker like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Dachman The Israeli's are even now! letting trucks full of food through to Gaza. Every day. Show me one army in the world that keeps its enemy fed while being shot at.

fibonacci2
fibonacci2

@honestbroker @Dachman they also let on Nov18th 19 truckloads of medical stuff to Jordanian Hospital in Gaza and replaced medical staff with fresh ones.

StanMiller
StanMiller

@Dachman say what? they are fighting each other now! and have been for centuries. 

JonathanPollardU.S.SpyTraitor
JonathanPollardU.S.SpyTraitor

@StanMiller @Dachman   Liar!  Man o' man, Miller is a liar. Plain and simple.

AdamSmith
AdamSmith

@JonathanPollardU.S.SpyTraitor @StanMiller @Dachman 

You are simply ignorant. 

"Hamas gunmen have shot dead at least two dozen men since the end of December last year. In the same period, scores of others have been shot in the legs, subjected to severe beatings which caused multiple fractures and other injuries, or otherwise tortured or ill-treated, according to evidence given to Amnesty International. "

http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/hamas-waged-deadly-campaign-war-devastated-gaza-20090212