Israel at the weekend published the findings of 10 of the world’s top generals who concluded that, contrary to widespread allegations, the Jewish state had not committed war crimes during last summer’s Gaza war.
The delegation, headed by Chairman of the NATO Military Committee General Klaus Naumann (pictured), said in a statement that its “mission to Israel was unprecedented. We were the first such multi-national group of senior officers to visit the country. We were granted a level of access to the Israeli government and Defense Force that has not been afforded to any other group…”
After vigorously investigating the Israeli army’s conduct during the war, the group found that “Israeli forces acted proportionately as required by the laws of armed conflict and often went beyond the required legal principles of proportionality, necessity and discrimination.”
In fact, the foreign generals noted that on many occasions “the measures taken were often far in excess of the requirements of the Geneva Conventions.” For instance, Israel repeatedly put off a major military response despite escalating terrorist rocket fire. And once war had begun, the IDF routinely paused military action to spare civilians, even though doing so allowed Hamas and its allies to re-group and replenish.
Addressing the high number of Palestinian civilian casualties, the generals said this was the sad, but inevitable reality of conducting war from such a densely populated area.
“We recognize that some of these deaths were caused by error and misjudgment… But we also recognize that the majority of deaths were the tragic inevitability of defending against an enemy that deliberately carries out attacks from within the civilian population,” read the findings.
Earlier this year, Israel invited two leading American legal experts, Michael Schmitt and John Merriam, to likewise probe its conduct during the 50-day conflict that devastated much of Gaza.
Both Schmitt and Merriam lecture on the law of armed conflict at the US Naval War College, and Schmitt also advises on the topic at NATO, Harvard and Exeter.
Their survey took a sympathetic, if not uncritical, look at Israel’s “siege mentality” and the various other factors that create the “specific operational and strategic environment in which the IDF must fight.”
And while Israel’s aggressiveness in some scenarios and the resulting collateral damage might be viewed by some as excessive and contentious, the authors determined that Israeli military policy and practice fell within legally acceptable boundaries.
“While there are certainly Israeli legal positions that may be contentious, we found that their approach to targeting is consistent with the law and, in many cases, worthy of emulation,” read the survey’s concluding sentence.