Despite IDF dropping huge number of bombs, Gaza casualties not unprecedented

Studies show that in military responses to 9/11, US military dropped fewer bombs, but killed far more civilians–overall and per airstrike.

By Ryan Jones | | Topics: Gaza, Hamas
The destruction in Gaza is severe, but the IDF has conducted its airstrikes with an unheard-of level of precision. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
The destruction in Gaza is severe, but the IDF has conducted its airstrikes with an unheard-of level of precision. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

The situation in Gaza is dire, and people are suffering. The destruction is widespread. There is no question about that. But to paint it as an unprecedented human catastrophe is disingenuous, to say the least.

Israelis are pointing to recent studies that show the number of lives lost in American military responses following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States is many orders of magnitude higher than the reported death toll in Gaza.

“Much more needs to be done to protect civilians,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in early November in response to a question about the number of deaths reported in Gaza.

“Far too many Palestinians have been killed. Far too many have suffered these past weeks. And we want to do everything possible to prevent harm to them,” he added.

But is what America demands of Israel when it comes to war the same standard it applies to its own military?

Hardly.

In the two years following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States went to war in a number of places to eradicate the terrorist threats that had carried out those atrocities.

Those wars have raged, and spawned new wars, for over 20 years. The total number of deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen from direct post-9/11 conflict is nearly 1 million.

Of those, nearly half a million are innocent civilians.

The human cost of America’s post-9/11 wars. Chart produced by the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University.

Of course, those wars have had many side effects, like economic collapse, food insecurity, destruction of public health facilities, environmental contamination, and recurring violence. And those side effects have resulted in many more deaths.

From 2001 until today, more than 4.5 million people have died in the Middle East and North Africa as a direct or indirect result of post-9/11 US military action.

Most Americans would argue that said military action was justified, despite the catastrophic outcome, and that the resulting deaths and destruction are on the heads of the terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks. And I would agree with them, while insisting that the same standard be applied to Israel and its war on Hamas-ruled Gaza.

In relative terms, the barbaric Hamas invasion on October 7, 2023 was a far greater national tragedy for Israel than 9/11 was for the United States.

Israel’s military response is correspondingly unprecedented. That said, it won’t last 20 years or more, as has America’s response to 9/11. Israel’s response in Gaza will last months, not years. But that means it has to be more intense.

And it has been.

A Washington Post study put Israel’s rate of fire in Gaza, particularly in regards to aerial bombardments, at more than twice that of US forces at the peak of their operations against Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan and ISIS in northern Iraq.

Israel has dropped some 30,000 bombs on targets in Gaza, damaging about the same number of buildings and totally destroying an estimated 10,000 structures. In some parts of northern Gaza, entire neighborhoods have been flattened.

IDF spokesmen argued that this method of attack is necessary because of how deeply Hamas forces are embedded in the civilian population. Not to mention the massive tunnel and bunker system Hamas has constructed under all those buildings.

Given the rate of fire, the level of destruction and the population density of Gaza, the number of civilian casualties has been shockingly low, a little detail missing from Blinken’s criticism.

According to data compiled by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), a London-based charity that researches the incidence and impact of global armed violence, the bombing of ISIS-held Mosul, Iraq by US-led forces in 2017 resulted in 12 deaths per airstrike.

That same year, US-led forces bombed ISIS targets in Raqqa, Syria, resulting in 8.8 deaths per airstrike.

When the Russian and Syrian militaries bombed opposition forces in Aleppo in 2016, they killed more than 21 people per airstrike

And in Gaza? According to the data AOAV collects, 9.4 Palestinians have died per IDF airstrike since October 7. This is on par with or lower than similar American and Russian bombing campaigns.

It is difficult to know how many of those killed in the Gaza airstrikes are Hamas terrorists and how many are genuinely innocent civilians. Hamas reports all Gaza deaths are civilians, and AOAV did not make any clear differentiation in its data.

According to IDF sources, at least 8,000 of the 20,000 reported deaths in Gaza since October 7 have been Hamas members. If that is accurate, then the number of “civilian” deaths per Israeli airstrike in Gaza is even lower than reported by AOAV.