March 17, 2018

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Israel is shown to be far more transparent than the UK on civilian airstrike deaths

In 2014:

Israel’s retaliatory air strikes on Gaza have been “deliberately disproportionate” and amount to “collective punishment”, Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on Thursday, in unusually robust criticism of a close British ally
“I really do think now the Israeli response appears to be deliberately disproportionate, it is amounting now to a disproportionate form of collective punishment,” Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the country’s coalition, told Britain’s LBC radio station.
“I really would now call on the Israel Government to stop. They’ve proved their point,” he said. He said he respected Israel’s right to defend itself.

Now compare how Clegg and other British politicians criticized Israel in Gaza with how they act towards their Iraqi targets.

From The Guardian:

More than 15,000 civilians were killed by explosive weapons in 2017, a jump of 42% in a year, according to a global survey seen by the Guardian.

The rise – driven by airstrikes, which killed almost double the number of civilians in 2017 compared with the previous year – coincided with US-led military operations to reclaim the Islamic State strongholds of Mosul, in Iraq, and Raqqa, in Syria.

MPs said the figures were “deeply concerning” and raised questions over the transparency of legal criteria used by the Ministry of Defence to determine whether an individual is an Isis combatant.

The UK has said it has no credible evidence of its airstrikes resulting in civilian deaths, while the US military has revealed it unintentionally killed at least 801 civilians in Syria and Iraq.

The global survey, compiled by Action on Armed Violence, an organisation that highlights civilian harm from explosive weapons, suggests the civilian death toll from air-launched explosives rose by 82%, from 4,902 in 2016, to 8,932 in 2017.

The worst impacted countries were Syria, where civilian deaths increased by 55% to 8,051, Iraq, where there was a 50% increase, to 3,271, and Afghanistan, where 994 non-combatants died.

During the last three Gaza wars, Israel released detailed statistics on the deaths, enumerating how many were civilian and how many terrorist, and its numbers of total killed tracked closely with the numbers provided by independent researchers (who typically undercounted the number of terrorists killed significantly.)

In addition, Israel would publish results of investigations in many specific examples of airstrikes describing exactly its intelligence, who was targeted and killed, and everything it did to ensure a minimum of civilian deaths and to adhere to international law.

In comparison, there is next to no transparency by British and US forces in their airstrike campaigns. The British insistence that they have no evidence they have killed a single civilian is risible:

Iain Overton, executive director of Action on Armed Violence, said the data threw doubts upon the MoD’s claim that it had no evidence of its airstrikes killing civilians in Iraq and Syria.

“In an attempt to combat terrorism, forces are using air weapons against groups they consider a threat and, in doing so, they are killing an awful lot of civilians,” Overton said. “It raises fundamental questions about the Royal Air Force’s claims that there is no evidence civilians are killed in its operations.”

Overton blamed a “very nasty and bloody” year on increased airstrikes and the continued use of improvised explosive devices by terrorists. The latter killed 3,874 civilians in 2017, a similar number to those killed the previous year.

This is about urban warfare and that’s why we are getting crazy numbers,” said Airwars director Chris Woods.

“War is moving into cities. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Russia or the US-led coalition or ground forces leading the assault, the outcome for civilians under attack is always dire.

There seems to be no interest from the coalition or the Iraqi government in properly understanding the level of civilian deaths. We’re becoming too complacent about urban warfare, and militaries and governments are downplaying the effects.

In response to calls to reveal how enemy combatants are identified, a spokesman for the MOD said it does not comment on rules of engagement. He added: “We’ve not seen any evidence that we have caused civilian casualties. We do everything we can to minimise the risk to civilian life from UK strikes through our rigorous targeting processes and the professionalism of the RAF crews. Reports of civilian casualties are and will continue to be taken very seriously and we will investigate all credible claims.”

The British are completely opaque in their terms of engagement, in their intelligence gathering, in how they determine the number of casualties, and indeed their denials of killing any civilians in urban warfare are ludicrous. Yet they have the audacity to criticize Israel for its much more limited air campaigns that are meticulously documented.

Notice also that the NGO, Action on Armed Violence, describes how difficult urban warfare is and how it inevitably will lead to massive civilian casualties. I did not see a single Gaza NGO that was fair enough to mention that obvious fact in 2014 or earlier Gaza wars.

Israel is expected to adhere not only to higher standards than any Western nation, but to adhere to  impossible standards. Meanwhile, even those who are most critical of the far more deadly western air campaigns in the Middle East acknowledge the difficulty of targeting only terrorists when they hide among civilians, like Hamas and other Gaza terror groups do.

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