Israel’s approach to bombing enemy targets is unique in the history of warfare. Making use of modern technology, it sends text messages, or calls the target several minutes before striking, to warn the occupants to move to safety.
Then it sends a flare or similar device as a final warning before actually dropping the bomb. The success of this strategy can be measured by the numbers. In striking 500 targets in Gaza, only around 20 civilians have died, with about another 20 Islamic militants. In terms of what is euphemistically called “collateral damage,” those figures are extraordinarily low.
On its web blog, the IDF claims that the IDF’s civilian-to-terrorist death ratio is the lowest in the world.
In the 2008 operation in Gaza – code named “Hot Winter” – Professor Alan Dershowitz stated that the ratio of 1:30 represents the lowest civilian to combatant casualty ratio in history in the setting of combating terrorism. He argued that even this figure may be misleading because not all civilians are innocent bystanders. In October 2009, Dershowitz stated that the ratio for Israel’s campaign of targeted assassinations stood at 1 civilian for every 28 terrorists. He asserted that “this is the best ratio of any country in the world that is fighting asymmetrical warfare against terrorists who hide behind civilians.”
For example, The New York Times reported on a call to the cellphone of Salah Kaware’s sister-in-law on Tuesday. Mr. Kaware lives in Khan Younis, in southeast Gaza; the caller said that everyone in the house must leave within five minutes, because it was going to be bombed.
A further warning came as the occupants were leaving, when an Israeli drone fired a flare at the roof of the three-story home. He told The Times, “Our neighbors came in to form a human shield.” Some climbed to the roof to try to prevent a bombing. Others were still in the stairway when the house was bombed not long afterward.
As a direct consequence of these actions, seven people died. Depending of one’s point-of-view, ignoring the Israeli warning can be seen as defiance, bravado, or simply crass stupidity.
The Israeli military had targeted the houses because it claimed they belonged to Hamas members involved in launching rockets, or engaging in other military activity The homes were also being used as operations rooms.
For many years, the Israelis have used such telephone calls, texting, and even leaflets in a stated attempt to reduce civilian casualties. They also want to avoid charges of indiscriminate killings, or even of not following the “rules of war.” The difficulty they face is that these rules have no meaning in this form of warfare. The various conventions did not envisage the deliberate placement of rockets and their launching systems, in private homes, school, mosques, and, even, hospitals.
The Israelis also regularly drop leaflets over Gaza urging citizens not to cooperate with terrorism and to stay away from border zones. However, organizations like Human Rights Watch, say that Israel’s efforts to warn civilians with phone calls and leaflets do not absolve the armed forces, which “still need to ensure that the warnings are effective and do not allow attacks otherwise prohibited under international law.”
But, in 2009, it grudgingly welcomed these “new procedures to improve its early warning to civilians during armed conflict.”
Israel often claims that the IDF is the most moral army in the world, considering the circumstances in which it has to fight. After all, who else gives advance warnings?