11 January

War with Hamas

Welcome to our first newsletter of 2024. The last few weeks have been an opportunity to refresh after a pretty tough couple of months for both Israel and its supporters, including here in Australia.

Sadly, the fight against Hamas continues on the ground in Gaza, and the fight against ignorance, against outrageous and untruthful allegations, and against intimidation tactics continues here in Australia.

What’s happening?

A third phase
Due to the effective achievement of its military objectives in northern Gaza, the massing of Gazan civilians in southern Gaza, loads of US pressure to cause fewer civilian casualties and the economic need to bring home some of the hundreds of thousands of Israelis called up to reserve duty (and thus temporarily not contributing to the Israeli economy), Israel has entered into a ‘third phase’ of its military action against Hamas.

The first phase was the targeting of Hamas sites and strategic tunnels by air. The second phase was the grueling ground operation, involving house to house combat in northern and central Gaza. The third phase will involve fewer troops, but increased special forces raids to kill Hamas leaders and rescue hostages.

While US pressure is not the only reason Israel is shifting gears (Israel’s record for decades shows that it regularly puts Palestinian civilian lives ahead of achieving its own military objectives), that pressure is still galling after Mosul.

Mosul is a city in northern Iraq. It fell to Islamic State in 2014. The US recaptured it in 2017.

In the face of the outrageous genocide accusation made by South Africa (more on that below), we had a quick look at the US actions in Mosul. We wanted to determine how many combatants died in that operation. (No one seems to know. For instance, the Modern Warfare Institute at Westpoint says, “Casualty numbers were extremely difficult to assess, with estimates of ISIS fighters killed in the thousands”.

Civilian casualty numbers are, likewise, not exact, but north of 9000 is where most analysts land.

This being the case, check out this excerpt from a December 2017 AP article, published in the wake of the city’s liberation:

What is clear from the tallies is that as coalition and Iraqi government forces increased their pace, civilians were dying in ever higher numbers at the hands of their liberators…

Mosul was home to more than a million civilians before the fight to retake it from IS. Fearing a massive humanitarian crisis, the Iraqi government dropped leaflets or had soldiers tell families to stay put as the final battle loomed in late 2016.

Thousands were trapped when the front line enveloped densely populated neighborhoods…

When Iraqi forces became bogged down in late December, the Pentagon adjusted the rules regarding the use of airpower, allowing airstrikes to be called in by more ground commanders with less chain-of-command oversight.

At the same time, Islamic State group fighters took thousands of civilians with them in their retreat west. They packed hundreds of families into schools and government buildings, sometimes shunting civilians through tunnels from one fighting position to another.

They expected the tactic would dissuade airstrikes and artillery. They were wrong…

By early March, Iraqi officials and the U.S.-led coalition could see that civilian deaths were spiking, but held the course. The result, in Mosul and later in the group’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, was a city left in ruins by the battle to save it.

Most of the civilians killed in west Mosul died under the weight of collapsed buildings, hit by airstrikes, mortars, artillery shells or IS-laid explosives. The morgue provided lists of names of civilians and place of death. Names often included entire families.

The coalition has defended its operational choices, saying it was the Islamic State group that put civilians in danger as it clung to power…

Given US actions in Mosul, and the South African genocide allegations, here’s something useful: Richard Kemp, who commanded allied forces in Afghanistan, has written an excellent analysis on the objectives and tactics of the IDF in Gaza, focusing on the efforts to avoid civilian casualties. It’s hard to pull out the best part of his article because it really is excellent the whole way through. In the face of the ignorant and hateful allegations of genocide and other war crimes, Kemp’s piece is an important backgrounder.

You might have seen that South Africa has filed a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, accusing Israel of genocide.

This is an appalling accusation. Genocide is among the worst crimes against humanity, and its obvious to anyone who actually wants to look at what’s happening that there is no genocide in Gaza. By making the accusation – simply for domestic political purposes and/or to isolate Israel diplomatically – South Africa has, in effect, weakened the Genocide Convention. As the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists said in a statement, if everything is genocide, nothing is genocide.

We at the ZFA haven’t yet released a statement, but we will soon. Its sentiment will likely be similar to what the US National Security Council spokesperson said about it: “We find this submission meritless, counterproductive and completely without any basis in fact whatsoever.”

What is the ICJ?
The ‘world court’ is a UN body, designed to resolve disputes between states. This is different from the International Criminal Court (the ICC), which tries individuals responsible for war crimes if their home countries refuse to do so.

The South African case has asked for a preliminary hearing – this begins today and lasts for two days. This preliminary hearing won’t find that Israel is guilty of genocide, but will likely find that actions ‘that could amount to genocide’ have taken place, and so will call on all parties to cease fighting immediately, while the ICJ investigates.

Both Israel and Hamas will likely ignore the ICJ call. That will then go to the UN Security Council, where a resolution will be drafted that will (presumably) condemn Israel but not Hamas. The US will veto the resolution.

The actual ICJ case will take many months or even years to come to a conclusion. A useful background is here.

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