By Ben Tinsley
FORT WORTH — A task force of retired United States generals visited Israel in December — investigating the tactics and strategy of the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.
On July 22, two members of that group, retired Lt. General Richard F. Natonski and retired Major General Michael Jones, joined Professor Geoffrey Corn at the Fort Worth home of Julie and Dick Abrams to explain to more than 20 area residents the implications of this independent assessment of soldier conduct during the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict. The report was solicited by JINSA, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
Harris Vederman, director of National Outreach for JINSA, explained to the audience the context of the meeting.
“We are traveling around the country,” Vederman said. “We were in Florida yesterday, Texas today and California tomorrow on a domestic tour talking about what happened during the 2014 War in Gaza by Israel.”
The task force investigation was a direct response to a report issued by the United Nations Human Rights Council after they investigated allegations of war crimes during Operation Protective Edge.
This report — perceived as one-sided and anti-Israel by critics — was nicknamed “Goldstone II,” alluding to the controversial and highly criticized Goldstone Report, the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict established in April 2009 by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
This wasn’t the first time the JINSA report has been publicized in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. JINSA chief executive officer Dr. Michael Makovsky shared this same general task force report with a group in Dallas on May 20.
As Dr. Makovsky did at his presentation, Lt. General Natonski, Major General Jones and Professor Corn provided the July 22 Fort Worth audience with copies of “2014 Gaza War Assessment: The New Face of Conflict,” which originally was released on March 9 in the Pentagon, Washington D.C., and in New York.
The report, heavy on hard facts and damning conclusions, absolutely pulls no punches.
“Commissioned and supported by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), this Task Force closely studied the evolution of Hamas’ strategy and Israel’s response, based on primary source research and discussions with senior Israeli, Palestinian and United Nations (U.N.) officials,” the report states.
According to the report and contrary to accusations of widespread unlawful military conduct, the task force members observed that Israel systematically applied established rules of conduct that adhered to or exceeded the Law of Armed Conflict in a virtually unprecedented effort to avoid inflicting civilian casualties — even when doing so would have been lawfully permitted.
“However, it is the conclusion of this Task Force that Israel’s military restraint unintentionally empowered Hamas to distort both the law and facts for their own purposes to the ultimate detriment of civilians’ safety, for which Hamas bears sole responsibility,” the report states.
And then there is the problem of the manufactured negative perception of Israel.
One of the more dangerous tactics used during Operation Protective Edge was to propagate misinformation using websites and social media accounts, the report shows.
The message they sent out: Israel was the aggressor. Israel was responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians.
It was believed by many but was completely a lie.
“Disinformation was coupled with restrictions on journalist movements within Gaza effectively preventing them from providing coverage of Hamas’ indiscriminate firing against Israeli civilians and locating its military firing positions, weapons, ammunition and military facilities among Gazan civilians,” the report states.
Hamas, according to reports, supported false claims against the IDF by distorting stories and images to serve their organization’s narrative and by manipulating stories in the international media.
Elaborating on the report, Professor Corn said the IDF held itself to very high legal standard during the war. Corn was previously the U.S. Army’s senior law of war expert in the Office of the Judge Advocate General and chief of the Law of War Branch in the International Law Division.
“They didn’t just give lip service to these rules,” Corn said. “They committed themselves to following the law as best they could under very difficult situations.”
But Hamas did exactly the opposite, the professor said.
“They exploited the IDF’s respect for the law,” Corn said.
Major General Michael Jones, who served as chief of staff, U.S. Central Command, discussed with the audience the menace of “hybrid adversaries,” or “nonstate actors” who use concepts and capabilities traditionally associated with states. Hamas and ISIS are clear examples of this, he said.
Additionally, other nonstate groups are receiving sophisticated weaponry and operating like conventional armies — as illustrated by the 2014 Gaza War, which saw nonstate actors operating from heavily populated urban environments, a problem expected to continue.
“The nature of conflict has changed and continues to change,” Major General Jones said.
Other report conclusions:
Hamas violated the law of armed conflict and exploited misunderstanding of its requirements to undermine Israel’s perceived international support and moral standing.
- The IDF has a systematic method of determining a strike’s desired military effect, selecting the required combination of weapons and fusing needed to achieve that effect, assessing potential collateral damage, and weighing that risk against military necessity. This method is similar to that of the U.S. military and reflects good-faith commitment to LOAC compliance.
- The conduct of the Israel Defense Forces during battle was an “admirable case of restraint,” according to the study.
- Hamas appears to have pursued “unrestricted warfare,” defined as the ability to blend technologies with military actions and political-influence activities, seeking victory not on the battlefield but through pressure on Israeli decision-makers.
Task Force members included Natonski; Jones; retired General Charles Wald, USAF; retired Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell IV, USA; and retired Major General Rick Devereaux, USAF.