Stop ignoring the facts about Cast Lead

It featured the lowest ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in any asymmetric conflict in the histo

Three years ago, Operation Cast Lead saw Israel send troops into the Gaza Strip in response to the thousands of rockets and mortars launched into Israeli civilian areas. Which other government in the world wouldn't defend its citizens in such circumstances? If some wish to portray this operation as a "massacre", they would have to ignore the facts to do so.

John Stuart Mill wrote in 1862 that "war is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things". Indeed today, even with laws, regulations and technology intended to lessen the horrors of battle, war is always ugly and tragic. But sometimes, it is still an essential response to something far uglier.

In 2006, following the Israeli disengagement and pullout from the Gaza Strip, there was an increase of 436 per cent in the number of Palestinian rockets launched towards Israel from that very territory. For some time, Israel resisted a large-scale military response to such acts deliberately aimed at civilians. As a result, the attacks got worse, and every country, including Israel, has the moral responsibility to defend its people from such actions.

Increased Palestinian terror attacks from Gaza were the cause of Operation Cast Lead. Yet Israel's is a conscript army. Indeed Israel goes to extraordinary lengths to protect its young soldiers (witness the efforts make to secure the release of the kidnap victim Gilad Shalit), and does not send them to war easily.

In the three years since the operation, there has been an unprecedented 72 per cent decline in the number of rockets launched from Hamas-controlled Gaza. No surprise, then, that Israel's Defence Forces Chief of Staff should call the operation "an excellent operation that achieved deterrence for Israel vis-a-vis Hamas". (However, that deterrence is still not enough to have prevented Palestinians from launching 1,571 rockets since the operation, including one attack with an anti-tank missile on a clearly identifiable Israeli school bus.)

Just as Israel's erection of a security fence to prevent homicide bombers from infiltrating Jerusalem saw a bigger than 90 per cent reduction in such attacks, Operation Cast Lead was undeniably effective in reducing terror attacks from the Gaza strip. The numbers speak for themselves.

Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, has repeatedly commented that, "during its operation in Gaza, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare." Furthermore, he points out that the steps taken in that conflict by the Israeli Defence Forces to avoid civilian deaths are shown by a study published by the United Nations to have resulted in, by far, the lowest ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in any asymmetric conflict in the history of warfare.

Kemp explains that by UN estimates, the average ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide is 3:1 -- three civilians for every combatant killed. That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan. But in Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to have been 4:1. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia. In Gaza, it was less than one-to-one.

Since the 22-day Gaza operation, Israel has also been demonstrably fastidious in its efforts to protect civilian lives while targeting combatants. The Israel correspondent for Jane's Defence Weekly sites Israel's record this year, saying "the IDF killed 100 Gazans in 2011. Nine were civilians. That is a civilian-combatant ratio of nearly 1:10."

In fact, Israel's effort to combat the Hamas regime in the Gaza strip, while still safeguarding the rights of civilians, can be seen in her actions away from the battlefield as well. Despite the continued and sustained terror attacks from the area, around 60 per cent of Gaza's electricity comes from Israel, rather than from Gaza's other neighbour, Egypt, against whom no missiles are launched by the Palestinians.

Israel allows thousands of tonnes of goods to pass into Gaza weekly, and provides a large amount of the strip's water. If destroying infrastructure were truly Israel's aim, as some claim, this goal could be achieved without the risk to Israeli soldiers inherent in operations which see them sent into the Gaza strip.

It is time to stop blaming the Israeli government and defence forces for protecting Israeli civilians. Instead, we must demand that Palestinian leaders (and their apologists) work towards improving the welfare of their own citizens, rather than constantly attacking Israel's.

www.jonathansacerdoti.com.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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