Scathing response to IDF decision from Haaretz's Amos Harel

Amos Harel, the military correspondent of Haaretz who broke the story about what IDF soldiers said in a post-war group discussion at the Oranim military academy near Haifa, wrote a scathing response to the IDF announcement that it had finished its investigation and determined that the soldiers’ accounts were based on “rumors” and “hearsay” – and were “purposely exaggerated and made extreme, in order to make a point with the participants of the conference”.

Please note that the IDF soldiers involved did not speak to the media.

Interestingly, the IDF statement yesterday also said that  — apparently during the IDF investigation .. “the participants at the Rabin Center said that they had based their claims relating to the use of phosphorous munitions on what they had heard in the media and not on their personal knowledge”.

From Sic Semper Tyrannis - 29 or 30 March 2009

Harel wrote today that “One would be hard-pressed not to express astonishment at the speed and efficiency demonstrated by the Military Advocate General, Brigadier-General Avichai Mendelblit, and the Military Police investigation unit in probing the ‘combat soldiers’ testimonials affair’ that took place at the Rabin pre-military training academy … [T]he military advocate general needed just 11 days (including two Saturdays) to probe the accounts of combat soldiers in order to completely dispel the allegations. There is something soothing in the exhaustive investigation by the military advocate general. The IDF emerges from it (and from the Gaza Strip) as pure as snow. Yet at the same time there is a disconcerting message emanating from the closure of the investigation, one which, at least according to Brig. Gen. Mendelblit, a group of combat soldiers and officers serving in some of the finest units in the IDF has proven to be nothing but a bunch of liars and exaggerating storytellers, men who have not uttered one truthful word. The military advocate general picks apart the testimonials brick by brick. Not only does he present alternative versions to the two most damning claims – the alleged shooting of a Palestinian mother and her children as well as the killing of an elderly Palestinian woman – but he also expends great effort in concealing a series of other allegations of improper behavior, from spitting on home photographs of Palestinian families to uprooting orchards to the use of white phosphorus bombs. Apparently, soldiers informed military police investigators of two more incidents in which civilians were mistakenly shot to death. Mendelblit retroactively provides a rationale for the soldiers’ predicament in these cases as well … [However] it is unclear how they can be so certain that the ‘combat soldiers’ testimonials’ were just a series of rumors and concoctions ‘while the soldiers were truthful during the investigations conducted by the military police and the Givati brigades commander’.”

Harel’s story today continues: “Given the international firestorm ignited by the intial media stories of the accounts and the dilemma which the soldiers found themselves in vis-a-vis their commanders, it is as if the soldiers chose a reasonable exit strategy: they can claim that their accounts were based on rumors so as not to open themselves up to charges that they ratted out their comrades. This is pure conjecture, of course. The soldiers were not permitted to speak with journalists. In other units, commanders have warned their soldiers to speak with anyone outside of the army about what they witnessed in the Gaza Strip”.

And, Harel added, “There is another factor that must be taken into consideration. The investigation is based solely on one side of the equation – the Israeli side. An Associated Press reporter who was in Gaza last week interviewed Palestinians about the incidents in question. Their recollections to some extent corroborate the descriptions of the alleged shootings as initially recalled by the soldiers. The AP story was published last Thursday night, yet the IDF is ignoring its contents. Now it is clear that the IDF withdrawal from Gaza does not allow the army to conduct an on-site investigation. Yet the AP reporter who wrote the story is fluent in both Hebrew and English. How is it that the military police unit did not think to ask her of what she heard and saw in Gaza?” This Amos Harel article can be read in full here.

UPDATE:  The Washington Post later reported that “Maj. Yehoshua Gurtler, a military lawyer, told reporters that investigators had matched the allegations with actual incidents — including one in which an elderly woman was shot. In that case and others, he said, soldiers had followed the rules of engagement set out for the Gaza operation and had acted in accordance with Israeli law.  The elderly woman, suspected of being a suicide bomber, continued approaching an IDF position after soldiers yelled at her to stop and fired warning shots, Gurtler said. Once she was ‘within several yards’, he said, the soldiers killed her.  Gurtler said the body was not inspected to see if the woman carried arms or explosives, and was removed by Palestinian authorities.  ‘The soldiers in accordance with IDF doctrine did not approach the body for fear that an explosive device might be detonated’, Gurtler said. ‘We don’t know whether or not she was a suicide bomber, but the fact that she continued approaching — this was a clear suspicion’.”   The Washington Post story is posted here.

Yesterday, on Sic Semper Tyrannis, a respected American blog, military and strategic analyst Col. Patrick Lang commented that the IDF attack on Gaza had been “a useless effort”. He illustrated his post with this photo of some white phosphorus shells being air-burst over downtown Gaza city:

From Sic Semper Tyrannis - 29 or 30 March 2009

Col. Lang wrote: “Well, the photograph above is of white phosphorus shell fired from either artillery or mortars. It is bursting over an upscale civilian apartment development. There are a lot of pictures like this. Any old soldier, including ones from the IDF, knows that this is white phosphorus shell. White phosphorus (a metal) burns on contact with air. It burns under water. If you get it on you, it will burn through your arm, leg, etc., until the burning phosphorus comes out the other side. Your only real recourse is to cut it out of you with a knife before it does so. White phosphorus shell is legally used for generating smoke on the battlefield. It used to be common in aerial bombs. Germany and Japan were heavily bombed with this among many other things for the specific purpose of burning down their towns.”

Then, in his post, Col. Lang bluntly wrote:   “So.  The IDF spokesman is a liar.  The question of whether and to what extent the IDF also shot civilians deliberately I leave to the conscience of IDF soldiers who seem unwilling to shut up about it.  God bless them”.

Col. Lang added: “On a grander scale, Israeli complaints of continued Palestinian (Hamas) smuggling of supplies and munitions are a validation of the analytic comments I made here and on television to the effect that the Israeli effort at Gaza (Cast Lead) would be a total strategic failure if the Palestinians did not submit to the Israeli collective will as a result of that punitive campaign.  They have not submited and so it is fair to say that ‘Cast Lead’ was strategically a total failure that served once again to demonstrate the impotence of Israeli arms in dealing with the essence of their ‘problem’ with the Palestinians.  What is next, forced ‘re-locations’, a first strike against Iran as a relief from having to deal with the truly existential issue of Palestine?  How about face to face negotiations with the Palestinians as equal human beings?  How about that?“…

This post by Col. Lang can be viewed in full here.

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