Winning by coming in 2nd

star-2nd-placeIf you can’t beat them define losing as winning

If you have been following the discussion groups lately you’d see a couple of newish claims by the Israel Haters. As so often when one starts they all do. Makes one wonder if they are directed by an advertising agency. The two claims are More Palestinian than Israeli dead proves Israel are murderers and White Phosphorus in Gaza = Sarin in Syria. We’ll discuss them in turn.

So few Israeli casualties

In a sense the haters are correct. Israel kills many more of them than they do of us. The Palestinians and the Lebanese Hizbullah have failed, despite their evil intentions, to kill anywhere near the number of Jews they hope for.

Killing many more of your enemy’s fighters than they kill of yours’ once had a name. That name was victory. Now it is being pushed as proof that Israelis are vicious murderers.

I tend to ask those who bring up that argument, how many dead Jews would make them happy – they never answer.


Example of ‘not-enough-dead-Jews’ propaganda

Nor do they stop to consider why they do so badly in the kill-a-Jew department. Five Minutes for Israel aims to explain the obvious.

You might care to check out Throwing punches at Klitschko for a more satiric view of the morality of attacking a superior opponent. The bottom line is attacking a superior force and getting one’s behind handed to them does not make the superior force evil nor the inferior force innocent.

In practical terms

  1. The IDF generally hits its target – the Palestinians and allies (at least in later years) do not. Partly this is a question of technological advantage. Not only do Israeli gunners have better aim but they have real-time information about the status of the attempt and can correct their aim in further shots. Hamas, on the other hand, due to IDF quick response is reduced to firing once in the general direction of Israeli communities and then running away before they are slotted.
  2. As the supporters of Hamas aggression are prone to remind us, most of the rockets they send against Israel are primitive and home-made. In other words, their performance is inconsistent. Some casualties on the Palestinian side are the result of missiles falling short and work accidents. Many of the Palestinian rockets and mortars don’t hit anything.
  3. Israel spends far more on defensive measures than do the Palestinians. That takes the form of public and private shelters, air-raid sirens, active defense such as the Iron Dome anti missile system and passive defense such as the much maligned Separation Barrier.
  4. That protect-the-citizens attitude is conceptual as much as a matter of better tools. You will never find an Israeli official ordering Israelis to ignore messages that an attack is due or an Israeli mother encouraging her children to confront armed soldiers for the cameras.
  5. Similarly the Arab insistence on constructing, storing and firing weapons from civilian residences, schools, hospitals and mosques turns them into military targets.
  6. Even on the religious level, Israeli casualties, when they occur, are victims not Shaheeds (martyrs in the cause of God). The incitement of children to kill and be killed that is a feature of Palestinian media is totally missing on the Israeli side. That difference, one glorifying risk taking and the other insisting on risk avoidance, particularly children, also plays a part in the relative figures.
  7. Israeli advance intelligence stops many planned attacks.
  8. While the figures in relative terms are nowhere near equal, in absolute terms the Israel/Palestinian conflict is a low intensity, low casualty affair which occasionally flairs up to short wars, which themselves have low casualties compared with similar conflicts elsewhere. In the two years of the Syrian civil war (remember when the supporters of Assad were denying it was a civil war?) up to 50,000 and still counting more Arabs have died in two years than in sixty-five years of on-off warfare since the establishment of the State of Israel. If we step outside our immediate region, in the two wars between Russia and Chechnya, between 1994 and 2000, the total military/civilian deaths could be as high as 190,000. That is around 19X more than in the Israel/Palestinian conflict.

Executive summary

Fewer Israelis, combatant and non combatant, have died than Palestinians, combatant and non combatant, because Israel’s offensive and defensive capabilities are far greater. While that probably wasn’t true in 1948 it is certainly true now. That doesn’t make the Palestinians morally superior than the Israelis: quite the opposite. Protecting one’s own is the moral thing to do. Starting and losing wars is the immoral thing to do.

Palestinians start wars; Palestinians lose wars and then Palestinians expect to be excused the inevitable results of their freely made decisions. In this case much higher casualties.

Phosphorus equals Sarin

No pun intended but White Phosphorus is a grey area. Not so Sarin – CWMD all the way.

The basic claim goes something like this. The world is hypocritical by treating Syrian use of poison gas when it ignores Israeli use of White Phosphorus. The wet-dream version goes if America attacks Syria it also should attack and preferably destroy Israel.

For the record I am an atheist about who used nerve gas in Syria, the government, the rebels or both. Nor am I sure at what level the decision was made to use them. Nor am I sure that American-European intervention won’t ultimately cause more deaths than it saves. However, on the balance of probabilities, I lean to Syrian government use.

False equivalence

Sarin model

The serially unreliable Human Rights Watch estimated twelve deaths caused by White Phosphorus in Gaza. They claim more could not be proved due to lack of expertise. In the words that the BBC loves to drop into every unverified claim, Israel disputes these figures.

By contrast the number of deaths in Syria from Sarin gas has been estimated at between 322 to 1,729. The United States put the death toll at 1,429. The war is far from over and chemical weapons may still be used in the future.

At the same time we should remember the total number of dead (on both sides, combatant and noncombatant) in the first Gaza war (Operation Cast Lead) was somewhere between 1,430 (Palestinian claim) and 1,179 (Israeli claim) and the fighting was over in slightly over three weeks. The Syrian civil war has already lasted over two years and an estimated 100,000 or more have died. The Syrian figures put great pressure on the moralistic West to take a stand. The Gazan figures, not so much.

In addition in July 2012 The High Israeli Court of Justice on Sunday recommended the IDF cease all use of white phosphorus (WP) for creating smoke screens during military operations. In view of the harsh criticism against it the IDF had already announced it it would replace white phosphorus shells with ones based entirely on gas.

White Phosphorus is used by most armies in the world. I certainly isn’t something exclusive to Israel. Protocol III, of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons regulates Incendiary Weapons, and shells containing White Phosphorus, for smoke screens and illumination may be legal even in populated areas.

Like most criticism of Israel there is a great deal of hypocrisy. According to, during the December 1994 battle for Grozny in Chechnya, every fourth or fifth Russian artillery or mortar round fired was a smoke or white phosphorus round. I don’t recall demands to punish Russia.

Similarly when Palestinians fired two mortar shells containing white phosphorus into Israel from the Gaza Strip in September 2009 the Hate Israel brigade was typically silent.

Nureddin al-Atassi

Nureddin al-Atassi accepted the Geneva Protocols for Syria before the Assads deposed him.

Sarin is both less and more complicated (welcome to the Middle East). Syria agreed to the Protocol for the 1925 Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare in 1968 but did not agree to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. If I understand correctly this means Syria accepts the use of chemical weapons is banned by customary international law but in Syria’s case not to any restriction on about production, storage or transfer.

As a cartoon I saw recently states, if Syria gets a sufficient slap from the Americans it will get the message. Stop using chemical weapons and go back to slaughtering your citizens by conventional means.

Surely that can’t be the ending the moral equivalence brigade is hoping for?

Executive summary

The world doesn’t equate the use of White Phosphorus by Israel with the use of Sarin gas by Syria for a number of reasons.

  • White Phosphorus (WP) is a weapon in legal use by most militaries. It is not considered as a Chemical Weapon of Mass Destruction (CWMD). Sarin is banned by customary international law as a CWMD.
  • Israel’s use of WP arguably fell within permitted use of the material.
  • Israel has already announced it would be ceasing the use of WP.
  • The Gaza operations were short, with low absolute casualties and low casualties claimed due to the use of the White Phosphorus. The Syrian conflict is two years old and ongoing with a hundred times more casualties and between 26 and 33 times more dead from Chemical Weapons of Mass Destruction. Numbers do matter.

There is an additional factor that few will acknowledge openly but all take into account.

  • Hamas is an Islamic terrorist organisation at war not only with Israel but, at least in principle, with the West, modernity, Muslim states who are unwilling to accept the Muslim Brotherhood version of Sharia Law and Shia Islam. Hamas launched wars from Gaza and is morally responsible for the consequences. Who can say with certainty who is the bad and who is the worse in Syria?

Extra credit

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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