22 April 2009
Conclusion of Investigations into Central Claims and Issues in
Operation Cast Lead
The IDF (Zahal) Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi recently approved and authorized the publication of the conclusions of five investigative teams assigned to investigate events relating to the conduct of IDF (Zahal) soldiers during Operation Cast Lead.
The teams, headed by officers of the rank of Colonel, were composed of officers who were not a direct part of the chain of command in the operations in question and were appointed by Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi to thoroughly investigate a number of issues which were brought to general attention (by, amongst others, international organizations and the international and Israeli media).
The five investigative teams dealt with the following five issues:
-Claims regarding incidents where UN and international facilities were fired upon and
damaged during Operation Cast Lead. The investigation was conducted by Col. Itzik Turgeman.
-Incidents involving shooting at medical facilities, buildings, vehicles and crews. The investigation was conducted by Col.Erez Katz.
-Claims regarding incidents in which many uninvolved civilians were harmed. The investigation was conducted by Col. Tamir Yedai.
-The use of weaponry containing phosphorous. The investigation was conducted by Col. Shai Alkalai.
-Damage to infrastructure and destruction of buildings by ground forces. The investigation was conducted by Col. Adam Zusman.
The IDF (Zahal) Spokesperson’s Unit emphasizes that these experts’ investigations are not a replacement for the central operational IDF (Zahal) investigation of the entire operation which is continuing at various levels and which will be concluded by June. Additional issues are also undergoing a process of verification or investigation at various levels within the IDF (Zahal).
The decision of the Chief of the General Staff to appoint the five investigative teams emanates from the IDF (Zahal)’s professional, moral and legal obligations to thoroughly a number of claims which were made in relation to the conduct of the warfare. The process of examination involved a series of operational investigations, which are the accepted procedure in the IDF (Zahal) and other western militaries. These were carried out by three expert investigators of the rank of Colonel who had no direct involvement with the incidents in question.
In accordance with accepted IDF (Zahal) protocol for professional investigations, the investigators operated independently and were provided with access to all relevant materials and the freedom to question any of the relevant personnel. They were given the complaints that reached the IDF (Zahal) and other Israeli authorities, interviewed many soldiers and officers, and gathered relevant documents and other materials. It should be noted that each soldier whose testimony was requested was required to cooperate with the investigation, and the investigators received full cooperation.
The investigations showed that throughout the fighting in Gaza, the IDF (Zahal) operated in accordance with international law. The IDF (Zahal) maintained a high professional and moral level while facing an enemy that aimed to terrorize Israeli civilians whilst taking cover amidst uninvolved civilians in the Gaza strip and using them as human shields. Notwithstanding this, the investigations revealed a very small number of incidents in which intelligence or operational errors took place during the fighting. These unfortunate incidents were unavoidable and occur in all combat situations, in particular of the type which Hamas forced on the IDF (Zahal), by choosing to fight from within the civilian population.
The government of Israel ordered the IDF (Zahal) to embark on Operation Cast Lead as part of its duty to protect its citizens following eight years of rocket fire on Israeli communities in southern Israel. This fire was especially difficult during the three years since the “disengagement” when Israel withdrew from Gaza, and during two months prior to the operation when 160 rockets and mortars where fired at Israel. During these years, hundreds of thousands of Israeli children, women and men were terrorized by endless attacks executed by Hamas and other terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip. Thousands of rockets and mortars were fired at schools, kindergartens and residential neighborhoods. No other choice was left other than to act against these continuous acts of terrorism whose cost was many killed and injured, in body and soul, and which disturbed any attempt to live a normal life in the cities and communities of Israel’s south.
The fighting in Gaza took place in a complex battlefield against an enemy who chose, as a conscious part of its doctrine, to locate itself in the midst of the civilian population. The enemy booby trapped its houses with explosives, fired from the schools attended by its own children and used its own people as human shields while cynically abusing the IDF (Zahal)’s legal and ethical commitment to avoid injuring uninvolved civilians. In order to ensure compliance with the IDF (Zahal)’s obligations under international law, the IDF (Zahal) invested an enormous effort and huge resources to warn civilians in the Gaza Strip away from harm. The IDF (Zahal) dropped more than 2,250,000 leaflets during the fighting, used Palestinian radio, made personal telephone warnings to more than 165,000 Gaza residents and carried out a special warning shot procedure (“A knock on the roof”), in order to ensure that Palestinian civilians could avoid harm. Additionally, the IDF (Zahal) made extensive use of accurate munitions, wherever and whenever possible, to minimize harm to civilians. In addition, during the operation the IDF (Zahal) authorized humanitarian convoys to enter the Gaza and employed a humanitarian recess for several hours a day.
The IDF (Zahal) operated in accordance with moral values and international laws of war, trained its soldiers to act in accordance with the values and norms which bind the IDF (Zahal), and made an enormous effort to focus its fire only against the terrorists whilst doing the utmost to avoid harming uninvolved civilians. Like other militaries that are forced to fight a terrorist enemy that hides and operates under a civilian cover, the IDF (Zahal) had to face difficult moral dilemmas as a result of the illegitimate approach of Hamas. This approach turned Gaza’s urban areas into a battle field and intentionally made use of uninvolved civilians, civilian buildings and sensitive humanitarian facilities (i.e. hospitals, religious and educational institutions and facilities associated with the UN and other international organizations). The investigations clearly showed that the IDF (Zahal) operated in accordance with international law. The IDF (Zahal)’s legal commitments were implemented in the operational plans, the training the forces received prior to the operation and the orders that were given during the operation. In some of the incidents the IDF (Zahal) even placed more limits on its actions than required under international law, and acted with restraint in order to avoid harming civilians.
The IDF (Zahal) achieved the aims and objectives that were set and struck a heavy blow to the terror organizations lead by the Hamas, by targeting terrorists, military infrastructure and weapons manufacturing facilities. The complex operation involved cooperation between air, naval and ground forces together with different intelligence agencies, including both reserve and regular forces. Prior to the operation, careful planning and preparations were undertaken in order to ensure that the units were and command centres were trained and ready for any challenge.
The investigation process was lengthy due to the extent of the fighting, the complex and thorough work of the investigators, the time required to gather information from the various units involved in the operation, and comprehensive cross-checking. With regard to some of the investigations presented here, some specific additional issues are still being checked, and additional allegations are now being investigated.
In accordance with usual practice, a summary of each investigation will also be presented to the Military Advocate General, who is entitled to decide whether additional checks need to be done or if there is the basis for opening another type of investigation. His decision is entirely independent and he is subject only to the law.
Due to their significance, the conclusions of the investigations and the opinion of the Military advocate will be presented for review to the Attorney General.