Middle East & Terrorism

According to recent intelligence reports, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killed 40 Hamas terrorists in Gaza this past December without inflicting a single civilian casualty. In fact, over the past five years collateral damage and civilian casualties caused by Israeli military actions have decreased dramatically. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to fire Kassam rockets indiscriminately at the working-class town of Siderot and into the suburban areas of the nearby seaside city of Ashkelon.

In the summer of 2006, while operating primarily in southern Lebanon, the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah fired hundreds of Katushua rockets indiscriminately into Israel—rockets loaded with ball bearings designed to kill as many people as possible. Unlike Hezbollah, the IDF employs precision strikes against terrorists, attacks designed to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties. In 2003, for instance, the ratio of Palestinian or Shiite terrorists killed to civilian casualties was approximately 1-to-1. Last month it was 40-to-0. Over the last five years the trend has been in that direction.

In 2004, while visiting with the IDF, I was present in a control van where Israeli Air Force technicians guided a drone tracking a known Hamas terrorist. I looked on as the drone orbited near the terrorist’s Gaza house then watched as he emerged with his children and got into the family car. Meanwhile, an Israeli AH-64 attack helicopter armed with Hellfire missiles orbited off shore and out of sight. The Hellfire is an American-made, precision-guided anti-tank weapon that the Israelis modified by reducing the size of the warhead down to 20 pounds of projectiles and explosives, which, while still deadly, minimizes collateral damage. The Israelis could have obliterated the car along with the terrorist and his children, but they didn’t. Instead they waited, hoping for a clean shot after he left off the children. Even after the terrorist dropped off the children, the Israelis held their fire. Knowing the Israelis have this capability, the Hamas terrorist purposefully drove in heavy traffic, using fellow Palestinians as a personal human shield. Meanwhile, the drone tracked the terrorist back to his home. After a few minutes he emerged, hopped on a motorcycle and sped away, the drone shadowing his every move. When the terrorist turned onto a relatively deserted section of the coastal road, the AH-64 fired a Hellfire that killed the terrorist without causing collateral damage or civilian casualties.

Why do we never hear about Israeli efforts to minimize casualties? Even the anti-infiltration barrier, which reduced Palestinian suicide bomber attacks to a mere handful per year, is derisively dubbed “the wall” by left-wing Christian organizations like the Palestinian Jerusalem-based Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, its American cohort, Friends of Sabeel North America, and the Presbyterian Witherspoon Society.

Meanwhile in Iraq, this past December U.S. forces suffered 107 total casualties, counting a small number of killed-in-action (KIA) and those wounded (WIA). That is down from 817 casualties suffered in December 2006. The “butcher’s bill” for 2007 was 6,801 Americans KIA and WIA, most of which were incurred after U.S. forces went on the offensive as part of the “surge strategy” instituted last spring. By contrast, in 2006, before the surge when American forces fought on the tactical defensive, the United States suffered 7,221 casualties. Absent a desperate “Tet-style” terrorist offensive, casualty figures should decline significantly in 2008.

Superbly trained and led American forces keep the bloodshed low by employing tactics and weapons designed to accomplish their mission with the fewest possible U.S. military and Iraqi civilian casualties. With much of the media focused on mostly imagined atrocities in Iraq, the fact is that more than 90 percent of civilian casualties result from Islamist terrorists attacking their Muslim co-religionists. Meanwhile, compared to all other major conflicts during the past century, U.S. forces have kept both military and civilian casualties down to historic lows. The Iraqi people, many of whom initially saw American efforts at minimizing casualties as signs of timidity or weakness, are beginning to understand this sensibility for the kind of humanity often lacking in Middle Eastern conflicts.

By way of historical perspective, U.S. forces conducting Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1991, while trouncing the Iraqi Army and liberating Kuwait, suffered 148 military personnel deaths, 92 of which resulted from one SCUD missile strike on a barracks in Riyadh. By comparison, on Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda inflicted approximately 20 times as many deaths on innocent civilians. It is worth noting that terrorists murdered approximately 400 more people on 9/11 than the Japanese killed at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941—and almost all of those were American military personnel!

We Americans and our Israeli allies are the good guys! And if we have the will and stay the course, we can—indeed we must—win this war.

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism. Email: [email protected]

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