Col. Richard Kemp is a former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan and one of the most highly decorated and respected officers in the British army.
He has spent over 30 years fighting terrorism in the UK and around the world, including serving in overseas missions with NATO and the United Nations, commanding troops in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, and Macedonia, and participating in the Gulf War.
That makes him amply qualified to comment on the current hostilities between Israel and Hamas, which entered a new phase with an Israeli ground incursion into Gaza on July 18.
Kemp arrived in Israel just days after Israel commenced “Operation Protective Edge” on July 8 to stop Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza. He says he came here in order to “see the situation for myself.”
Kemp though is no stranger to this region, or the conflict between Israel and Hamas for that matter. In October 2009, he testified before the UN Human Rights Council in response to the Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 2008-09 Gaza War (Operation Cast Lead).
At the time, Kemp stated that “during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in the combat zones than any other army in the history of warfare.”
And fast forward to July 2014?
Kemp says “from what I have seen, and my knowledge of the IDF, I am 100% confident they are not using unnecessary force and that they are taking every possible precaution to minimise civilian casualties.”
Many commentators and critics of Israel have pointed to the unbalanced casualty list, where Palestinian deaths greatly exceed those of Israelis, as a sign that Israel is acting disproportionately.
Kemp however points out that, when it comes to proportionality, “a lot of people make the big mistake it relates to the relative casualty rate on each side, but it doesn’t relate to that at all.”
He said under laws of war, proportionality means that “an armed force may only use enough force in order to achieve its reasonable military objectives.”
Based on his assessment, Kemp believed Israel is using only “the minimum amount of force necessary to achieve its military objectives of targeting Hamas rocket launchers and infrastructure to prevent terror attacks on its civilian population.”
Conceding there have been Palestinian civilian casualties, Kemp quickly points to the fact that “whereas Israel invests heavily in bomb shelters and the Iron Dome, which has saved many many lives,” the large number of civilian casualties in Gaza “is inevitable because of the way Hamas deliberately positions their weapons systems in among populated areas, thereby committing a double war crime of firing missiles into Israeli civilian populations, while also using their own people as human shields.”
Kemp also believes that Israel has taken “unprecedented steps” to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza, including warning them in advance of incoming attacks, including by dropping leaflets, sending phone messages and texts, using TV and radio, and even ‘roof knocking’ (dropping ammunition which explodes harmlessly on top of a building to warn of an impending strike).
In this sense, Kemp says the “IDF is a world leader in developing measures to protect innocent civilians in the battlefield and has gone further than any other army in similar circumstances.” He even adds that “British and American forces in Afghanistan are using measures developed in Israel to help protect civilians there.”
Having closely followed events in the region, Kemp believes “Israel had no choice” other than to commence this “defensive operation” in order to “prevent Hamas from continuing its terrorist assaults against Israeli civilian populations.” He says, “there is no country in the world that would not have acted in a similar way than Israel acted,” noting “we can’t lose sight of the fact that hundreds of rockets had been fired from Gaza for months prior, in which Israel showed incredible restraint.”
As for the ground operation, Kemp says that was “inevitable and unavoidable” following Hamas’ rejection of the Egyptian brokered cease fire and the UN sponsored humanitarian cease fire (both of which Israel accepted) and in light of its recent efforts to infiltrate into Israel through tunnels, where it could “wreak great havoc.”
Kemp says it’s difficult to estimate how long the Israeli ground operation will continue, as much depends on the response of Hamas, including whether they stop the rocket attacks and returns to the negotiating table to accept a cease-fire.
Right now, Kemp believes Israel has “a great deal of support,” including from the US, Europe and “even many Arab states, led by Egypt” in its operation against Hamas. However, he says it is inevitable that the longer the ground operation continues and if casualties rise, that support “will quickly erode,” and more pressure will begin to mount on Israel.
Having said that, Kemp firmly stresses that international pressure ought to instead be brought upon Hamas “to cease its rocket attacks and come to negotiating table.” His advice to Israel? “Do not succumb to international pressure until your mission to stop the Hamas rocket attacks is over.”
Reminding that “the reason for Hamas’ existence is to attack and destroy the state of Israel”, Kemp says it is important to not lose sight of the fact that “Iran directly funds and arms Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terror groups in Gaza.” He says, “Iran has for many years now been determined to encourage and facilitate terror attacks on Israel from every direction and it is entirely possible that the current wave of offensive action by Hamas is due to prompting by Iran.”
Kemp says not to underestimate that “Iran is a major player in this conflict” and “those people who see Hamas as some poor little under-resourced underdog, don’t take account of Iran’s hand.”
Arsen Ostrovsky is an international human rights lawyer and freelance journalist based in Israel who writes frequently on Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict for major publications and online sites in Israel, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. He is a former policy analyst at AIJAC.