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The IDF is the most ethical army in world, say military experts

    IDF artillery firing shells into Gaza in July 2014
    IDF artillery firing shells into Gaza in July 2014

    Israel fought an "exemplary campaign" during the Gaza conflict last year, an independent group of former military leaders has concluded.

    A report by the High Level Military Group (HLMG), made up of 11 former military personnel from five continents and a former UN war crimes prosecutor, was compiled this summer after six fact-finding trips.

    It was produced following discussions with members of the Israeli government including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, briefings from Israeli commanders who led ground operations, and investigations into Hamas's methods of warfare and propaganda.

    The former officials, who held top positions in the American, British, German, Italian, Spanish, French, Indian, Australian and Colombian defence forces, said they had a level of access that was "undoubtedly in excess of what our own countries would afford in similar circumstances".

    As well as stating that Israel operated "within the parameters of the Law of Armed Conflict" and had "in some respects exceeded the highest standards we set for our own nations' militaries", the group unanimously agreed that the military response was reasonable.

    "No country would accept the threat against its civilian population that these rockets present to Israeli population centres," the report said.

    "Israel's efforts were entirely justified, appropriately conceived and lawfully carried out, and necessary in the defence of that country's national security."

    The HLMG, which included the previous chairman of Nato's Military Committee, Klaus Naumann, condemned Hamas for "flagrantly disregarding" international laws and committing "war crimes … such as the summary execution of those it accused of collaborating with Israel".

    Graph showing rocket launches from Gaza into Israel between 2001-2014
    Graph showing rocket launches from Gaza into Israel between 2001-2014

    They found that "the entire military machinery of Hamas was embedded in civilian locations, private homes and a plethora of sensitive sites such as medical facilities, mosques and schools", and that this amounted to a strategy aimed at damaging Israel's international reputation.

    To this end, "Hamas actively sought the death of its own citizens [and] conducted a highly effective information campaign which included coercion of Gaza-based journalists".

    The group placed blame for the thousands of casualties on Hamas, stating that the "terrorist-army hybrid" formed by the Gazan governing party "broke every single ceasefire during the conflict, whether official or humanitarian.

    "The vast majority of casualties could have been avoided had Hamas heeded Israel's repeated appeals through third party intermediaries prior and during the conflict to de-escalate."

    HLMG rapporteur Davis Lewin said many in the group even feared that Israel had created an unrealistically high standard for protecting civilians.

    "Some of the precautions were so extensive they worried that they could become norms in international law in terms of having to fight their own battles elsewhere."

    He said that the report, the first of three examining wars between democratic armies and groups which "don't respect life or armed conflict laws", was collated with the aim of going beyond the UN and the media's reactions to the conflict.

    The UN Independent Commission of Inquiry report, he said, was "frankly illiterate about warfare and international law. It was an utterly unacceptable, weaponised effort of ideologically motivated people in the UN to damage Israel and therefore damage the West.

    "There are stipulations in there which not even an amateur would accept as being necessary, particularly their claim that Israel should reveal all their intelligence for the UN to assess whether each individual strike was a crime or not. No military and no democratic nation would take that seriously."

    He called the media's coverage "entirely predictable and deeply problematic", adding that "it displayed a high degree of bias, doing a deep disservice not only to peace but also to the interests of democratic nations by misrepresenting an unprecedented effort to uphold the legality and morality of war against these enemies."

    He added that the West could learn lessons from the report to use in its war against Daesh, as "the Israelis are probably the leading experts in urban warfare in terms of protecting civilians and trying to root out the terrorists embedded among them."

    However, Mr Lewin warned that "the West could not hope to emulate the precautions Israel brought to bear.

    "The West doesn't have the capabilities to not kill civilians - they don't have the phone numbers of people in Raqqa to call or text them warnings like Israel did with people in Gaza."

    He also said it was crucial for democratic nations to take control of "the narratives around the conflict, ensuring an accurate narrative on the part of any democratic army fighting an enemy of this kind."

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