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26 July 2014


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Maybe that is why the use of airstrikes in on the rise? It masks these failings.


Col. Lang: Thank you for a very interesting and informative analysis. You needn't bother to post this comment.


VERY interesting. It puts in context a lot of the negative reports I've heard over the years about the behavior of IDF ground units.

Leila Abu-Saba

PS would your theory then explain why the IDF unit shelled the UN complex at Qana in 1996, despite desperate radio communications from the UN forces?

Abu Sinan

I worked with some IDF during my time in the DoD and was not impressed. Not on technical capability, but personalities and the degree to which many of them have "drank the kool-aid".

I wonder what your opinion is on the national nature of the force?

Many Palestinians make the case that since the vast majority of Israeli men are required to be in the military forces at some level this then makes them legitimate targets, in or out of uniform.

If you can reasonably assume that any possible target will have Israeli men, and hence certainly either full time or reservist military members, then it isnt far to convince yourself that any target with Israel men present is legit.

Given this, it also makes moot the idea pressed by the Israeli government that Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups "hide in their societies" because Israeli society is militarised from top to bottom.

More to the point, it is far more likely that the average Palestinian man will be a civilian with no attatchment to any military forces than Israeli males who must all serve.

I heard this very argument made to me in the West Bank a few years back.

Leila Abu-Saba

"behavior towards Palestinian civilians of IDF troops at roadblocks was reminiscent of that of any group of post-adolescents given guns and allowed to bully the helpless in order to look tough for each other."

Reminds me of behavior of various militia in Lebanon, including Palestinians, during the civil war. Palestinian young militiamen pissed off so many of their allies and neighbors in South Lebanon that by the time the Israelis invaded in '82, there were very few Lebanese left who were willing to support the Palestinians. I have heard many stories of scary and obnoxious behavior by adolescent militiamen at checkpoints during the civil war. And yes, some of those crazy adolescents were Christian Lebanese from militias/parties now supported by the USA.

Thank you for pointing out the organizational problems that create this phenomenon in the IDF. I think it's useful to understand human behaviors with more information than just "they are racist Arab-haters who want to exterminate us." The adolescents-out-of-control theory makes more sense than just a blanket condemnation of a whole society.

Bill W, NH, USA

I posted a link the other day to a video of an IDF soldier mocking the Palestinians trapped in Gaza. On another forum someone remarked that one couldn't deduce Israeli feelings towards the Palestinians based on that video. I said fine but I also wanted to know if this particular soldier had been reprimanded, I suspect he wasn't.

Dave of Maryland

A most helpful post!

William R. Cumming

Not sure I understand the purpose of the post? Is there some reason to believe the IDF is conducting ops at variance with past ops?

João Carlosj

I am guessing why Israel stoped the offensive today. I can think two not exclusive possibilities:
1- the international public opinion is making too much pressure than Israel's government wanted.
2- they lose 7 soldiers until now, so maybe the things aren't so good as the planners planned.

You have any opinion Colonel?


I have seen IDF troops shoot at Palestinian Christian women hanging out laundry in their gardens. This was done with tank coaxial machine guns from within a bermed up dirt fort a couple of hundred yards away, and evidently just for the fun of it. In Bethlehem a lieutenant told me that he would have had his men shoot me in the street during a demonstration that I happened to get caught in, but that he had not because he thought I might not be a Palestinian and that if I were not the incident would have caused him some trouble.

this is where our billions go. our strongest ally in the mideast?

such acts in Lebanon and elsewhere midwifed Al Qa'ida


Declaration from Professor Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur from the United Nations

Professor Richard Falk is the Special Spokesman for the Human Rights Council of the United Nations for the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Professor of Law Emeritus at Princeton University, USA.

Professor Richard Falk was on the 15th of December denied entry into Israel. He then was extradited by Israeli authorities to Switzerland.

Professor Richard Falk is himself Jewish.


The Israeli air raids on the Gaza Strip represent severe and massive violations of international human rights such as defined in the Geneva Convention, regarding the obligations of the occupying power as for the demands of the laws of war.

These violations include:

Collective punishment; all 1.5 million persons who live in the congested Gaza Strip are being punished by the actions of a few militants.

Targeting civilians - the air strikes were aimed at civilian areas in one of the most congested areas of land in the world, certainly the most densely populated area of the Middle East.

Disproportionate military response - the air strikes not only destroyed all the police and security facilities of the elected government of Gaza but also killed and injured hundreds of civilians, at least one confirmed attack hit groups of students who were trying to find transport from home to college.

The previous Israeli actions, specifically the complete sealing of entry and exit to and from the Gaza Strip has caused severe shortages of medical supplies and fuel (as well as food), resulting in the inability of ambulances to meet the wounded, the inability of hospitals to provide appropriate care or equipment needed for the wounded and the inability of doctors and other health workers in the besieged Gaza to treat the victims properly.

Certainly the attacks with rockets against civilian targets in Israel are illegal. But such illegality does not give Israel the right, does not justify as an occupying power or as a sovereign state, to violate international humanitarian law and commit war crimes against humanity as a response. I note that the escalation of the Israeli military assaults on civilians has not made Israelis more secure, like the one Israeli killed today after triggering the Israeli violence is the first in more than a year.

Israel also ignored the recent diplomatic initiatives to restore the Hamas truce or ceasefire since its expiration on 26 December.

The Israeli air strikes today, and the catastrophic human cost that resulted, confronts those countries that were and remain accomplices, both directly and indirectly, of the Israeli violations of international law. This complicity includes those countries consciously providing military equipment, including war planes and missiles used in these unlawful attacks, as well as those countries that supported and participated in the siege of Gaza which in itself has caused a humanitarian catastrophe.

A reminder to all Member States of the United Nations that the UN continues to be tied to an independent obligation to protect all civilians who are faced with massive violations of international humanitarian law - without mattering which country may be responsible for such violations. I appeal to all Member States, as well as responsible and relevant bodies of the United Nations system, to move forward on an emergency not only to condemn the serious violations of Israel but also to develop new approaches to provide real protection to the Palestinian people.

01/January / 2009

Richard Falk


Valuable insights into the mechanisms and culture we cannot get from outside. Thank you.




Today Dennis Kucinich made a 1 minute address to Congress stating that the bombing of Gaza by Israel using weapons paid for by US taxpayers is in direct violation of the Arms Export Control Act. The weapons were specifically not to be used for escalation or aggression.

It's time U.S. military aid to Israel came to an end.


Thanks much. It certainly explains a lot. Any idea who controls the missiles we sent them in September? I assume their intelligence people are full time pros?


Mad Dogs

It sounds like the Israelis have never heard of nor adopted the concept of ROE (Rules Of Engagement).

As Wiki notes:

The ROE deal with four issues:

o When military force may be used,
o Where military force may be used,
o Against whom force should be used in the circumstances described above, and
o How military force should be used to achieve the desired ends.

The ROE take two forms: Actions a military commander may take without consulting a higher authority, unless explicitly forbidden (sometimes called 'command by negation') and second, actions that may only be taken if explicitly ordered by a higher authority (sometimes called 'positive command'). Also, in the event that there is a clear and present danger.

In addition to a typically large set of standing orders, military personnel will be given additional rules of engagement before performing any mission or military operation. These can cover circumstances such as how to retaliate after an attack, how to treat captured targets, which territories the soldier is bound to fight into, and how the force should be used during the operation.

The ROE are extremely important:

They provide a consistent, understandable and repeatable standard on how forces act. Typically they are carefully thought out in detail well in advance of an engagement and may cover a number of scenarios, with different rules for each.
They assist in the synchronization of political-diplomatic and military components of a strategy by allowing political commanders to better understand, forecast and tailor the actions of a force.

Given the composition of the Israeli units that Pat describes, even if the Israelis did have Rules Of Engagement, they might have been ignored or they might have been so simplistic that anything goes.

I'm guessing it is the latter based upon incidents such as the following as posted by Jonathan Turley recently on his blog:

Death in Gaza: Tape Reveals How Israeli Captain Pursued and Shot to Death a Fleeing Thirteen-Year-Old Girl

A very disturbing story had emerged from Gaza after the shooting of a child. People are not only alarmed at the shooting of 13–year-old Iman al-Hams, but by the attitude and lack of remorse of an Israeli officer who killed her. When confronted by other soldiers, the officer said that he did not care if she was a child and would have killed her even if she was three under the standing orders given to soldiers in the campaign. Yet, the officer, identified only a Captain R, was charged with only minor offenses after emptying all 10 bullets from his gun’s magazine into Iman when she walked into a “security area” on the edge of Rafah refugee camp last month...

...A tape recording of radio exchanges between soldiers shows what unfolded with Iman walked towards an army post. The soldiers at least 100 yards from any soldier and, while a bomb is always feared in such situations, no one described her as a threat. She was identified as a “girl of about 10″ who was “scared to death.” Worse yet, the soldiers describe her as heading east - away from the army post and toward the refugee camp when she was shot. Captain R had to leave the post and pursue the girl to shoot her and later “confirm the kill” after emptying his magazine into the child.

The tape played on Israeli television is chilling. When Iman is spotted a soldier radios: “It’s a little girl. She’s running defensively eastward.”

Operations room: “Are we talking about a girl under the age of 10?”

Watchtower: “A girl of about 10, she’s behind the embankment, scared to death.”

A few minutes later, Iman is shot in the leg from one of the army posts.

The watchtower: “I think that one of the positions took her out.”

The company commander then moves in as Iman lies wounded and helpless.

Captain R: “I and another soldier … are going in a little nearer, forward, to confirm the kill … Receive a situation report. We fired and killed her … I also confirmed the kill. Over.”

Doctors at Rafah’s hospital said she had been shot at least 17 times.

The company commander goes out of his away to “clarif[y]” the standing orders and explain why the girl had to die: “This is commander. Anything that’s mobile, that moves in the zone, even if it’s a three-year-old, needs to be killed. Over.”

Israeli Rules Of Engagement or not? You be the judge.


Profligate use of airstrikes is one area in which the IDF does seem to have followed an American example, that of the USAF at its worst. For example, the pointless bombing of Lebanese civilian infrastructure in 2006 very much reminded me of the notorious attacks on Baghdad's water treatment facilities in 1991. The two air forces have similar equipment and seemingly similar doctrine. That's just the air force though, and I'm speaking without the benefit of experience.

As for the army, thanks for the unsettling information, Col.

Michael Chevalier

A very educational compilation, like so many other things I've read on this blog.

I am struck by similarity of what I've read of the unpredictable nature of the Japanese Army during WWII and what Col. Lang relates. I don't think that is a flattering comparison, given the penchant for atrocities.

It is particularly painful to read about the reduction of other humans to a bestial level. What moral authority can you claim to have with open behavior like that in the military of your nation? In this particular nation.



Seems any discussion of Israeli actions inevitably ends on accountability. Without any, why should the idf care what kind of soldiers it uses: a derelict 40 year old can kill civilians as easily as a well trained 25 year old.

Arab sites have posted photos of Gazan children clearly shot by small arms - one little girl with two bullet holes lined up perfectly across her tiny chest.

Anybody who has been to Palestine has seen the routine humiliations, insults and physical harassment that Arab/Muslims are constantly subjected to by the israelis.

In wartime, they get a free pass to kill anybody they want. Who is going to do anything about it?


the israeli foreign ministry is coordinating a worldwide campaign to flood media web sites and blogs with propaganda for israel's cast lead military ops against gaza. the israeli government orchestrated propaganda campaign tells its supporters to vote in online polls and respond to postings that are opposed to israel's actions and supportive of palestinans in gaza.

the israeli government's u.s. domestic propaganda appendage -- the adl -- the adl's program of censoring anti-israeli or pro-palestinian videos on youtube is in full gear. in cahoots with the adl's censorship efforts, the israeli foreign ministry is suggesting pro-israeli youtube videos to be posted to blogs.

journos who try to present a balanced coverage of the israeli attacks on gaza are being bombarded with emails from israel supporters accusing them of 'buying into' hamas propaganda and 'supporting terrorism'. the accusations are backfiring against israel with many journos comparing notes and seeing that the emails are part of a coordinated israeli propaganda/intimidation campaign.

the israeli government's propaganda campaign while it may be working on the corporate media, is having little effect against the web.


Very interesting post. I'm not a military person and as such I know very little about actual military culture. I assume that most of what I do know from film and novels is just that, fiction. However, I am sort of shocked to learn about the lack of career NCO's in the IDF.

Culture is a funny thing. It is the stuff you are absolutely sure that is the same everywhere that turns out to be not the same everywhere. When I first moved to Japan I simply refused to believe that streets didn't have names. My wife told me they didn't and I couldn't find a street sign anywhere, but for a while I clung to the idea that the streets were just poorly signed like a country lane in rural Pennsylvania. I was wrong and that realization was jarring.

The image of the wise and seasoned sergeant leading the younger troops and advising the green officier is such a cultural image. It seems impossible to imagine an army that functions without such a component. It does, however, explain a lot about some of the things that the IDF has and is doing. You would seem to be correct in suggesting that this structual aspect of the IDF needs to be corrected for its own benefit.

I really wish and hope that human societies can one day do away with war. And actually, in a strange way, despite my cynicism, I believe that one day we just may. But if a country is going to have an army, the damn well should do it right. I guess that is one of the things that bothered me so much about the abuses that went on in Abu Graib. Aside from the obvious moral issues, it is frightening to think of a military that loses its sense of displine, pride and responsibilty. I know it sounds like sucking up to the host, but it is comforting to know that a reasoned and practical individual like yourself was an important component of the American military.


So, the Israeli military is not the American military?

Yes, that's true. The active force is an army of conscripts, worn down by the daily, dehumanizing grind of the occupation. And yes, atrocities have been committed. Poor judgment has been exhibited.

But your post is a classic illustration of the danger of argument by anecdote. These things happen, and they should not. But they can hardly be said to characterize the force. They are exceptions, not the rule. And one need only look at casualty figures to realize that.

As for your smug superiority, Colonel, i would point out that our own highly trained force, staffed with professional NCOs, slaughtered civilians in Haditha. That it has routinely humiliated Iraqis at checkpoints, tortured detainees at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, and applied excessive force. All of the criticisms you level at the IDF could equally characterize American operations in the Levant. But it would be as grotesque to generalize from those incidents about the general nature of American forces or their 3C capabilities as it is to generalize from your anecdotes about Israeli forces.

You're a Vietnam veteran. What's your recollection of that conflict, fought largely by conscript forces? Was our use of force always judicious, the rules of engagement scrupulously adhered to? Did the presence of older NCOs always restrain their younger troops and officers?

Israel doesn't have a professional NCO corps for the very simple reason that it's a small country. What you're basically talking about is E-4 to E-7; at the company level and above, the NCOs are professionals. In the US Army, those grades account for 68% of the enlisted force. Dropping the corporals takes you down to 47%; E-6 and E-7 alone comprise 23%. You could, I'm sure, trim that number further by limiting the professional NCOs to frontline combat units. Even so, in a country that already spends 8-10% of GDP on Defense, increasing the size of its professional cadres by that percentage borders on insanity. It's not the peculiar historico-cultural artifact you suggest; it's an approach born of necessity.

I was, frankly, rather bitterly disappointed to read your post, given your distinguished record of service. The criticism most frequently leveled against Americans is that we presume that our own manner of operating is normative, or at the very least, the best adapted to all circumstances. That we tend to see the shortcomings of different approaches, without being able to recognize the advantages. You've done a good job of highlighting the problems with the structure of Israeli forces. But you haven't made even a perfunctory effort to figure out why, if these shortcomings are so obvious, the forces have not been restructured - other than a simplistic appeal to cultural differences, to "socialist and zionist ideals" and a "structural tradition" derived from Tsarist Russia. (That'd be like my describing our own force structure as a "backward artifact of aristocratic hierarchies." It explains where it came from, but not why we kept it.)

Israel gains three crucial advantages from its relatively level structure. The first, as I mentioned above, is cost savings - the state already spends far too much on its military. The second - and let's be brutally honest here - is talent. In Israel, there is no surer path to the top of the society than distinguished military service. Almost everyone serves by dint of conscription, but you have to volunteer for the frontline units, and pass rigorous tests. Then, the best of those who pass those tests are trained as NCOs, and the creme as officers. Unlike our own military, structured largely on the basis of social class, the Israeli military manages to leverage the talents of all of its members. Inserting professional NCOs down to the squad level would mean substituting those who have chosen enlisted service as their career for those who will go on to be lawyers, doctors, teachers, stockbrokers (and yes, cab drivers and factory workers). On the whole, you'd be placing less capable and talented people in those roles. And that leads to the third advantage. Israel is an immigrant society, to a degree greater than even our own. The IDF isn't just a military force; it's the prime integrative institution of the state. Its egalitarian ethos has some operational costs, but also some huge societal payoffs.

I'm not arguing that the IDF has it right, and we have it wrong. I'm simply pointing out that appealing to cultural ideals is too easy; they play a role, but so do differing circumstances. The IDF gains at least as much as it loses through its structure; professionalizing its NCO corps would tighten command and control, but at some cost of competence, talent, and dedication.


Well, to be honest, with regards to Mike C.'s comment, a far more unflattering (and disturbing) comparison struck me when I first read the post: the Waffen SS, which I think also lacked a career NCO corps and was consequently constantly beset with discipline problems (even when it was not actively trying to commit atrocities). But I couldn't quite bring myself to equate IDF to Waffen SS, of all things...

Charles I

The crimes are as well reported as any other - that is, dozens and dozens of documented accounts, completely ignored by the world.

Human Rights Watch has videos of Palestinian children used as human shields - by the IDF. I've seen video of a child tied to the front of an Israeli jeep as it advanced down a street, soldiers blazing away.

Recently PBS broadcast a documentary wherein 6 young female IDF soldiers detailed the daily humiliation, assault, torture and occasional murder they engaged in, and the toll it took on them. But they all blithely engaged in abuses every day they entered the West Bank during their service.

Michael Chevalier

The latest Aviation Week reports that the IDF is using Small Diameter Bombs (GBU-39, 250 lbs), accquired last fall. The information release is from the IDF. They are laser guided. My thought is that while they should minimize collateral damage, they also increase loiter time of the platform carrying them and can be dropped closer to their own troops.

Regarding the U.S. Air Force in Desert Storm, the frags for attacking Bahgdad were very specific. There is superb writing about this whole campaign, particularly from Gen. Chuck Horner. I would not impute that F-117 or F-15E drivers would ever have freelanced over Bahgdad. The pilots assigned to kill boxes would have an ROE that provided more flexibility.


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