Friday 19 February 2010

Double Standards? Nato's Afghan Errors

Why are Afghan civilian casualties "accidents" but Palestinian civilian casualties are "war crimes"?

The following comes from Honest Reporting

Nato and Afghan government forces have recently launched the largest military operation against the Taliban since the beginning of the conflict in Afghanistan in 2001.

Like the IDF during Operation Cast Lead, US and British troops face an enemy that cares little for the well being of its people.

Like the IDF, US and British forces operate under a military doctrine that aims to prevent civilian casualties.

Like the IDF, US and British forces have found that in a conflict situation, mistakes inevitably occur and civilians are the tragic victims.

According to a BBC report: "A Nato air strike against suspected insurgents in Kandahar has instead killed five civilians, officials say. The group was seen digging on a roadside and was thought to be planting bombs, Nato said. A senior ISAF official said he regretted the loss of life, adding that an investigation was underway."

This followed an incident only a day earlier when twelve Afghan civilians were reported to have been killed by an errant missile:

Gen Carter confirmed on Tuesday a missile that struck a house outside Marjah on Sunday killing twelve people, including six children, had hit its intended target.

Carter said the rocket had not malfunctioned and the US system responsible for firing it was back in use. Officials say three Taliban, as well as civilians, were in the house but the Nato soldiers did not know the civilians were there.

Initial NATO reports said the missile had landed about 300m (984ft) off its intended target. Gen Carter blamed these "conflicting" reports on "the fog of war".

The media have also reported that the Taliban have used civilians as "human shields", including taking hostages:

Before the operation began, the ISAF had picked up some intelligence that the Taliban planned to detain civilians at gunpoint, ISAF officials said. Now, anecdotal evidence suggests that the Taliban in Marjah are trying to force their way into civilian homes. Taliban who've been taken prisoner will be interrogated to see whether they can provide information on possible hostages....

"We believe the objective there is to create those as human shields or - in the worst-case scenarios - maybe even as false civilian casualties. If we don't create them (civilian casualties), they might create them," the official added.

Double Standards?

We sympathize with the forces currently taking on the Taliban and recognize the difficult dilemmas and decisions that have to be made in the course of a military operation.

However, we have to ask why, when the IDF also makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties, is Israel accused of "war crimes" and pilloried in the media when Palestinian civilians are accidentally killed, while the very same media shows a remarkable understanding when similar mistakes occur in Afghanistan.

Can we expect international condemnation in the media or from so-called human rights NGOs when civilian deaths occur in Afghanistan and calls for an immediate end to the military operation? Will there be a Goldstone-style commission of inquiry with the potential for legal action against the US, UK or individual commanders and soldiers?


When Hamas hides behind civilians, the Goldstone Report "finds no evidence" of this. Palestinian casualty figures are quoted by the media despite the exhaustive investigations of the IDF, which dispute the number of civilian deaths during Operation Cast Lead.

Even when Israel presents hard evidence, it is either ignored or outright rejected. Alan Dershowitz refers to Irish Colonel Desmond Travers, a member of the Goldstone Committee:

Travers came to the job having already made up his mind not to believe anything Israel said and to accept everything Hamas put forward. For example, Israel produced hard photographic evidence that Gaza mosques were used to store rockets and other weapons. Other photographs taken by journalists, also proved what everybody now acknowledges to be true: namely that Hamas, as its leaders frequently boasted, routinely use mosques as military munitions depots. When confronted with this photographic evidence, Travers said "I don't believe the photographs."

Yet, the above media report, for example, talks of "anecdotal evidence" supporting the claims that the Taliban is using human shields and acknowledges that the enemy may be responsible for creating false civilian casualties.

If the media are prepared to report and acknowledge the possibilities that the Taliban will use such underhand methods in the propaganda war, why can they not acknowledge that Hamas is perfectly capable of using the same techniques and has actually done so in order to tarnish Israel and the IDF?

Why is the IDF treated by different standards to other Western militaries and why is it accused of deliberately targeting civilians?

Isn't a double standard at work here?
Death in Dubai

Apologies if you've been looking for fresh musings over the last few weeks but I've been out of circulation due to illness and pressure of work but I'm back with a biggie!

Senior Hamas operative Mahmoud Mabhouh was assassinated in Dubai last month and the media feeding frenzy has started, notably in the British press. In the old Monty Python sketch, Spam was the only thing on the menu but yesterday the men of the media chef's were serving up one dish, Israel with Mossad dressing.

Mossad may indeed have been responsible for the assassination of Mahmoud Mabhouh but there is still much we don't know about Mabhouh's death, so it's too early and unwise to jump to conclusions. As Sherlock Holmes observed, it is a capital mistake to draw conclusions until one has all the data.

Tom Gross of Mideast Media Analysis observes:

Without any actual evidence, the media in some European countries - notably Britain - went much further than even the media in Dubai, and blamed Israel unreservedly for Mabhouh's death.

Headlines included:

Britons had passport details stolen by 'Mossad death squad' (The Times)

''Terror of innocent Britons named as assassins: Why choose us, ask Britons whose identities were stolen by Mossad hit squad'' (Daily Mail, front page).

On page 4, the Mail carried the headline: "Dragged into a Mossad murder plot" as "Mossad agents" and "Mossad killers".

"Israeli assassinations: passports to kill" (Guardian editorial).

Other papers mixed fact with pure nonsense about the supposed past exploits and misdeeds of Israeli intelligence.

CNN International gave the report of Mabhouh's death, even though it occurred four weeks ago, a higher priority than the capture of the most senior Taliban commander since 2001, which many would argue is a far more important news story.

Gross goes on to make the following salient points:

There seems a very real possibility that Israel is being set up. Airlines keep detailed passenger records and anyone could have obtained the flight manifestos of British and other passport holders who have flown to Israel in the past and then used these names in a deliberate attempt to point the finger of blame at Israel.

The Dubai authorities have provided no forensic evidence that points to Israel, only a series of photos and videos of random hotel guests who may or may not all know each other. In any event, the persons shown in these photos and videos are not shown committing any crime.

It would be very easy to frame Israel, using the identities of six randomly-chosen Israelis based on flight manifestos. This could have been done by anyone - and especially by persons who wanted to avoid being suspected of this action by blaming the Israelis and diverting attention from the real perpetrators.

It is not necessarily a Middle Eastern actor that is behind what The Daily Telegraph called a "ruthlessly efficient assassination" and "a meticulously-planned operation." In this atmosphere of hypertension, where governments are fighting battles with terror organizations (often clandestinely) in many locations around the world, the intelligence agencies of many countries have created data banks of identities using flight lists and other sources. Persons with longstanding familiarity with intelligence matters tell me that many governments - and not just the European ones - use European operatives to carry out their killings, including in the cases of other previous assassinations in Dubai.

It would be uncharacteristically stupid of Mossad operatives, if they had in fact so easily allowed themselves to be filmed, and Mossad operatives are not stupid.

Mabhouh entered Dubai on a fake passport and it may have been difficult for the Mossad to follow his footsteps and synchronize any assassination with his travel schedule. But Hamas knew his whereabouts and plans at all times, and so did the Iranians and presumably the Syrians.

Many governments wanted Mabhouh out of the way, not only Israel. The missiles Mabhouh was procuring from the Iranians had the capability of hitting central Tel Aviv, and were Hamas to use such missiles later this year, the Israeli response might lead to a region-wide conflagration, which many Western and Arab governments want to avoid.

If Israel was responsible - and that is a very big if - it would be an indication of how strongly Israel feels it is being left with few other options in protecting its citizens from deadly threats. All the governments that have supported the Goldstone report have in effect told Israel that it cannot defend itself when attacked by missiles from Gaza in future, missiles that put over five million people at risk, so it would not be surprising if Israel decided it has no choice but to try and prevent those missiles reaching Gaza at an earlier stage in the supply chain.

This was a particularly significant trip by Mabhouh (to Dubai, the regional arms hub, from his home in Damascus), in which he was en route to procure weapons of particular significance. His present activity was viewed as a turning point in the type of weaponry being smuggled, and it was considered very important to intervene at an early stage.

The governments of Jordan and Egypt (where Mabhouh previously spent a year in prison in 2003) have sought Mabhouh for some time. Some Arab media have reported that the operation against Mabhouh may have been carried out by a rival Palestinian group and the photographed individuals have nothing to do with it.

What is true is that someone is making increasing moves against operatives connected to the Iranian regime. In recent years, senior Iranian officials linked to the intelligence services or nuclear programme have disappeared quietly, the latest one while on pilgrimage to Mecca. Perhaps the Saudis were responsible.

In an editorial, the Israeli daily Yisrael Hayom reflects that "The events in Dubai prove to us once again that the world has totally changed for those dealing in terrorism and, unfortunately, for those seeking to foil it... The affair which is developing before our very eyes, is becoming weirder and weirder by the minute. So much so that it is even possible to surmise that this is not only about the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh assassination, but also about the incrimination of Israel."