25 March, 2009

The strong become weak

Here’s an example of Martin van Crevald’s observation that “when the strong fight the weak, the strong become weak,” 

Since Gaza, more and more accounts are coming out of actions that put innocents in unnecessary risk—or perhaps were targeting those innocents as a matter policy.


During its war with Hamas, the Israeli military pursued a strategy of deliberately blasting crowded buildings — including a school and a hospital — with incendiary white phosphorus rounds. It was part of a concerted effort to scorch terror hideouts in and around Gaza City, Human Rights Watch senior military analyst Marc Garlasco tells Danger Room.

"The attitude was: When in doubt, burn it down," says Garlasco, who spent weeks in Gaza after the fighting to conduct forensic research.

Of all the controversial things the Israeli military did during the conflict, firing off white phosphorus (WP) may have been the most divisive. When exposed to oxygen, phosphorous catches fire, throwing up thick clouds of smoke — which makes it both good for illumination and for concealing troop or tank movements. But WP can also burn people, quickly and horribly, sticking to the skin as it singes. So firing phosphorus weapons carelessly in a civilian area is problematic, at best — and possibly illegal.

Garlasco says the Israeli Defense Forces were more than careless with WP, however. Troops repeatedly targeted Hamas hideouts in crowded urban areas where civilians would almost certainly get caught in the cross-fire. It was part of a larger Israeli effort to use maximum force to protect its troops during the Gaza campaign.

Amnesty International called the Israeli use of WP in Gaza a "war crime"; the Israeli human rights group B'tselem was only marginally more careful, saying it was "impossible to use in a legal sense." In response, the Israeli Defense Forces at first denied it used WP. Then it defended its phosphorus use as proper — while launching an internal investigation into potential abuses.

Danger Room - Wired Blogs

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