A very informative analysis has been published at the Israellycool website, which tests damage-assessment data collected by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) against the claims of the IDF about what it targets in Gaza and why. The analysis bears out the IDF’s claims.
In fact, it does more than that. It helps clarify just how much restraint Israel actually shows in attacking Hamas targets in Gaza. And it reveals another important pattern, which is that Israel doesn’t just retaliate by rote against rocket launches or other attacks from Hamas. Israel works from a national-defense strategy that seeks to make every attack – every round, every warhead – count. The point is not to follow Hamas around the map, blowing up something in retaliation for each rocket launch. The point is to assess Israel’s security situation and go after the priority targets whose destruction or suppression will best protect Israel.
The superb analysis done by Dan Smith (“Judge Dan”) speaks for itself, and should be reviewed at Israellycool. I use a couple of the graphics from that analysis here, but it’s essential to look at Judge Dan’s work first.
From the OCHA assessment of damage points around Gaza, he has produced a “heat map” that shows where the areas with the biggest concentrations of total or severe destruction are located. The color code for the heat map is as follows (green indicates “crater/impact” or minimal damage at most; the overwhelming majority of the green area has no damage):
As “Brian of London” points out (at the end of Judge Dan’s post), the heat map does not signify areas of continuous severe or total damage, but rather concentrations of individual points of such damage. Most of the individual points are very limited in area, typically 25 square meters or less.
The heat map shows that the great majority of Gaza has received either no damage, or very little. The areas with concentrations of severe or total damage occur where we would expect them to: where the IDF has indicated Hamas has concentrations of command posts, operating bases, rocket launchers, weapons storage, and, of course, tunnels.
The major population areas of “Gaza City, Jabaliya, Khan Yunes, Rafah and Deir el-Balah,” Judge Dan observes, “were disproportionately undamaged” (emphasis in original). I have set the heat map next to a population graphic of Gaza for a visual comparison.
Judge Dan also uses an IDF briefing on the neighborhood of Shujaiya, located on the east side of Gaza City, to compare the OCHA damage assessment with the IDF presentation of Hamas’s infrastructure. He finds extensive overlap. His resulting graphic is below, with data from the OCHA report reflected as the numerous square-shaped points (coded to the color chart above).
He followed up with additional analysis of some of the tunnel infrastructure uncovered in Operation Protective Edge – and found, once again, that the damage report from OCHA overlaps extensively with the IDF report of where the tunnels were found.
Let’s take the analysis one step further, however, and compare Judge Dan’s heat map with IDF graphics showing the launch locations for the 1,600+ rockets launched at Israel from Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.
For this comparison, I have rotated each IDF graphic (from the presentation linked above) to match the orientation of Judge Dan’s heat map, and set the North, Central, and South portions of Gaza one by one next to it.
In northern Gaza, notice the extent to which Hamas chooses to launch from the more densely populated urban areas. But the great majority of the area where the launch points occur has little or no damage, according to Judge Dan’s presentation of the OCHA assessment. In particular, vast tracts of Gaza City from which Hamas launched hundreds of rockets went untouched by the IDF.
On the other hand, the heat map’s exceptional concentration of heavy damage points in the Shujaiya area is actually east of the densest grouping of rocket launch locations (indicated by the letter A on the IDF graphic). The damage concentrations around Beit Hanoun, near Gaza’s northern border, are likewise geographically distinct from where the main grouping of rocket launch points falls (letter B).
These findings tend to validate the IDF’s stated intention to destroy Hamas infrastructure – as opposed to merely participating in a pointless “cycle of violence.” The findings certainly militate against the narrative that Israel targets Gaza’s civilians. Even when Israel would be justified in attacking rocket launch points in dense urban areas, she only does so in limited cases, and to serve a larger strategic purpose.
The point here is more than that the IDF warns civilians to evacuate, or uses the least lethal weapon feasible, or otherwise tries to minimize collateral damage. The point is that Israel’s motives and methods are consciously geared to waging limited, responsible warfare that serves her own security priorities – and not to “retaliating” out of anger or political expediency. With all the targets she could justifiably go after, Israel sticks to her strategy and purpose.
The central and southern portions of Gaza likewise show widely scattered launch points, with many occurring in the denser urban areas. But the total or severe damage points inflicted by the IDF are concentrated in the east, near the armistice line. They indicate systematic targeting of Hamas’s operational infrastructure, rather than tactical retaliation against rocket launches. Most areas of central and southern Gaza have little or no damage.
Judge Dan issues a useful caveat in his second post on this (link above), observing that a few of the data points from OCHA don’t make sense (e.g., falling in the waters off the coast), and some others seem to lack rigor. He doesn’t appear to believe the overall reliability of the assessment is compromised, but the warning is a fair one.
On the other hand, UN employees have never been accused of being biased in Israel’s favor. Israel’s supporters might not be surprised that a UN employee’s findings would vindicate Israel, but the UN employee probably wasn’t hoping for them to. Any errors committed by OCHA can be safely assumed, at the least, to arise from sources other than bias toward Israel.
Ultimately, the case for some important conclusions is strengthened by the UN’s data and the work Judge Dan has done. It may not have been OCHA’s intention to demonstrate that the IDF’s damage pattern is limited, systematic, and linked to Israel’s stated security priorities – or that IDF operations inflict little to no damage on most of Gaza or the densest population centers. But that’s what the OCHA damage assessment has done.