Israeli Civilian Harm Mitigation in Gaza: Gold Standard or Fool’s Gold?

“This gives us a minimum number of civilian war deaths of approximately 15,700. Based on 29,000 airstrikes, this leads to an average of 54 civilians killed per 100 attacks.

How does this compare to other operations? A roughly comparable operation where we have similar data is urban operations in Raqqa, Syria, against the Islamic State. In the Raqqa operation, according to DOD reporting, there were 178 civilian deaths and 10,663 airstrikes—an average of 1.7 civilian deaths per 100 attacks. This number for Raqqa was not considered to be good—never mind a gold standard. In fact, there was so much concern about the levels of civilian harm and destruction in Raqqa that DOD conducted an independent assessment of civilian harm (disclaimer: I was a member of the team that authored the report). The findings of this assessment contributed to the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMR-AP) directed by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. In the report, we also mention that this DoD estimate is likely low. For example, our study team considered the Airwars estimate of 744 civilian deaths to be more realistic. This yields a higher average of 7.0 civilian deaths per 100 attacks.

Despite the alarm over the high rate of civilian deaths in Raqqa, one finds the minimum equivalent in Gaza—54 civilians killed in 100 attacks—is eight times greater than the Airwars-based estimate and 32 times greater than the DOD estimate. And recall that 54 is a lower bound for the Gaza ratio; it is likely far higher than this. Just as miners in California could see the appearance of iron pyrite—fool’s gold—and think they had struck the real thing, it is possible to look at the IDF’s precautionary measures and at first glance think they are practicing civilian harm mitigation. But whether evaluating the IDF’s performance on its process or its results, it fails to qualify as a gold standard.”

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