Oops – The IDF didn’t kill Baby Mashrawi (and other things that didn’t happen during Pillar of Defense)

[Warning: graphic images]

Diligent readers of the Washington Post may know by now that UN observers in Gaza attribute the death of 11-month-old Omar Mashrawi, during Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, to a Hamas rocket which fell short and hit a Gaza City home.

WaPo initially reported the death using an AP photo with a caption that implicated an “Israeli strike.” The corrected story has that reference removed from the caption, after AP removed it in a correction to its original posting with the photo.  Numerous print and online news outlets used the same AP photo, however, with the original caption alluding to an Israeli strike.

Yet bloggers doubted at the time that the damage done to the Gaza City home was caused by an Israeli strike.  Elder of Ziyon’s post on the Mashrawi question mentioned these doubts first, I believe, and got wide attention.  Full disclosure: I am the correspondent with military experience whom he quotes analyzing the photos of the damage and assessing that it could not have been caused by an Israeli weapon.  (For reasons my readers are aware of, I didn’t have the time to write a post of my own on this topic, and it’s Elder who deserves full credit for putting the argument together, with photo references, for public consumption.)

My initial skepticism about the “Israeli strike” narrative was based on examining the photos of the damage.  Later, as reports of eyewitness statements came in, it became even less likely that an Israeli weapon was what hit the home in Gaza City.

Conflicting statements about the event

For example, eyewitness accounts of a “mass of fire” hitting the roof were inconsistent with an Israeli weapon, which would be fuzed to detonate by proximity, timing, and/or command guidance, but which would not have descended toward the home’s roof as a “mass of fire.”  The “mass of fire” report could well have described what was visible with a Hamas rocket hitting the home, however.  (The baby’s father, BBC Arabic journalist Jihad Mashrawi, said originally, in Arabic, that “shrapnel” hit his home.)

Mashrawi home: damage not done by an IDF weapon.
Mashrawi home: damage not done by an IDF weapon.

But some of the reporting in Arab media described the projectile that hit the home as a “tank shell” – which in this context usually means any type of common short- or medium-range artillery round, whether fired from a tank or not.  It is frequently used interchangeably with “mortar,” by the media and civilian eyewitnesses; it does not refer to an anti-tank round.

Hamas uses former-Soviet shells for artillery fire, and uses the explosive material to make warheads for its indigenously assembled rockets.  The level of damage in the photos is consistent with the amount of explosive in a Hamas “tank shell,” something Elder demonstrates nicely with his photo comparison.  The damage is much less than would be expected from an attack with an IDF stand-off targeting weapon, however, such as a guided bomb or air-to-surface missile.

Related to that point is a third statement attributed by the BBC’s Jon Donnison to unnamed Israeli officials, who reportedly said that the IDF was targeting “the building” – implied to be either the Gaza City home or a building near it – because there was a “militant” in it.  This element of the narrative doesn’t hang together, either as an implication about Israeli intent (Elder’s takedown of the implication’s idiocy is comprehensive), or in conjunction with the “tank shell” report from eyewitnesses.  If the IDF were targeting a militant inside a building, it would not use a weapon like a “tank shell” to do it.

Not an Israeli “tank shell”

This is the case for two reasons: first, because a tank shell – even a modern, penetrating or anti-personnel tank shell – is not the weapon for ensuring an interdiction-type objective like killing specific terrorists; and second, because in Pillar of Defense, there was no ground-combat phase in which the infantry was engaged with terrorists in close combat, or in which the firing platforms for the “tank shell” were brought in close to the target.

Using “tank shells” to go after terrorists in buildings is something the IDF does in ground combat, when its own troops have tactical objectives in an urban close-battle environment.  (As with the IDF in Cast Lead in 2009, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps made great use of this approach in Iraq with newer munitions created for the M1A2 Abrams tank, including the 120mm M1028 “Room Broom” anti-personnel round. Scroll down for a summary at this link.)  The purpose for which these modern tank shells are suited is denying terrorists a place to hide in urban combat.  They target physical features of the landscape, destroying them or making them uninhabitable; they are not used to ensure that specific, named terrorists are targeted or killed.

For tactical urban-warfare use, these “tank shells” must be deployed from positions relatively close to the structure or other hiding area a commander wants to deny to the enemy.  “Close” in this case means 500 meters or less; typically, around 200 meters.  Obviously, no Israeli tanks or mobile artillery were deployed that close to buildings in Gaza during Pillar of Defense.  None entered Gaza at all.  IDF artillery can lob some types of shells considerably further than that, but using those shells from a distance for an interdiction-type targeting purpose – trying to kill a specific terrorist or terrorists during a stand-off bombing campaign like the one in Pillar of Defense – would be a flawed approach.  There are weapons better suited for the purpose (the guided bombs and missiles mentioned earlier).  The IDF could be reasonably sure of causing damage to a building with a “tank shell” attack, scattering or wounding whoever was in it, but would not have reasonable certainty of killing a particular terrorist.

All that said, the level of damage visible in the photos indicates that what hit the Mashrawi home was not an Israeli “tank shell” anyway.  It was a round too weak to achieve the objective of killing a specific terrorist – a form of malpractice it would be laughable to accuse the IDF of.  Using a weapon that doesn’t offer a reasonable guarantee of eliminating the terrorist – one that will do little more than poke a hole in the roof and rearrange the furniture, while still potentially injuring bystanders – would be an irresponsible use of force, and not at all characteristic of the IDF.  When the Israelis attack terrorists inside buildings in Gaza, they use weapons of sufficient power to ensure the terrorists are killed.

I am confident in assessing that during Pillar of Defense, when there was no IDF troop presence in Gaza and all targeting was done from a stand-off distance, the IDF was not targeting a terrorist in a building using a “tank shell.”  It’s the wrong weapon for the desired effect, and IDF planners know that.

Unlikely to have been collateral damage from a nearby strike

An alternate theoretical possibility is that a flaming projectile was expelled from the explosion in an actual Israeli strike somewhere nearby, and ended up falling through the Mashrawi roof.  That possibility is low, however, partly because photos of the damage to the home show kinetic effects, which would have had to be produced by blast.  The flaming projectile would itself have had to explode inside the home, or have caused an explosion (theoretically, for example, of a propane tank), rather than merely causing things to catch fire.  Whether such a projectile would have penetrated the roof is one question; another is whether an eyewitness would have called it a “tank shell.”  There are too many special coincidences necessary for this to be a likely conclusion about the event.

Elder looked early on at the possibility that the Mashrawi home was affected by IDF strikes on a group of Hamas Fajr-5 rocket launch sites, not far from the Zeitoun neighborhood where the Mashrawi home is located.  The distance of the Zeitoun cluster from the sites, anywhere from 200 to 500 meters, makes it possible that some fragments from the presumed blast area traveled as far as the Mashrawi house.  But it is unlikely that anything heavy and flaming – a projectile that could penetrate the roof of the home – did so.  Fragments flying that far from a nominal 500-pound-class bomb blast (presumably with detonation at or very close to ground level) would be small.

Child killed by Hamas rocket (not by IDF).
Child killed by Hamas rocket (not by IDF).

If an IDF attack with the larger bombs used against big buildings (1,000- and 2,000-pounders) had set off sympathetic explosions from an ordnance storage site near the Mashrawi home, everyone in the area would have been aware of it and would have mentioned it to reporters.  The Fajr-5 sites and large factory buildings identified in the IDF graphic at Elder’s post are less than a kilometer – in American terms, less than half a mile – from Zeitoun.  An explosion big enough to send lethal fragmentation that far would have been heard by everyone, would have put up visible smoke, and would probably have caused neighbors to rush out and discuss the event (not to mention capturing evidence of the blast on video).

No reporting from the day in question indicates an incident or reaction of this kind.  Ultimately, I consider it unlikely that whatever hit the Mashrawi home was frag from an IDF strike nearby.  And, of course, even if the damage did turn out to be from an IDF strike, the fault lies with Hamas for putting rocket launch and storage sites so close to civilian homes.

Media credulity about multiple false reports

The positive evidence reported about the damage to the Mashrawi home points to a Hamas rocket, whereas it is not consistent with a direct hit by an Israeli weapon.  At a certain point, the media’s failure to recognize this has to reflect on the practice of their craft.  From embattled regions of Africa to Afghanistan and Chechnya, there are very fine reporters out there who know what they’re seeing, when they see combat and bomb damage.  But there seems to be no critical eye cast by the major news organizations on reports coming from Gaza.

Scene from Syrian civil war, not from Gaza.
Scene from Syrian civil war, not from Gaza.

Even without knowledge of weapons and weapons effects, however, the parade of false photo-essay depictions from sources in Gaza should give reporters and editors pause.  As the Camera link in my second paragraph above reminds us, there was another damning piece of photo “evidence” at the heart of misrepresentations during Pillar of Defense.  (I wrote it up at the time.)  The lifeless body of four-year-old Mohammed Sadallah, who was killed by a Hamas rocket on 17 November, was paraded for grotesque photo ops with Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, and the world media reported little Mohammed as the victim of an Israeli attack.  Israel was not attacking in Gaza at all when the boy was killed, however, and even the New York Times concluded that he was actually killed by a Hamas rocket.

Pillar of Defense also saw pioneering work from Hamas in the faked-injuries department.  CNN and BBC both ran footage of Gazans carrying a supposedly injured man who – a few seconds later, in the same video – was up walking around as if nothing had happened.  CNN made an on-air correction due to Elder’s post on this video fakery.

Meanwhile, the least-effort method of creating a false narrative from images is to simply swipe the images from another conflict, because who knows the difference, right?  Thus was the image of a father clutching his bleeding son swiped from the civil war in Syria, and passed off by Hamas as an image from Gaza during Pillar of Defense.

A method that exertion-free is bound to crop up more than once, and so Mr. Donnison of the BBC was caught up in a separate recycled-Syrian-casualty-photo incident.

Scene from Syrian civil war, not Gaza.
Scene from Syrian civil war, not Gaza.

A third such incident was reported by The Algemeiner, when a site called Alarab Net, on 18 November, posted a photo purporting to show a massacred family in Gaza, which turned out to be a massacred family in Syria, photographed at least a month earlier.

This series of video- and photo-narrative fakery incidents is what we in intelligence call a “pattern.”  Richard Landes wrote an excellent summary of the pattern in November for the UK Telegraph, bringing in evidence from years past.  It isn’t a new thing.  Hamas and Hamas’s apologists in the blogosphere routinely attempt to create a false narrative through the use of images and unsubstantiated claims.  News reporting from Gaza simply assumes Israeli guilt even where none has been established, as with the invalid narrative about Mohammed Sadallah’s death.

The more times this happens, the more careful Western media organizations should be about vetting sources and verifying the details of events.  It’s because they don’t have a reputation for doing so that arguments like Robert Mackey’s defense of the original, careless and slanted reporting on the Mashrawi incident come off as special pleading.  Throwing up the argument that “both sides are at fault” is a cheap dodge, when the Western media are routinely complicit in falsely depicting Israel – in exactly Hamas’s own terms – as extra-specially at fault.

In the end, it does matter who killed the baby, because Hamas in fact kills its own people, as well as getting them killed, in the pursuit of its goals.  That is the nature of the opponent Israel faces in Gaza.  And that is the larger reality of which Omar Mashrawi’s truncated, 11-month life is powerful evidence.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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18 thoughts on “Oops – The IDF didn’t kill Baby Mashrawi (and other things that didn’t happen during Pillar of Defense)”

  1. What really bugs me about the news videos that show image of smoke columns rising from Gaza City, with the implication that the Israeli are enacting a massacre.

    Nobody provides the proper context that the Israelis are using precision explosives but the Hamas weapons cache exploding is what is causing all the damage and ominous smoke columns.

    1. perhaps there’s good reason for not reporting 500-lb bombs as precision explosives.

      1. Please this is not the Bombing of Dresden, they are using gps guided penetrating ammunition to destroy the buried weapons cache.

        Good reasons not to bomb Hamas weapons caches ? …. Dude, I can’t think of any.

        1. it surely ain’t Dresden but it surely ain’t all gps-guided and it surely doesn’t all land precisely where it was meant to land.

          the IAF tries to be precise and they sure as heck aren’t firing blindly ……. but the IAF is quite clear that they are not always using precision and that in Cast Lead gps-guided munitions were 80% of the total dropped on Gaza.

          the IAF deserves a lot of credit but they don’t deserve to be defended as infallible.

          1. Considering that the “infallible” Air Force don’t exist the IAF is the best in town for what they do. Also considering that these weapons are used to threaten Israeli Civilians I can tolerate failure, the Gazans can beat themselves up for voting for an Islamic Nutter Gangster Club.

            Hamas made the choice of putting civies in danger, Israel should not bow to their hostage taking and put their civilians at risk.

            1. let’s not get too wrapped up here as we’re basically in agreement.

              my claim was about precision, not about the desirability of destroying Hamas’ capabilities, weaponry, or members.

              1. My claim is that the accuracy is as good as you can honestly get and that judging Israel to a nonexistent standard of perfection is unfair to them.

                But at least we agree.

  2. not really news that Hamas lies, the lies are reported and that people willingly are duped.

    that wasn’t really the lede to this story….. the interesting thing is that it was a UN team that debunked the claim.

    you shrugged THAT off right quick.

  3. The mass media is NOT credulous, at least not about who the real aggressor is, they simply justify and rationalize attacks against Israel. They do so because they are actively supporting and advancing what they believe to be the ‘Palestinian cause’ of an independent state, conveniently ignoring (as useful idiots are wont to do) that the Palestinian cause’s end goal is not an independent state but the destruction of Israel. They want an independent state as an unrestricted staging ground for attacks against Israel.

    1. Geoffrey—- an independent Palestinian state is the freaking policy of the US government and has been since Truman was president.

      and AFAIK it’s also the policy of the Israeli government.

      sometimes I wonder if your calculations aren’t all base-2.

      1. You are quite correct of course that an independent Palestinian state is the policy of both the US and Israeli government. That it is a policy disconnected from reality is clearly a distinction that you and obviously many others would rather ignore.

        An unwillingness to acknowledge reality however, changes it not a whit. Your willful obtuseness is at the heart of your wondering if my calculations aren’t all base-2. The inner motivation that leads to your willful obtuseness is the moral cowardice that seeks appeasement rather than accept confrontation.

        Successive American governments have favored an independent Palestinian state in the vain hope that the problem will just go away. Israel’s policy of seeking an independent Palestinian state is based in catering to American entreaties and/or the equally vain hope that ‘land for peace’ will satisfy Islam.

        Islam however will only be satisfied with the destruction of Israel. American and Israeli refusal to face this truth lies at the heart of its ineffective policies.

        You cannot defeat an enemy that you refuse to identify. You cannot negotiate with someone willing to die, if it results in your death. What you can do is identify what your enemy values more than your death and make its continued existence dependent upon your continued existence.

        The only thing that Islam’s radical jihadists value more than the destruction of the “great and little Satan” is the existence of Islam itself. No, a billion Muslims cannot be threatened but what they see as representative of Islam, it’s holy sites that Muslim’s place an irreplaceable and unique value upon, can be threatened. Leave no doubt, that the continued existence of Islam’s most holy sites hinges upon Islam reining in its jihadists and you create a new, game changing paradigm.

        1. right, Geoffrey, it’s everyone else who is disconnected from reality, not yourself.

          just amazing that the rest us don’t subscribe to Britain exceptionalism.

          1. It’s not a matter of opinion fuster but of reason and a willingness to face facts squarely. Were you able to factually refute my assertions as to the reality of the issue, you would do so.

            It’s not a juvenile besting of you that is of interest but rather getting to the heart of the matter wherein my interest and motivation lies.

            That you once again fail to remember, after numerous reminders, that I am not British but American indicates a defensiveness, that only recognizing the validity of my assertions while unwilling to acknowledge them can explain.

            1. Geoffrey, that you make a claim about a large group that’s based upon the stated objectives (not capabilities or actions) of a subset of that group remands me of the vow of the Iranian space scientists to be the first to land a monkey on the sun.
              I can’t refute that they might attempt it and I see little reason to point out that they, like yourself, are talking blueshift.

              1. The “subset of that group” to which you refer is far more extensive than you credit. Saudi Arabia and Qatar among others support covert Jihadism and are actively pursuing it in the west. A virtual tidal wave of jihadist nation states are emerging in the region. The trend is unmistakable and undeniable and there is every reason to expect it to continue. The world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism is about to go nuclear. Even noted liberals are on record as acknowledging the nuclear proliferation that shall result from Iran gaining nukes. The likelihood that nuclear proliferation into unstable third-world nations will result in terrorist groups obtaining nukes is inarguable. The potential for massive economic disruption in the west if a nuclear Iran seizes the Strait of Hormuz is undeniable.

                The ‘radical’ jihadists occupy the theological high ground. Islam’s unchangeable Qur’an unequivocally proclaims the obligation of every Muslim to impose Islam upon the entire world, by any means necessary. Islam’s most basic theological tenets make reform theologically impossible.

                In the face of these facts and the predictable future consequences for millions of innocents, your attempts at minimization are an act of blatant moral cowardice.

                1. Saudi Arabians and Qataris aren’t really a subset of Palestinians, are they, GB?

                  If you want to indulge yourself in such crap, how could you possibly britch about me calling you British?

                  1. Once again you’re being obtuse fuster. I talked of Islam, the spread of ‘radical’ jihadists and the false excuse of an independent Palestinian state, I never specifically limited my point to the Palestinians. The “larger group” to which I was referring was M.E. Muslims and that was quite evident.

                    Now you’re claiming that the subset to which you referred was a minority of Palestinians, which in and of itself is a falsehood. As a near total majority of Palestinians support radical jihadists.

                    As for your joke, I confess that I originally misread Britain as British, so I’ll grant you that point.

            2. (and GB, I remembered. it was a joke and while I wasn’t sure that you would understand, I was very confident that anyone else reading it would)

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