Monday, October 30

Raising Doubts About Lebanon's Civilian Casualties

Via Camera

The perception that Israel’s response to Hezbollah attacks was disproportionate, and that indiscriminate force was aimed at the Lebanese population, was largely a result of media reports on the casualty breakdown in Lebanon. Throughout the hostilities and after the fighting stopped, many news outlets unquestioningly accepted Lebanese claims that almost all Lebanese casualties were civilians. At the same time, they implicitly rejected or ignored Israel’s assertion that between 500-600 of the Lebanese fatalities were Hezbollah fighters. For example:

Hezbollah and its supporters have reason to exaggerate the number of Lebanese civilian casualties: it promotes the charge that Israel uses reckless and disproportionate force, and at the same time bolsters Hezbollah’s reputation by understating their battlefield losses.

On August 25, the Lebanese Higher Relief Council, an official government agency, estimated 1,187 Lebanese deaths in total resulting from the conflict. If, as AP reported, only 68 Hezbollah and 34 soldiers were killed, then it would be true that "an overwhelming majority," "nearly all," or "most" of the Lebanese casualties were civilians. But the number of Hezbollah fighters among the total dead is clearly much higher.

Even before the end of hostilities, Israel released a list of 196 Hezbollah fighters, individually identified by name, who were killed in fighting through Aug. 6, and at the same time estimated an additional 200 fighters were killed beyond those listed. (Israel has since updated its list of fighters to include 532 names.

By contrast, according to an Associated Press report from Aug. 6, Hezbollah admitted to losing only 53 fighters through Aug. 6. AP seemed to accept Hezbollah’s figure in its calculations, apparently subtracting the "53 guerrillas" acknowledged dead by Hezbollah from their count of the total dead to determine the number of civilian deaths: "Israel's attacks on Lebanon have killed at least 591 people, including 509 civilians, 29 Lebanese soldiers and at least 53 Hezbollah guerrillas." And although the wire service did acknowledge that "Israeli officials said they have confirmed 165 dead guerrillas and even have their names and estimated that another 200 had been killed," it apparently discounted Israel’s assessment, and the possibility that some of the "509 civilians" might have actually been combatants. (AP, Aron Heller, Aug. 6, 2006)

Unlike many of its counterparts in the media, the Daily Telegraph has been candid about Hezbollah’s efforts to hide its casualties. An Aug. 4 piece by Con Coughlin in the Telegraph noted that

Although Hizbollah has refused to make public the extent of the casualties it has suffered, Lebanese officials estimate that up to 500 fighters have been killed in the past three weeks of hostilities with Israel, and another 1,500 injured.

Lebanese officials have also disclosed that many of Hizbollah's wounded are being treated in hospitals in Syria to conceal the true extent of the casualties. They are said to have been taken through al-Arissa border crossing with the help of Syrian security forces. ...

Hizbollah's operational council has drawn up casualty lists that have been passed to the Shaheed Foundation. Copies have been seen by The Daily Telegraph, and have also been obtained by Lebanese newspapers, which have been pressured by Hizbollah not to publish them."Hizbollah is desperate to conceal its casualties because it wants to give the impression that it is winning its war,'' said a senior security official. "People might reach a very different conclusion if they knew the true extent of Hizbollah's casualties." (emphasis added)

A few weeks later, Patrick Bishop of the Daily Telegraph reported:

UN officials believe that Hizbollah will not want to reignite the conflict, at least for a while. The organisation's culture of secrecy has disguised the true number of its casualties – funerals of "martyrs'' are being staggered to soften the impact of the losses. Some were interred without ceremony for re-burial later. A UN official estimated the deaths at 500, 10 per cent of the force Hizbollah is thought to muster ... (August 22, 2006)

Additionally, the Kuwait Times on August 30 reprinted a Stratfor article which reported that "Hezbollah has buried more than 700 fighters" from the recent fighting. This is in accord with a statement by Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror, a former senior officer in Israeli military intelligence, who said in a public briefing reported by UPI, that:

... Hezbollah lost more than 500 men, even though it confirmed only some 60-odd killed. Israel identified 440 dead guerillas by name and address, and experience shows that Israeli figures are half to two-thirds of the enemy's real casualties. Therefore, Amidror estimated, Hezbollah's real death toll might be as high as 700. (Sept. 7, 2006)

More recently, Abraham Rabinovich reported in the Washington Times (Sept. 27) that Israel now had identified the names of 532 dead Hezbollah fighters and estimated at least 200 others had been killed.

Regardless, the accumulated evidence from various sources exposes as a deception Hezbollah’s claims to have lost 68 or 74 fighters .

Israel’s claim to have killed 500-600 Hezbollah fighters, meanwhile, is buttressed by the government’s partial list of names of Hezbollah fighters who died through Aug. 6, and is corroborated in some media reports.

These different assessments suggest that Hezbollah losses may have been comparable in number to the civilian losses in Lebanon. Allegations by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International–organizations often criticized for their disproportionate and deceptive focus on Israel–that Israel used indiscriminate force and even targeted civilians should be viewed warily in light of this evidence. And when casualty figures and breakdowns cited by news organizations are based on figures supplied by Hezbollah, Lebanese officials, or Israeli officials, those claims should be meticulously investigated for inconsistencies, and should not be reported as accepted fact.

See full post here

No comments: