The Devastating Gun Battle in Gaza is Being Fought in an Uneven Killing Field
By Thalif Deen*
Escalated hostilities in the Gaza Strip have
resulted in heavy casualties and large-scale displacement. More than 50
children have been killed in the current crisis in the Middle East, a senior UN
official, said May 16.
UNITED NATIONS, May 17 2021 (IPS) – In most civil wars and
military conflicts across the politically-volatile Middle East, including in
Syria, Yemen and Palestine, the ongoing battles are being fought not on a level
playing field but on an uneven killing field.
And it is
more so in the current fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, described as
a “Middle East carnage” where children are among the civilians killed in airstrikes.
The fighting is largely a battle of weapons: sophisticated US-supplied
state-of-the-art fighter planes vs home-made rockets and mortars.
The overwhelming Israeli firepower that continues to be
unleashed on Palestinians –which has so far killed 192, including 58 children,
in a weeklong confrontation — is perhaps reminiscent of the Algerian war of
independence (1954-1962) when France, the colonial power, used its vastly
superior military strength to strike back at the insurgents with brutal
While France was accused of using its air force to napalm
civilians in the countryside, the Algerians were accused of using handmade
bombs hidden in women’s handbags and left surreptitiously in cafes, restaurants
and public places frequented by French nationals living in occupied territory.
In one of the memorable scenes in the 1967 Academy Award
winning, cinematic classic “The Battle of Algiers,” which re-created Algeria’s
war of independence, a handcuffed leader of the National Liberation Front
(NLF), Ben M’Hidi, is brought before a group of highly-partisan French
journalists for interrogation.
One of the journalists asks M’Hidi: “Don’t you think it is a
bit cowardly to use women’s handbags and baskets to carry explosive devices
that kill so many innocent people [in cafes and night clubs?]
Responding with equal bluntness, the Algerian insurgent
retorts: “And doesn’t it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on
unarmed villages on a thousand times more innocent victims?”
“Of course, if we had your fighter planes, it would be a lot
easier for us,” he adds. “Give us your bombers, and you can have our handbags
Perhaps, in the current confrontation, it would be
interesting to see the roles reversed: the Palestinians with American fighter
planes and battle tanks and Israelis with homemade rockets and mortars,
Besides F-15 and F-16 fighter planes, the Israelis also use
a wide array of U.S. weaponry, including Apache helicopters, M60 battle tanks,
armoured personnel carriers and heavy artillery.
Israel’s prodigious military strength and its economic
stability are attributed largely to unlimited American economic and military
assistance from successive US administrations and backed by American
On May 16 alone, 33 Palestinians were killed, in what was
described as “the single deadliest airstrike” by the Israelis. But, as of now,
and despite a Security Council meeting, there are no indications of a halt to
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted as
saying: “We’ll do whatever it takes to restore order and quiet.”
According to a report in the New York Times, Israeli
intelligence has estimated that Palestinian militants, including Hamas and
Islamic Jihad, have access to about 30,000 rockets and mortar projectiles
stashed in Gaza, most of them manufactured in Gaza with technical expertise
from Iran. The rocket attacks have claimed 10 lives so far.
Asked about the massive Israeli military arsenal, Pieter
Wezeman, Senior Researcher, Arms and Military Expenditure Programme at the
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS the US, by
far, has been the most important arms supplier to Israel since the 1970s.
He pointed out that over the past five years the
uninterrupted US supplies included F-35 combat aircraft (described as the most
advanced state-of-the art fighter plane), F-15C combat aircraft and many
thousands of guided bombs and armoured vehicles.
The purchases of such weapons (and similar weapons before),
he said, are funded by the over $3.0 billion in annual military aid the US
provides to finance Israeli arms procurement.
In addition, the US also finances and provides technical
input into Israel developing missile defence systems, include those that have
been used so intensively in the past few days. The US also supplies Israel with
a range of other military equipment, ranging from trucks and rifles to spare
parts for older US-supplied equipment, Wezeman said.
A Reuters news agency report in September 2016 said the US
agreed to provide Israel a staggering $38 billion package in military
assistance over the next decade, described as “the largest such aid package in
U.S. history, under a landmark agreement signed by the two countries”.
The $38 billion memorandum of understanding (MoU) covered
U.S. fiscal years 2019-2028 and replaced the $30 billion MOU signed in 2007,
(which expired at the end of fiscal year 2018).
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a
Security Council meeting May 16: “The current hostilities are utterly
appalling. This latest round of violence only perpetuates the cycles of death,
destruction and despair, and pushes farther to the horizon any hopes of
coexistence and peace.”
Fighting must stop. It must stop immediately, he urged.
Rockets and mortars on one side and aerial and artillery bombardments on the
other must stop. “I appeal to all parties to heed this call.” The United
Nations, he said, is actively engaging all sides towards an immediate
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the
15-member Council “the United States has been working tirelessly through
diplomatic channels to try to bring an end to this conflict, because we believe
Israelis and Palestinians equally have a right to live in safety and security.”
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who chaired the meeting as
Council president for the month of May, said: “We call upon the U.S. to
shoulder its responsibilities, take a just position, and together with most of
the international community support the Security Council in easing the
Asked about secondary arms suppliers to Israel, SIPRI’s
Wezeman singled out Germany and Italy.
He said Germany has supplied engines for Merkava tanks made
in Israel (the engines are really assembled in the US so that Israel can
acquire them with US military aid financing) and torpedoes for submarines which
Germany has supplied earlier.
One more submarine from Germany is planned for delivery this
year while a contract for three more is apparently still being negotiated.
Germany is also in the process of delivering four frigates to Israel, which
will be equipped with Israeli combat systems.
Italy has supplied eight advanced military trainer aircraft
to Israel 2016-2020 (in addition to 22 delivered five years earlier). These are
used to prepare and train pilots who will fly the US supplied combat aircraft.
Asked about the state-of-the-art US weapons systems in the
Israeli military arsenal, Wezeman said the US supplied combat aircraft, especially
F-16s and F-15s, and US guided munitions have played a central role in Israel’s
military actions in Gaza and elsewhere (including Syria and Lebanon).
The most advanced weapon the US supplies to Israel is the
F-35 combat aircraft, including a few delivered just a few weeks ago. Of the 50
ordered, about 31 have been delivered so far, while more are planned to be
However, these aircraft are designed for attacking targets
deep inside well defended enemy territory, for example, targets deep inside
Syria. They may thus not have seen much or any use in the past few days, he
*UN Bureau Chief and Regional Director IPS North
America, has been covering the U.N. since the late 1970s. A former deputy
news editor of the Sri Lanka Daily News, he was a senior editorial writer on
the Hong Kong daily, The Standard. Thalif Deen is a former Director, Foreign
Military Markets at Defense Marketing Services (DMS); Senior Defense Analyst at
Forecast International; and military editor Middle East/Africa at Jane’s
Information Group.Thalif Deen is the author of the newly-released book on the
United Nations titled “No Comment – and Don’t Quote Me on That.” The 220-page
book is peppered with scores of anecdotes– from the serious to the hilarious–
and is available on Amazon worldwide and at the Vijitha Yapa bookshop in Sri
Lanka. The links follow: https://www.rodericgrigson.com/no-comment-by-thalif-deen/https://www.vijithayapa.com/
The Observer view on
the Israel-Palestine conflict
It’s time for the international community to
address this crisis with greater honesty about the key players and solutions. The sudden rekindling of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the
horrors, is a shameful
reminder of the international community’s almost criminal neglect of the
crisis. There have been no substantive peace talks for more than a decade.
Donald Trump’s “deal
of the century” was a cruel sham: