Colonel Richard Kemp, CBE, is a British military expert. He served in the British Army from 1977 - 2006. He was Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, was an Infantry battalion Commanding Officer, worked for the Joint Intelligence Committee and COBRA and completed 14 operational tours of duty around the globe. He now runs a private security operation in London, advises on defence and security issues and works on behalf of soldiers and families of soldiers killed and wounded in action.
Colonel Kemp was first interviewed by the BBC in January of 2009 regarding allegations of Israeli "war crimes" in Gaza. The interviewer expected him to excoriate the IDF. Kemp replied at length, detailing the precautions of the IDF to prevent civilian casualties and the impossibility of doing so in view of Hamas tactics of using human shields.
“I think Israel has very little choice other than to carry on with its military operations until it reaches the conclusion it needs which is to stop Hamas from firing rockets at its people in its territory.
“It has set out on this operation to do that and the civilian and military deaths on all sides of course are absolutely tragic. But Israel doesn’t have any choice apart from defending its own people.
“Until such arrangements are in place, not just for Hamas to accept that they must stop attacking Israel territory, but also that any such agreement is enforced. Until those arrangements (are enforced) Israel has no choice but to completely dominate the area.
“I think – I would say that from my knowledge of the IDF and from the extent to which I have been following the current operation, I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today in Gaza.
“When you look at the number of civilian casualties that have been caused, that perhaps doesn’t sound too credible – I would accept that.
“However, Hamas, the enemy they have been fighting, has been trained extensively by Iran and by Hezbollah, to fight among the people, to use the civilian population in Gaza as a human shield.
“Hamas factor in the uses of the population as a major part of their defensive plan. So even though as I say, Israel, the IDF, has taken enormous steps - and I can tell you about some of those if you’re interested - to reduce civilian casualties, it is impossible, it is impossible to stop that happening when the enemy has been using civilians as a human shield.
Interviewer: (“But what about) the criticism of UN eyewitnesses who talk about a house where people were advised to move for safety and 24 hours later it was bombed by Israel?”
“Well of course I can’t really comment on the detail of that – I don’t have any of the facts available on that. And I have no doubt that any allegations like that will be looked into very seriously by Israel.
Of course, the Israel Army operates under a strict code of conduct and are answerable to the Israeli government and the Israeli courts. And if it turned out that there was a deliberate crime committed I have no doubt that the people would be held to account. They would be answerable to an Israeli court.
“But of course, it’s not just a matter of the IDF trying to prevent casualties in a situation where the enemy is using them as a shield, but it’s also ... war itself.
“The whole nature of war, any military commander will tell you this, war is chaos. War is full of mistakes. There’s friction all over the place and if you just take for example the way we operate in Afghanistan and in Iraq, we operate – our British forces operate in Afghanistan and in Iraq - there have been innumerable mistakes by the British, the American and by all the forces. These things do happen, it’s a real tragedy but it’s just what happens when you go to war.”