Numbers can lie: Is Israel hiding its war casualties?

Dina Samak
Tuesday 7 Nov 2023

A recent report by the Spanish media about foreign mercenaries in the Israeli army opens the door to the possibility that Israel is using alternatives to its national military to deflate casualty reports coming out of Gaza.


The toll of Palestinians in the Israeli war on Gaza has tragically surpassed 10,000 civilians, with a staggering 70 percent comprising children, women, and elder people. On the Israeli side, the extent of casualties, particularly among their military ranks, remains a looming enigma, shrouded in uncertainty.

Israel says that more than 340 soldiers have died since the Al-Aqsa Flood offensive by Hamas on 7 October. Yet the numbers claimed by Hezbollah in Lebanon and by the Qassam Brigades in Gaza seem to hugely surpass these numbers. While Israel has said six soldiers and one civilian have died on its side on its border with Lebanon, Hezbollah claims it has killed or injured 120 Israeli soldiers. In Gaza, Israel says that 30 soldiers were killed since the beginning of the ground attacks, yet Hamas on the other side dares Israel to announce the real numbers of its casualties. On 7 November Hamas announced the destruction of six Israeli tanks in the Gaza Strip, noting that the total number of Israeli military vehicles and tanks destroyed in two days only, whether completely or partially, had reached twenty-seven. 

It is not clear which side is more accurate and we will never be able to know until the dust of the war settles down. However, a recent report by the Spanish media can open the door to some speculations. Could it be that the veiled Israeli casualties since the beginning of the ground invasion are just fighters who are not registered in the army and thus are not officially counted?

According to a report in the esteemed Spanish newspaper El Mundo, the Israeli military has purportedly resorted to recruiting foreign mercenaries, with a significant number hailing from various European nations.

El Mundo divulged that among these foreign fighters is a notorious Spanish mercenary, known to have affiliations with the neo-Nazi movement and having previously seen action in Ukraine. He was observed alongside Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip just last week.

The newspaper managed to secure an interview with the mercenary, who goes by the name of Pedro Díaz Flores. Flores revealed that he receives a handsome sum of 3,900 euros ($4,187) per week for his service in the Israeli army.

This lucrative arrangement comes during the Israeli army's ground incursion into Gaza, all in an effort to confront the estimated 40,000 fighters of Hamas and its extensive network of well-equipped and intricately designed tunnels throughout the enclave.

Analysts say that Israel has recruited mercenaries from different countries worldwide through contracts with private military companies to engage in combat in Gaza. This strategy involves utilizing these specialized mercenaries in hit-and-run operations and guerrilla warfare on the ground, while the occupying Israeli soldiers seek refuge in their tanks. The aim is to minimize casualties during the battle and prevent additional pressure on Netanyahu's government should the Israeli death toll increase.

Speaking to the Spanish newspaper, Flores openly discussed his reasons for joining the Israeli forces, identifying financial incentives as his main driving factor. "I came here for economic reasons, for the money. They pay handsomely, provide us with top-notch equipment, and the work environment is relatively calm," he stated. "I receive 3,900 euros [$4,187] per week, not accounting for any additional assignments," he added.

El Mundo accompanied its article with a photograph of the 27-year-old Flores standing alongside his colleagues near the Gaza Strip.

However, Flores says that his involvement is confined to the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. He denies direct engagement with Hamas or partaking in assault operations. "Our role primarily revolves around ensuring the security of arms convoys and Israeli troops stationed in the Gaza Strip," he asserted

Furthermore, Flores offered insights into the specific duties carried out by him and his fellow foreign mercenaries. "We are responsible for safeguarding checkpoints and controlling access along the borders of Gaza and Jordan.” According to Flores numerous private military companies (PMCs) are present now, and the workload is divided among them.

PMCs are not new in Israel as they have previously been entrusted with the task of securing power plants, airports, and border crossings like the one between Eilat and Aqaba that Flores mentioned in his interview. All these companies are headed or owned by military generals who are highly affiliated with the Israeli army.  But it does not seem to be business as usual now that Israel is in the middle of a war unlike any before.

Last month, several media outlets reported that foreign mercenaries previously stationed in Ukraine and involved in the conflict with Russia have started to depart from the European country as the attention of the West shifts towards providing support to Israel

The Ukrainian military has seen the inclusion of foreign fighters, notably within units like the International Territorial Defense Legion of Ukraine.

Back in March 2022, the Foreign Minister in Kyiv estimated that they had received applications from 20,000 foreign volunteer fighters representing 52 different countries.

Now, approximately 1,500 to 2,000 foreign volunteers are believed to be still present in Ukraine.

It is not yet clear whether the foreign volunteer fighters left Ukraine for Israel where “the equipment is advanced and comfortable, unlike the Ukrainian equipment,” as Flores tells the Spanish newspaper but there is no doubt thousands of others, from other places, did under similar circumstances.

As reported by various media outlets, an increasing number of British citizens have departed the United Kingdom since 7 October, with the intention of joining the Israeli army.

The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) has officially contacted the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), requesting immediate clarification on the UK government's position regarding the involvement of British individuals in conflicts in Israel and Gaza. In the words of an ICJP's letter, "Numerous British citizens may already be implicated in possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, potentially liable for future prosecution should legal proceedings be initiated."

The British government has strongly discouraged its citizens in the past from traveling to take part in the war in Ukraine, emphasizing that such actions may result in criminal charges. The ICJP expressed their concern regarding whether British citizens journeying to engage in the war on Gaza would be subject to similar legal repercussions and sanctions.

Also, as per Italian sources, thousands of Italians have flocked to Israel, after Israel summoned approximately 360,000 army reservists from across the globe. This has been the case in many other countries and not all of those who joined the Israeli forces hold an Israeli nationality.

The Israeli army has the ability to enlist Jews from across the globe, requiring only a single Jewish grandparent as a prerequisite, bypassing the need for Israeli citizenship through what is known as the Mahal Programme. This programme is a volunteer initiative that permits non-Israeli nationals to serve in the Israeli army in both combat and support roles for up to 18 months.

If a non-Israeli citizen meets all requirements, the application process is relatively simple, and it can be completed online.

However, the specific guidelines or protocols for counting casualties who are not citizens in the Israeli army are not clearly defined. As far as my research reflects, this announcement never happened before. Of course, the names of foreign mercenaries will not be announced and neither will the names of fighters contracted by PMCs, whether Israeli or foreigners.

In the relentless theatre of conflict, the Israeli military's overreliance on reservists to sustain its war machine seems impossible. As the ground operation continues, it is clear that the cost is already quite high. Eight reservists have lost their lives, and this accounts for around a quarter of total Israeli army casualties.

This count is destined to rise if additional troops pour into Gaza, and while the limited intervention approach that Israel has adopted so far has allowed for sporadic training of reservists, it remains insufficient preparation for the brutal combat that it now faces on a scale unseen since the 2006 confrontation with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

In 2006, unprepared Israeli reservists suffered substantial losses. Stirred by public outrage, Israel undertook a restructuring effort, shrinking the size of its reserve forces and weeding out the less-prepared individuals.

However, the reality of this conflict remains tough, and Gaza is not South Lebanon.

Mercenaries are often used in smaller or medium-sized wars, and they usually have experience in battles, making them more effective than the reserves who will need training before joining the war on the ground.

Using mercenaries allows Israel to show power while reducing the number of officially recognized casualties, and if Israel insists on continuing what seems to be a long war in Gaza, it will need both; and a lot of lies. 


Short link: