Israeli failures and Western credibility

Amr Helmy
Tuesday 5 Dec 2023

Western democracies must ensure that Israel respects international humanitarian law, human rights law, and the Fourth Geneva Convention in its actions in Gaza, writes Amr Helmy



t is almost unimaginable that the Israeli security apparatuses could have succumbed to such catastrophic errors as they did during the attacks by Hamas on 7 October, owing to the legendary aura surrounding Israel’s security operations, be they those of the Israeli Military Intelligence Aman, the domestic security agency Shin Bet, or the external intelligence agency Mossad.

However, the failures of the Israeli security apparatuses have extended beyond the dismal miscalculation of not anticipating the major attacks launched by Hamas on 7 October. They have also underscored the failure of the touted Gaza Barrier erected by Israel at a cost of $1.5 billion to deter the onslaught.

The delayed response of the Israeli military, spanning eight hours, to address the devastating attacks resulted in major losses in terms of fatalities, injuries, and hostages that were reminiscent of Israel’s experiences during the October 1973 War. Expectations of Israel swiftly overcoming these colossal failures were shattered as it has more recently found itself sinking into an additional quagmire of incompetence.

After initially estimating that it would succeed in neutralising Hamas and freeing the hostages within two weeks, following more than five weeks of relentless bombardment from land, air, and sea Israel has failed to achieve either goal. Instead, it has reluctantly opted for a ceasefire, a temporary halt to hostilities, and eventually engaged in a hostage exchange with Hamas, following the intelligence agencies’ failure to accurately assess the raid on the Al-Shifa Hospital in the Gaza Strip.

Even the tunnels purportedly discovered beneath the hospital, as revealed by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, were constructed by Israeli contractors.

These intelligence failures are not isolated but are also intertwined with international political mishaps. The images of Palestinian civilian casualties, particularly children, and the extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including hospitals and schools, have led to significant global outrage. The impact has been felt across various nations, which have realised that approximately 2.5 million Palestinians are enduring an unprecedented collective punishment at the hands of Israel and affecting water, food, fuel, and essential medical supplies.

This situation has exerted substantial pressure on the Western democracies, questioning the feasibility of their continuing to overlook Israel’s violation of international norms protecting civilians during warfare. Amidst these developments, Israel has seemed to lose control of events, especially as the US administration, positively engaging with regional states including Egypt, has pressured Israel into accepting a ceasefire. This marked a significant departure from its previous stance and the abandonment of plans aiming to relocate Palestinians forcibly to Egypt and Jordan.

The European response merits special attention, perhaps due to geographical proximity, cultural influence, or an awareness that Europe is seeking an active political role internationally. Despite divergent stances and the absence of a unified European foreign policy, coupled with the serious allegations of bribery and corruption plaguing the European Parliament, certain observations can be made.

Firstly, the statement from EU foreign ministers rejecting the call for a ceasefire sent a message to regional public opinion in the Middle East that the majority of EU member states are aligned with Israel’s comprehensive blockade on Gaza and disregard the significant civilian casualties being brought about there, including of children.

The EU appears to be indifferent to Israel’s continuous violations of international law and human rights in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. It seems inconceivable that the EU would go as far as imposing a Magnitsky Act on Israel – a US law that gives the administration the right to sanction the officials of foreign governments suspected of human rights abuses – given Israel’s reputation as a democratic state that respects human rights, as reflected in the UK Economist magazine’s Democracy Index.

Secondly, the European countries must refrain from conflating criticisms of Israel with anti-Semitism. Compensation for Jews regarding the European Holocaust, the worst crime in human history, should not extend to ignoring ongoing violations of international law and human rights by Israel in the Occupied Territories. Yet, this attitude negatively influences the voting patterns of certain European countries on resolutions concerning Israeli violations at the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, or the UN Human Rights Council. It affects the way they address Israeli breaches of international humanitarian law, human rights law, and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.

In the light of statements by senior Israeli officials describing the Palestinian people as “human animals” and their children as “children of the dark,” decisive responses from the European countries, which claim to uphold human rights, are warranted regarding their relationships with nations worldwide.

Thirdly, the developments in Gaza, which have extended to violent actions by settler groups supported by the Israeli security forces in the West Bank, necessitate a collective decision by the EU countries to cease arms exports to Israel. This contradicts Germany’s position, evidenced by a tenfold increase in arms deals with Israel from $32 million in 2022 to $323 million this year. Even with Germany’s efforts to combat rising anti-Semitism, it must recognise the massive anti-Israel protests by Jews themselves in various Western capitals that oppose the Israeli army’s killing and destruction of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Given the prolonged crisis and the absence of any predictable resolution, Europe and the Western democracies must enact changes in their positions to ensure that Israel respects international humanitarian law, human rights law, and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. This is crucial for regional peace and security, the safeguarding of the credibility of the Western democracies, and the prevention of its further erosion and collapse.

 It would be a serious mistake to label anyone expressing the condemnation of Israel’s actions against the Palestinians as anti-Semitic, especially when social media provides a platform for people to see, evaluate, and react to the reality of the situation in Gaza.


The writer is a member of the Senate.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 7 December, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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