2008-09: Operation Cast Lead

Key Facts

  • In December of 2008, after years of experiencing thousands of rockets from Gaza hitting southern Israel, the IDF launched Operation Cast Lead to put a halt to this ongoing threat.
  • During the operation, IDF air and ground forces strictly targeted Hamas – a very difficult task given Hamas’ tactic of embedding its fighters in civilian neighbourhoods. The IDF took significant measures to reduce the impact on civilians, including pre-strike warnings to alert civilians to evacuate target locations. In a number of cases, Israeli commanders called off strikes when civilians could not be evacuated.
  • Richard Goldstone, who headed the highly distorted UN fact-finding mission after the conflict, later renounced much of his criticism of Israel, stating: “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

In the years after Israel left Gaza, the residents of southern Israel had endured the firing of thousands of rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip. The indiscriminate use of these weapons against civilian centres – in some cases on a daily basis – constituted a war crime toward which the UN was largely silent (despite Israel’s appeals).

On his visit to Sderot in 2008, future-President Obama was quoted as saying “I don’t think any country would find it acceptable to have missiles raining down on the heads of its civilians. …The first job of any nation state is to protect its citizens. …I don’t even care if I was a politician. If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same”1

On December 27th, 2008, a three-week operation was launched by Israel against Hamas targets, in order to put a stop to the missile threat and restore quiet and security to the residents of southern Israel. IDF missions focused explicitly on Hamas and other terror groups, including Hamas personnel, weapons caches, missile launch sites, and affiliated infrastructure. Throughout the operation, the IDF faced the extraordinary challenge of fighting terror operatives fighting from civilian locations, in some cases using mosques and schools as weapons caches.

Israel made a comprehensive effort to forewarn civilians prior to strikes targeting Hamas. For example, the Israeli Air Force dropped thousands of fliers, sent thousands of text messages, placed thousands of automated phone calls to warn civilians to evacuate buildings being used by Hamas in advance of Israeli air strikes.2 Colonel Richard Kemp – former commander of British forces in Afghanistan – told the BBC at the time: “From my knowledge of the IDF…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. …even though the IDF is taking enormous steps, and I can tell you about some of those if you are interested, to reduce civilian casualties, it is impossible, it is impossible to stop that from happening when the enemy is using them as a shield.”

After Operation Cast Lead, the UN commissioned a fact-finding mission to investigate the various allegations of war crimes, mostly directed against Israel. Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist, was to lead the probe and publish a report on his findings. One of the members of the fact finding mission, Christine Chinkin, openly stated before the inquiry was even commissioned that she believed Israel was guilty of war crimes. Despite her obvious bias, she was included in the fact-finding mission.1 The report bizarrely made little mention of Hamas’ indiscriminate missile fire on southern Israel, and made virtually no effort to verify allegations made against Israel.

Two years later, Goldstone wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that amounted to a retraction of inflammatory sections of the report: “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.” He noted, “Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza” while “the de facto authorities (i.e., Hamas) have not conducted any investigations into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.”3 Goldstone further stated that his investigations “indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy” – in stark contrast to his initial findings.3

The IDF, as part of its own inquiry, indicted two soldiers for misconduct during Operation Cast Lead.4 Hamas recanted its initial claims that only 49 Hamas members were killed, admitting that the real number was some 700 operatives.5

Operation Cast Lead had a significant impact on Hamas, which experts note had failed to achieve any of its own operational objectives during the conflict (including the goal of abducting additional Israeli soldiers). Combined with the Iron Dome anti-missile system that now protects major cities in southern Israel, the IDF’s efforts to target Hamas during Cast Lead – and in subsequent operations – has done much to enhance security for the one million Israelis who live within missile range of Gaza.

Further Reading



1-    http://www.hudson-ny.org/1030/the-case-against-the-goldstone-report-a-study-in-evidentiary-bias

2-    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/04/world/middleeast/04mideast.html

3-    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/reconsidering-the-goldstone-report-on-israel-and-war-crimes/2011/04/01/AFg111JC_story.html

4-    http://idfspokesperson.com/2010/03/11/idf-military-prosecution-indicts-two-idf-soldiers-for-misconduct-during-operation-cast-lead/

5-    http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/hamas-admits-600-700-of-its-men-were-killed-in-cast-lead-1.323776