Israel has cast the deaths of civilians in the Gaza Strip as a regrettable but unavoidable part of modern conflict, pointing to the heavy human toll from military campaigns the United States itself once waged in Iraq and Syria.
But a review of past conflicts and interviews with casualty and weapons experts suggest that Israel’s assault is different.
While wartime death tolls will never be exact, experts say that even a conservative reading of the casualty figures reported from Gaza shows that the pace of death during Israel’s campaign has few precedents in this century.
People are being killed in Gaza more quickly, they say, than in even the deadliest moments of U.S.-led attacks in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, which were themselves widely criticized by human rights groups.
Precise comparisons of war dead are impossible, but conflict-casualty experts have been taken aback at just how many people have been reported killed in Gaza — most of them women and children — and how rapidly.
It is not just the scale of the strikes — Israel said it had engaged more than 15,000 targets before reaching a brief cease-fire in recent days. It is also the nature of the weaponry itself.
Israel’s liberal use of very large weapons in dense urban areas, including U.S.-made 2,000-pound bombs that can flatten an apartment tower, is surprising, some experts say.
“It’s beyond anything that I’ve seen in my career,” said Marc Garlasco, a military adviser for the Dutch organization PAX and a former senior intelligence analyst at the Pentagon. To find a historical comparison for so many large bombs in such a small area, he said, we may “have to go back to Vietnam, or the Second World War.”
In fighting during this century, by contrast, U.S. military officials often believed that the most common American aerial bomb — a 500-pound weapon — was far too large for most targets when battling the Islamic State in urban areas like Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria. [Continue reading…]