Israel’s military objective in Gaza: ‘Kill them all’

Israel’s military objective in Gaza: ‘Kill them all’

Yagil Levy writes:

The Israeli attack on a humanitarian convoy in Gaza in early April that killed seven aid workers with the U.S.-based aid group World Central Kitchen has ignited a fierce global backlash against Israel’s policies of engagement in the territory. The attack involved the successive firing of three missiles at three vehicles, driven by suspicions of a Hamas combatant’s presence within the convoy, according to reports.

In Israel, the event is being portrayed as an accident, “a grave mistake stemming from a serious failure due to a mistaken identification, errors in decision-making, and an attack contrary to the Standard Operating Procedures,” as the Israeli military’s investigation team concluded. In humanitarian circles, it is seen as evidence of a culture that “treats Gaza as a free-fire zone with total impunity for gross attacks on civilians,” as Jeremy Konyndyk, the president of Refugees International who served in both the Obama and Biden administrations, has suggested.

But for the discussion to be useful, it should progress beyond these immediate interpretations to examine the deeper cultural patterns underlying such incidents. Most crucially, it must scrutinize the shift in military policy and ethos that can be traced back to the Elor Azaria affair of 2016-17. Azaria was an Israeli conscript who was captured on video executing a wounded and immobilized Palestinian assailant in Hebron. The Israeli military prosecuted Azaria for manslaughter and sentenced him to 18 months in prison.

While the case demonstrated the military’s commitment to its own ethical codes, it also sparked widespread protests from right-wing factions and a general backlash against military procedures. The army was accused of failing to support Azaria and creating a culture in which soldiers would hesitate to use force against Palestinian militants. To counter this claim, and from that point forward, the military began to announce the number of Palestinian fighters killed in its operations, demonstrating that its forces did not hesitate to engage.

Under the leadership of the military’s chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, from 2019 to 2023, the killing-based criteria were reinforced. Kochavi’s goal was to remake the army into a “lethal, efficient, and innovative” fighting force—in other words, a death-generating army. He promoted this vision by enhancing the precision of weapon systems, improving the coordination between forces and intelligence, and increasing the rate of fire.

Kochavi’s directive for field commanders to assess, at the end of each combat phase, the number of enemy forces killed and objectives destroyed—rather than solely focusing on territorial conquest—signified a shift toward necrotactics, where the primary goal of military engagement is killing the enemy. Killing becomes not just an outcome of warfare but its principal aim.

The approach of using body counts as a metric of success has notably intensified during the current war. Soon after the Oct. 7 attack, the Israeli military began consistently reporting the number of Hamas fighters killed, echoing the way U.S. generals announced enemy fatalities during the Vietnam War—a scenario where traditional metrics for evaluating combat success are elusive, thus making the body count, rather than the strategic objectives achieved, the primary indicator of success. This was particularly evident as the Israeli death toll ticked up and the stated objective of dismantling Hamas appeared increasingly unattainable.

In fact, the military appears to have established a quantitative goal from the outset. According to the journalist Yuval Abraham in +972 Magazine, the Israeli army developed an artificial intelligence-based program named Lavender, designed to identify targets for assassination. This system tagged approximately 37,000 Palestinians in Gaza as suspected militants, marking their residences (and therefore their families as well) for potential airstrikes. The deployment of Lavender contributed to the deaths of around 15,000 Palestinians in the war’s first six weeks, according to the report.

By setting a numerical target, the Israeli military shifted from viewing outcomes as a measure of progress—like neutralizing the threat posed to Israel from Gaza—to making body counts the main standard. The trend has been reinforced by a pervasive adoption of the language of killing among military commanders. “Now we will go forward and kill them all,” Brig. Gen. Roman Goffman was quoted as saying just before the ground operation in Gaza began, in just one prominent example. [Continue reading…]

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