Earlier this afternoon, mere moments before this article was to be published, the following video from the Israeli Defense Forces vanished from the IDF's YouTube account. As of this writing, only a copy of the original can be found on LiveLeak:
You're looking at a product of the IDF's multimedia efforts to showcase the laborious process behind targeting terrorists in the Gaza strip. I was notified of its existence after the @IDFSpokesperson tweeted a link to the video this morning, selling it as a behind-the-scenes look at Israel’s bombing campaign currently raining down on the Gaza strip.
In the deleted YouTube posting, which I still have an unbroken link to, the video is titled, “Inside Look: How the IDF Fights Terror in Gaza.” The description separates IDF actions from Hamas, citing clear moral distinctions: “Unlike terrorist organizations who fire indiscriminately at innocent civilians, the IDF has a long procedure in order to choose targets in Gaza.”
The "humane" targeting of militants, together with "limiting" civilian casualities, is often invoked when Western governments justify lethal strikes on both known and suspected militants. The Israelis seem to do the same, here.
“In order to target terror in a precise and effective fashion and minimize civilian casualties,” the description added, “the IDF uses a well-developed strategy.” And thus, the video showcasing said "developed strategy."
Screenshot of the now defunct video.
Narrated by a stern, seemingly American-accented man, it explains how the IDF targets Palestinian terrorists, cutting in and out of aerial target footage of some unidentified weapons system.
Bringing to mind hunter-killer Predator drones scouring the craggy tribal areas of northern Pakistan, a roving target floats across the screen. Night vision detects militants on a roof, and other Middle Eastern locales. Cut-aways depict several IDF soldiers manning joysticks and gazing at LCD screens in a clear homage to the technological advancements helping Israel counterterror efforts in the age of roboticized shadow wars.
According to the narrator, intelligence is gathered through multiple sources, including surveillance by the Flying Camel Squadron, all to avoid inadvertently bombing civilians while still hitting the target. The video then conveniently cuts to an IDF pilot, who spots Palestinian children in a targeted area.
Once a target is acquired, the video goes on, the IDF goes through a tireless legal process to justify an attack in accordance with international law, while simultaneously limiting “civilian damage.”
There's precedent here, of course. The US has similarly justified its lethal drone campaign in the past, with the Obama administration cryptically describing the extensive intelligence gathering efforts, including the compiling of a so-called drone “kill list”, that it says precedes the authorization of any and all strikes.
In other words, the government is trying really hard to make sure the bad guys its kills are the bad guys, and justify their ethical war.
That rhetoric matches the Israeli version that was inexplicably pulled down today from the IDF's YouTube page. The video alludes to extensive intelligence vetting that then dubiously justifies assassinations without providing the reasoning, all while control panelists or fighter pilots press a button and drop a missile on reputed bad guys. In the meantime, viewers are supposed to take at face value the notion that the Israeli government has taken every precaution to limit civilian damage.
But we know, quite literally, that civilian damage is a hallmark of today's air campaigns, when the separation between pushing the missile button and the messiness of the explosion are inextricable. In Gaza, since the Israeli offensives began, at least 194 Palestinians have died, with a clearly-marked Media 24 journalist's vehicle struck by an Israeli airstrike, killing the reporter.
The concept of "ethical killing", be it drone or manned-fighter strikes, goes against the observable data. In Pakistan alone, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that the CIA's drone campaign has claimed between 2,331 and 3,774 lives between 2004 and 2014. In Yemen, 339 to 494 deaths have occurred between 2002 and 2014. Among those casualties there are reportedly civilians, which is well documented.
As weaponry like drones and precision bombing systems (hell, even as smart gun systems like Tracking Point evolves), the concept of clean targeting and ethical killing on the battlefield will dominate conversations about military operations in the West. Precision killing offers the best of both worlds, namely the limited killing of undesirables with few enough civilians deaths to make it all "OK," to Westerners uncomfortable with war.
Nowadays, Special Forces are used ad nauseam in shadow wars to avoid full engagements and still get the bad guys. And yet the American drone campaign is considered the lesser of two evils. It kills terrorists abroad, we're told, and keeps boots off the ground.
But if you ask Palestinians, Yemenis, or Pakistanis, the aerial war is very real, and it's very messy. And there's nothing clean intelligence, lawyers, and pulling a video from YouTube can do to change that.