The Israeli news site, Mako, published a series of remarkable interviews with IAF pilots whose Gaza bombing runs aroused the consternation of much of the world, as they watched 12-story buildings filled with media offices, bookstores, publishing houses, and residential apartments pulverized into rubble in a matter of seconds. From the start of this Gaza conflict, the world was skeptical of Israeli motivations and objectives. But the wanton destruction of buildings which clearly had no military purpose, succeeded in turning the world against the war.
All the pilots believe they fulfilled their mission with honor. They believe that their targets held military value for Hamas and destroying them damaged the enemy’s ability to fight. Though one had some doubts (more on this later).
The report begins by describing the aerial operation, in which a number of warplanes close in on the targeted buildings from different angles. Each plane targets a different part of the structure so that as the explosives strike simultaneously, they bring the building straight down. The objective is, as the reporter describes it, only to destroy the single building and not to damage structures or civilians who may be nearby.
As I read this, I realized that all these pilots are, are glorified housing demolition experts. Anyone who’s seen an old stadium or building toppled by a few hundred sticks of well-placed dynamite will understand this process. But never have F-16s been used for the sole purpose of destroying civilian residential buildings. It seems an extremely expensive way of doing simple home demolition.
Further, can you think of any other air force in the world in the business not of attacking enemy troops in the thick of battle, but destroying the homes of thousands of civilians. This isn’t warfare. This is target practice in which Palestinian homes and families have Xs on their backs. The most heinous aspect of these attacks is that you can see from the pilots that they treat these civilian buildings with all the care and detail they would devote to attacking an actual military objective. There is a major disconnect, because they believe the targets have some military value, but they clearly don’t.
Major G, who took part in these Gaza attacks says:
This isn’t a terribly complicated aerial sortie. In fact, it’s quite simple. The goal is to accomplish the task professionally, that is with precise flying, a steep aerial approach with a heavy payload, and putting the bomb in the precise spot at the precise moment. Precision is very important, Because of the calculations made regarding the way in which the building will fall, without collapsing outside of a certain radius in the densely built area. The only thing that interests me is that the munition explodes precisely in the place I wanted it to.
We trained for this. The IAF made models and prepared for an operation everyone knew would eventually happen. Preparations for the sortie are extremely professional and there is no place for emotions or thoughts, aside from the strong emphasis on limiting damage to uninvolved bystanders.
The reporter then asks a question about the ultimate utility of these air attacks:
Toppling the apartment buildings in Gaza is meant, according to the IDF, to damage Hamas assets, but also to discourage the terror groups in Gaza from firing rockets toward Israeli cities. Did it work?
Major G. responds:
Personally, I am certain in saying there are targets with justify such an attack. There is no doubt here. Every bit of damage done degrades by just a bit the fighting ability of Hamas. I am personally very certain of this, that every building collapse or blowing up one of their homes, hurts them severely.
When you are in the air, you see the effect of the explosion, smoke and dust. But I got to see later in the media my target via “zoom in.” This sure does have an impact when you see something like this. On the other hand, you also understand today the effect of a falling building [in Gaza] is no longer what it was a few years ago [in Operation Protective Edge, 2014].
Major D. adds to his colleague’s comment:
It’s true that you are damaging their fighting ability and there is no other way [to do that than by destroying the buildings]. I have no doubt that the effect of the collapse of the tower has an impact on them. But in the end, the rockets were fired at us with the same intensity, and in my personal opinion, I’m not sure that it had any impact on Hamas’ Big Guys [senior leaders], the ones it was designed to impact. The day after the war ends, does anyone think much of the fact that Yahya Sinwar or Deif won’t have a home?
The blow they took was very hard. We dropped tons of armaments and firepower on them. Let no one doubt that. But even we understand today that this is yet another round, another operation. Today in the air force they’re saying things that in the past weren’t said. At least I don’t remember hearing them spoken.
I take off on a sortie with a sense of purpose, but it’s just that I think that the destruction of the towers has turned into our way of unloading our frustration at not succeeding in stopping the rockets, not stopping the actions of the terror groups. So we bring down towers.
The reporter closes with this observation:
There is some criticism [among the pilots] about the focus on destroying multi-story buildings in Gaza. It’s their belief that they’re uncertain it had the full effect Israel sought.
These are the testimonies of Israeli pilots who committed war crimes. They did so on the orders of their superiors, trusting that there was some military value in the targets they struck. But they understand, even in the murky fashion of a soldier in the thick of war who has a dawning suspicion of the futility of his fight, that destroying a building cannot stop Hamas’ rockets. They tell us, perhaps without even understanding clearly what they are saying, that they destroyed buildings out of frustration that their commanders could not mount a coherent campaign to achieve Israel’s objectives.
In other words, the war ultimately had no purpose and achieved nothing. They of course would not go that far. But anyone reading their words will understand what they are really saying.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.