OpinionIsrael at War

What the World Central Kitchen strike tells us about Israel

And about its enemies ...

The remains of a car that was part of a convoy of the nonprofit World Central Kitchen that was struck by an April 2, 2024 airstrike in Gaza. Israel has taken responsibility and is investigating. Credit: Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
The remains of a car that was part of a convoy of the nonprofit World Central Kitchen that was struck by an April 2, 2024 airstrike in Gaza. Israel has taken responsibility and is investigating. Credit: Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Bradley Bowman
Bradley Bowman is senior director of the Center on Military Political Power (CMPP) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).
Mike Daum
Mike Daum is a research analyst at FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power.

More than two dozen Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to the Biden administration on April 16 criticizing Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza and expressing concern about “civilian harm and military targeting,” among other topics.

The clear goal of the progressive lawmakers is to curtail or cut off the supply of U.S. weapons to Israel following the Oct. 7 terror attack by Hamas. The congressional letter comes as the Biden administration is conducting an interagency review of Israel’s conduct in Gaza pursuant to a national security memorandum issued by U.S. President Joe Biden on Feb. 8.

This review will undoubtedly assess the tragic incident on April 1 in which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) misidentified a World Central Kitchen (WCK) humanitarian convoy and accidentally killed seven aid workers. A review of the IDF’s actions after the tragic mistake reveals several laudable steps that highlight the fundamental differences between America’s democratic ally and the Iranian terror network Israel is fighting.

As many know by now, after the WCK team exited a warehouse in Gaza that night, the IDF mistakenly concluded that the vehicles were carrying Hamas gunmen, leading to the accidental strike. Unfortunately, the unintentional killing of civilians and civilian aid workers is not new in warfare—and Israel is not the first country to make this mistake.

Following such horrible mistakes, governments and their militaries can and should be judged on whether they 1) accept responsibility, 2) conduct transparent investigations, 3) hold individuals accountable and 4) implement changes to prevent such mistakes in the future.

So, following the WCK tragedy, how did Israel perform by those standards?

As one would expect, top Israeli political and military leaders acknowledged the mistake, issued formal apologies and accepted responsibility. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he “deeply regrets the tragic incident.” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant expressed “sorrow and condolences to all those affected by the incident.”

Many militaries would have stopped there, but the IDF conducted a serious investigation, concluding that “mistaken identification, errors in decision-making and an attack contrary to the Standard Operating Procedures” contributed to the incident. It turns out that the WCK’s movements were approved by the IDF, but those plans were not shared with the drone unit that struck the vehicles—a decisive failure. To make matters worse, the drone unit could not identify the WCK logo at night due to the drone’s thermal imaging.

In summary, the IDF admitted the strike was a “serious failure” and “grave mistake” that “should not have occurred.” Don’t expect to see such self-reflection and self-criticism from Hamas or Hezbollah anytime soon.

But did Israel hold the leaders involved accountable?

The head of the IDF’s Southern Command, as well as the relevant division and brigade commanders, were formally reprimanded by the IDF chief of staff. In addition, a colonel serving as the brigade chief of staff and a major working as the brigade fire support commander were dismissed from their positions, according to the Israeli military.

OK, but did Israel make any changes to prevent such incidents in the future?

According to a U.S. and an Israeli official, in an extraordinary step, Israel has agreed to have a non-governmental organization liaison in Israel’s Southern Command headquarters to increase deconfliction and communication with aid workers on the ground. That’s a standard that many militaries would not be willing to emulate. The IDF reportedly has also started labeling aid vehicles with identifiers that are visible to thermal sights.

So, let’s review: Israel accepted responsibility for the mistake, conducted a serious investigation, held leaders accountable and adopted changes to reduce the likelihood of such mistakes in the future.

These are inconvenient facts for those who want to twist the truth to demonize and isolate Israel to weaken the Jewish state and deprive it of the means of self-defense.

Such a response from the IDF is exactly what Americans would expect of the U.S. military, and we should expect no more and no less from our ally Israel as it battles Iran-backed terrorists bent on exterminating the Jewish state.

Admittedly, Israel’s conscientious response to the WCK tragedy is little comfort to the families of those killed. But the professionalism and thoroughness of Israel’s response are certainly salient factors when it comes to assessing Israel’s conduct of the war and whether the United States should continue to provide Israel the means of self-defense following the worst single-day slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust.

To be clear, if the strike had been conducted by Hamas, there would be no admission of responsibility, no investigation of any kind, no accountability for leaders and no reforms to avoid such incidents in the future.

That’s because Hamas is a terrorist organization that deliberately seeks to murder and brutalize civilians, as it did on Oct. 7. For Hamas, in contrast to Israel, the death of seven civilians would be cause for celebrations, not apologies; emulation, not investigation; promotions, not reprimands; and repetition, not reforms.

The United States and Israel, despite their best efforts, sometimes make mistakes that result in the loss of civilian life. When such tragedies occur, they conduct investigations to understand what happened, hold individuals accountable as appropriate and avoid similar mistakes in the future, as one would expect of democracies.

The WCK strike should have never happened, and the consequences are tragic, particularly for the families of those killed. But Israel’s response to the tragedy has been laudable, highlighting once again the difference between a democracy trying to defend itself and protect civilian life versus a terrorist organization deliberately and systematically trying to murder civilians. Those who confuse the two and treat them as morally equivalent are either ignorant or worse.

Originally published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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