In an exclusive interview, the respected British commander discusses the IDF's commitment to protecting civilians
Before Operation Pillar of Defense, the last air raid siren to go off in the greater Tel Aviv area warned of Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles. At that time, in January of 1991, Col. Richard Kemp – then a captain in the British Army's Royal Anglian Regiment – was fighting Hussein's forces in Iraq and Kuwait. In the 21 years since then, Col. Kemp has participated in a number of the British Army's campaigns, eventually reaching the position of Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan.
During the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead in 2009, he testified in front of the United Nations Human Rights Council, famously declaring, "During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in the combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare."
He has now returned to Tel Aviv to observe Operation Pillar of Defense, and he recently sat down for an exclusive interview with the IDF Website.
"I wanted to gain a firsthand understanding of what is happening today in the Gaza conflict, because in my experience there is no substitute for seeing things as close as you can and talking to people who are directly involved in them," he explained.
Col. Kemp does not see himself as having a pro-Israel stance, but rather as being committed to spreading the truth in all regions of the world. "People ask me why I have a pro-IDF point of view. I consider myself as having an objective view of what's happening over here. The IDF does not need me to defend them; they have proven it over the years," he said. "It's the dispassionate military perspective that I bring."
And it is that perspective that Col. Kemp brings to bear on the conflict. He noted several unacceptable tactics that Hamas continues to use, such as targeting Israeli civilians and abusing Palestinian civilians by using them as human shields. "The use of the civilian population by Hamas is undoubtedly a war crime because not only are they hiding themselves under a civilian population, [but] they are also putting the civilian population at risk," he said. "In this current operation, Hamas is repeating old tactics of placing civilians in the line of fire and is responsible for their lives. At the same time, it deliberately fires missiles at the Israeli civilian population, without provocation and with no just cause."
Furthermore, according to Col. Kemp, Hamas' oppression of the population of Gaza serves to distort the reality of the situation. "The ordinary people of Gaza are not at liberty to say what they really think if they are questioned by the media or if they are questioned by investigators," he said. "They are under so much pressure to say what Hamas requires them to say."
In his 30 years of military experience, Col. Kemp has repeatedly faced enemies fighting from within civilian populations. As such, he is well acquainted with the sorts of challenges that Israel faces as it seeks to prevent terror attacks without harming innocent civilians. Col. Kemp commented that media outlets often misjudged situations, due to a lack of such experience. "It was clear to me that there was a great deal of propaganda that was being generated against Israel, and then being exploited by people who didn't understand military matters and didn't want to question it," he explained. "It suited their agenda to vilify Israel."