Israel's war on Hamas is the least deadly conflict in region


February 16, 2024

(Gatestone Institute) — The Associated Press recently made headlines by falsely claiming that the Israeli campaign against Hamas “sits among the deadliest and most destructive in recent history” and was even worse than “the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II.”

The Washington Post argued that “Israel has waged one of this century’s most destructive wars in Gaza,” while The Wall Street Journal contended that it was “generating destruction comparable in scale to the most devastating urban warfare in the modern record.”

That’s all the more impressive since, even accepting the Hamas casualty figures (tainted and inflated numbers in which there are no terrorists, only civilians, and fighting age men are really children) as the media does, this is still probably one of the least violent conflicts in the region.

In 2016, the Washington Post described the Syrian Civil War, with a possible 250,000 deaths, as “the most destructive conflict in the region.” In 2020, the United Nations called the Yemeni Civil War, with 150,000 deaths, “the most destructive conflict since the end of the Cold War.”

And then there’s the current phase of the war in Sudan (which the media is currently uninterested in) in which 15,000 people have been killed over the course of last year, as part of a larger conflict that may have claimed as many as 2 million lives.

The Tigray War in Ethiopia over the last three years (which you may have missed because the media chose not to hysterically cover every single bomb dropped and protesters stayed home knitting instead of blocking traffic) may have cost the lives of between 80,000 to 600,000 people.

(El Pais, Spain’s newspaper, which did report on Ethiopia’s civil war, described it as “the deadliest of the 21st century” and then had to pivot to argue later that Israel was worse in “25,000 deaths in Gaza: Why the destruction of this war exceeds that of other major conflicts.”)

In reality, every significant war and civil war in the region has had a much higher death toll than the Israel-Hamas war, including the Iraq-Iran War with an estimated 500,000 to 2 million deaths. And in nearby Africa, the Congo War has been blamed for 6 million deaths since 1996.

How does the media justify arguing that 25,000 is more than 2 million?

There are plenty of statistical gimmicks available to anyone who wants to argue that two plus two is really five. Media “analyses” that claim that Israel’s campaign against Hamas is the deadliest and most destructive, and might even be worse than WWII, adjust their claims accordingly.

As the author of every dubious research study knows, to get the results you want, you manipulate your parameters. Media analyses selectively compare Israel’s campaign to battles, rather than wars, narrowly focus on very specific timetables, attempt to estimate per capita rather than gross figures. But drawing a circle around a particular area and going per capita works both ways; The Hamas attack of Oct. 7 killed 10 percent of the population of Kibbutz Be’eri, making it far worse per capita than anything in Israel’s response to those atrocities.

But statistical fudging is all in where the line is drawn to achieve a particular agenda.

For example, The New York Times declares that, “Gaza Deaths Surpass Any Arab Loss in Wars With Israel in Past 40 Years.” Of course, the last major Arab-Israeli war took place 50 years ago.

The 40-year figure is based on the Lebanon War, but the actual numbers for that war vary wildly, from the thousands according to Israel, 10,000 according to the CIA, 18,000 according to Lebanon and 30,000 according to Arafat and the PLO.

While the media at the time emphasized the highest estimates, in order to criticize the Israeli campaign against the PLO, they now use lower estimates to attack the Gaza campaign.

Similarly, AP cites its own claim that battles against Islamic State in the Iraqi city of Mosul “killed around 10,000 civilians” to indict Israel. Some Iraqi estimates however peg it as high as 40,000. PBS headlined its coverage by warning that “the human toll of the battle for Mosul may never be known.”

The New York Times, after using the shaky Lebanon numbers to prop up the shaky Gaza numbers, admits that “as in Gaza today, researchers say the number killed in Lebanon may never be known with confidence because of the fog of war, even four decades later.”

That much is true.

The Times cites its own claim that “numbering the dead correctly is virtually impossible.”

That’s why the death toll for everything from the Syrian and Yemeni civil wars to the mass deaths in Sudan and the Iran-Iraq War are broad estimates with vast differences between them.

Aeschylus, the Greek playwright, warned that truth is the first casualty of war. And accurate casualty counts are the first and final casualty of every conflict.

The Lancet, the British medical journal, once courted controversy with its claims first that the Iraq War had killed 98,000 Iraqis and then over half a million, or 2.5 percent of the country. By 2007, a British data company claimed that 1 million Iraqis had been killed. These claims were quickly debunked and the claims are in the rearview mirror now that the debate over the war is over.

During the Iraq War it was politically convenient to inflate the death toll, just as it’s now politically convenient to deflate the death toll while unthinkingly accepting casualty figures from a terrorist group whose main hope of survival lies in inflating civilian deaths while minimizing its own casualties.

The most troubling thing about the universal acceptance of the Hamas numbers is just that.


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