On Friday 6 April 2018 BICOM hosted Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, International Spokesman and Head of Social Media of the IDF, for a briefing on the violence on the Gaza border. Below is an edited transcript.
I am a few hundred metres away from the border fence looking at the smoke coming from the burning tyres and watching the growing amount of Palestinian rioters, I wouldn’t call them protestors or demonstrators. I would emphasise that what we see here are rioters, organised by Hamas, for the second consecutive Friday. Hamas has specifically said they want to erase the border and invade Israel and our mission is to defend Israeli communities, sovereignty and infrastructure against attempts by Hamas to use violence rioters to penetrate Israel and execute terrorist attacks.
Rules of engagement
For those interested to see if we’ve changed our tactics or mission since the last demonstration, our mission remains the same. The rule of engagement remain essentially the same, which means we try, to the greatest extent possible, not to use lethal means in order to mitigate a threat. We resort to live fire only when absolutely necessary and when there is clear threat to infrastructure or to Israeli soldiers. If there is, then we use snipers who fire specifically and under very clear guidance by commanders.
We have just received initial reports that an IED was detonated in the northern part of the Strip on the border against troops. This is the scenario we are operating against and what Hamas is trying to do. On the one hand, Hamas is trying to use these riots as a vehicle to enter Israel and execute terrorist attacks. On the other, they’re trying to use the riots to focus global media attention.
Unfortunately they have succeeded on the second objective, but they are not succeeding with the first objective of entering Israel. As of Friday afternoon, 6 April 2018, there are a few thousands participants in different location along the border. We have tried to extinguish a few of the fires and there have been a number of rioters who tried to approach and dismantle the fence. These rioters were fired at by Israeli soldiers. Currently the situation, in comparison with last Friday, is that there are a smaller number of participants but the riot is an ongoing event, with Palestinian leaders calling on more people to arrive.
What is clear is that Hamas is aware we hold them fully accountable for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip. They are the ones who control how many rioters to send to the border fence and therefore are the ones who effectively control the number of casualties, as we have been very clear in our mission. It is up to Hamas to decide how many Gazan civilians they want to send in harm’s way.
More than 90 per cent of those wounded (as per Palestinian data) from last week’s riot sustained guns shots to their lower legs, as per our rules of engagement which state that we will use any means we have in order to deny anyone from coming to the fence. We try to communicate to Gazans in Arabic on various platforms that it is none of our concern if they demonstrate inside Gaza as long as they do not approach the fence and pose a threat to Israeli troops or civilians.
We have said very clearly, more than three weeks ago, we will not tolerate any attempts to sabotage Israeli infrastructure or to approach the fence and threaten Israeli soldiers and civilians.
In terms of means, we are using non-lethal measures such as tear gas and water cannons to create a distance between riots and the fence, and if that is not successful only then do we use live fire conducted by snipers.
We investigate and review our activities ourselves and I can assure you that when we compare our army to other armies around the world, we hold our troops and commanders to very high professional standards. All of the fire conducted was supervised by commanding officers and the higher echelons of command are present on the ground. We review our activities rigorously, aiming to minimise casualties on the other side whilst, of course keeping in mind the main mission and the context here, which is Hamas trying to breach our defences in order to conduct terrorist activity inside Israel. They have done so in the past few weeks, placing IEDs along the fence under the disguise of similar riots, and we operate against Hamas trying to achieve their goal.