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Beersheba, Israel — Former defense official Barak Ben-Zur told the Forward that the in Pillar of Defense, a combination of highly accurate intelligence and recently upgraded technology allowed Israel to be target its strikes more precisely. Ben-Zur, who served as head of the Israel Defense Forces’ anti-terrorism department, as head of the intelligence and research division of Shin Bet, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, and as special assistant to Shin Bet’s director, said that in particular, the use of advanced drones helped to keep down death tolls relative to Cast Lead.
“Their capability and the way they are used makes them much more effective than in the past,” he commented. In Ben-Zur’s assessment, two other considerations motivated Israel to make a greater effort to keep the death toll down: the pressure of world opinion, especially in the light of criticism of Cast Lead, and a fear of sparking a regional conflict in the new post-Arab Spring Middle East.
Ben-Zur believes that a calm mentality among Israeli civilians, in large part due to the protection afforded by the Iron Dome missile defense system, kept at bay domestic pressure on the government to launch a ground offensive. This avoided an escalation that could well have led to more civilian deaths and made the actions of military personnel less predictable than when they are operating from the air.
In the throes of Cast Lead, there were widespread claims that basic humanitarian supplies and medical equipment were lacking in Gaza. And, in fact, Israel allowed only very limited supplies in then.
In contrast, during Pillar of Defense, the Kerem Shalom crossing to Gaza from Israel was open for long stretches, hundreds of truckloads of food and medical goods passed, and officials in charge of the crossing declared themselves determined to see that supplies made it through.
There were closures, and on November 20, Gazans reported a shortage of cooking gas and fuel after the crossing was closed for most of the day. But the closures were a result of attacks, not Israeli policy. Military spokesman Arye Shalicar told the Forward that the crossing closed only when it was shelled by militants, rendering it unsafe. “Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others target Kerem Shalom very intensely,” he said.
Sari Bashi, director of Gisha, a group that advocates for freedom of movement, said that “the humanitarian supply situation is much better” than during Cast Lead.