2008-09: Operation Cast Lead

Key Facts

  • In December 2008, after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s proposal for full statehood and Hamas and other militant forces continued to fire missiles into Israel, the IDF launched Operation Cast Lead to put a halt to the ongoing threat.
  • During the operation, IDF air and ground forces strictly targeted Hamas – a very difficult task given Hamas’ tactic of embedding its fighters in civilian neighbourhoods. The IDF took significant measures to reduce impact on civilians, including pre-strike warnings to alert civilians to evacuate target locations. In a number of cases, Israeli commanders called off strikes when civilians could not be evacuated.
  • In 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a nine-month building freeze in all Jewish communities over the Green Line (1949 armistice lines) – which extended to 10 months. The move represented the first time an Israeli government has suspended all construction in the region. Netanyahu called on Abbas to meet to negotiate establishment of full peace and a Palestinian state. Abbas refused all but one meeting and the two sides end up resorting to proximity talks through international parties.
  • Richard Goldstone, who headed the highly distorted UN fact-finding mission after the conflict, later renounced much of his criticism of Israel, stating: “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”
More information

In the years after Israel left Gaza, the residents of southern Israel endured thousands of missiles and mortars from the Gaza Strip. The indiscriminate use of these weapons against civilian centres constituted a war crime, about which the UN, despite Israeli appeals, remained largely silent.

On his visit to Sderot in 2008, future-President Obama was quoted as saying:

I don’t think any country would find it acceptable to have missiles raining down on the heads of its civilians…The first job of any nation state is to protect its citizens…If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same.1

On December 27th, 2008, a three-week operation was launched by Israel against Hamas targets, in order to put a stop to the missile threat. IDF missions focused on personnel, weapons caches, missile launch sites, and affiliated infrastructure of Hamas and other terror groups.

Israel made a comprehensive effort to forewarn civilians prior to strikes targeting Hamas. The Israeli Air Force distributed thousands of fliers, text messages, and automated phone calls to warn civilians to evacuate buildings used by Hamas in advance of Israeli air strikes.2 Colonel Richard Kemp – former commander of British forces in Afghanistan – told the BBC at the time:

I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today in Gaza. …even though the IDF is taking enormous steps to reduce civilian casualties, it is impossible. It is impossible to stop that from happening when the enemy is using them as a shield.

A year later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced an unprecedented 10-month building freeze in all Jewish communities over the Green Line (1949 armistice lines). He then called on Abbas to meet to negotiate a full peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state; however Abbas refused all but one meeting and the parties resorted to proximity talks through international parties.

After Operation Cast Lead, the UN commissioned a fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of war crimes directed against Israel. Richard Goldstone, a South African jurist, led the probe and published a Report on his findings. One member of the fact finding mission, Christine Chinkin, openly stated before the inquiry was even commissioned that she believed Israel was guilty of war crimes. Despite her obvious bias, she was included in the fact-finding mission.1 The report made little mention of Hamas’ indiscriminate missile fire on southern Israel and made virtually no effort to verify allegations made against Israel.

Two years later, Goldstone wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that amounted to a retraction of inflammatory sections of the report: “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.” He noted, “Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza” while “the de facto authorities (i.e., Hamas) have not conducted any investigations into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.”3 Goldstone further stated that his investigations “indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy”.3

The IDF, as part of its own inquiry, indicted two soldiers for misconduct during Operation Cast Lead.4 Hamas recanted its initial claims that only 49 Hamas members were killed, admitting that the real number was some 700 operatives.5

Operation Cast Lead had a significant impact on Hamas, which experts note had failed to achieve any of its own operational objectives during the conflict (including the goal of abducting additional Israeli soldiers). Combined with the Iron Dome anti-missile system that now protects major cities in southern Israel, the IDF’s efforts to target Hamas during Cast Lead – and in subsequent operations – has done much to enhance security for the one million Israelis who live within missile range of Gaza.


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