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Israeli Paratrooper Discusses Gaza

Yossi Horesh, a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces, came to the UC Irvine Student Center last Monday to speak about his experience in the Israeli-Hamas conflict that occurred last December and January.

The event, entitled “Uncovering Operation Cast Lead,” was held by the Middle East Studies Student Initiative (MESSI) organization.

MESSI President Sally Mouakkad, a fourth-year political science major and Student Executive Board member Zach Tune, a first-year criminology and law major moderated the discussion.

Horesh primarily focused on his experience as a paratrooper in IDF’s reserve unit during Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza incursion that occurred last December. Currently, he serves as an analyst for a Tel Aviv-based non-partisan, non-profit policy organization.

According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web site, Operation Cast Lead lasted from Dec. 27, 2008 to Jan. 18, 2009. The operation’s purpose was to put a stop to Hamas’ terrorist activities. Additionally, the last IDF troops left the Gaza Strip on Jan. 21, 2009.

With a distinguished military career as a first lieutenant from 1999 to 2004, Horesh spoke about other duties he experienced, such as border patrol responsibilities along the West Bank during the Second Intifada. Furthermore, Horesh served his time as a reserve officer during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Horesh discussed a story about a Russian woman he encountered while stationed at a checkpoint in Bethlehem who was using false identification documents. A few months later, a newspaper identified her as an accomplice of a suicide bomber.

“When you are on the ground, [the job] is not easy,” Horesh said.

He noted that it is difficult to tell a medical ambulance from one that is used as a cover for explosives. Mistakes happen during armed conflicts.

The audience asked many questions regarding the IDF and Operation Cast Lead. One attendee mentioned that a school operated by United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) was targeted. Horesh stated that rocket fire in Gaza destroyed the area; however, the UNRWA school remained intact.

Another audience member asked about Israel’s attack on United Nations buildings in the Gaza Strip. Horesh responded that the IDF did not bombard the city of Gaza and refugee areas during Operation Cast Lead, thus avoiding U.N.-controlled sites. However, he admitted that no war is perfect.

Horesh addressed the IDF misconduct in Gaza.

“The army investigated every single thing that we saw [that] wasn’t by the … code of ethics,” Horesh said. “I agree… In every society … you’re [going to see] bad habits. We saw that in the Gaza operation.”

Regarding a conflicting perspective that the IDF does not recognize the U.N. at times, Horesh argued that Hamas has infiltrated U.N.-controlled areas more than once, which gave the IDF no choice but to react with force in such situations.

Addressing the illegal use of white phosphorous in the battlefield, Horesh responded that the use of white phosphorous was necessary to provide cover for IDF units in Operation Cast Lead. He continued by saying that the IDF stopped using the gas at the insistence of the international community.

“White phosphorous is something that international laws allow … in open fields,” Horesh said.

As for why white phosphorous was used near populated areas, Horesh responded that the war was poorly managed.

The student who initiated these questions complimented Horesh as a moderate Israeli.

Speaking from experience regarding collateral damage in Gaza, Horesh commented on the horror of war in response to one male attendee’s query.

“I don’t justify innocent people that are being injured or … killed or casualties. It’s [a] tragedy,” Horesh said.

On more than one occasion, the attendees with pro-Palestinian views brought up the U.N. being the most neutral organization. However, Horesh argued that the U.N. is not necessarily the most neutral organization.

IDF is not alone in maintaining the border along the Gaza Strip. Egyptian soldiers guard the southern border of the Gaza Strip.

Although not an expert on Egypt, Horesh provided his perspective on Egyptian border guards and the country.

“The Egyptians are very brave. [Egypt is] the first country that spoke against Hezbollah and Hamas,” Horesh said.

Mouakkad commented on the lessons she learned from Horesh’s discussion with the audience during the question and answer session.

“An important part of studying the Middle East is learning about the varying perspectives that exist in the region,” Mouakkad said.

Speaking as any soldier might, Horesh said, “I am very happy to be a citizen of a country that [takes] care of its own population.”