In a recent interview [PDF] with the Middle East Monitor, Colonel (ret.) Desmond Travers of the Irish Army — best known as one of the members of the U.N. commission that produced the Goldstone report — attracted attention for his statement that “the number of rockets that had been fired into Israel in the month preceding their operations was something like two.” Critics of the Goldstone report like Commentary‘s David Hazony and Evelyn Gordon have seized on the comment as proof that Travers and the rest of the Goldstone commission are irredeemably biased against Israel; Gordon cites figures [PDF] from the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center showing that over 300 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza during the month of December 2008. (Operation Cast Lead began on Dec. 27.)
As Jerry Haber notes, however, these criticisms are based on a simple misunderstanding. In fact, the “operations” that Travers refers do not commence with the start of Operation Cast Lead on Dec. 27, but rather with Operation Double Challenge on Nov. 4. Double Challenge was an IDF incursion into Gaza that left six Palestinians dead, ending months of calm; because the operation came the day of the U.S. presidential elections, it vanished without a trace in the U.S. media. Paul Woodward explains that the ceasefire was, in fact, functioning quite well until the Israelis broke it on Nov. 4; only after the IDF raid did the number of rocket attacks increase.
Therefore, when Travers speaks of “the month preceding their operations,” he is referring not to December but to October 2008. And how many rockets were fired into Israel in October? According to the very figures [PDF, p. 6] that Gordon cites against Travers, only one. (According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there were two rockets fired in October, and twelve in the four-month stretch from July through October.)
The fact that the ceasefire was actually working quite well in preventing rocket fire into southern Israel is one reason that we should be skeptical of the claim that Israel had no choice but to use military force to prevent the rocket attacks. (This is not, of course, to deny that the rocket attacks constituted war crimes in their own right.) If Israel’s primary goal were simply to end the rocket attacks, it could have worked to maintain the ceasefire (or better still, lifted the siege of Gaza). Why, then, did Israel choose to violate it instead? I suspect that the Israeli government, wary of the incoming Obama administration, believed that the blank check it enjoyed during the Bush years was coming to an end, and was determined to make one last sustained effort to root out the Hamas government before it did.