In the past few days the Israeli Air Force has struck in Gaza several times, in a back-and-forth exchange which started this Friday. (Read more.) You’ve probably heard reports about the IAF bombing civilian buildings or killing innocents. On the other hand, other sources claim the strikes targeted terrorists only.

So which is true?

Here’s a fact: The IDF (Zahal)’s civilian-to-terrorist death ratio is the lowest in the world. The former Commander of the British Armed Forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp, went on record as saying:

“The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to-one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed.

That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one. In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia.

In Gaza, it was less than one-to-one.”

Further sources, which remain accurate since 2008, confirm:

From a 1:1 ratio between killed terrorists and civilians in 2003 to a 1:28 ratio in late 2005. Several IAF mishaps in 2006 lowered the ratio to 1:10, but the current ratio is at its lowest ever–more than 1:30.

So for every dead civilian, 30 terrorists are killed. And yet, the sad fact is, Israeli Air Force strikes sometimes result in civilian casualties. This is a result of the human shield tactic, a method adopted by Hamas and other terror organizations in the Gaza Strip. Basically, terrorists hide within houses, schools, mosques and other “harmless” environments, and use them as a cover from which to shoot rockets. (Read more about the terror tactics used in Gaza.)

The IDF (Zahal) tries to minimize civilian casualties anyway. How?

  1. “Pinpoint targeting” – A phrase you’ll hear a lot in the Israeli Air Force. It means singling out terrorists and targeting them in a way which won’t endanger bystanders. This can often be hard to do, since terrorists prefer to hide in crowded areas. IAF pilots can even single out one target from an entire residential complex.

Example: The terrorist squad targeted on Friday–the team planning a terror attack from Sinai–was struck while driving a car, and despite being in a thronging neighborhood, only the two terrorists were hit.

Israeli Air Force: Bombing Gaza or Pinpoint Strikes?

The vehicle in which the the PRC terrorist squad was targeted on Friday

2. Aborted strikes – The IAF won’t shoot at any cost. Only when the terrorists are in the act of firing their rockets, and when the chance of harming bystanders is minimal, can an IAF pilot strike. Many times strikes have been aborted at the last minute due to last-minute interference, such as civilians coming too close.

Example: View an IAF strike aborted at the last minute:

3. Advanced technology – The IAF uses advanced technology to upgrade its targeting capabilities and make sure its strikes are as precise as possible. Enormous efforts have gone into making sure the weapons and aircraft will be able to complete the job without harming civilians.

Example: Read more about the F-16I ‘Sufa’ and the Delilah missile, both technologies used in pinpoint strikes. An excerpt to give you a better idea:

Let’s say Delilah is approaching a target and in the last moment the navigator sees… that there are civilians in the target zone. All he needs to do is push a button and Delilah aborts its attack, returns to the air and keeps loitering in the target zone until it receives new instructions.

Bottom line: ‘Pinpoint strikes’ is more than just a phrase. For now, the IDF (Zahal)’s civilian-to-combatant death ratio remains the lowest in the world.