“They have got to go in there and I mean really go in… I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them. There is no limitation on mileage and there is no limitation on budget. Is that clear?” That was the order US President Richard Nixon gave his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, on December 9, 1970.
Minutes later, Kissinger relayed the order to his deputy, General Alexander Haig: “He wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies, on anything that moves. You got that?”
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Over five decades ago, the US Air Force executed “Operation Menu” followed by “Operation Freedom Deal” to eradicate the Vietcong, the People’s Army of Vietnam, from Cambodia. It focused on carpet bombing vast swathes of land to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a massive network of pathways and tunnels used by the North Vietnamese through the jungle linking North to South Vietnam, via Cambodia and Laos.
The bombing of Cambodia had already started in 1965 under the Johnson administration; Nixon merely stepped it up. Between 1965 and 1973, 2.7 million tonnes of bombs were released over the country. In comparison, the Allies dropped an estimated 2 million tonnes of bombs during all of World War II.
Thus, Cambodia may be the most heavily bombed country in history. By square kilometre and thermic value, however, it might have already lost that tragic record to Gaza.
On day 25 of the war, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant boasted that more than 10,000 bombs and missiles had been dropped on Gaza City alone. According to the Geneva-based Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, the explosives used on the exclave as of November 2 may be twice as powerful as a nuclear bomb, thus exceeding the TNT-equivalent of Little Boy, the 15-kiloton atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
On November 5, an Israeli cabinet minister, Amichai Eliyahu, dropped another type of bomb by suggesting that the use of nuclear weapons on Gaza was an option. While he was “suspended” from the cabinet, his remarks may well have been the first time a sitting Israeli official confirmed publicly the open secret of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.
The first glaring difference between the bombing of Cambodia and the bombing of Gaza is that the former was kept secret from the US Congress, the American people and the world as bizarre as it may sound today; it was obviously not-so-secret to the Cambodians. The incessant bombardment of Gaza, however, is boasted about to the world by Israeli leaders and receives overt encouragement and material support from the US and other Western powers.
The second difference is that while Cambodian civilians could try to run away from the terrifying roaring sound of incoming B-52 squadrons, Palestinians in Gaza, overwhelmingly refugees or descendants of refugees themselves, have nowhere to flee to in the hope of living another day.
Strangely, US President Joe Biden has questioned the accuracy of the death toll the Palestinian Ministry of Health has released, giving credence to similar Israeli claims. This is despite the fact that his own staff believes in those numbers, and even estimates that they may be higher, as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf recently stated.
US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has also repeated the Israeli narrative that Hamas “terrorists” use UN schools, hospitals, mosques and churches as command-and-control posts, munition and arms storage depots, which makes them legitimate military targets.
International humanitarian law, however, suggests otherwise for even if the unproven Israeli claims were substantiated, the principle of proportionality prohibits attacks against military objectives when they are “expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated”.
Israel would be hard-pressed to make its case when over 11,000 Palestinians civilians have been killed, including more than 4,500 children and infants, with additional thousands decomposing under the rubble.
Worse still, Israeli government and military officials have repeatedly demonstrated genocidal intent by declaring that there are “no innocents” in Gaza. Before the UN Security Council, Israel has even accused UN ambulance drivers, medical staff and aid workers of being members of Hamas, trying to justify the murder of over 100 such workers and the direct, wilful targeting of Gaza’s hospitals
In view of the patent commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide as eminent jurists allege, the majority of governments the world over have disgracefully remained silent. It is distressing to witness the cautionary stance of states ready to maintain diplomatic relations with Israel in the face of its all-out bombardments of the civilian population of Gaza
When Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Morocco or Turkey – not to mention Western powers, China or India – continue to maintain diplomatic and economic relations with Israel, why should the latter revisit its decade-long policies of apartheid, of dehumanisation and delegitimisation of Palestinians, of oppression and subjugation of the Palestinian people, if there is no price to pay?
Why should Israel stop its relentless bombing of the Gaza exclave? Why should it rethink its illegal occupation and colonisation? Why should it even listen when the secretary-general of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, accuses it of perpetrating “genocide” and Arab leaders make perfunctory declarations but take no decisive action at the Arab-Islamic Summit?
Calling for a “humanitarian ceasefire” as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has, or for a straightforward “ceasefire” he hasn’t even dared demand, is necessary but grossly inadequate. After 37 days of unrelenting bombardment to “eradicate Hamas”, there is little evidence that goal is within reach.
For one, Hamas is not only present in Gaza but also in the occupied West Bank and elsewhere. And even if, theoretically, Israel were to effectively terminate Hamas in Gaza, just as it had once sought to do with Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation, what comes next?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself doesn’t really know, does he? Or maybe he knows, but can’t tell. As he has put it, “a long and difficult” war lies ahead. Translated, this means the continuation of the genocidal onslaught on the Palestinians, unless and until the position of his Western backers – and Arab bystanders – shifts in words and in deeds.
To date, only Bolivia has severed diplomatic relations with Israel to protest against the ongoing war crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians. Unless Egypt, Jordan, UAE and Morocco sever their diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv as their people demand; unless countries such as Turkey, South Africa and Brazil, which have denounced Israel’s war crimes, align their diplomacy with their own pronouncements; unless these countries emulate Bolivia’s principled diplomatic move and put pressure on their Western partners; unless Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Qatar, Azerbaijan and other large exporters of oil and natural gas use their economic leverage on Israel’s blinded backers, Gaza and its population will be destroyed, inch by inch, soul by soul. And no one would be able to say: “We didn’t know.”
Biden, Blinken and Netanyahu should be reminded that the horrific carpet bombing of Cambodia for years produced only one seminal political outcome: Cambodia’s takeover by the infamous Khmer Rouge. What the posited annihilation of Hamas would yield is thus not a frivolous question. “Anything that flies, on anything that moves” and bombing to “crack the hell out of them” sowed death and craters still visible today. It produced infamy and misery, but no military victory.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.