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The Israel-Hamas War: Operation Iron Sword

(October 7, 2023 - Present)
By Mitchell Bard

In Israel, the death toll for the massacre on October 7, 2023, was initially believed to exceed 1,400; however, by December 4, it was updated to 1,151, with some people still unaccounted for and the remains of others unidentified. The number included 282 IDF soldiers, 764 civilians, 57 Israel Police officers, and 38 local security officers. The fatalities included two infants, 12 children under the age of 10, 36 youths aged 10-19, and 25 people over the age of 80. Three soldiers who were kidnapped were declared dead on November 28. In addition, Hamas held the bodies of 15 civilians and members of the security forces (see updates on hostages here).

Of the 278 injured, 40 were in serious condition in hospitals, 164 were in moderate condition, and 14 were in good condition.

Approximately 200 foreigners, including those holding dual nationality, were killed. Among them are 31 U.S. citizens, 30 Thais, 30 French, 19 Russian, 18 Ukrainian, 10 British and Nepalis, 9 Argentines, 6 Canadians, and 4 Filipinos and Chinese.

The doctors at the Israeli National Center of Forensic Medicine of the Ministry of Health have worked nonstop to identify the remains of the victims of the October 7 massacre but admit some bodies were so severely mutilated, burned, and brutalized that they may never be identified. As one member of the staff explained:

The process of identifying the victims is sad and very complex. The sights are very hard, and the stories are even harder. We see young and old women and children, shot in all parts of their bodies, some cuffed, some burned alive, their bodies intertwined, parents hugging their child. Some of them were left with only ashes and tiny fragments of bone. Never, in all my professional life, have I seen such great cruelty and unimaginable evil.

Israeli archaeologists were called to help collect and identify remains. “As archaeologists, we are trained to identify human remains that others may miss,” Moshe Ajami, the deputy head of Israel’s Antiquities Authority, told the New York Times.

A total of 14,233 Israelis had been injured as of February 18.

The death toll of soldiers after the ground operation began in Gaza was 285, with 3,568 injured as of May 22, 2024. Hezbollah killed 14 soldiers and 10 civilians in attacks near the northern border. The total, including those killed inside Israel battling terrorists after the invasion, is 634. The IDF acknowledged that 48 soldiers were killed by friendly fire or accidents.

A total of 810 civilians were fatalities as of March 4, 2024.

The media has focused on hundreds of thousands of Palestinians forced to flee from their homes by the violence. Little attention has been paid to the estimated 125,000 Israelis from 64 towns who have been evacuated from their homes in the north and south.

Hamas-run Health Ministry Statistics

The Hamas-run Health Ministry claimed that more than 2,300 civilians, including 724 children and 458 women, were killed in the first week. The Ministry’s figures in past conflicts were inaccurate. They failed to distinguish between terrorists, civilians, and people killed from misfired Hamas rockets. The Ministry did not say a single member of Hamas had been killed, suggesting that the hundreds of Israeli airstrikes somehow managed to miss all their targets.

Luke Baker, who was in charge of coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for Reuters from 2014 until 2017, said Hamas “has squeezed the life out of honesty and probity. Any health official stepping out of line and not giving the death tolls that Hamas wants reported to journalists risks serious consequences.” He added, “Hamas has a clear propaganda incentive to inflate civilian casualties as much as possible.”

Statistical analysis also indicates that “the total civilian casualty count is likely to be extremely overstated,” according to Abraham Wyner, Professor of Statistics and Data Science at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “Most likely, the Hamas ministry settled on a daily total arbitrarily. We know this because the daily totals increase too consistently to be real. Then they assigned about 70% of the total to be women and children, splitting that amount randomly from day to day. Then they in-filled the number of men as set by the predetermined total.”

A study by Gabriel Epstein of the Washington Institute found that some calculations came from “media reports” and others from the Hamas-run Government Media Office (GMO), which the UN acknowledged was using an unknown methodology. He acknowledged the challenge of accurately reporting casualties:

Tracking deaths constitutes a discrete challenge within the Hamas-Israel war. Doing so in a battlefield environment like Gaza is highly difficult, and the actual toll is often only known well after hostilities end or else remains permanently unclear. In the current war, many more Palestinians will be laid to rest only after the fighting stops. Moreover, the GMO claims that as of December 31, more than 7,000 Gazans were trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, although it is not clear if this list is updated as bodies are recovered or people rescued. No one knows how many Gaza militants are buried in the tunnels or how many people were interred during mass burials.

What can be said for certain, Epstein said, is that “Hamas-produced statistics are inconsistent, imprecise, and appear to have been systematically manipulated to downplay the number of militants killed and to exaggerate the proportion of noncombatants confirmed as dead.”

On April 6, the Health Ministry released a report that acknowledged “incomplete data” for 11,371 of the 33,091 Palestinian fatalities it claimed to have documented. It also admitted that more than 15,000 records came from unidentified “reliable media sources.” By its admission, then, it appears the number of casualties is significantly lower than the figure it publishes, which means a far higher percentage are combatants and a far smaller percentage are women and children. 

Later, the UN significantly revised the number of women and children killed in Gaza. On May 6, it was reporting 9,500 women and more than 14,500 children had died. Two days later, those numbers were reduced to 4,959 women and 7,797 children. Nevertheless, they continued to report the same total number of casualties. 

The media also continued to report the unverified claims of the Hamas ministry and the UN, which said 35,709 Palestinians had been killed and 79,990 wounded by May 22, 2024. Israel acknowledged the deaths of 16,000 civilians.

Before the data revision, President Joe Biden said he had “no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using” and “I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed.” He later backtracked to appease Arab American and Muslim critics.

 “It’s been maddening from my angle that anyone could think there could be a number for the dead in a war anytime in human history down to a single digit on a daily basis—it fails common sense—and be run by mass media of the world as fact,” observed John Spencer, West Point’s urban warfare expert.

Deaths of Terrorists

Israel estimates that some 13,000 fighters have been killed (Hamas admitted on February 15 that 6,000 were dead). “If that number proves to be even reasonably accurate,” Wyner said, “then the ratio of noncombatant casualties to combatants is remarkably low: at most 1.4 to 1 and perhaps as low as 1 to 1. By historical standards of urban warfare, where combatants are embedded above and below into civilian population centers, this is a remarkable and successful effort to prevent unnecessary loss of life while fighting an implacable enemy that protects itself with civilians.”

Israel has not compiled an official tally of the enemy killed but estimates that 50% of Hamas’s forces were killed, wounded, or arrested. The IDF has published the names of some of the commanders it eliminated. They include:

  • Marwan Issa, the number three in the Hamas high command and deputy to military chief Mohammed Deif.
  • Ali Qadi, the leader of the Nakba Force responsible for the massacre on October 7.
  • Merad Abu Merad, the head of the Hamas aerial system, was also responsible for the invasion.
  • Asma-al-Mazini, the head of Hamas’s Shura Council and a minister responsible for Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails.
  • Ayman Nofal, the commander of Hamas’s Central Gaza Brigade and a member of its General Military Council.
  • Mohsen Abu Zina, the head of weapons and industries.
  • Wael Asefa, commander of Deir al-Batah battalion.
  • Ahmed Ghandour, commander of the northern Gaza brigade, was involved in the abduction of Gilad Shalit in 2006.
  • Ayman Siam, head of Hamas’s rocket firing array.
  • Jihad Makhasin, Commander of National Security in Gaza.
  • Jawad Abu Shamala, Minister of Economy.
  • Muhammad Abu Hasna, a commander in Hamas’s operations unit.

As of January 16, 2024, the IDF said it had killed two Hamas brigade commanders, 19 battalion commanders, and other senior officials with an equivalent rank. More than 50 Hamas company commanders and operatives with a similar rank were also eliminated.

The Biden administration repeatedly expressed concern about civilian casualties and hectored Israel to take greater precautions to avoid them. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted on creating a channel for discussing U.S. concerns and getting answers to questions about targets and incidents where civilians were hurt or killed.

On the northern front, Hezbollah acknowledged the death of 300 of its fighters. Another 54 terrorists from other groups, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 60 civilians were killed as of April 25, 2024. Israel also killed several Hezbollah commanders in targeted strikes. On April 16, for example, Ismail Yousef Baz, the commander of Hezbollah’s coastal district, and Muhammad Hussein Mustafa Shehoury, the commander of one of the Radwan Force’s rocket and missile units, were killed. On May 14, Hussain Ibrahim, a senior field commander, was eliminated.

Table of Contents for Israel-Hamas War
Bibliography and Photo Credits