Gaza war analyst: Does his Nazi-era collection indicate bias?
Mark Garlasco was suspended by Human Rights Watch. But does his hobby mean his report on white phosphorus use in Gaza is inaccurate?
PARIS – Last January, during the Gaza war, I phoned Mark Garlasco, who was in Israel as a military analyst for Human Rights Watch. My editors and I had seen reports – and video footage – about the possible use of white phosphorus bombs by the Israeli army.Skip to next paragraph
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I had never spoken with Mr. Garlasco, and have not since. I did not know that Mr. Garlasco is an avid collector of American and German military paraphernalia from World War II – and now the subject of a blogging campaign against him by what are described as conservative, pro-Israel lobby groups.
But at the time, it seemed more important that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were conducting bombing operations in Gaza, one of the densest civilian areas in the Middle East, in response to Hamas rocket attacks on Israel.
I was researching the type of munitions being used. Military experts and human rights groups, including HRW, were describing evidence of phosphorus use, as in the 2006 war in Lebanon. They gave me Mr. Garlasco’s phone number. I rang.
He was standing literally on the border of Gaza, overlooking a refugee camp. Garlasco offered an eyewitness account of what he described as telltale brilliant bursts of white phosphorus munitions in the distance. He could have been lying. But his descriptions matched abundant TV video clips broadcast in our offices. I am not a military expert, but Garlasco, a Pentagon senior intelligence analyst during the 2003 Iraq war – is.
His analysis of the bombs’ effect matched what he also told the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz: that they contain 116 wafers doused in phosphorus:
“The moment the bomb blows up and the phosphorus comes in contact with oxygen - it ignites. This is what creates the ‘fireworks’ and billows of jellyfish-shaped smoke. The fallout covers a wide area and the danger of fires and harm to civilians is enormous. The phosphorus burns glass … immediately ignites paper, trees, wood - anything that is dry. The burning wafers causes terrible injury to anyone who comes in contact with them.”
So, the Monitor quoted Garlasco’s first-hand account of phosphorus use in a Jan. 14 story.
My article included this statement from IDF spokesman Gabi Ashkenazi the same day: “The IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] acts only in accordance with what is permitted by international law and does not use white phosphorus.”
Days later, Monitor editors received criticism from pro-Israel lobbyists and individuals denouncing the story and Garlasco. Garlasco spoke to many reporters. Months later, IDF officials admitted the use of white phosphorus – but said the manner of its use was not illegal.
That claim is very much disputed by Monday’s UN report on Gaza.