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.