Jul 29

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The Numbers Behind the Headlines from the Middle East

The news out of the Middle East has been pulling at my emotions for days now, and with a degree in foreign policy and a career in metrics I wanted to look deeper and put some of the numbers we have all seen in the news into a context.

Civilian Casualties 441
Israeli Missions 2429
Min number of missions without civilian casualties 1-(441/2429)
Calculation 81.8%

As of a few days ago, 630 Palestinians had been killed (depending on the site these numbers differ and it is unclear who is counted). The CNN report where that figure came from indicated that 70% of them may be civilian, or 441 civilians.

A day after that CNN report, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reported that they had struck 2,429 targets since the conflict began.  This leads me to my first calculation

More than 81.8% of Israeli strikes have no civilian casualties.

This is lower than the true number because it does not account for strikes resulting in multiple fatalities (article 1, article 2).

Now, let’s consider the conditions where this conflict is taking place.  Gaza is 139 sq miles and has a population of about 1.81 million people (CIA Factbook).  Those sizes are too large for me to picture so I began breaking it down.  If the Palestinian population would be perfectly spread out around the region, each individual would have 650 sq feet (46×46 feet) to live.  Put into context:

Each Palestinian has about half a basketball court.

Why is this important?  Well different munitions used in conflict have different destructive capabilities.  A bullet’s impact is small, let’s call it a square inch or so.  An MK-84  2000 pound bomb which was used frequently in the 2009 conflict has a lethal radius of 1200 feet.

Radius of shrapnel 1200 ft
Area of circle πr^2
Total Area 4523893 Sq Ft
Area per Palestinian 650 Sq Ft
Palestinians in shrapnel radius 6960

Given these numbers, you would expect almost 7,000 casualties or injured due to the shrapnel generated from each bomb.  Now I am not a military expert but I assume there are differences when fighting in a built up area such as the cities of Gaza.  Cities have a higher population density and buildings likely block shrapnel.

As I began my research to benchmark this current conflict with others, I came across this blog post in Times Of Israel by Corey Feldman.  His bio identifies him as a “combat soldier in the reconnaissance company of the Givati Brigade,” part of the IDF, which also means he likely has easier access to some statistics than I do.  Before you question the source, I have cited his arguments and noted where his numbers disagree with ones I have mentioned above.

“Israel has dropped well over 600 tons of explosives on the Gaza strip in the last two weeks. According to the civilian death count arrived at in the previous calculation [he estimated 300], we could assume a death of one civilian per 2 tons of explosives. Let us put this into context so it’s easier to visualize [using CNN’s estimate it would be 3 deaths for every 4 tons].

“The M-67 fragment grenade used by the U.S. military contains approximately .4 pounds of explosives [citation I located]. If one were to qualify in terms of M-67 grenades the number of casualties in Gaza, that would mean that for every 10,000 grenades dropped on Gaza, one civilian was killed [with my number that would be 7,500.  Based on FAS’s report it has a killing zone of 845 sq ft]. To offer some perspective, the United States, during the “Shock and Awe” phase of the war in Iraq, killed one hundred people every eight hours for three straight weeks. In a deadly campaign of bombing and artillery strikes over that period, 6,700 people were killed, most of whom were civilians, at a rate of nearly 320 per day [citation I located].” – Corey Feldman in Times Of Israel July 22, 2014.

Why are there not more fatalities and injuries compared to Iraq?

A similar question could be directed to the Israeli side.  An IDF tweet on July 24th indicated that 2,350 rockets have been fired by Palestinian elements toward Israel.  These are non-guided rockets.  In 2011 Israel introduced its iron dome system to the field where it began creating a protective bubble around population centers.  Based on a report published by Janes, iron dome had intercepted 225 of 1260 rockets or about 18% of launches.  If that rate continued, they would have intercepted 420 rockets by the IDF post.  The interceptors come at a cost of $62,000 each.  As a result:

Israel has spent over $26,000,000 protecting their population centers from inbound rockets.

The loss of human blood is a tragedy in any conflict.  When studying foreign policy we often discussed the challenges associated with the use of force and sadly its place in global affairs.  Unfortunately it is not common to find a world conflict where there is not any loss of life.  In writing this post, I wanted to look into the numbers that I hear so often on the news (those who know me can attest that I had “CNN” burned into the bottom left corner of my TV).  I hope this post begins such a discussion.

Have a number related to the current conflict I have not considered?  Provide documentation from a reputable news source and I will do some research into it.  All responses to this post will be moderated by a human before going live, and no comments attacking any individual, group, or country will be approved.

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