Gaza: IDF Ground Operational Art

As I have said in my previous post, I do not doubt the IDF’s ability to take Gaza given the political will for potentially high military casualties and certainly grievous Palestinian civilian losses. Gaza, presents a unique operational space that has given urban warfare theorists a good deal of fright in the past: the “feral city”–a densely populated maze of chaotic streets and defenses designed by non-state forces to frustrate invading conventional armies.

The IDF, under Shimon Naveh, developed a means for this: tactical swarming. Naveh and his Operational Theory Research Institute (OTRI) borrowed from poststructuralist philosophy and radical theories of spatiality and architecture to develop a method of complex operations in urban environments. IDF elements were atomized down to the extreme tactical level, and turned the city into a weapon against the Palestinians, utilizing tunnels as sources of fractal maneuver, “walked through walls” (aka dynamited through buildings), and utilized helicopter gunships as weapons platforms.

This was, in effect, a translation of maneuver warfare paradigms to urban warfare. The Israelis’ fast transients collapsed the Palestinian defenses through deft manipulation of material space. But, as Stephen Pampinella observes, while the Israelis have certainly excelled at emancipating themselves from the problems of urban material space, they cannot enter the social, political, and information spaces where the real battles of insurgency occur.


Gaza: To the Bitter End?

Evaluating irregular conflict is extremely difficult. So we may benefit here from taking a look at each actors’ objective and means of achieving it. Israel’s objective is rather difficult to determine- as listening to the differing statements offered by the Israeli government and squaring it with some of their actions only creates more confusion. The stated cause of the operation is to stop the rockets, but the Israeli government has not clearly defined whether or not is seeking to send a message to Hamas, reinforce its deterrent capability, or destroy Hamas as a governing actor in Gaza.

Hamas’ long-term strategic objective is also rather opaque, despite its stated goal of destroying the “Zionist entity.” They are more pragmatic than commonly believed, but also are not necessarily actors Israel and the United States can “work with.” In the short term, however, their goal is to survive, and like Hezbollah in 2006, regenerate their capabilities and cement their hold on the population’s loyalties. Without a ground invasion, Israel is unlikely to harm Hamas to a point where it cannot regenerate its capabilities.

Perhaps the proper analogy here is to the misuse of antibiotic drugs. Not taking all of the pills leaves some bacteria alive–and immune to the antibiotic. Then, they reproduce antibiotic-resistant spawn. Military force, no matter how severe, can be endured by insurgents–they will acclimate themselves to it like the surviving bacteria do with antibiotics. If Israel’s goal is to reinforce its deterrent, it is doing an extremely poor job.

The IAF’s targeting–aided by six months of high-level intelligence gathering–has noticeably improved since 2006. It is also likely that special forces operations–if not ongoing already–may commence prior to a ground assault. But if current trends continue the basic situation may not change much. Ralph Peters sees this as a measure to buy Israel time. But strategy is more than a process of moving from one tactical process to the next, whatever the cost.

A ground assault may change the situation–it would indicate an Israeli desire to completely eliminate Hamas’ infrastructure. Despite hype about Hamas’ enhanced paramilitary capabilities, I see such an action as within Israel’s means if the political will exists. But assuming responsibility for a resentful, seething Gaza teeming with Hamas operatives may be a worse outcome than a cease-fire that leaves Hamas in nominal control. In any event, we should look–with open eyes–at how the events of the next few days unfold.

Some Reflections on Intelligence and Swarms

The Committee of Public Safety linked my GroupIntel piece on swarm intelligence. He annotated several paragraphs, and provoked me to think a bit deeper about what I had wrote. This in particular jumps out at me:

“[S]uccessful networks are filters that allow valuable participants to rise to the top while screening out the noise of lurkers, anonymous cowards, and trolls.”

I do think, to a large degree, that many optimistic views of the future predicated on the use of social media networks ignore the problem of griefers. To some degree, terrorists play the role of griefers in the global emergent marketplace constantly extolled in tech books and popular business bestsellers.


The latest Military Review has a great article by Lt. Col Timothy L. Thomas on China’s “electronic long-range reconnaissance.” I’m less interested in the technical aspects of Chinese hacking then the strategic aspects–what does China hope to gain from utilizing “patriotic hackers” against American and European government and private computer systems? Thomas’ theory, which he supports by ample study of recent Chinese military literature, is that China is utilizing hacker auxiliaries to test American defenses, gather cyber-intelligence, and set the parameters of the battle before cyberwar is joined.

Thus, the usage of hackers is not offensive in nature, it is a device for China to develop practical expertise, case studies, and employable data on the performance of their forces in cyberwar. It also gives them information on the resilience of American cyber defenses that can be used later should the need arise. Which begs the question, as Thomas notes, why is so much of Chinese strategic literature available open-source, especially in a nation that largely conceals its current military doctrine? A ruse to mislead foreign observers? A signal to a public that is often agitated about the misdeeds of foreigners? A signal to Americans about their intentions? I’ll leave a China area expert to answer these questions.

A side note: Military Review has a great new online layout. So now you have no excuse for missing a single issue.

A Georgian Mistake


Georgia and the United States are negotiating a strategic partnership agreement that will bring relations between the two countries to a “new stage,” President Mikheil Saakashvili said Monday. “We are in the process of negotiating a US-Georgia strategic partnership agreement. Our relations are moving toward a completely new stage,” Saakashvili said in televised remarks. “The United States has never before said that Georgia is its strategic partner,” he added.

If Saakashvili’s sorry attempt to pre-emptively take South Ossetia is a preview of what it can bring to the table as America’s “strategic partner,” I’ll take a pass, thank you. We are being dragged closer and closer into Georgia’s losing quarrel with Russia, something that we will regret. Not that we shouldn’t resist Putin’s encroachments in other areas, but we should not bind ourselves to defending Georgia. Saakashvili may see himself as the Israel or the Taiwan of Central Asia, but in reality he is one of many tinpot dictators with delusions of grandeur and a short fuse. He has only himself to blame for the way Russia is currently strong-arming him, and we should not risk our power, credibility, and money to get him out of a hole he is still digging.