In recent days we have been witness to live television coverage that made us all unwilling, but nonetheless, active participants in what could only be called mass murder of innocents in that benighted piece of desert known as the Gaza strip. While focus has obviously shifted due to the prevailing situation with the Islamic State running riot in the Middle East, what has struck me most is the uninhibited scale and savagery of the Israeli assault.
By launching indiscriminate attacks they have made a cardinal error that will cost them dearly in the future…
While the immediate provocation, the tragic killing of three young Jewish teenagers, may be justification for some sort of punitive action, the massive retaliation makes little sense, if one were to look at it in isolation. While the politics and history of this region has confounded us for over a century, it is probably the first time that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have acted in such a ruthless and indiscriminate manner that has already resulted in the death and injury of over and people mainly civilians, including women and children.
Armies that find themselves opposed by irregular forces, be they terrorists or insurgents are seldom defeated on the battlefield but lose mostly because they are unable to deliver a decisive defeat that can resolve the situation speedily. This is because armies are not allowed to bring their complete combat potential to bear and are required to fight with their hands tied behind their backs, known as the use of minimum force. This is primarily because of political and humanitarian considerations especially the adverse impact that collateral damage will have on the global community, more so if it is an internal conflict.
The issue is however compounded further because while on one hand armies attempt to follow the rule of law and differentiate between combatants and non- combatants, insurgents and terrorists have no such qualms as for them all society is combatant. This complexity however does not detract from the fact that there is one more equally, if not more important reason to be circumspect in dealing with rebel populations that competent and seasoned counter insurgency forces fully understand. It is need for winning over the population because without affirmative and pro-active steps to win hearts and minds, however operationally successful and effective the forces may be in the short term, they will never be able to win in the long term because they will always create insurgents faster than they can neutralize them. A classic example of winning the battle but losing the war.
Let there be no doubt that this coming generation of militants will be even more radical than those before them…
In the context of the Palestine –Israeli conflict while some may not see it as a classical insurgency the fact remains that in real terms Israel is an occupying nation that faces opposition from the Palestinian inhabitants of the Gaza strip and the West Bank. It can also be nobody’s argument that the IDF and the political leadership are not conversant with the concept of minimum force or the impact and implications of collateral damage due to use of excessive force.
Therefore it is clear that the decision to attack in the manner that they have done was a well- considered one aimed at completely destroying the potential of Hamas to wage war against Israel and also making it amply clear to all Palestinians, especially the civilian non-combatant majority, the cost of permitting Hamas to use them or their properties as a screen for launching rocket attacks. A ‘final solution’ to a problem that has been causing much distress to the psyche of the civilian population over the years, despite limited casualties, thanks to the effectiveness of the Anti- Missile system, the ‘Iron Dome’ that the IDF has in place to counter rocket attacks.
Unfortunately, whatever be their motivation there is no doubting the fact that like all “final solutions” the world over, this too is doomed to failure. By launching indiscriminate attacks they have made a cardinal error that will cost them dearly in the future because while their ability to destroy Hamas is questionable, all that such attacks have achieved is to have created another two generations of ardent and motivated Hamas supporters who will want revenge. It will also unify the Palestinian political groups.
As we have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere without light infantry on the ground to dominate the area, no amount of air or drone attacks will prevent the insurgents from regrouping and recommencing their operations.
Let there be no doubt that this coming generation of militants will be even more radical than those before them, making the achieving of sustainable peace that much more of a mirage. So Israel, will now find itself in the unenviable position of having its troops bogged down in the rubble of Gaza in the coming years if it is to prevent rocket attacks on its cities. As we have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere without light infantry on the ground to dominate the area, no amount of air or drone attacks will prevent the insurgents from regrouping and recommencing their operations. It really is just a matter of time before more sophisticated rockets and suicide bombers are able to penetrate the Israeli defences and rekindle the spiral of violence. To my mind all that this tragic picture unfolding before our eyes shows is that sometimes even the most professional of armies, and the IDF definitely considers itself to be just that, are capable of utmost stupidity.
Finally, it also appears to me that the US Army, which has a very close and symbiotic relationship with the IDF, may after its defeats in the last two campaigns that it has fought decide that the Israeli example makes sense and it must not fight with one arm tied behind its’ back. It may therefore in any future campaign against irregular forces, such as the one it is engaged in against the Islamic State, decide to use maximum firepower at its command with little or no thought about civilian casualties. While initial success will certainly be the result, the final outcome is unlikely to be any different than what Israel is likely to face in future.