Chesler Chronicles

Conventional versus Non-Conventional Warfare and Why Israel Did Not Lose in Gaza

My good friend, Herb Berger, of lucky, sunny, southern California, just sent me a Report issued by SFC Ariel Siegelman upon his return from combat operations in Gaza. Siegelman founded the Draco Group as a service in advanced security and training. He served in the Israel Defense Force, Special Forces, as a counter terror operative, counter terror sniper and counter terror instructor. He remains active in the Reserves where he serves on active duty when necessary, as well as an instructor for rapid response teams, counter terror, urban sniper situations, and special warfare tactics.

I do not know whether Siegelman has published his Report anywhere but even if he has, it really deserves a continuously wide reading.

For years now, Israeli and American military tacticians have had to learn how to define “triumph” when a conventional army is facing a non-conventional army in which seasoned soldiers may disguise themselves as civilians, conduct “hit and run” operations and then disappear, and when conventional soldiers want to live but non-conventional soldiers are perfectly willing to die as long as they can also kill you.

One of the many things I learned when I lived in Afghanistan so long ago was that for some people, fighting, killing, looting, kidnapping-for-ransom (or pleasure), and dying was a veritable way of life, that fighting and dying gave their lives significance and was the only way they could fulfill their obligations as the male members of a tribe and clan. My American and western concept of steady, inevitable progress, my womanly concept of mediating differences in a non-violent way had absolutely no place in this wild and gorgeous place. Even I was charmed by the rifle-bearing and friendly (to me) Khyber Pass male relatives who visited me in Kabul. They had come to meet their “first American woman.”

Indeed, the other night I watched the film “Mongol” which imagines the early life of Genghis Khan. It is a bloody, but beautiful and brilliant film. Watch it. It will help you understand the psychology of the permanent barbarian-fighter, who is born and bred to battle as a way of life.

In terms of neo-barbarian modern warfare, (airplane hijackings, suicide bombings, torture and mutilation of captives, permanent low-level warfare, vicious propaganda), Israel has been tested early on and has had to learn how to best defend itself. World-wide, Israeli embassies and consulates have, unfortunately, been forced to lead the way in terms of modern security measures. Israel’s El Al airlines are one of the safest airlines to fly. Now, we are all Israelis in terms of airport security and other public building security measures.

Which leads us to Ariel Siegelman’s really smart analysis of how to understand the recent and ongoing war in Gaza. Here is his full Report.
“I returned home from war in Gaza last week and people keep asking me the same question:

“Why did the Israelis pull out before they finished the job?”

The premise of this question is that the Israelis should have continued the war in the Gaza Strip until it was conquered and Hamas was toppled. This is an erroneous premise that is dangerous in the new kind of war and is based on an outdated western understanding of warfare which has no basis in the new war theater. The problem with the above premise is that it is based in the understanding that there are front lines and there are real lines on the battlefield. This faulty rule states that if you can push through enemy territory and fight until you get to the enemy’s opposite borders, you have conquered the land and the war is over. This premise would state that, in the case of Israel, when you capture the Hamas headquarters and arrest or kill the leaders, Hamas has been toppled. This is the same lack of understanding that led to many problems that US forces face today in Iraq. People still cannot understand why the war is raging on, even after we captured the enemy’s leader, Sadam Hussein (see Draco Report, March 2008). Sorry folks, the age of conquest is dead.

The conventional war, where soldiers meet on the battlefield to fight, is a thing of the past. Today technology is so great that any target that is identifiable, can be destroyed by a conventional army with pinpoint accuracy within a matter of seconds. Even if 2 great powers were to meet on a battlefield, there would be such tremendous devastation on both sides within the first few minutes that it would make this conventional battle pointless. This is all the more true for a force that cannot hope to match his enemy’s technological capabilities (e.g. Hamas, Al Qaeda, Tamil Tigers, etc). In this case he must equal the playing field by rendering the technology useless. The neutralization of technology is accomplished through unconventional tactics. And we have seen many cases of inferior numbers with inferior weaponry beating back a seemingly stronger enemy when the enemy was stuck in his conventional and rigid mindset, unwilling to meet the unconventional force with flexibility and creativity.

In the case of Israel vs. Hamas, Israel has a conventional army and Hamas is an unconventional force. When throwing around these terms it is very important to understand that conventional and unconventional forces define victory in VERY different ways. If the conventional army does not win, it loses. If the unconventional army does not lose, it wins. Therefore, the unconventional force is always in an advantage. We are not playing a numbers game here. We are talking about the reality on the new battlefield. Perception, my friends; that is all that matters.

A conventional army operates by
1. Identifying the enemy.
2. Pinning the enemy down.
3. Killing or capturing the enemy.

Any unconventional force recognizes these three rules and organizes its operability to combat them. The three rules of unconventional warfare are:
1. Make it impossible for the opposing force to identify you.
2. Never stand and fight.
3. Don’t worry about numbers. Just wear them down.

The unconventional force does not need to, and should never meet 100 soldiers on the battlefield with an equal opposing force (the whole concept of unconventional warfare is unequal force). He looks at 100 opposing enemy as 100 targets. He only needs to field 2 fighters who pop up out of a hole in the ground or from behind a wall, spray 50 rounds of ammunition and then run away. Each 10 second attack should kill or wound a few of the conventional force Add booby traps to this kind of mixture and the unconventional fighter can greatly increase his impact on those soldiers. In this manner, 2 men can bring hundreds of enemy soldiers to a cowering stand-still. The conventional soldiers never know where the attack will come from. By the time they identify the source of fire, the enemy has vanished. Most importantly, the conventional force becomes afraid and demoralized and over time, the home front withdraws their support for what seems endless and pointless, and pressures the government to pull the forces out, making the continuation of operations eventually impossible. When the conventional force finally pulls out, the unconventional force will ALWAYS declare victory, showing gory pictures and telling the stories of their heroic plight against a superior force that they drove out under fire

Now let us talk about Gaza.

I have never seen a more perfectly carried out operation of a conventional army against an unconventional force. It is important to recognize that the Israeli intelligence arm proved, once again, to be stellar in providing fresh and mind-boggling, detailed assessments of the enemy, his capabilities, and his positions. All rules of engagement and mission plans were developed directly from this information.

So why did we pull out when we did?

Imagine going into a casino and having inside information. You KNOW that you are going to make money, so you lay down all of your chips and you win big. The trick is to get out before the casino starts to figure you out and win it back. Gaza is a very dangerous place. It is full of booby traps, tunnels, bunkers, and a very violent enemy. Every moment that our guys are inside of a place like that, there is a tremendous potential for carnage. And due to the fact that the enemy is unconventional in nature, all Hamas needs is ONE devastating strike on an Israeli position, for one IED (improvised explosive device) to take out a team, or for one tank to be blown up, and they have acquired victory. We knew from the start of an operation like this that we were eventually going to pull out and they only needed ONE story that they could tell after we were gone. It was undoubtedly the grace of G-d that stole the smallest bit of victory from Hamas. I personally have met this enemy many times over the last few years and the fact they came out of this situation appearing incapable to the world, like a rag-tag bunch of fools, borders on miraculous. They are a VERY serious, well supplied, highly trained army and we expected high numbers of casualties. The decision to pull out when we did was partially due to this fact – get out while you are ahead.

Before entering the Gaza Strip, the army was very clear about our objectives. We were told that we do not want to destroy all of their capabilities and we are not trying to topple Hamas. This is hard for many good people to swallow but it is the best thing under the circumstances. Our goal was simply to drastically reduce their capabilities to hit us and to remind our enemies, and ourselves (after Lebanon) that we are not wimps. The fact that upwards of 100 rockets per day were falling in Israel proper before this operation and now, a handful of rockets hit every week, shows that we, in fact, accomplished our goals. I am well aware that it is still intolerable to allow someone to shoot missiles at you and it seems ridiculous to say that we achieved our goals because they “ONLY shoot a few rockets at us.” However, in this situation, it is VERY important to do a cost-benefit analysis. In this sort of conflict within 2 weeks you can destroy between 80% and 90% of the enemy’s capabilities. However, in order to get rid of the last 10%, it might take 2 years or more of much harder, more surgical effort. Remember what we said above, EVERY MOMENT that you are inside, you are in GREAT danger of losing men. The costs are simply not worth that last 10%.

The idea of toppling Hamas is not on the menu for 2 simple reasons:

1. Hamas is an idea. You cannot kill an idea with military action. It is foolish to think that you can topple a movement through conquest. As long as 2 individuals can hide and claim that they hold true to the Hamas ideals, you have not accomplished your goal of “toppling Hamas”.

2. I’ll let you in on a little secret (any politician will deny this), but we don’t want to topple Hamas – and you shouldn’t either. You see, Fatah (the opposition to Hamas) is considered to be moderate because they don’t murder quite as many people and because Mahmud Abbas (“prime minister” of the Palestinian Authority and head of Fatah) wears a suit. If Hamas did not exist, only the “moderates” would be left and then the world, as well as the Israeli Left would apply great pressure to create a Palestinian State. And even if you think that a Palestinian State is a good idea then I think that you should move to Gaza for a while. Fatah is a terrorist organization! But the world won’t care about that if Hamas is out of the picture. Therefore, Hamas has its place, albeit weaker, but it has its place.

Ask yourself, what more would we have gained by staying in for an extra week or an extra month? It is true, we could have killed more of them and we could have destroyed more of their tunnels, buildings, and cashes. But at what cost to us? We left after inflicting great destruction to their capabilities and now, as they are pulling themselves out of the rubble, they are desperately trying to claim some sort of victory and even their own people roll their eyes at that attempt. They have no stories of heroism or victory that they can grasp onto in this new kind of war where perception is what builds you or tears you down. Therefore, they lost

So what about the future?

Without a doubt, Hamas is already re-arming and planning for the next chapter of this conflict. The enemy is highly motivated, cunning, adaptable, and vicious. So we must be the same. Even though some analysts would have us believe that radical Islam is on the decline, I assure you, we have not yet seen it peak. The United States talks of leaving Iraq in another year or two and you must ask yourself how long it will take for Iran to fill that void.”