Belmont Club

Partnerless In Gaza

The main war aims of Hamas, according to the Christian Science Monitor, are to survive the Israeli incursions into Gaza and retain their control over the strip. In every asymmetric conflict of this type, the goal of terrorist organizations is to retain control of the population, not defeat the conventional forces of its enemy. The Monitor article briefly touches on the battle Hamas dares not lose: internal security.

For Hamas, survival might be victory. It will be lauded across the Arab world if it can hold out against the region’s strongest military. … “There may be a push to unseat its hold on Gaza,” says Nicolas Pelham, a regional analyst for the International Crisis Group. “It still appears to have retained authority and control in Gaza. There’s no internal forces seeking to challenge Hamas.”

But what are the war aims of Israel? The IDF is not saying, but recent experience in Iraq may help us to deduce them.

The Surge in Iraq demonstrated the decisive importance of prying loose the enemy’s grip from the population. Prior to the Surge, Coalition Forces could achieve temporary dominance over any given place only to lose it when they left. What eventually destroyed the various insurgencies as well as al-Qaeda in Iraq were two things: greater numbers and better tactics. It is not widely realized that most of those additional numbers came from generating Iraqi army, police and special forces units. The increases in American troop strength themselves were relatively modest. Generally speaking the tactical changes consisted of moving security forces from highly fortified but isolated bases and redeploying them into much smaller outposts within civilian areas. Petraeus and Odierno would demonstrate that greater safety could paradoxically be found by getting closer to the enemy to inflict defeat, rather than standing off and allowing a stalemate to continue. What do these ideas tell us about how Israel intends to win the internal security war against Hamas?

Let’s look at what is available to Israel. First, numbers. News reports suggest that up 20,000 men are being committed to the Gaza operation. That is a substantial number for the IDF, which has a total of about 125,000 personnel on active duty at any one time. In order to meet this commitment, reserves have to be called up. But because troops cannot indefinitely remain in combat, they must be rotated through the theater. The three-one rule of thumb means that 60,000 IDF troops — a number equal to half the active duty force — will be needed to support a sustained presence in Gaza.

Now let’s look at what time Israel has. During the 2006 war in Lebanon, Israeli political leadership gave itself a window of only “a few weeks” to achieve its goals, according to an article in Infantry before the UN imposed a “ceasefire” with Hezbollah. While Israel has refused to put an explicit time limit on its operations against Hamas it’s better than even odds that they are working against the clock, just as in Lebanon. The political drumbeat to force a “ceasefire” is in high gear as this video from Suitably Flip, taken a short distance from UN headquarters, shows.

Finally, let’s look at what kind of partners Israel can rely upon in the internal security fight against Hamas. The rebuilt Iraqi Security Forces have a strength of 250,000 men; are subject to regular military discipline and have been trained by the United States. They are currently taking the operational lead in many areas in Iraq, allowing the US to take a supporting role. In contrast, Israel’s Palestinian allies are a comparative rabble, and one wonders how effective they will be in countering Hamas.

The success of the Surge was based on a foundation, and Israel may lack the depth in numbers, time and indigenous force generation it needs to win against a terrorist foe and stabilize Gaza. Since the IDF can only achieve what is possible, perhaps the Israeli aim in Gaza is simply to ‘do whatever it can’ simply because there is no way to ‘do what it needs to’. While tactics are important, they are only the handmaiden of strategy. In a very fundamental way, Hamas — or some other similar type of group — will probably survive because its survival has been guaranteed by political restrictions too deeply rooted to be easily overthrown.

If Hamas ‘wins’ it will be no thanks to its skill or savvy. They are the quota terrorist group, the mandated token bomber. It is the quota and not their AK-47s or yells that they have to thank for their lives. If the IDF fails to win the internal security battle against Hamas, that failure will have been almost pre-ordained by political restrictions. What of the ordinary Palestinian civilian consigned to clutches of a succession of terror groups? He’s the extra in a drama that was never written for his benefit.