What is essential is invisible to the eye

The New York Times has an article by Steve Erlanger describing Israeli Army and Hamas tactics in the urban battle for Gaza City. Essentially Israeli tactics are designed to identify, isolate and destroy Hamas operatives hiding amid the civilian population. Hamas tactics are precisely the opposite: they are designed to undifferentiate themselves, blend in with and surround themselves with the civilians.

Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open, Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms. The militants emerge from tunnels to shoot automatic weapons or antitank missiles, then disappear back inside, hoping to lure the Israeli soldiers with their fire.

In one apartment building in Zeitoun, in northern Gaza, Hamas set an inventive, deadly trap. According to an Israeli journalist embedded with Israeli troops, the militants placed a mannequin in a hallway off the building’s main entrance. They hoped to draw fire from Israeli soldiers who might, through the blur of night vision goggles and split-second decisions, mistake the figure for a fighter. The mannequin was rigged to explode and bring down the building.

In the 64 odd years since the Second World War ended, the nature of protective armor has changed from physical to information barriers. In the past, combatants protected themselves with materials made of rock, reinforced concrete or rolled homogenous armor. With those materials easily penetrable by modern weapons, groups like Hamas must don informational armor while Israelis must seek to pierce it. A monograph describing tactics on Okinawa explained what things were like in the heyay of physical armor. The Japanese sheltered in caves while the Americans advanced with their own mobile caves: tanks.

In other words the basic tactical unit on each side was a pillbox and accompanying infantry. The Americans used a mobile, slightly vulnerable pillbox, the tank, against the Japanese who used invulnerable but not mobile pillboxes, the caves.

In Gaza, Hamas' armor consists of emitting an outward civilian signature. The Israeli Army task is to pierce the wrapper and read the inner, encrypted information. The NYT article describes how the IDF uses its version of telemarketers to ask, 'hello, is this Hamas?'

Israeli intelligence officers are telephoning Gazans and, in good Arabic, pretending to be sympathetic Egyptians, Saudis, Jordanians or Libyans, Gazans say and Israel has confirmed. After expressing horror at the Israeli war and asking about the family, the callers ask about local conditions, whether the family supports Hamas and if there are fighters in the building or the neighborhood.

Karim Abu Shaban, 21, of Gaza City said he and his neighbors all had gotten such calls. His first caller had an Egyptian accent. “Oh, God help you, God be with you,” the caller began.

“It started very supportive,” Mr. Shaban said, then the questions started. The next call came in five minutes later. That caller had an Algerian accent and asked if he had reached Gaza. Mr. Shaban said he answered, “No, Tel Aviv,” and hung up.

"Knock, knock. Who's there?" In Gaza infrastructure is kept intact or destroyed according to whether it contributes to the information war. Keeping utilities working and providing relief gains civilian sympathy, so they are kept going; because sympathy generates information. Small diameter bombs are used to limit collateral damage to preserve civilian sympathy, again so that they will be forthcoming with both operational tips or political support. Phones which can be tapped or used to gather and deliver intelligence information are kept working. Cellular telephones within operational areas are used by Hamas to maneuver their forces, so they are jammed. Everything is weighed and found either good or wanting in the scales of information.

There are two basic types of information armor. The first may be termed encryption armor. This conceals the target from enemy view. Hamas encrypt themselves as civilians. Israelis conceal themselves by hiding their physical signatures in basic ways, like staying off the streets or moving in the dark. The NYT report says "to avoid booby traps, the Israelis say, they enter buildings by breaking through side walls, rather than going in the front. Once inside, they move from room to room, battering holes in interior walls to avoid exposure to snipers and suicide bombers dressed as civilians, with explosive belts hidden beneath winter coats." The Israeli encrypt their movements and intentions by limiting access to the battlefield by foreign journalists.

Hamas knows this as well as anyone and its use of encryption armor has already been described. But it has access to second kind of information armor we may call the taboo. Taboo armor is of a very special kind and it can be totally impenetrable, no matter what physical weapons are available to the IDF. Take the forged, 1 mm thick, case-hardened, diplomatic immunity armor.

JERUSALEM, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Israel accused Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip on Sunday of hiding in foreign diplomatic missions in an effort to elude Israeli forces. "The leaders of Hamas and the armed wing are hiding in bunkers, hospitals and foreign missions," Israeli Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel told reporters, basing his information on an intelligence briefing received by ministers. He did not name the missions. Few countries have diplomatic missions in Gaza and even Egypt has withdrawn its staff. The United Nations says it keeps Hamas militants out of the schools, clinics and other institutions it runs there.

Only slightly less resistant taboos are the kindergarten school, hospital or baby milk factory armor. But it is only available to Hamas. Although Israel can avail of a limited amount of encryption armor, it has no recourse to the taboo. A Jew can't hide in a hospital and expect to be safe. Whatever the world says, it really is "ok" to shell a Jewish hospital or child's nursery. It may even be desirable.

Taboo armor is created by repeated applications of political coating and Israeli leadership has been outmaneuvered on this front for decades; therefore while IDF Merkeva tanks are far more heavily protected than any Hamas pillbox, in the contest of informational armor, Hamas has the King Tiger while Israel has the early model gasoline powered, dry ammunition storage Sherman, or maybe even the cardboard tank.