The IDF is entering another endless rabbit warren from which it will emerge victory-less after it inevitably fails to achieve its aims. Gaza will be left in a considerably worse shape. Of course, it will be the international community’s fault for not letting them finish the job.
After reports of 30,000 Israeli reservists mobilising after a day of tit-for-tat attacks between the IDF and Hamas, some commentators are predicting an ‘Operation Cast Lead 2.0’. The situation in Gaza has exploded since the assassination (or targeted killing, whichever your sensibilities prefer) of Ahmed al-Jabari, the commander of Hamas’military wing and many of us have been left trying to comprehend the course of the events.
Despite the tragedy unravelling before us across a multitude of news and social media platforms, swarming us with swathes of information and subtle misinformation. Already journalists are noting the ‘cyber battlefield’ between Hamas and the IDF, and now even Netanyahu himself is jumping into the Twitter front line, unsurprisingly denouncing Hamas as cowards for using their fellow Palestinians as improvised body armour. However, we see a shining example of how too much information is even more debilitating than too little and it has become near impossible to see through the fog of the information war to understand what is going on
Rather than attempt to tackle the course of events from an unfamiliar perspective, if we approach the IDF’s counterinsurgency strategy towards Gaza then we can gain valuable insight into some of the factors at play.
First and foremost, Gaza is not an existential threat to Israel. Short of Hamas acquiring a nuclear bomb, there is very little that could develop in Gaza that could alter Israel’s threat picture. Existential threats are a classification reserved only for threats such as a hostile Egypt – the linchpin in any conventional assault on Israel – and the Iranian nuclear programme. Hamas’ rockets, however, do pose and existential threat to the government. While sporadic rocket attacks on southern Israeli settlements closest to the border with Gaza are to be expected, Fajr-5 rockets falling on Tel Aviv will start making people question their government’s ability to protect its citizens.
Second, there are number of international factors at play whose influences are still obscured by the ‘shock of capture’ from the rapid deterioration of events. There’s the ongoing chaos in Syria, which has started to draw in the IDF after exchanges of mortar bombs and tank shells in the Golan. In early October, Hizbollah flew an Iranian-made reconnaissance drone into southern Israel, while the rest of Lebanon simmers from the tension exacerbated by the Syrian conflict. There is the ongoing crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme and the international sanctions, combined with the drop in the Rial, are straining Iran’s ability to support the Assad regime, Hizbollah and Hamas. In the US, Obama’s re-election has foiled Netanyahu’s hopes of a Romney-Ryan presidency.
What is the IDF trying to achieve? It is blatantly clear that their assassination of al-Jabari has escalated the situation. Fajr rockets dropping on Tel Aviv is a very significant development. The fact that Hamas has only decided now to bring them to bear on the cosmopolitan Israeli city indicates a red line has been crossed. There are two possible conclusions: the Israeli government underestimated Hamas’ reaction or they intentionally provoked a reaction out of the organisation. Considering the reported competence of Israel’s intelligence organisations, the former is very unlikely and there is little chance the IDF was caught off guard. The latter is far more likely to be the case. Furthermore, they will have calculated Hamas’ most dangerous course of action as firing Fajrs onto Israelis cities and have considered it as an acceptable risk to their larger aims.
We need to backtrack to Lebanon in 2006 to get a better sense of what is going on. In 2006, after a month of heavy fighting with Hizbollah, Israel withdrew from Lebanon defeated. Both the Israeli civilian and military leadership were shocked at the IDF’s poor performance against an enemy they had badly underestimated. After the war, the government conducted a probing investigation into what went wrong.
Israeli operations in Lebanon and Gaza show the reality of COIN doctrine without all the fuzzy frills of ‘winning hearts and minds’. The doctrine determined the IDF’s operations in Lebanon during its occupation from 1982 to 2000, again in 2006 and once more in Gaza in 2009 in Operation Cast Lead. Not-so-coincidentally, Israel failed to achieve any of its aims in these operations. But while US and British thinkers are beginning to criticise COIN as a viable strategy after NATO’s experience in Afghanistan, it seems that 6 years on from Lebanon the only visible adjustment the Israeli government has made towards it strategy on the Palestinian issue is to set up the IDF with a Twitter and You Tube account.
According to an IDF tweet, one of their objectives is to ‘cripple Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure in Gaza’. There is no single, universally accepted definition of a terrorist. If you cannot agree upon the definition of a terrorist, then it is impossible to define the limits of ‘terrorist infrastructure;. It is an ambiguous (presumably intentionally) term that could be applied to Hamas’ leadership, their rocket launch sites, roads, mosques and the list goes on. It does not define the end state for IDF’s operations and gives them considerable scope to cause significant damage across the Strip.
The IDF’s actions are the most telling sign that the conflict is even further from peace, and not just because of another explosion of violence. After a moment of national introspection following the 2006 war, the Israeli government has decided to stick with a military solution to the Palestinian issue. The IDF is entering another endless rabbit warren from which it will emerge victory-less after it inevitably fails to achieve its aims. Gaza will be left in a considerably worse shape. Of course, it will be the international community’s fault for not letting them finish the job.
And, of course, the operation has nothing to do with the Israeli elections in January.
Photo Credit: Rahuldlucca