How Israel could prevail in today’s asymmetric conflict

Much is made of the idea of asymmetric warfare, in which the side that is weaker in a traditional military sense manages to inflict harm on its enemy by the use of simple weapons and tactics involving small units, hit and run attacks, human waves, and often complete disregard for the traditional law of armed combat – human shields, attacks on civilians, and child soldiers may be employed. In addition, it may be accompanied by advanced cognitive and psychological warfare, including subversion of media, faking enemy atrocities, and propaganda techniques far more sophisticated than the methods of kinetic warfare at their disposal.

Although asymmetric warfare can be a way for culture with a low level of technology to defeat (or at least seriously wound) an enemy with better technology or a stronger army, sometimes even a relatively advanced country can use it to their advantage. So Iran, a country on the verge of reaching the pinnacle of military technology, nuclear weapons, effectively deploys its asymmetric proxy, Hezbollah, around the world, in order to support Iranian political goals by means of terrorism. And of course Hezbollah directly confronts Israel on behalf of Iran.

I divide Israel’s enemies into hard and soft enemies. The hard ones, like Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the PLO, employ all forms of asymmetric warfare, especially including terrorism, but also such low-tech weapons as large numbers of inaccurate rockets, incendiary balloons and kites, attack tunnels, and so on. At the same time, they use friendly and/or easily duped media as part of a continuing cognitive, diplomatic, and legal battle against the Jewish state.

The soft enemies, primarily the European Union countries, support the hard ones while maintaining enough distance to deny responsibility for wars or terrorism; but they take part enthusiastically in the cognitive, diplomatic, and legal battles against Israel.

What is often ignored by those discussing the asymmetric warfare that characterizes the multi-front, alternately hot and cold, never-ending war against the Jewish state, is that not only are the means of fighting asymmetric, so are the goals of the combatants.

Historically, the aims of warring combatants are diverse. They include such motivations as obtaining booty and slaves, conquering territory, getting access to natural resources or trade routes, building an empire and collecting tribute, religious or ideological conflict, and simple self-defense.

I don’t think that any reasonable person can deny that Israel’s motives are 100 percent self-defense. There is no enemy territory that Israel wants to conquer, no resources or booty she wants, and certainly no desire to create an empire. Her opponents are another story.

The motive of her Muslim enemies can be expressed in one word: jihad. In general all of them believe that they are obliged to fight to regain land lost by Islam, and in particular to one of the historic enemies of Mohammad, the Jews. In the case of Iran, there is also the long-term goal of creating an empire, a Shiite caliphate, and Israel – in addition to being that abomination, a sovereign Jewish state in the Muslim Middle East – is seen as an outpost of the West, an agent of the US, and an obstacle to the establishment of the caliphate.

Jihad has historically been very destructive to the conquered non-Muslim populations. For one thing, there is the so-called win-win proposition that motivates Muslims to engage in jihad. They are told that if they defeat their enemies, they can take whatever they want from the civilian population, including valuables and women, who are raped and enslaved (most of the male population is killed). The behavior of Islamic State fighters has followed this pattern in the present day. Judging by the behavior of PLO, Hezbollah, and Hamas terrorists so far, there is no reason to believe they would not act similarly if they had the opportunity.

The asymmetry of goals in turn produces an asymmetry of means, with Israel tending to defensive strategies (e.g., Iron Dome and other antimissile systems, barriers, non-lethal crowd control means, bombing empty installations, and so on), while her Muslim enemies emphasize offensive operations – terrorism, invasion, rocket barrages, and so on.

Israel also employs defensive strategies because she is deterred from more aggressive ones by the coordinated international diplomatic and legal campaign waged by both her hard and soft enemies. As a result of the reliance on (imperfect) defensive measures, Israeli morale is damaged by the appearance that she is content to partly ward off the blows of the enemy without striking back. Her enemies, on the other hand, are encouraged by her apparent weakness.

My contention is that a primarily defensive posture – even if Israel’s objective is self-defense – is inadequate to deter asymmetric attacks. Her enemies respond by escalating the attacks of proxy forces, while keeping them below the level that will force Israel to change to an offensive posture. The result is an escalating war of attrition, of which the attacking forces have complete control. In the meantime, the morale of Israelis is damaged, that of the attackers boosted, and the attacking proxy forces, supplied by Iran, have time to stockpile weapons and improve fortifications, develop tactics, and generally prepare for the final war on multiple fronts.

At that stage, Israel’s enemies hope that her lack of strategic depth, combined with a large number of simultaneous attacks, will allow for a successful invasion of Israeli territory by numerous militia forces from the north, south and east. In such a case, Israel will have difficulty in deploying its powerful air force and artillery, leading to (they hope) a complete collapse or at least a cease-fire that will leave Israel critically wounded.

The way to overcome this threat is to force the confrontation to take a different form. One way to do this would be to take control of the developing war of attrition ourselves by taking the offensive, escalating disproportionate responses to asymmetric proxy provocations, with an objective of ending  the fighting ability of the proxies. At the same time, visible preparations should be made to use our most powerful weapons directly against the source of the aggression, Iran. Then Iran could be put on notice not to interfere.

There is no doubt that stepped-up attacks on Hamas and Hezbollah, which will necessarily cause civilian casualties in Gaza and Lebanon, will be met with a massive propaganda, diplomatic, and legal attack orchestrated by our European soft enemies. This is where our American ally, which still has great leverage in Europe, could step in.

But we’d better act fast, before Iran goes nuclear – and while we still have a friend in the White House.

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2 Responses to How Israel could prevail in today’s asymmetric conflict

  1. Cassandra says:

    I agree with you. One thing I would add is, if Israel decides to go on the offensive as you’ve described, she should state in advance to the world something to the effect that Israel can no longer afford to endure this endless war of attrition, and any further rocket attacks, arson attacks and whatever other types of attacks she wants to include to define parameters, will be responded to on an offensive footing with the ultimate goal being an eventual end to the war. She should make explicit that after 50 years of its citizens enduring escalating terror attacks and Israel’s military being on constant alert to respond to asymetric attacks, Israel is now forced to assume an offensive approach and will not be held responsible for the results of a war she has tried for 50 years to avoid. Whoever makes this announcement to the world, at the U.N. or wherever, must put the onus on Israel’s enemies and those who have defended their war against Israel through diplomatic maneuvering and assaults designed to blame Israel for the bloodshed and the oppression of the Palestinian people by their own bloodthirsty and hateful,supremacist leaders.

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    I think you underestimate the amount of damage Hizbollah can do to Israel. I may be wrong but the sense is that they already have very accurate missiles that could cause immense destruction within Israel. I do not know if Israel has a swift means of total preemption. If it does, I would think that it is certainly better to take action when there is a sympathetic President in the U.S. But this is a big ‘if’.
    As for the lesser problem of Hamas I still believe the problem of what to do with the mess of Gaza makes the reconquest of the area extremely unattractive.

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