I wrote this before I had a chance to read some of the disturbing testimonies of Israeli soldiers who fought in Gaza.
The recent Israeli campaign to end rocket fire originating from Gaza left 1,300 Palestinians dead and many wondering about the morality of such seemingly “disproportionate” operations. Questions of morality in warfare, though, are notoriously difficult to referee and inspire more emotion than sober thought.
A related question to ask — and one more accessible to traditional tools of measurement — would be one concerning effectiveness. In pursuing military options that carry with them such a high human cost, did the Israel Defense Force achieve operational successes at the expense of Israel’s long-term strategic interests?
In modern conflict against violent nonstate actors like Hamas, Hezbollah or guerrilla groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, it may be in the best interests of the dominant military actor to adhere to rules of engagement that go beyond the laws of land warfare and international conventions. As the United States military has discovered in both Iraq and Afghanistan, civilian casualties have a direct effect on the effectiveness of operations in the strategic sense.
Traditionally, Israel — much like the United States — has subscribed to a Jominian concept of warfare that privileges the destruction of the enemy’s fighting forces above other considerations. In the Clausewitzian model, though, the supreme question of war has to do with whether or not military force served its purpose in advancing national political aims.The time may arrive when Israel decides that highly kinetic, enemy-centric military operations do not necessarily serve Israel’s longer-term strategic aims. Instead, Israel may want to adopt lessons learned from the United States experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and place a higher emphasis on the prevention of civilian casualties at the expense of lethality and force protection.
What’s great about Gaza — you see a person on a path, he doesn’t have to be armed, you can simply shoot him. In our case it was an old woman on whom I did not see any weapon when I looked. The order was to take down the person, this woman, the minute you see her. There are always warnings, there is always the saying, ‘Maybe he’s a terrorist.’ What I felt was, there was a lot of thirst for blood.Ha'aretz and other Israeli newspapers promise to run more of these stories in the days to come.
[A] reserve officer who looked at the transcript Wednesday said: "This is not the IDF we knew."Okay, I may live to regret this, but take it away, comments section. Please, though, avoid anything that could reasonably be interpreted as anti-Jewish or anti-Arab.* I would very much like to keep this discussion about the issues I discuss in the Times piece -- with a similar level of sobriety -- without descending into hate speech. Thanks.
Hamas police in Gaza broke into a warehouse full of United Nations humanitarian supplies and seized thousands of blankets and food packages, a United Nations spokesman said Wednesday, a rare public clash between the international agency that feeds much of the territory and the militant group that rules it.Now this presents an information operations opportunity for Israel and, potentially, Fatah. Will either be smart enough to exploit it?
The incident highlighted difficulties facing donors seeking to bypass Hamas while helping Gazans survive and rebuild after Israel's three-week military offensive.
"Hamas policemen stormed into an aid warehouse in Gaza City Tuesday evening and confiscated 3,500 blankets and over 400 food parcels ready for distribution to 500 families," said United Nations Relief and Works Agency spokesman Christopher Gunness. "They were armed, they seized this, they took it by force," Gunness said, terming the incident absolutely unacceptable.
In the aftermath of the war, Fatah and Hamas are already fighting over who will distribute humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. Hamas is preventing Fatah activists from playing a role in the rebuilding of Gaza, and recently hijacked 12 trucks full of aid donated by the Jordanian government, meant for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.So this is the fight to watch next. Pay close attention to who rebuilds Gaza -- and how Hamas will seek to get credit for every bit of aid that is delivered to the people. That fight will help determine the long-term strategic effects of this latest spasm of violence.
Have three weeks of overpowering war by Israel here weakened Hamas as Israel had hoped, or simply caused acute human suffering?Remember, though, that yesterday we wrote of how states consistently overestimate the degree to which the population can or has any interest in disciplining armed actors in their midst:
There are ... limited indications that the people of Gaza felt such pain from this war that they will seek to rein in Hamas.As I read this article, it occurs to me that Israel is trying to figure out what they themselves did in a kind of ex post bellum way. Not sure if that is at all healthy.
Wael Abd Latef, 38, a bookshop owner from the Tal el-Hawa district of Gaza City, was convinced that the long days of bombardment have had little effect on Hamas. He abandoned his house five days ago with the arrival of Israeli tanks, and on Friday returned to check his property. "It's a war against the civilians. It's not against Hamas," he said. "They think that it's against Hamas, but it's not. The situation is a disaster for Palestinian people, not Hamas. Israel started the war against Palestinians. They imposed sanctions on Palestinians. Hamas demands the world just leave the siege and break the blockade on Palestinians by opening the curtains. Hamas spent a long time helping the Palestinian people here and worked for its interests.
"Hamas has the authority and the legitimacy to rule Gaza. I don't think the war affected Hamas that much. They destroyed everything, but Hamas is still there. Hamas will show its power when the war is over." He was scathing about the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, head of Fatah, whose term in office is ending.
Because I know the readership likes nothing more than a little social science on a Sunday morning, it's worth noting here that Yale super-nerd Stathis Kalyvas has determined states habitually overestimate the degree to which the population has influence over armed groups. And the use of indiscriminate force, such as artillery and air power? It rarely has the desired effect states intend. States opt to use indiscriminate force over more selective violence because the costs associated -- human and political -- are much lower. (For the state, anyway. Not for the taregeted population.) Factors such as a nation's strategic culture play into this as well.
John Paul Vann gets the last word:
This is a political war and it calls for discrimination in killing. The best weapon for killing would be a knife, but I'm afraid we can't do it that way. The worst is an airplane. The next worst is artillery. Barring a knife, the best is a rifle — you know who you're killing.
Gazans have noticed that there are bombs that produce mushroom clouds in various shades of red. Here, Garlasco admits, "I can only speculate. It looks like Israel is maybe using a new weapon that it was not using before: DIME - the dense inert metal explosive, consisting of 25 percent TNT and 75 percent tungsten, a heavy metal. You mix the two, in a fine grain, like pepper, and when the bomb hits the ground it aerosolizes. In less than a second, the mist dissipates and explodes."And he doesn't give a flip whether you're Israeli or Palestinian:
He says the advantage of DIME is that "it strikes a very small area, 10 to 20 meters, and the fire it ignites burns out very quickly; if it hits us now, we will die, but no one around us will be hurt. The problem is that when you are killed - you are ripped to shreds and there is nothing left."
Garlasco and Human Rights Watch also examine the other side, and he says, "We believe that the Grad and Qassam are illegal weapons because they are not accurate enough to be used in this situation." He adds that Hamas makes frequent use of land mines and explosive charges that are liable to injure civilians. ...Raise a glass to this man. He's doing the Lord's work in a land God has given up on.
In 2005, Garlasco met with a political representative of Hamas and told him that use of Grads is a contravention of the Geneva Convention. The reply he got from the Hamas man was: "'All Israelis are military.' And I explained to them that their reading of international law is wrong."