December 07, 2023

Petraeus says Israel should try U.S.-style counterinsurgency in Gaza

Source: Army Times

Journalists: Todd South, Meghann Myers

Jason Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told Military Times, “the only lesson on COIN that we as Americans have to offer or should be offering, is that one, we didn’t do it very well.”

Dempsey saw this first hand on two Afghanistan tours, one in 2009 when he served with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and later led Task Force Spartan coordinating COIN operations in Wardak and Logar provinces. He returned to Afghanistan from 2012-13 with the 101st Airborne Division as a combat advisor to the Afghan Border Police.


While Israel may not want that job, it might need to do it, at least temporarily, he said. That would require Israelis winning over Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to support that effort as a transitional Palestinian government takes shape.

That approach, Dempsey said, ignores major differences in Gaza as compared to U.S. efforts in recent wars.

“It’s not an internal fight,” he said. “These are two states that happen to be fighting.”

What can be learned from past U.S. COIN efforts, is how to avoid the allure of black-and-white narratives, Dempsey said. For years, U.S. leaders defined any Taliban association with Al Qaeda as meaning the Taliban, and anyone who worked with them was as much of an existential threat as Al Qaeda. That view prevented U.S. leaders from seeing ways to work with various groups to gain support.

“It’s COIN 101, treat civilians like an enemy and they’ll become an enemy, even if they’re not,” Dempsey said.

And the dynamic between Israelis and Palestinians is even more complicated.

“The narratives are so hardened, there’s just almost no way that Israel could walk in there and Israeli forces in any way shape or form be seen as anything other than occupiers,” Dempsey said.

Petraeus called the current combat campaign the “most fiendishly difficult and challenging urban operation since 1945.” But that operation could conclude in weeks or months. The longer, even more precarious effort, to gain Palestinian support through a counterinsurgency campaign, would take longer.

“And if you go in with that mindset, the way we did in Ramadi, Fallujah and the other Sunni areas, very sequentially and progressively, I think that the results will be better over time,” he said.

That kind of thinking ignores generations of conflict between Israel and Gaza, Dempsey said.

“In what universe does building a school compensate, ameliorate these generational struggles?” he said.

Any chance of success, Dempsey argued, would require an international coalition effort with a nation other than Israel or the United States in the lead.

Read the full story and more from Army Times.


  • Dr. Jason Dempsey

    Adjunct Senior Fellow, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

    Jason Dempsey is an Adjunct Senior Fellow of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Dr. Dempsey has written on American ...