A regular army has bases and camps that can be identified and attacked. A jihad organization – in contrast – can live and operate in an ordinary neighborhood, among the people, the elderly and the children. How can the jihadists be identified? How is it possible to attack them without harming others who are not involved in the action?
Jihad organizations change their structure frequently: some groups join, others break off and form new organizations, while the objectives are only partly shared. The great structural fluidity of the organizations also poses a challenge to intelligence organizations, because information that was collected last month with great difficulty, may no longer be relevant today because of the splitting or joining of other groups to the organization.
Another aspect of the character of jihad organizations is the importance of the leader, the commander. In a military unit, if the enemy succeeds in eliminating the commander and the level of officers that surrounds him, the unit will usually continue to function, albeit partly and not with total effectiveness. In jihad organizations, the leader is very important for the functionality of the organization, but from the operational point of view almost any member of the group can replace him. Therefore the elimination of the head of a jihad organization does not usually cause paralysis and elimination of the organization. The best example of this is the al-Qaeda organization: bin Laden was forced into hiding since the end of 2001 and was ultimately eliminated. Did the organization cease to function when Osama bin Laden – and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri – went underground?
But the greatest advantage that a jihad organization has over a regular army is that a jihad organization does not impose upon itself the legal and moral constraints that international law and conventions require from a regular army. Jihadi propaganda enlists the Almighty as a reinforcing player, while a regular army musters its soldiers by means of a human message – be it national, patriotic or civil.
These properties of jihad organizations give them a great advantage over state military organizations, which explains why it is jihad organizations,contrary to what one might expect, that have succeeded in toppling the Syrian police state and bringing down the bloody, cruel and totalitarian regime, which describes the regime of Assad ever since Hafez Assad rose to power in November 1970. All of the tanks, aircraft, missiles, and even chemical weapons, did not avail the regime against the hundreds of militias that were armed with much simpler weapons but imbued with religious belief, that their comrades are willing to die at any moment and therefore the threat of death is ineffectual. On the contrary: the more cruelty that the regime exhibited , the greater the motivation of the jihadists to topple it, even at the cost of their lives.
The army of a state fighting jihadist groups must match itself to the situation in the field. When the laws of conventional warfare are not observed by one side, the other side cannot be expected to limit itself to the accepted laws of warfare according to the Geneva Convention. A military that restricts itself to international law and tries to fight against a militia that does not limit itself to this law has lost the battle before it has begun.
A state that wants to survive within a jihadist environment must suit its intelligence gathering means to the conduct of jihad organizations, whether by the internet or civil communications networks. Intelligence gatherers must be flexible regarding dialects and languages that serve the jihad organizations, otherwise they will be deaf and will not be able to track the operatives.
A state that wants to survive in the jihadist area must find a way to plant its agents inside the organizations or enlist agents who are already inside. Sometimes it is not possible to obtain true information by any other means, especially regarding information about the intention to carry out terror attacks.
In summary, it can be said that the collapse of Syria proves that guerrilla war can be more effective than conventional war, and uncompromising jihad that does not constrain itself to international law can bring down even a cruel and dark regime such as the Syrian regime, which also does not constrain itself to observe human rights. How can a state that constrains itself to the laws of warfare and the principles of human rights survive against jihad organizations that do not limit themselves in any way?
About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.
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