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The Changing Face Of War


Two weeks ago we suggested that Hamas officials had seized on Israel’s decision not to invade Gaza in the course of Operation Pillar of Defense as somehow demonstrating that Hamas was quite capable of taking on the Israeli military, and that the world, particularly the Palestinian street, should take notice.

As we said,

The Hamas bluster about having bested Israel in Operation Pillar of Defense should not be dismissed as typical Arab hyperbole.To be sure, Hamas leaders will know what really happened. According to a study issued by The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Israel confounded Hamas’s military at every turn, killed its military leader and much of its officer hierarchy and also destroyed most of its strategic assets. And the performance of the Iron Dome anti-missile system and overall civilian defense also proved impressive.

Yet Hamas officials are peddling the notion that Israel’s decision not to invade Gaza was a direct result of Hamas’s fierce resistance – despite the fact that Israel achieved its declared goals through the use of targeted air and naval power.

We went on to suggest that “there was method to their madness” in that they were seeking to engender an air of inevitability regarding both their short range success against PA President Mahmoud Abbas and their long-range prospects vis-à-vis Israel – in other words, the intention was to impress upon the U.S. and others that Hamas had eclipsed the PA and now stood as the only logical representative of Palestinian aspirations.

However, an analysis by Jerusalem Post military affairs correspondent Yaakov Lappin sheds important light on Israel’s strategy in Operation Pillar of Defense and provides important context to the apparent shift in Israeli tactics.

In “IAF Preparing Surprises for Enemies,” Mr. Lappin wrote:

Here’s a fact that helps illustrate the scope of the transformation washing over the Israeli Air Force these days…. Technological upgrades to weapons systems in fighter jets are creating new operational capabilities, which would have been seen as borderline fantasy just 15 years ago.

As a senior Air Force official stated…a single aircraft can now strike four different targets far away, with the push of one button, meaning that fewer sorties are required to level heavy damage on the enemy. The strike capabilities of several aircraft in the past are now possessed by a single warplane.

What all of this means is that the IAF is pushing ahead with its strategic assumption that offense, rather than defense, will be the decisive factor in the next confrontation, in which Hezbollah and its considerable arsenal of rockets may well be involved….

Furthermore, the source argued, Israel cannot pour vast amounts of money into defensive systems [such as Iron Dome] indefinitely. While active defense systems are vital, and have a direct bearing on offensive attacks, they cannot form the main reply to rocket threats, he said.

Hence, the IAF is sticking to the Ben Gurionesque doctrine of causing massive damage to the enemy and bringing the conflict to an end rapidly. Unfortunately, Ben Gurion’s principle of taking the fight to enemy territory can only be partially achieved these days, with the Israeli home front under a heavy rocket threat.

But short spells of fighting can be achieved through hitting the other side hard – far harder than the damage Hamas absorbed in November…. The source warned that the era of “knockout victories” in which enemies raise a white flag and surrender has long passed. In any future conflict, rockets will be fired into Israel until the last day of the conflict. But afterward, Hezbollah will have to “get up in the morning and explain to their people why they brought destruction to Lebanon,” the source said.

That’s what happened to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, which, despite its many shortcomings, cause such damage to southern Lebanon that Nasrallah has still not been able to repair all of it, 6 1/2 years on. In any future clash, the damage will likely be far more extensive.

So rather than representing a policy of hesitation and weakness, Israel’s decision not to invade Gaza as part of Operation Pillar of Defense marked a determination to rely almost exclusively on air power to inflict punishing levels of damage on the enemy and to return to classic notions of deterrence. It is, to be sure, an abandonment of a ground invasion approach that, frankly, has not worked. But while Israel certainly has the military capacity to retake Gaza, it would not be cost effective in terms of stopping rocket attacks.

We have long thought the wooden application of the conventional military doctrine that air power cannot work without “boots on the ground” was misplaced. Stopping Hamas and Hizbullah from firing rockets into Israel was never going to be accomplished by destroying both groups through bloody hand to hand combat. They are endemic to the area and would begin regrouping their forces and rebuilding their arsenals as soon as the IDF left.

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