The basic doctrine of counter-guerilla warfare is Isolate, Concentrate, Anihilate. Separate guerrillas from the population, drive them into a small area, and use superior fire power to destroy them. Israel has skipped the first step, and is attacking Gaza on the theory that now that Hamas is concentrated, it is time to use all possible force to destroy them.
It is very likely that they will do horrific damage – to the moderate wing of Hamas. To the wing of Hamas that had designs on being a political party leading a state. However, to the violent wing of Hamas, which may morph into another organization, the offensive is almost calculated to create a permanent terrorist movement.
Counter-guerilla doctrine is based on the belief that a guerilla movement is supported by an active small core, but tolerated or approved of by a larger body of citizens. There are two tasks to defeating this dynamic. One is to destroy as much of the small core as possible, but the other is to destroy the willingness of the larger majority to tolerate it. One reason that Hamas had turned to missile vandalism and terrorism – one should not confuse the two – is that it was slipping politically. By reacting militarily, and this is long before this invasion, Israel managed to fuse the two parts back together again.
Israel’s strategy, and the global strategy, was to set Hamas up for failure as a government, by denying aid, trade, and recognition. In a sense this worked but it also created an incentive for Hamas to leave the system of diplomacy, and to accept aid from quarters that wanted to see continued war. Had Hamas not been blockaded, and had it been told by it’s backers that missile attacks were unacceptable, we would not be here.
In the current debate the focus has been on whether Israel is “justified” in attempting to eradicate Hamas. The answer is that it is justified in the sense that this is a state matter, and not justified in the sense that there were other, better, alternatives. But it is not Hamas, nor is it Israel, which is driving the conflict. Neither Hamas, nor Israel, could continue in the current form if not backed by larger outside interests. The economic base of Israel is not large enough to support a military which is at just below US or NATO levels of equipment, and only just. It supports because of aid, trade, and recognition from the US.
Thus if this conflict is to have a solution, it will come, not from the success or failure of a ground operation, nor from the warring parties, but from those who see this proxy war as being in their interests.
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