Israel goes for regime change in Gaza

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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Stirling Newberry


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  • Ramsey county, (St. Paul) MN has a total area of 170 square miles (441 km²) and a population of 530,000 …

    Gaza Strip has a total area of 360 square kilometers (139 sq mi) with a population of (July 2007 estimate) 1,481,080 …

    The U.S. is a party, directly, to murder, as in, for example Condi Rice’s statement 1/2/09 that no cease fire would be “acceptable” to the U.S. unless Hamas acceded to our conditions (stopped retaliating against Israel).

  • While the above analysis is essentially sound in most of its claims, there is, as always in this conflict, much more to the story that needs to be added.

    First, while it’s true that Israel set Hamas up for failure, it goes far beyond that. There’s reason to believe that the US actually conspired to destabilize the Hamas government with violence shortly after the 2006 elections, and, after offering to recognize Israel in early 2006 and being obviously spurned, Hamas pursued attacks on Israel not so much from incentives but, from its own point of view, out of necessity. One has to ask whether any legitimate government (since Hamas was democratically elected)might in fact have the right to attack at least military targets in any other nation that has enforced a virtual blockade of airspace, port, and land borders on the first nation. The fact that Hamas lacks any real military capability, backers or not, doesn’t justify its turning to targeting civilian areas but certainly makes its terrorism more understandable when so many Gazan children have been killed by disproportionate Isreali responses (and, in fact, there’s evidence that Israel has targeted Gazan civilians as well in the past).

    It is absolutely true that Israel would be in a weak position militarily without the cumulative untold billions of dollars in military aid from the US, but I think there’s more reason to believe that the Gazans who support resistance against Israel are less influenced by outside backers than by the need for their own survival. The problem with establishing “justification” on any side in this conflict is finding an “original sin” that cannot in some way be attributed to a prior transgression by the other side. That’s what happens when a conflict continues on and off for almost 100 years, and that’s why the relatively clean slate that led to the near-success of Taba negotiations (while failing in Camp David) needs to be revived.

    I totally agree that Israel’s invasion will be ultimately self-defeating and that, without the involvement of such major backers as the US, any solution is unlikely.

  • There is another theory that might also be operative. It is based on cost-benefit. An insurgency can only operate successfully with the support of the population.

    The insurgency gets this in one of two ways. or both — carrot and stick (positive and negative reinforcement). Those who cooperate are rewarded and those who don’t are punished. It’s more costly to the population not to cooperate than cooperate, so they cooperate with the insurgency at least minimally.

    The alternative theory is to make is more costly for the population to cooperate with the insurgency than not by showing them that cooperation involves massive destruction, casualties, and deaths.

    The downside of the alternative theory is that inflames the populace, so that they are driven to the insurgency. Then the only alternative is their annihilation.

  • I’m not seeing any resolution either.

    BTW, where’s Obama on this? Hiding behind the “we can only have one President at a time” thingee?

    Or does it come down to this: no sitting President has the clout to go against AIPAC. Presidential candidates who do will have their campaigns cut off – no media coverage, character assassination by the press. Sitting presidents will have their agendas derailed, and suffer character assassination by a press all too willing to take marching orders from AIPAC and other conservative think tanks.

    Could it be, that when it comes to AIPAC, Obama is just as powerless as Hamas?

    Or could it be that Israel attacked while Bush is still in office, because it would have been much harder to have the USA appear unified with them under an Obama administration?

    I would like to think the latter, but fear the former may actually be closer to the truth. We’ll find out in a few short weeks, won’t we?

    As for the targeting: there’s no way to separate the militants from the people of Gaza, and with such a dense population, the results are going to continue to be tragic. The women, the elderly, the children, who have no idea about war and politics, they are the ones who are paying with their lives and their blood for this war. And that is, as it always has been, intrinsically, unarguably, completely wrong.

    No good guys coming out of this scenario, I’m afraid.

  • …doctrine of counter-guerrilla warfare is Isolate, Concentrate Annihilate derived?

    “The absence of any US-Iran bilateral channel…may have the perverse effect of reinforcing Iranian interest in progressing in the nuclear realm so that the US will be forced to take it seriously and engage it directly.” ~ Richard Haass

  • …the genesis of this notion is, in terms of the theoretical underpinnings as expressed by COIN practitioners. I’ve seen Stirling, Ian and a couple other “affiliated” [for lack of a better word] folks state a couple of times that Isolate, Concentrate, Annihilate is the basic doctrine (or perhaps better expressed as the basic grand strategy, but I’m not sure in what precise sense “doctrine” is meant here) of counter-guerrilla warfare, but I’m not so sure that the notion has that wide a constituency amongst practitioners – as an example, they tend to be rather strongly down on the utility of firepower as a COIN tool. Given all that I’d certainly appreciate any insights Stirling can provide as to where the ICA precept came from.

    “The absence of any US-Iran bilateral channel…may have the perverse effect of reinforcing Iranian interest in progressing in the nuclear realm so that the US will be forced to take it seriously and engage it directly.” ~ Richard Haass

  • It seems to me that the real question here is whether “guerrilla” warfare in Gaza can in any real way be compared to the more classic definition, for example, in Vietnam, where the Viet Cong, while perhaps implicitly supported by some of the population simply because of the predatory corruption of the South Vietnamese government forces, was nevertheless a ruthless, doctrinaire movement that also oppressed civilians with need. In Vietnam, the Marines actually made substantial progress in anti-insurgency programs (eventually scrapped because of the expense and more newsworthy search and destroy tactics) that strengthened peasant villages and gave them development aid to the detriment of both the VC and ARVN.

    But Hamas, unlike your classic guerrilla movement, is the elected government of Gaza. While its religious orthodoxy (which has moderated to some extent) may separate it from much of the population of Gaza, I think there’s reason to believe Hamas is seen less as an “insurgent” group by Gazans than as a resistance movement against a universally hated oppressor, especially when you consider that Fatah discredited itself long ago with its corruption and callousness while Hamas was actually providing essential services to a destitute population under occupation.

    Based on its own propaganda, Israel may treat Hamas as a guerrilla movement, but once the IDF sets foot in Gaza, all I can see is another attack on an entire people that have already been brutalized since 1967. This is the possible interpretation that neither our media nor Obama is willing even to consider.

  • I’ve been perturbed by Obama’s silence, and i also fear that the reason is your former. He hasn’t been silent on domestic/economic issues, which leads me to believe that he is hiding behind the “one president at a time” meme. Worse, Bush has basically said that it’s Obama’s problem, so if the current president has no issue with the next president taking on the problem, then where is the next president?

    And i don’t expect him to come out and condemn Israel, cut off aid, or give a rousing speech for the Palestinian cause. But i do expect leadership, if not actual than moral and philosophical.

    I’m afraid that his silence speaks unfortunate volumes about what we’re really getting come Jan 20. (And i’m becoming less and less disappointed to give up my inauguration tickets.)

  • Obama is either afraid of AIPAC et al or he doesn’t know what to do. His silence may not be entirely negative. At least, he hasn’t given vocal support to the Gaza atrocity committed by Israel. He may use this period to think things through to avoid making a statement that puts the Arab world on fire.

    Tolerating prostitution is tolerating abuse and torture of women and children.

  • is hoped by me to be a good sign. If he is really as smart, as in intelligent as in knowing the better, the right thing to do, he will finally end the unwavering, unconscionable support the USA has given the atrocities perpetrated by Israel and work work work to end the conflict. one way or another. It’s the really smart thing to do. The editor of the Lebanon Daily Star was on NPR and he said Obama must be involved, and has to start with Syria and the other states,[return the Golan Heights, etc.,] then go to Palestine. No way of making peace in the place now. makes sense to me. My Palestinian brother in law says the same. peace now? no way.

    1700: “Abolish slavery!”
    1800: Woman’s Suffrage!”
    2000:”World Peace!”

    WASHINGTON — In unleashing a series of punishing attacks in Gaza last week, Israel clearly aimed to hand Hamas a defeat from which it could not recover anytime soon.

    The campaign may succeed, experts here and in Israel say, but it could also backfire. Either way, the political consequences could reverberate throughout the Middle East, all the way to Iran, and help determine the ability of President-elect Barack Obama to pursue his stated goals of calming the Middle East through diplomacy.

    While Israeli leadership was not stating wider goals, there was clearly hope in the country — as tanks and troops massed late in the week — that the assault in Gaza would do more than just stop the rocket fire with which Hamas had broken a cease-fire last month. The larger hope was that subduing Hamas would delegitimize the group’s leadership in the eyes of the Palestinian people and eliminate its power to prevent a two-state solution. Already last week, it was exposing political, ethnic and sectarian divisions in the region that Israel, like the United States, had long sought to exploit.

    In a highly optimistic scenario for Israel and the United States, a clear victory for Israel would make it easier for Egypt, Jordan and countries farther afield to declare common cause against Islamic militancy and its main sponsor in the region, Iran.

    Then, as Martin S. Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel, argued, an international peacekeeping force made up of Turkish and Arab troops could clear the way for a restoration of political control in Gaza by President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Fatah movement and is titular president of all Palestinians, but in reality is the weak leader of only the West Bank.

    Tolerating prostitution is tolerating abuse and torture of women and children.

  • WAPO excerpt:

    Bush Is Conciliatory in Accepting Victory of Hamas

    By Glenn Kessler
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, January 27, 2006; A15

    President Bush accepted the stunning election results in the Palestinian territories yesterday with a conciliatory tone, saying the landslide victory of the militant Islamic group Hamas was rejection of the “status quo” and a repudiation of the “old guard” that had failed to provide honest government and services.

    “There’s something healthy about a system that does that,” Bush said at a news conference. He reiterated that he will not work with Hamas, formally known at the Islamic Resistance Movement, as a “partner of peace” until it renounces its goal of destroying Israel and disarms its militias. But he left unsaid what a Hamas-led government will mean for the distribution of U.S. financial assistance and for American involvement in trying to reach a peace deal.

    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also put on a brave face, saying “we still have every reason for hope and for optimism” because voter turnout was high and free from violence. She said the Palestinian people were “expressing their desire for change,” because they “have endured governance that was, by all accounts, not meeting their needs.”

    The upbeat rhetoric belied the fact that the election outcome was the opposite of what the administration had hoped would happen. Behind the scenes, U.S. officials scrambled to survey the wreckage of their Middle East policy.

    The Bush administration has spent nearly $500 million in the past year to bolster the Palestinian Authority and the ruling Fatah party, which was nonetheless crushed by Hamas at the polls.

  • He fought the first succesful anti-insurgency in this manner.
    And in the process invented the concentration camp.

    He fought against a rural insurgency. Urban ones are more difficult.

  • described at World History of Warfare. Of course he was confronting a standing opposition – well, a floating one – and used the strategy to advantage. The same technique was used in the decisive naval victory of the Russo-Japanese War.

    Of course, highly mobile insurgencies have used the same approach to get behind an advancing army and cut off their supplies and/or their principal means of retreat. (Iraq.)

  • Synoia, you’re correct. I was just referring to the aftermath of the 6 Days War. You could actually go back further to the 1920s, when Arab tenant farmers were dispossessed by Zionist purchases of land from absentee arab landowners.

  • The above article is vintage New York Times: biased reporting masquerading as even handed analysis. For starters, most sources of commentary, like Martin Indyk and WINEP, are presented as neutral rather than pro-Israel. Such statements as “(Iran) sponsors Hamas and Hezbollah not only to torment Israel, etc.” (as if Israel’s torment in any way resembles Gaza’s) and “an international peacekeeping force made up of Turkish and Arab troops could clear the way for a restoration of political control in Gaza by President Mahmoud Abbas” (as if restoring Abbas and the corrupt Fatah is a positive development) cannot be considered signs of “balanced” reporting. The problem is that the supposedly liberal and cosmopolitan New York Times pretty much sets the gold standard for the “enlightened” press.

  • Israeli Arabs learn they are vulnerable to Gaza rockets, but have nowhere to hide

    RAHAT, Israel (AP) — A rocket exploded a few hundred yards from Mateb Abu Nasr’s house, driving home the message that tens of thousands of Israeli Arabs living within range of militant attacks from Gaza are just as vulnerable as their Jewish neighbors.

    But there’s a difference: When the wailing sirens warned of an incoming missile, Abu Nasr’s family had nowhere to hide.

    Homes in Jewish towns and settlements are required to have one room with reinforced walls and a steel door. Public bomb shelters are accessible, and protective barriers even have been erected in rural areas.

    The Arab town of Rahat, population 45,000, is about 24 miles from Gaza and is situated on the outer perimeter reachable by the long-range rockets that Hamas has unleashed for the first time. Few homes here have a safety room, and there are no public shelters

    “This is clear discrimination,” said Hassan el-Rafia, an Arab regional official, who says the lack of defenses is typical of the way Israel treats its Arab citizens. Arabs comprise about 20 percent of Israel’s population of 7 million people.

    Tolerating prostitution is tolerating abuse and torture of women and children.

  • Barack Obama’s chances of making a fresh start in US relations with the Muslim world, and the Middle East in particular, appear to diminish with each new wave of Israeli attacks on Palestinian targets in Gaza. That seems hardly fair, given the president-elect does not take office until January 20. But foreign wars don’t wait for Washington inaugurations.

    Obama has remained wholly silent during the Gaza crisis. His aides say he is following established protocol that the US has only one president at a time. Hillary Clinton, his designated secretary of state, and Joe Biden, the vice-president-elect and foreign policy expert, have also been uncharacteristically taciturn on the subject.

    But evidence is mounting that Obama is already losing ground among key Arab and Muslim audiences that cannot understand why, given his promise of change, he has not spoken out. Arab commentators and editorialists say there is growing disappointment at Obama’s detachment – and that his failure to distance himself from George Bush’s strongly pro-Israeli stance is encouraging the belief that he either shares Bush’s bias or simply does not care.

    Tolerating prostitution is tolerating abuse and torture of women and children.

  • Remember that Bush managed to take the sympathy and goodwill of 9/11 and squander it within two years.

    So I wouldn’t worry too much about Obama losing that battle in the next two weeks.

    “The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential.”

    – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  • Nelson was fighting the French. Not an insurgency. No supply lines either.

    Hiighly moble insurgencis do no such thing as “get behind an advancing army and cut off their supplies”. That’s standard warefare with fixed armies (or navies), with insurgents. In an insurgency the army can turn on its supply lines, which they cannot do facing another army.

    Insurgencies are “hit and run”. Or,
    He who fights & runs aways,
    lives to fight another day.

  • …analogous tactics would be today. For example, large scale population movement and detention in a modern media environment would seem to me pretty much impossible to carry off. Similarly, it seems pretty unlikely that any modern technology heavy, manpower light western force is going to be able to sustain sufficient forces to segment the battlespace the way they did, given modern population levels and militarily relevant technologies. Perhaps most importantly, these were near peer forces – the asymmetries were nowhere near as pronounced as is common today. At the end of the day Boer forces were (in my opinion at least) far more conventional than are most modern guerrilla forces.

    I tend to think that it’s pretty rare that one is going to be able to win against an even halfway competent modern insurgency by seeking to apply firepower to destroy insurgent forces in detail. Instead, I tend to think that one is going to have engage in population centred strategies to “out-compete” them – definitely a longer-term endeavour and a lot more indirect, but one that has a lot higher probability of success in most circumstances that modern western armies are likely to find themselves.

    “The absence of any US-Iran bilateral channel…may have the perverse effect of reinforcing Iranian interest in progressing in the nuclear realm so that the US will be forced to take it seriously and engage it directly.” ~ Richard Haass

  • I don’t think this is a black/white statement…

    Sustained military force kills people… the short term winds up reducing the number of insurgents. The medium or long term trend may be to increase the number of insurgents, but that is not a foreordained conclusion.

    The only thing that is certain, is that the policy as a whole does not seem to be working… but there’s a lot of moving parts. You shouldn’t blame the military for the failure of politicians.
    Of COURSE you can trust the US Government! Just ask the Indians.

  • The Muslim world likes Obama more than any incoming US president in history… and he doesn’t take money from lobbyists. Israel sees this as bad for their interests. Not only might Obama not side with Israel, but he can’t be bribed either.

    The best option for Israel? Put Obama in a position where he loses goodwill amongst Americans and the world. If they invade Gaza, Obama either has to support Bush’s policies, or speak out against them before he’s president. No matter what Obama says or does, he will lose standing.

    Being silent is the least damaging option for Obama…
    Of COURSE you can trust the US Government! Just ask the Indians.

  • obama isn’t paying taxes on property he supposedly owns. obama is a fraud; he admitted that his books are composites that don’t reflect reality.

  • – EOM

    “The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential.”

    – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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