4th Generation Warfare in Gaza: Hamas, Israel, and Creveldian Realistic Pessimissm

I don’t have much to say on the tragedy that is transpiring over in Israel/Gaza.

Only to say that it yet again proves the veracity of Martin Van Creveld’s thesis that since the nuclear age, since the end of WWII, big powers over time always lose against irregular, smaller, guerrillas groups.  e.g. The French in Indochina & Algeria; The British is Aden, Suez; The Americans in Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan; The Soviets in Afghanistan.  On and on the list goes.

The only LICs (Low-Intensity Conflicts) that are won by the big powers are when they are within their own country (The British in N.Ireland, NATO in Balkans?).  But counterinsurgencies in another country (e.g. Syria trying to police/control Lebanon) eventually wear out.  With the Israeli/Palestinian situation the question is:  is this a counterinsurgency of national liberation or an uprising within a country.  The schizoid nature of the conflict suggests a bit of both which is why it continues to both flare up repeatedly and yet can not force a withdraw from the Israelis (except to the pre-67 borders).

For those who don’t know Creveld, basically he argues that big powers (including Israel) build their armies for conventional state-state war, which is what they never fight.  They get themselves and their mammoth energy-hungry beasts of armies into rugged terrain, urban warfare (see US in Iraq), get their supply lines cut (see Taliban attacks on NATO convoys through Pakistan), and eventually are forced to withdraw.

If Israel sends in tanks to Gaza expect it turn very badly for the Israelis.  They will undoubtedly kill many more Palestinians.  Hamas can not beat the IDF in a straight-up fight which is why they won’t take them on that way.

Here is Creveld predicting/explaining a very bleak future for Israel indeed (from 2002):

Byrne: Thanks for joining us tonight on Foreign Correspondent. How has it come to this, Martin… how is it that the mighty Israeli army – one of the world’s most powerful – with its helicopter gunships, with its tanks, with it’s missiles, can be losing to this relatively small, relatively under-armed if fanatical group of Palestinians?

Van Creveld: The same thing has happened to the Israeli army as happened to all the rest that have tried over the last sixty years. Basically it’s always a question of the relationship of forces. If you are strong, and you are fighting the weak for any period of time, you are going to become weak yourself. If you behave like a coward then you are going to become cowardly – it’s only a question of time. The same happened to the British when they were here… the same happened to the French in Algeria… the same happened to the Americans in Vietnam… the same happened to the Soviets in Afghanistan… the same happened to so many people that I can’t even count them.

Byrne: : Martin you used the word ‘cowardly’ yet what we’ve seen tonight – these commando units, the anti-terrorist squads – these aren’t cowardly people.

Van Creveld: I agree with you. They are very brave people… they are idealists… they want to serve their country and they want to prove themselves. The problem is that you cannot prove yourself against someone who is much weaker than yourself. They are in a lose/lose situation. If you are strong and fighting the weak, then if you kill your opponent then you are a scoundrel… if you let him kill you, then you are an idiot. So here is a dilemma which others have suffered before us, and for which as far as I can see there is simply no escape. Now the Israeli army has not by any means been the worst of the lot. It has not done what for instance the Americans did in Vietnam… it did not use napalm, it did not kill millions of people. So everything is relative, but by definition, to return to what I said earlier, if you are strong and you are fighting the weak, then anything you do is criminal.

Update I: And just for the record, the US COIN (Counter-insurgendy Doctrine) is mostly smoke-and-mirrors.  Obama is looking to double down in Afghanistan and guaranteed that will end as badly as it will in Iraq. It generally (at best) is not really a counter-insurgency but a capitulation to the victory of smallish, more primitive groups, and simply plays one off against another (i.e. The Sunni Tribesmen versus al-Qaeda in Iraq).  In Afghanistan Petraeus is looking for a replication of the same thing with local Tribes against the Taliban.  All that does is further de-legitimize the state.  This will come at the expense of Hamid Karzai.

Update II: As Israel becomes more and more militarized societally, under the supposed existential threat (whether from homemade rockets in Gaza or the Iranian nuke-to-be, which as Creveld points out is not a real threat to Israel, they can deter and respond with total annihilation of Iran, so can the US), the constant state of low-grade fear, spiking to intense in certain moments, corrodes the political process.  This unsurprisingly comes at the moment of an upcoming Israeli election as the center/left (Kadima and Labour) parties look to fend off tough-guy talk from the right (Likud) and perhaps box incoming President Obama in on any peace process. The Israeli state is veering towards a major constitutional crisis and all-out legitimacy of itself as a state in the 21st century.

Heads I win, tails you lose. That is the game Hamas is playing.

Update III:  Right on cue, Haaretz reports Hamas wants Israeli to invade with ground forces.  Of course they do.  Suck them in, bleed them dry, swarm like insects biting and sucking the blood of an elephant.  The Israelis would be beyond stupid to fall for this gambit.

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