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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William Lind on Iraq

One of the foremost theorists of Fourth Generation Warfare on why there is no Iraq:

The defining reality in Iraq is that there is no state. Because there is no state in Iraq, there is also no government. Orders issued in Baghdad have no impact because there are no state institutions to carry them out. Government institutions such as parliament and positions such as cabinet minister have no substance. Power comes from having a relationship with a militia, not a government office. The “Iraqi Security Forces” are groups of Shi’ite militias, which exist to fight other militias. They take orders from militia leaders, not the government. Government revenues are slush funds for militia leaders to pay their militiamen. The whole edifice Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus described exists only as a figment of the Bush administration’s imagination.

This is why Andrew Sullivan’s recent turn to “empirical” possible good news in Iraq is only good news for the Badr Corps Militia.  The government to the degree it exists (which isn’t much) exists to support the militias not the reverse.

Lind again:

In answer to a question before one of the committees, General Petraeus gave a particularly vivid example of how words disconnected from reality can deceive. (In this case the deception is no doubt self-deception.) He said, “We’ve got to continue. We have our teeth into the jugular, and we need to keep it [sic] there.” In a column in the April 13 Washington Post, David Broder wrote, “The general clearly likes that phrase, because he used it twice more during his visit to The Post.”

In Fourth Generation war, non-state opponents, such as those we face in Iraq and Afghanistan, have no jugular. They have no single point of vulnerability an opponent can hit to bring them down. (They may have such critical vulnerabilities internally, but only they can hit them, as al-Qaeda in Iraq seems to have done in alienating its Sunni base.) For outside forces such as ourselves, Fourth Generation war is war of the capillaries. What we have our teeth into in Iraq is a jellyfish.

The strategy of a unified non-sectarian Iraqi state with a strong central government is at odds both with what the Iraqi political actors themselves are doing and the surge/Awakening tactics.

Look at the reality.  The Iraqi Army is in essence The Peshmerga (Kurdish milita that controls/protects the Kurdish autonomous zone) and the Badr Corps (the milita that supports a Shia-autonomous zone in the South thereby disempowering the central gov’t).  The latter of which is trained and funded by Iran and the US simultaneously though those two are in the midst of saber rattling/proxy violence.  The US Army supported the creation of Sons of Iraq/Local Concerned Citizens Groups among the Sunnis–i.e. Militias.  And the Mahdi Army.  Another militia.  Making the US Army a Militia being used by other militias in a militia on militia fight.

The Sons of Iraq (i.e. formerly the Sunni Insurgency, Baathist and soft Islamist tribal) took out (mostly) the Salafi jihadist militia known as al-Qaeda Between the Two Rivers.  Maliki and the Badrists are in full throated intra-Shia civil conflict (which was predicted and inevitable) neither of whom the US should really have a stake in.  Both of whom will realign the second the US starts its withdrawal and the Sunni Sons of Iraq militia goes back after the Shia militias.

The central issue is the political reality does not match the military reality.  The guys who have power are the militias and Provincial Elections only hides this fact.  Namely that the pecking order is militia then government not the other way around.  And the US strategy and policy of keeping US troops in there (like McCain suggests) is predicated on flipping the mentality from militia-tribe-family-clan first to government first.  Get real.  Ain’t gonna happen.

Lind’s recommendations:

What should we do? First, we must understand what “winning” in Iraq means. It does not mean that Iraq becomes an American satellite. That remains the goal of the Bush administration and the neocons, but it is not and never was attainable.

Winning in Iraq simply means that a state re-emerges there. The rise of a new state in Iraq means defeat for al-Qaeda and other non-state entities, who are our real enemies. States don’t like competition, and real states do not permit non-state entities to exist on their territory (unless they are actually proxies the state plans to use against other states).

Second, we must accept the now well-proven fact that we cannot re-create a state in Iraq. We have tried for five years and we have nothing to show for it beyond 4,000 dead, tens of thousands wounded, and an empty treasury. The problem is legitimacy. Any state institutions we create or overtly support will not be accepted by the Iraqi people as legitimate. That is generally true of governments created and installed by foreign occupiers. The local response is, “Vichy ptui.”

A new state can only arise in Iraq independently of our efforts and indeed opposed to foreign occupation. We have to get out of the way and let it happen. It may not. There is no guarantee. There is, however, a guarantee that we cannot make it happen, so getting out of the way is the more promising road to victory. Strategy dictates that we come home, not as an acknowledgement of defeat but as a final bid to win.

Third, we must face the fact that a real Iraqi state is likely to be close to Iran. The solution is not to bomb Iran but to settle our differences—what diplomats call a rapprochement. Tehran has offered us a general settlement on quite generous terms. We should take them up on it. If the U.S. and Iran are no longer enemies, the fact that a new Iraqi state is allied with Iran is not a problem.