The imperatives of war

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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert couldn't have looked more pathetic when he responded this week to a rocket attack on a day care center in Sderot by writing a letter of complaint to the United Nations. But what is he to do?



Olmert and his government colleagues are stumped. They are unwilling to pay the political price that comes with abandoning the defense of the western Negev to Palestinian rockets in Gaza. But they are also unwilling to pay the military and political price of launching a wide-scale ground campaign in Gaza.



In vain attempts to get themselves off the hot seat, they try to change the subject to Tony Blair's visit, or Condoleezza Rice's upcoming visit or the imaginary peace accord they might sign with Fatah terror chief Mahmoud Abbas someday. Then too, they beat their chests every time the IDF destroys a rocket launcher and threaten to stop supplying electricity to Gaza and start targeting Hamas commanders. They say all of this even though they know full well that nothing they are doing or talking about doing will prevent the Palestinians from attacking Israel.



This is so because nothing Israel is now doing or talking about doing will change the Palestinians' view that attacking Israel with rockets and mortars serves their interests. And nothing being done today or being considered for tomorrow will diminish their capacity to assault the Negev.



The Palestinians have good reasons to continue their attacks. Those attacks keep the Palestinians mobilized as a society against "the Zionist enemy." They also guarantee continued Iranian, Syrian, Egyptian and Saudi military and financial support for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah.



Furthermore, the Kassam barrages advance the Palestinians' long-term strategic goal of fomenting the collapse of Israeli society. By maintaining their offensive they daily portray the government and the IDF as impotent in the eyes of Israel's citizenry. Israeli society, in turn, is demoralized and its demoralization induces a sense of lost sovereignty and powerlessness that legitimates and prolongs the paralysis of the IDF and the government. The enemy, of course, uses this paralysis to enhance its offensive capabilities and reinforce its legitimacy in the eyes of its society.



With those rationales for striking, it is obvious that the Palestinians will continue to assault Israel with rockets and mortars for as long as they can. And given the nature of its enemy it is similarly clear that Israel must take away the Palestinians' ability to attack its territory.



There is only one way to achieve this goal. The IDF must take the western Negev out of rocket range by conquering northern Gaza. It must cut off the Palestinians' supply lines by retaking control over Gaza's border with Egypt. And the IDF must establish a two-kilometer-wide security zone within Gaza along its border with Israel to prevent terrorist infiltrations.



Unfortunately, it is hard to see either the government or the IDF General Staff agreeing to take this necessary action. Over the past several years, some dubious notions about the nature of 21st century warfare have taken hold of Israel's military and political decision-making circles. These notions have ensnared them in a conceptual trap that convolutes their debates and obfuscates imperative choices they are duty-bound to make.



THIS CONCEPTUAL trap is set-forth and defended in a book published this year by the University of Haifa. Diffused Warfare: The Concept of Virtual Mass, was authored by former Navy Commander Vice Admiral (ret.) Yedidia Groll-Yaari and strategist Haim Assa. Briefly, the work argues that "classical" military doctrines built around linear battles of massed columns of conventional forces are no longer relevant today. Yaari and Assa claim that in asymmetric conflicts against sub-state guerrilla and terror forces, control of territory is not necessarily desirable and as a result, maneuver warfare that concentrates forces in one place with the aim of destroying enemy forces is antiquated and serves mainly to complicate matters. I



n their view, rather than seeking to control territory, the militaries of democratic states should reorganize around the concept of stand-off battles predicated on precision weaponry. Those weapons, backed by network centricity which enables near unimpeded information flow to commanders in the rear, can create virtual mass by assaulting multiple, dispersed enemy targets simultaneously, and so foment systemic shock. After the initial systemic shock of enemy forces is induced, repeated precision attacks will prevent the enemy from reorganizing to fight effectively. In light of this, militaries today should organize around their air and special forces components, which can move rapidly in and out of target areas.



As the IDF's pinpoint attacks in Gaza today, and in Lebanon last summer show, the IDF and the government share Yaari's and Assa's view. The problem unfortunately is that their view is incorrect.



First of all, it isn't true that classical warfare was based as a rule on concentration of mass and linear battle lines. From the times of Joshua, Gideon and Alexander the Great, military commanders have conducted successful campaigns which defeated their enemies by fomenting systemic shock. Throughout the ages, if there has been one rule of thumb for battlefield success, it has been to apply your strengths against your opponent's weaknesses – whether through frontal assaults, sieges, psychological operations or aerial bombardments.



Moreover, whether control of territory is necessary or not is a function of the nature of the enemy and of the society from which it operates. In World War II, Allied forces did not need to occupy liberated France after they overran it because the local population did not oppose them.



In 2003, the Americans successfully overthrew Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq through a diffused "shock and awe" campaign that did not involve occupying and controlling the country. The Americans erred in failing to recognize the potential for resistance among the Iraqis and Iraq's neighbors Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Due to their misreading of the intentions and aspirations of disgruntled Iraqis and their neighbors, the Americans did not take control of the country or secure its borders and so allowed insurgent forces to develop and take hold of territory from which they launched their insurgency.



Yaari and Assa uphold the IDF's 2002 Defensive Shield campaign in Judea and Samaria as proof that diffused warfare doctrines can replace conventional maneuver forces doctrines. Yet Defensive Shield involved massed concentration of IDF forces, not virtual mass. The IDF used maneuver forces to retake control over Palestinian urban centers in Judea and Samaria. That control has been maintained ever since. If Defensive Shield and the American experiences in Iraq tell us anything, they tell us that massed and diffused warfare doctrines complement one another. They are not mutually exclusive.



The Second Lebanon War similarly exposed the importance of controlling territory. The IDF's General Staff deployed its forces in various areas which they never actually conquered or controlled. As a result, it was impossible to build or sustain logistical supply lines to support their efforts. Units were forced to disengage from the enemy in the midst of battles to evacuate wounded and dead comrades. The need to airdrop rations, water and ammunition to units in the field exposed them to enemy fire.



Finally there is the issue of systemic shock. The diffused warfare doctrine asserts that the chaos induced by the simultaneous stand-off bombing of multiple targets can induce the paralysis of enemy forces. But this is not necessarily true. Guerrilla forces, by their very nature, thrive in chaotic environments. In their case, the most effective way of inducing
systemic shock and paralysis is often through the imposition of order. And a precondition for imposing order is exerting control over territory.



YAARI AND Assa admit that the doctrine of diffused warfare was not developed as a result of military imperatives, but as a consequence of political constraints. Here they acknowledge that contrary to the claims of the political Left, military and political ends are integrally linked. The question though is how should this linkage influence military planning and operations? For Assa and Yaari the answer is clear.



In their words, "By the start of the 21st century the international legitimacy of armed conflict had become a dominant consideration in the decisions of states to go to war. The status, indeed the very existence, of international courts for war criminals is indicative of the primacy of this factor. Furthermore, domestic opposition to military force that risks the lives of innocent civilians is no longer a marginal phenomenon and has come to have a significant impact on national decision making processes. Thus two factors – international legitimacy and the aversion to operations that intentionally or unintentionally endanger the lives of non-combatants – now largely determine the operability of concrete military actions."



And herein lies the root of the difficulty that the IDF and the government experience in confronting Gaza and Israel's enemies in general today. Yaari and Assa, and like them the IDF and the government, perceive both domestic and international political constraints as static, absolute and determinative. But they are none of these things. As Israel proved in Defensive Shield, it is possible to conduct maneuver warfare and seize and maintain control over territory in spite of political opposition.



As the US military's current surge operations in Iraq demonstrate, military successes on the ground, properly represented by military commanders and political leaders, can change domestic and international perceptions of the legitimacy of prolonged military campaigns.



The relative power of forces as varied as the White House, the UN, leftist internationally funded NGOs like Peace Now and Four Mothers to determine the effectiveness of military campaigns is not preordained. It is a function of the will of governments and nations and the competence of their military forces operating on the ground.



There is no doubt that when fighting a foe that seeks to elude direct contact with one's military forces, it is often necessary to conduct diffused campaigns with no clear center of gravity in order to expose and defeat its hidden forces. But there is also no question that the imperative of suiting one's forces to meet the challenges of dynamic battlefields does not cancel the need to field maneuver units capable of conquering and controlling territory.



When confronting the enemy in Gaza today, no new super-modern, new-fangled doctrines that simply distort the nature of battle through the ages can deny the simple truth: If Israel wishes to defend its sovereignty and its citizenry, it cannot rely on precision weapons. It must seize and maintain control over northern Gaza and southern Gaza, and establish a security zone inside of Gaza along the border with Israel.

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