Thursday, March 12, 2009

How Israel Beat Hamas

David Eshel of Aviation Week reports that improved tactics, new weaponry and superb intelligence allowed a "conventional" military to defeat an asymmetric foe:

Israel used a variety of tactics to outflank and defeat Hamas in its own territory. These included long-term planning, meticulous intelligence-gathering, deception and disinformation. Although the attack had been prepared for weeks, operational security and a well-planned deception campaign took Hamas by surprise when it finally happened, despite Israel’s repeated warnings that the rocket attacks would trigger a war.

Operation Cast Lead began with devastating air strikes. The Israel Air Force (IAF) hammered targets in the Gaza Strip with jets and helicopters.

Prime targets were the Rafah tunnels under the Egyptian border, through which Hamas smuggled weapons and money, much of it from Iran (DTI February, p. 43). The IAF used sophisticated weapons including earth-penetrating bombs to destroy the “tunnel city.”

Among those weapons was the new PB500A1 from Israel Military Industries, a laser-guided hard-target penetration bomb based on the 1,000-lb. Mk-83 “dumb” bomb. It is reportedly capable of penetrating 2 meters (6.5 ft.) of reinforced concrete. Unconfirmed reports claim the IAF used Boeing’s GBU-39 small-diameter bomb for the first time. High-precision weapons were also deployed throughout the battle to destroy bunkers and weapon depots.

Following a week of precision bombing, the ground campaign opened with three infantry brigade task forces simultaneously entering the Gaza Strip from several directions. Four brigade commanders, all colonels, fought on the front lines with their troops throughout the two-week ground offensive in the northern Gaza Strip: Herzi Levy of the paratroopers brigade; Avi Peled of the Golani brigade; Ilan Malka of the Givati brigade; and Yigal Slovick of the 401st armored brigade.

The infantry brigades approached their objectives from unexpected directions, avoiding previously used routes in which Hamas created boobytrapped bunkers and tunnels. Slovick’s armored brigade, fielding the latest Merkava Mk4 main battle tank, raced unopposed to block access from Rafah and Khan Yunis to Gaza City, cutting supply lines to Hamas from the south.

UAVs also played a critical role, greatly enhancing situational awareness for commanders on the ground, and improving the accuracy--and timeliness--of supporting fires:

Each brigade combat team was assigned a UAV squadron for close support, with ground-control operators at forward headquarters calling in air strikes from standby attack helicopters and, if necessary, identifying targets to fixed-wing assets cruising over the combat zone. Aerial surveillance from Heron and Hermes 450 UAVs and Apache attack helicopters provided an unprecedented level of real-time close air support in response to time-critical targets. A high degree of situational awareness was achieved by maintaining at least a dozen UAVs in flight over Gaza at all times. These aircraft saved the lives of Israeli soldiers and civilians by detecting Hamas ambushes and rocket launch sites and directing aircraft, tanks and artillery to the targets.

One retired IDF general even said the Gaza campaign was "so successful" that it could become part of the "historic memory" of Middle East nations for years to come. In other words, the pounding inflicted on Hamas could deter other hostile powers (like Iran) and terrorist organizations (read Hizballah) from provoking Israel.

That may be a stretch, but a few things are readily apparent. First, the IDF took a hard look at its failed effort to "destroy" Hizballah in 2006, and incorporated necessary changes in hardware and tactics. Obviously, Gaza was a much different operation than the Lebanon campaign, but the integration of air and ground power was much more successful, and Israel's intelligence services were on top of their game.

Secondly, the Israeli military borrowed from the U.S. example in Iraq, putting real-time UAV imagery in the hands of tactical commanders. The technology described by Aviation Week sounds a lot like Rover, the laptop-based system that allows ground commanders to "see what the drone sees" and act accordingly. That's one reason that Israeli units were able to identify ambushes and booby-trapped structures before they could threaten friendly troops.

Mr. Eshel's article appeared one day before National Review ran an excerpt from a new book by David Kilcullen, the Australian counter-insurgency who served as a senior adviser to General David Petraeus in Iraq. Analyzing the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Kilcullen notes that the terrorists have proven resourceful and adaptive.

Over the past three years, Taliban elements have honed their skills in such tactics as ambushes, sniping and IEDs, while taking advantage of a clandestine network that combines "full time" fighters and local sympathizers. But Kilcullen notes that the Taliban is not without its weaknesses. Local commanders, fighting on the same ground for years, tend to follow set routines, with limited maneuver options (a product of habit and geography).

It's the same sort of pattern that helped seal the fate of Hamas in its showdown with the IDF. While comparisons between the Afghan War and the Gaza campaign must be drawn carefully, predictability can be fatal in any military operation.

Preparing for war with Israel, Hamas built its trap carefully, believing it could draw the IDF in kill zones at a time and place of its choosing. When the Israelis responded with innovative tactics, precision weaponry, precision intel and surprise, Hamas had no answer. As Kilcullen observes, the same tendencies can be exploited in Afghanistan, assuming that President Obama is actually committed to winning the war.


lgude said...

Wonderful analysis. I could sense a big difference in Israeli military strategy and tactics as well as media strategy (my main interest). This post is the first that I have read that gives me a clear understanding of what was transpiring on the ground. I find it hard to believe that Israel will just let Iran get the bomb and take their chances - but it is a big step. I don't think Obama will give them any help or encouragement. In one way Obama's election just makes it clearer to Israel that they are not going to get much help from the US. Given that bogus NIE and Bush's lack of political capital toward the end of his administration Israel wasn't going to get any help from him either. All hell will break lose if Israel attacks Iran, but I don't know if they have any choice.

Unknown said...

Brilliant entry. Just found your blog. Will keep coming by now.