The Descending Spiral: Why Israel’s Attack on Gaza Is Wrong.
From a tactical standpoint, Israel is terribly misguided in its actions in Gaza. If the goal of Israel truly is to stop the rocket fire from Hamas and keep their citizenry secure, then the primary goal should be marginalizing Hamas, a political organization and terrorist group that runs Gaza. The best way to defeat a terrorist organization? Using the doctrine of counterinsurgency (COIN), as espoused by experts such as Andrew Krepenivich and David Kilcullen. However, Israel not only ignores elementary counterinsurgency methodology, but does the exact opposite. For short lived tactical gains, they sacrifice the peace that might come from long term strategy.
A ten second history lesson on Hamas: Hamas is an Islamic Sunni organization which was founded in the 1980s as an offshoot of the Muslim brotherhood. Its closely affiliated military wing has launched attacks on Israel for years. Though leadership within Hamas has vacillated over the years, the general stance is that Hamas will not recognize the existence of Israel. Hamas was indeed elected by the Palestinian people in 2006 - meaning it won a majority in the Palestinian parliament - and was meant to form a national unity government with Fatah, a more moderate political party. In 2007 this unified government failed amidst violent clashes between Hamas and Fatah, and Hamas took over Gaza. It has ruled the territory ever since. However, its approval rating is at an all time low.
Modern day COIN states that the key to defeating an insurgent group is to secure the support of the people through which it migrates. You do not make killing as many insurgents as possible your priority, as more insurgents will always replace them. The people are the medium through which the insurgents move, and if you can win them over, you will greatly marginalize the insurgents, and most important of all, cut off their source of continuous replenishment as people cease to join their cause. The absolute cornerstone of counterinsurgency is the peace and security of the civilian populace.
The war in Iraq is the most recent example of the efficacy of this strategy. Despite the painful backsliding Iraq is going through now, back in 2006-2009 this seriously worked to curtail insurgency throughout Iraq. That’s a massive story in its own right, and for more on that, I highly recommend Thomas Ricks’ book The Gamble. Suffice to say in 2006, General Petraeus and Kilcullen, his advisor, put together a counterinsurgency manual and retrained all the army leaders in its methods. Despite a bloody year, by Summer 2007 American losses began to drop sharply as the strategy began to take effect. The core was this:
- The more force you use, the less secure and effective you are.
- Think twice before launching a raid and consider the consequences.
- Treat civilians with respect.
- Do not hole up in big bases.
- Do not be provoked. Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction.
- Do not abuse prisoners.
- Do not take relatives of suspected insurgents hostage.
- Gain and maintain national support for a protracted deployment.
- Most importantly, establish security of the civilian populace.
The blast from the Israeli strike was so powerful that it threw an iron door clear over several neighboring houses…When the strike leveled a four-story house in the southern Gaza Strip the night before, it also killed 25 members of four family households — including 19 children — gathered to break the daily Ramadan fast together. Relatives said it also killed a guest of the family, identified by an Israeli human rights group as a member of the Hamas military wing, ostensibly Israel’s target. The attack was the latest in a series of Israeli strikes that have killed families in their homes, during an offensive that Israel says is meant to stop militant rocket fire that targets its civilians and destroy Hamas’s tunnel network.
…Of those who lived in the house, only four people survived, three men who had gone to pray, and Tawfik Abu Jameh’s toddler, shielded by the body of his mother. The children killed ranged in age from 4 months to 14 years, and included an adopted orphan whose father had been killed in an Israeli strike. One of the survivors, Bassam Abu Jameh, lay on a mat with a broken leg, his eyes rimmed with red. His wife, Yasmeen; two brothers; and three children, Batool, 5, Sohaila, 3, and Bassam, 1, had all been killed. “There is nothing left,” he said, pressing his hand to his eyes. “It is the end for us.” He closed his eyes, lying still and letting his neighbors continue the account. After a while, he opened them again and announced, in a shaky voice: “I will marry again four times, and I will have 10 sons with each wife, and they will all be in the resistance.”
This is what Israel is doing. This is what ignoring counterinsurgency tactics does. It lights a flame, a bonfire of hatred in the civilian populace. It ensures the violence will continue into the foreseeable future.
Perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr., said it best.
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
I am not an expert and I do not have all the answers. How best could Israel enact the tenants of COIN to give peace and security to the Gazan people? What facilities and services could they provide to the people of Gaza, and how could they keep their people safe while doing so? These questions and dozens more would need to be meticulously addressed. But I do know this. To the letter, Israel is doing everything, that the manual of counterinsurgency says not to do.
I am not certain what Israel wants out of Gaza. They say security, yet security comes through the end of Hamas. Meanwhile, the civilian casualties of this war with Hamas create a brand new generation of terrorists that will hate Israel for the rest of their lives. Though this article focuses on Israel, do not think I don’t decry Hamas. They hide behind human shields, and the only thing that comes from their violence and refusal to recognize Israel as a nation is the continued suffering of their people. They are truly devoid of morals. But if Israel followed COIN, their already dwindling support could continue to drop. Recruitment could fall off. In the vacuum this created, new governance units and parties could come to power. A new generation of Palestinians could be born without hatred of Israel burned into their psyche through air strikes and bombings. It could take a generation - probably more than one. But peace could come to the region.
Perhaps this sounds idealistic, and it very well may be. However, it is clear that extreme violence in Gaza - and the massive civilian casualties it causes - is not ending the struggle between Palestinians and Israelis. As of today, August 25th, more than eight-hundred citizens of Gaza have been killed in the Israeli offensive. How many future insurgents have those eight hundred generated? Thousands, tens of thousands? I can only imagine. I implore the government of Israel to try something new. Try counterinsurgency. It could be the key to ending this descending spiral.