4GW and Gaza I

I’ve been editing a book on Fourth Generation War theory, so it has been fascinating to see how some of the principles it expounds are being put into action, while others are ignored, by both sides in the Gaza Tunnel War. Before offering my requested take on the situation, I think it would be useful to first look at the current IDF strategy:

After withdrawing the bulk of its ground troops from the Gaza Strip in a “new phase” of its counter-terror operation, Israel declared a unilateral humanitarian ceasefire for seven hours starting 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 4 to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid and for displaced Palestinians to return to their homes. Eastern Rafah was not included. The IDF would respond to any attacks during that time.

But on the quiet, the IDF was on the process of conducting a major strategic operation, carving out a buffer strip or cordon sanitaire just inside the Gaza border, designed to be controlled from outside by special forces and armored units on round-the-clock alert, to bar hostile infiltrations. They are equipped with a battery of firing posts, sensors and drones.

This sterile strip runs 65km from Beit Hanoun in the north to Khan Younis in the south, roughly following one of Gaza’s only motorways, Highway 6 (see map). All the territory east of this line up to the Israeli border has been cleared of buildings and vegetation to a depth of 1 km in the north and center of Gaza and 2-3 km deep in such areas as Khan Younis.

Retreat and fortify. This is a classic 2GW response by a state actor to a non-state actor. Build fortresses, isolate your troops from the enemy, and prepare for massive responses of steel-on-target when incursions take place. It’s based on the same principle as the USA’s Green Zone strategy used in Baghdad and other places. The problem is that while the response is perfectly sensible and psychologically comforting to the troops, it is not going to work against a 4GW opponent who is attacking on the moral and mental levels as well as the conventional Clausewitzian levels. As Debka has noted, this means the Gaza war has now entered an attrition phase. Meanwhile, the Washington Post describes the new tactics of Hamas, Hezbollah, and ISIS:

We see these newly formed pseudo-armies emerging across the Levant as well. The Darwinian process of wartime immersion has forced them to either get better or die.

Some observers of the transformation admit that Hezbollah now is among the most skilled light infantry on the planet. And now there is Hamas. Gone are the loose and fleeting groups of fighters seen during Operation Cast Lead in 2008. In Gaza they have been fighting in well-organized, tightly bound teams under the authority of connected, well-informed commanders. Units stand and fight from building hideouts and tunnel entrances. They wait for the Israelis to pass by before ambushing them from the rear. Like Hezbollah and the Islamic State, they are getting good with second-generation weapons such as the Russian RPG-29 and, according to as-yet-unconfirmed reports from the fighting in Gaza, wire-guided anti-tank missiles.

These fighters are now well-armed, well-trained and well-led and are often flush with cash to buy or bribe their way out of difficulties. 

Until you read the Handbook, you can’t understand how hair-raisingly familiar the words such as “light infantry”, “flush with cash”, “ambush”, and “tightly bound teams” are. These new “pseudo-armies” have not only clearly read van Creveld and Lind, they are actively putting the military principles those strategists have outlined into action. And since we know that newer generation warfare reliably defeats older generation warfare, the Israeli defeat in Gaza, (or, if you prefer, the IDF’s inability to achieve its stated objectives) was predictable, if not inevitable.

What struck me most from the most recent round of fighting is that the 4GW Hama model is not really an option for Israel. Gaza is simply too big, Hamas is too prepared, and the IDF is too small and casualty-averse. Keep in mind that the Germans threw 270,000 troops at Stalingrad, 100,000 more than exist in the entire IDF, and still couldn’t take it in five months. In nearly one month of action, the IDF ground offensive went no further than three kilometers into Gaza. That’s not to say that it couldn’t have gone deeper, or that Hamas has even a fraction of the 187,000 troops at its disposal that the Red Army did at Stalingrad, but it is obvious that doing so would have cost a lot more than the 63 lives already lost and caused even more civilian casualties.

That leaves the 4GW de-escalation model. But how do you de-escalate in the face of a seemingly implacable enemy who is often actively seeking escalation? That is a matter for the next post on the subject.