Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gaza Day 16: Palestinians: 890 dead, 3600 wounded. Israel: 13 dead.

The violence continues, and Israeli reservists are being put into Gaza now.

This sort of war, known as asymmetrical warfare, is based upon two factors: warfighting capacity and collective will.

It is called asymmetrical because the warfighting capacity of Israel is certainly superior to that of Hamas, in terms of budget, training, equipment, and doctrine.

The question of Hamas breaking the Israeli offensive by direct confrontation is not in question. This war will turn instead upon collective will. Often referred to as “national will.” Yet in the case of intrastate fighting, or subnational organizations, we must use a different term than “nation” to be technically correct. The Western Courier published a good overview of this term for the layman in early 2008: “Without National Will, Wars are Doomed.”

In this war, Israel has been very clear what they wish: for rocket attacks to cease. Hamas has been clear: they want the border to be opened. Yet Israel says the border will remain closed so long as rocket fire and suicide attacks occur.

This would seem to make it clear that to achieve their short-term goals, both sides should achieve peace reasonably swiftly.

Yet Hamas and Israel are playing a game of double-dog-dare-you on the bloodiest level, looking more towards long-term goals than short-term life-saving.

Hamas, by continually firing rockets, is daring Israel to press on in the attack. They have chosen to take the punch, and show they are still “strong,” not in terms of warfighting capacity, but in terms of national will. They are trying to test whether Israel can keep this up, or whether they’ll get bored, tired of the costs, and go home. If Israel does that, Hamas can declare “victory,” no matter what price the people have paid. Their goals are to suffer casualties and damage, and to then parley this for international sympathy.

This sort of strategy is trading Palestinian lives and Palestinian prosperity by getting Israel to commit too much economic, political and diplomatic resources for this to be “worth it.”

Israel, on the other hand, are not fighting this as a traditional asymmetrical warfare situation. This is not a “police operation.” This is an urban counterinsurgency at its most virulent. They are going into Gaza the same way that a conventional army might in a full-scale war. That there are civilian casualties is being publicly regretted, yet there seems to be an implicit lack of care for civilians so long as the military conflict is active. The conundrum to all the Israeli warnings is that, for many, there is no place to go. And, it is reported one or more of the places those fleeing the fighting went to take refuge in were bombed.

Cry “Uncle!”

The objective of this conflict therefore is not solely to destroy war-fighting capacity, but to break the will of the opponent’s political regime. To get the other guy “to cry ‘Uncle!’ first.”

We’ll have to see which side decides to bow to political pressure. The international pressure matters less to these groups than their own internal public opinion. This conflict is to prove something to domestic audiences. Though, of course, they will do so by making this situation as prominent as possible on the world stage.

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