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Hamas’s fourth generation warfare

When an Islamic tide seeks to wash away all other religions, the accepted rules of engagement are useless

Let us not forget: Hamas agreed so far only to a ceasefire. For now, the agreement is no armistice, nor a return to the status quo ante. Negotiations on some very tough issues have not even begun.

But it is time to ask and answer some very tough questions about Hamas’ conduct of the two month war:

  • Why did Hamas reject and break so many ceasefire attempts?
  • Why did Hamas persist in firing rockets into Israel, despite its inability to break through Israel’s Iron Dome defense?
  • Why was Hamas so callous about the fate of Gazan civilians, and so determined to kill Israeli civilians, an obvious war crime?
  • Is Hamas a ragtag band of terrorists or a well-disciplined and trained conventional army?
  • How is Hamas connected to external forces – not just Iran, the source of so much anti-Israel activity around the world, nor Qatar, the Moslem Brotherhood’s financier, but to the black-flagged scourges of the Middle East such as ISIS, al Qaeda, Palestine Islamic Jihad, Jabhat el Nusra, Hizbullah, and their hydra spores?
  • Is Hamas the same as ISIS, as claimed by Israeli leaders?
  • And lastly, who “won” the Hamas war?

After Israel’s experience fighting fought Hamas in the 2008 Gaza “Cast Lead” campaign, the 2012 Gaza “Pillar of Defense” operation, and Hezbollah in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, observers may not be fully aware that Israel is engaged in a totally new kind of warfare. Yes, Israel’s tanks and armored personnel carriers returned to the battlefield in 2014. Yes, Israeli technological advances swatted Hamas rockets like flies, destroyed anti-tank rockets in mid-flight, and enabled pilots to pinpoint their munitions with unprecedented precision. And as much as humanly possible, Gazan civilians were relatively safe from the Israeli army, accompanied by drones and military lawyers recording every step.

“Asymmetrical conflict” is the term military analysts coined years ago for wars fought between national armies and non-state military forces. The description certainly fits the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s or the Afghan Taliban conflict. Other terms applied are “guerrilla warfare,” “civil war,” or “insurgency,” where the combatants’ goal is usually to capture territory or replace the local or national government. The conflicts are generally confined to the boundaries of a national entity.

Asymmetrical Morality and Asymmetrical Victory

In recent years, however, some military circles have identified a new form of asymmetrical conflict, one that defines the current conflicts swirling from the Sinai and Gaza to Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. It is not only asymmetric in its tactics and weaponry; this warfare is characterized by asymmetrical morality and asymmetrical definitions of “victory.” In military jargon, the new methods of combat are called “Fourth Generation Warfare.”

This warfare is conducted by decentralized, transnational armies that are well-financed and well-armed by countries such as Iran and Qatar. They use terrorist tactics and are trained in camps reported to be in Afghanistan, Sinai, Somalia, Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, and Pakistan. For some forces, such as Hamas, the Palestine Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, the training and rocketry are provided by Iran and the Iranian National Guard Corps.

The Fourth Generation fighters are very well-versed in modern modes of social media and public relations. Witness Hamas’ well-documented manipulation and intimidation of the Western press in Gaza. If decades ago the terrorist goal was to “kill one, frighten 1,000,” today’s ISIS method focuses its video cameras on its goal of “behead one and frighten one million” to post on its Facebook accounts viewed around the world. The YouTube videos of the recent beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff were not some grainy amateur production; they were filmed from various angles and edited with titles, graphics and music inserted.

Psychological warfare is a major weapon of these twenty-first century jihadi warriors. The video-taped massacres of minorities and enemy soldiers spurred mass flight by locals. Hamas’ mortars led to the temporary abandonment of Israeli communities along the Gaza border, and the barrages of longer-range rockets — even the hundreds intercepted by Iron Dome – still served Hamas’ purposes and disrupted daily Israeli routine, businesses, sports events, entertainment and even the operation of Ben Gurion Airport. The Iron Dome missiles used against Hamas rockets were worth every penny, but they still cost tens of millions of dollars.

The Caliphate from Spain to China

This new warfare recognizes no artificially drawn national borders between Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The sought-after Caliphate, after all, stretches from southern Spain, across northern Africa, through the Sinai and Israel, north to Damascus and Turkey, recaptures Baghdad, sweeps the Arabian Peninsula, engulfs Shiite-led Iran and leads as far as western China.

Borders in Hamas’ philosophy are similarly meaningless. The boundaries of the 1949 Armistice Agreement with Israel or the 1967 “Green Line” are irrelevant. Hamas’ goal of eradicating Israel is clearly stated in their Covenant and public statements. “The Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] is one link in the chain of jihad in confronting the Zionist invasion,” the Covenant declares. “Palestine according to Islamic law… is like any other land that the Muslims have conquered by force, because the Muslims consecrated it at the time of the conquest [1,400 years ago] as religious endowment for all generations of Muslims until the Day of Resurrection.”

The regional Islamic tide seeks to wash away all other religions and differing Muslim sects in the region, and international law be damned. There are no restraints, no Geneva conventions, no “rules of war.” What the West calls “genocide” is not a crime for ISIS and its ilk when committed in the service of Allah. Ceasefire agreements are supposed to be broken once they are no longer advantageous to the holy war. Truck bombs kill indiscriminately. And human shields are a necessary combat component if their deaths weaken the enemy.

The traditional standards of “victory” do not apply to ISIS, Hamas, Jabhat el Nusra and other groups. As long as the paradise of the shaheed is their goal, the jihadists and their supporters live for martyrdom. Hamas and the areas it controlled in Gaza were severely damaged by the Israel Defense Forces, but Hamas leaders survived in their bunkers for two months and showed their “V signs” when they emerged from their bunkers. They were exalted by large crowds in Gaza.

The most recent polling of Gaza and West Bank actually shows growing support for Hamas despite what appears to Western observers as disastrous decision-making and tragic waste of lives and resources.

The bottom line: these Islamic forces follow the creed of seventh century desert warriors. Why should anyone assume that the international Western rules of international relations set in Westphalia, Versailles, and Geneva over the last centuries mean anything to ISIS, Boko Haram, al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah?

As Western nations stir from their slumber to confront the Islamic State and its forces, they have lessons to learn from Israel’s experience in the Gaza conflict. Asymmetrical conflicts and asymmetrical morality of the Fourth Generation armies cannot be fought with outdated methods, tactics and rules.

About the Author
Lenny Ben-David served as a senior Israeli diplomat in Washington. He is a public affairs consultant, writer, researcher, editor, and historian of early photographs. Ben-David is the author of "American Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs." He worked for AIPAC for 25 years in Washington and Jerusalem.
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