The government of Israel is under popular pressure to launch a ground invasion. The disgusting brutality and genocidal scale of Hamas’s terrorist attack appears to demand nothing less. However, this is a poor basis for military strategy. We need military objectives that are realistic and attainable, not slogans.
I believe our objectives are:
– Kill or capture those responsible for this attack
– Recover the hostages
– Deprive Hamas of the means to conduct future attacks
We must achieve these objectives under the following constraints:
– Minimise Israeli casualties
– Minimise civilian casualties in Gaza
– Avoid getting stuck in a forever war
These are challenging objectives and constraints to reconcile. Let’s recognise that. Let’s further recognise that once a war starts it takes on a life and momentum of its own. It cannot necessarily be controlled. This is true for every war in history. One side gets control of the war’s momentum and the other gets trapped by it. We need a strategy that puts us in control of events and traps our enemy. That means a strategy in which time is on our side and we preserve options.
I fear that a ground invasion is the opposite of a good strategy. It is a trap. Urban street fighting is the war Hamas wants us to fight. It will cost us precious lives. It will lead to mass civilian casualties. It will erode domestic and international support. And how do we get out?
A siege makes more sense.
Napoleon once said, “An army fights on its stomach.” Starving terrorists will be ineffective terrorists. And the longer it goes on, the greater the pressure they will feel. Fighters lose morale due to lack of supplies more reliably than due to enemy action. They didn’t give up yet? Fine. We wait. This was Britain’s successful strategy in WW1 and at the heart of allied strategy in WW2.
A siege doesn’t mean that we can’t use ground troops or kinetic power. They should be used extensively but in a targeted manner for very specific objectives, where we have reliable intelligence and where in-out ground forces can be closely supported by air and artillery power. Examples would include rescuing hostages and destruction of Hamas targets. The more focused, pre-planned and short the ground operations, the better we will be able to support those troops with everything they need to get home safely.
What about civilians?
Israel does not want to harm innocent civilians, God forbid, but I believe there are many options for keeping the civilians of Gaza fed and watered while starving Hamas. Some of these options would work better with assistance from Egypt or the international community, but ANY option will be far less harmful for civilians than a ground invasion. Israel could, for example, create a humanitarian zone in the south of Gaza, (even better would be on the Egyptian side of the border, well away from Gaza) in which civilians can be looked after for the duration of the fighting. It will be a one-way gate until the war is over and Israel, Egypt, or a reliable multinational force, could administer it. It’s not simple but it is much more compatible with our objectives and constraints than a ground assault.
Hamas, which cares not a bit for Gaza’s civilians, would likely prevent their human shields from escaping to a safe zone, but that will be on them. Let them, not us, be the ones trapping civilians. Let them, not us, be the ones refusing to establish and respect safe zones. And again, time will be on our side. The more time passes, the more international pressure on Hamas, rather than Israel, to release its civilian hostages, both Palestinian and Israeli.
To use an MMA analogy: we have Hamas in a chokehold. It’s a position that puts us in control of events. Let’s choke them out, not brawl.