The Implications of Operation Protective Edge

In January 2006, I published a position paper that dealt with the lessons learned from the Vietnam War and its implications to future wars in our region. My premise was that the Vietnam War was a watershed line for global wars: A regular army facing guerilla warfare, an encounter between a world power and a small country, a semi-military and semi-terrorist outfit, an initiated combination of defense and offense, while dealing with technological innovations, and using global and internal public opinion. Vietnam became the university of terror, from which terrorist organizations learned the principles of new warfare. The forces that fought in Vietnam reached many conclusions, and these insights have become a new kind of strategy that is implemented throughout the world.

Strong, technological, wealthy America, which developed massive armaments production following its experiences on various battlefields – did not find the proper response to the jungle wars of South-East Asia vis-à-vis fighters that circumvented new technologies and came up with methods that up until then were unheard of in the annals of wars. The Cu Chi tunnels in the outskirts of Saigon – now Ho Chi Minh City – were a preview of a new kind of warfare, a way to conceal the enemy and allow it to sting like a snake in unexpected places, while hiding in the network of underground tunnels. This is one example of the methods employed by a weak country against a giant that seemingly watches it everywhere, but ultimately sees nothing.

A tour of Vietnam wartime museums emphasizes the immense importance of the international all-embracing propaganda effort to America’s standing in this war. We see an ability to use various ideologies and groups with very little in common, which cooperated in an effort to delegitimize the struggle of the great nation and its allies, and eventually to engineer its downfall vis-à-vis small, divided Vietnam. Vietnam conducted a well-organized and well-planned terror operation alongside a colossal PR campaign, to which the US and its allies could find no response. The defeat in the public opinion arena eventually led to defeat on the battlefield.

My 2006 paper warns of the danger of the tunnels, which was a relatively new and unstudied strategy, and other articles mention the strategic combination of terror and international public relations, and the cooperation of terrorist organizations and various political movements with diverse ideologies, which come together to bring victory not only on the battlefield but also in the international street.

Ze’ev Galili, in an article published on 25/8/2006 mentions Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” (2005), which quotes an episode of a US Army war game exercise, in which the US goes to war against a Middle Eastern adversary that is controlled by terror organizations. Gladwell writes that the said exercise was supposed to try out tactics and thought patterns when waging war on a terror organization operating inside a country. The degree to which this example actually fits Operation Protective Edge can be seen from the progress of the exercise.

The US Army – the blue army – faced the terrorists – the red army – on computer screens. The blue army examined the enemy’s means, which included the abilities of the terrorist organization and the country in which it operated and which supplied communications, energy, water, and infrastructures, and examined the minimal damage that would cause the maximum disruption for the enemy. The blue army sends aircraft carriers protected by other vessels, carrying tens of thousands of soldiers to the area. The scenario includes the destruction of communication towers, optic fibers, and other aids employed by the red army, as well their ability to use cellular and satellite communications to cover for the damage done to conventional communications means. Computer simulation predictions indicated that these measures would bring the enemy to its knees. The red forces were commanded by retired Marine Corps Lieutenant-General Paul K. Van Riper, a veteran of Vietnam and the First Gulf War. Van Riper, unlike other conventional generals, thought outside the box, located weak points, emphasized the red forces’ advantages, and found responses to the mighty US Army’s plans.

The communications system was activated by alternative means, based on motorcycle couriers and messages delivered during prayers at the mosques. On the second day of fighting, the red army sent a fleet of small boats to track the American ships. Without warning – a barrage of rockets was fired at the ships from various directions with perfect timing based on excellent intelligence. The rocket arsenal was bigger than the American’s capacity to intercept. At the end of the day, 16 American ships lay at the bottom of the sea, and over 20,000 American soldiers were killed in the war game exercise that ended in defeat within two days.

How did the US react? The exercise was restarted, and the rules were changed. The red army was forbidden to make unilateral decisions, and was instructed what to do at every stage. As these steps were predetermined, the exercise obviously ended in an overwhelming “blue” (American) victory. Van Riper resigned in the middle of the war game, the system was rebooted, the 16 sunken ships were re-floated, and the Prophet Ezekiel’s ‘Dry Bones’ prophesy was fully realized as all the slain soldiers rose from the dead.

Operation Protective Edge is certainly reminiscent of some facts mentioned in Galili’s article and Gladwell’s book. The Israeli army’s correct predictions were high about what was known. Iron Dome provided good cover against rocket attacks, but the tunnels network was a different story. We had to learn it as the war was being fought, although we had known of its existence. The first lesson that should have been learned was that the other side had not been stagnant, and was operating in every way possible to prepare surprises for Israel, which would find the IDF patently unprepared. The mind struggle since the Vietnam War has been stormy and challenging, and no assumption that we are aware of developments can exempt us from the need to be vigilant about the plethora of surprises prepared by a terrorist organization and the countries that support it.

Unlike the Vietnam War, Palestinian terror enjoys massive support from countries in the region such as Iran, Syria, Sudan, and others – particularly Qatar, the primary financer, and Turkey, which lends support to Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood activities throughout the world. Vietnam created something out of nothing, as it was resolute yet unsupported. Hamas, on the other hand, is better organized, better protected, and supported by various countries that assist its activities by means of unprecedented financial, political, and technological support.
Moreover, Operation Protective Edge has proven that the communications issues mentioned in the war game exercise were applied here as well. The tunnels network included motorcycles and couriers, thus enabling communication and transfer of information and instructions that the state-of-the-art Israeli electronics systems could not track. What is more, the important conclusion here too is that terrorism has learned that a war is not resolved on the battlefield but in public opinion. Hamas enjoyed not only Qatar’s financial and economic support, but also its diverse communications network, which is in fact the most organized and powerful communications system in the world today. It is sufficient to see how CNN and other networks covered the conflict, how Israel was depicted when it retaliated against terrorists that assaulted it and its citizens by firing from UN facilities and hiding behind women and children. Israel’s legitimacy and international status were attacked, as a wide coalition of international organizations and NGOs stood behind Hamas and its policy in order to harm the State of Israel.
The implementation of these conclusions by terror organizations requires reorganization, because even during cease-fires – the political battlefield and the struggle for public opinion remain the sole fighting arena. The power of the terrorist organizations’ propaganda has proven itself in the past to be superior to that of Israel. We must prepare and retaliate in this arena as well with a virtual iron dome, which will intercept the unending activity and attacks on Israel’s legitimacy and its right to defend itself.

Operation Protective Edge could serve as a turning point in the general perception of the new war that is aimed against us and against the new measures that our enemies are using. These measures include social networks, television, and the printed and spoken press throughout the world, which is influenced directly and indirectly by Al-Jazeera network and Qatari money, which are the present day battlefield of the Muslim Brotherhood in this region and worldwide.

This is the time of awakening, and it obliges us all to learn our lessons and to reach our conclusions.

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center