Friday, August 8, 2014

Israeli Combat Lessons - Follow Up

Well, that was interesting.  The comments on the preceding post (see, "Israeli Combat Lessons") on combat lessons from the Israeli-Hamas conflict confirmed exactly the problem I highlighted in the lesson about aerial suppression and collateral damage.  [By the way, I’m not going to refer to it generically as suppression any more.  I’m going to call it reduction, instead. - “Aerial reduction of enemy assets”-  Some of you focused on the strict definition of the word as it related to supporting fires and thereby got sidetracked.] 

Most commenters started their comments, observations, and arguments from the premise that collateral damage was inherently bad – I would go so far as to say they believed that it was inherently prohibited.  This also confirms another of the lessons, that we’ve forgotten what war is.

If this had been WWII, do you honestly believe that the US Army (the Israelis in this example) would have held back on area bombardment when faced with taking a city (Gaza, in this example) containing 9000 German (Hamas, in this example) artillery pieces and thousands of German soldiers?  Do you think the US would have attempted to enter the city without thorough preparatory area bombardment?  Of course not! 

Now, why is the answer “Of course not!”?  It’s because the US Army understood what war was.  It was ugly, vicious, and destructive and the best thing that could be done was to end it as quickly and decisively as possible.  Added to that was the implicit belief that, since lives had to be lost, it was far better that they be German lives, both military and civilian, than US lives.  That’s ugly but that’s what war really is.  Area reduction of enemy assets is just common sense.

We’ve gotten so used to fighting limited police actions that we’ve forgotten what real war is.  If we have to fight Iran, N. Korea, or China we’ll quickly be reminded what war is.

Given the absolutely overwhelming technological superiority and numbers, the Israelis suffered an unwarranted number of casualties.  They should have suffered next to none.  Frankly, I don’t know how the Israeli government can justify to the families of the dead soldiers that they placed more value on enemy lives than the lives of their own soldiers. 

If your country is faced with a threat, you destroy it utterly, totally, and completely.  You don’t engage in a limited operation that has to be repeated every few years with never-ending casualties on both sides, year after year.

This is not a political issue, it’s a doctrinal issue.  I have the same problems with the way the US conducted its actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The US was more concerned with preventing collateral damage than preventing US deaths. 

If we’re not willing to engage in real war then we should seriously be asking ourselves whether we should be engaged at all.  Our tendency to jump into one nation building, limited conflict after another is highly suspect.  We’re getting US soldiers killed for little or no gain. 

If we do opt to engage in a conflict with total commitment then area bombardment and the acceptance of collateral damage is quite logical.  Of course, I’m not advocating indiscriminate destruction for its own sake.  However, if there’s reason to believe that enemy assets are in an area then the area is a target.

Most of us have been conditioned by the limited actions of the last couple decades to believe that combat can somehow be clean and precise and that no one but the enemy soldier will be killed and no property will be damaged.  We need to remember what war is, remember how to wage it, and engage in it only infrequently and as a last resort.


  1. I agree that if it was the 1940s they'd just do area bombardment, but I think it is useful to point out, that in the 1940s that was pretty much ALL they had. In the 1940s there was no other option. So I'm not sure it applies as much as you think. One of the major reason we resorted to so much fire bombing in WWII is that the target destruction rates of explosives were generally very poor. Fire bombs didn't really need to hit their targets as the fire would generally reach them.

    A WWII style bombardment campaign today in the Gaza strip would result in even the countries that currently support Israel, enacting sanctions and withdrawing foreign aid, basically killing the country. Area bombardment would result in 100s of thousands of casualties in the current Gaza strip. And would of likely resulted in full blown war with several other middle eastern countries which would of resulted in even more Israeli casualties.

    Part of the issue is that what is acceptable is going to be in large part based on what is available. In WWII all that was really available was area bombardment. There wasn't really any other option. These days, that's not true. There is a wide variety of option in munitions and strategies that can be employed. People are widely aware of this. And in a WWII setting the casualty rate even with area bombardment would be a lot higher than Israeli losses in the current conflict due to advances in medicine and protection.

    And while from a limited theater military perspective, it would of been easier to turn gaza into rubble, it ignore the wider over war picture and the political realities facing Israel. Though Gaza may overall be a lost cause at this point, there aren't a whole lot of options available to Israel than to keep doing what its doing and hope that Hamas falls out of favor at some point. The whole situation is a massive negative feedback loop on both sides with no end in sight.

    1. ats, how many US lives are you willing to sacrifice to avoid area bombardment of an enemy? I'm not willing to sacrifice any. If we feel that someone has harmed us sufficiently to justify war, then the casualties should be 100% on the enemy's side and are 100% the enemy's fault.

      This is not a political blog so I won't go deeply into this but ask yourself which "several" MidEast countries currently have the capacity to go to war with Israel? Off hand, I can rule out Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. Only Saudia Arabia has the capacity and they would have to deal with the US if they did so that's highly unlikely. Your political analysis on this point may be a bit faulty. In fact, theoretically, now would be an ideal time for Israel to push the issue since no other country is currently in a position to effectively oppose them.

      Regarding WWII capabilities, we were quite capable of delivering fairly (not LGB quality) accurate strikes. All we needed to do was get closer to the targets (fly lower, approach closer). Bombs released from 500 ft aren't going to miss their targets by much. Artillery fired from 1000 yds won't miss. And so on. The reason we didn't apply precise attacks was because getting that close would mean accepting unnecessary US casualties and we prefered that the enemy suffer casualties rather than us.

      You can go door-to-door as the we did in Iraq or you can back a tank through the door. Both tactics work but one reduces US casualties.

      If a conflict is important enough to risk US lives then it's important enough to protect US lives to the maximum extent.

    2. See, I tend to come at it from mostly the same angle. The willingness to totally obliterate the enemy and any collateral in the way, is one of my prerequisites for actually engaging in a way. But, I don't have the luxury of determining when people go to war. And many conflicts of the 20th century aren't that cut and dried or simple either. And therein lies many of the issues.

      Many of the conflicts of the past 50 years have been heavily asymmetrical. The last "real" war was WWII. Since then for the most part it has been variations on policing actions, but stopping short of a "real" war. Some of that is related to the effects that atomic warfare has had on strategy and some of that is because of the rise of non-state actors. Its much harder to have a real war when the people you are fighting don't belong to a country. And at times you still need to go after those people.

      As far as going to war with Israel, while many don't want to, their populaces would like force them to if Israel was basically carpet bombing Gaza from one end to the other. And, you can't rule out other non-state actors becoming involved.

      WRT WWII, I believe that your suggestion was at least somewhat in jest, because you know as well as I do, that 500ft bombing runs in the WWII timeframe might as well just be loading the plane with TNT and crashing it into target. It would be the same loss rate for the good guys and do a lot more damage to the bad guys. The ability to precision bomb simply wasn't there/viable during WWII.

      As far as D2D vs tank, one tend to piss people off even more and ends up with even more enemies. Even in WWII, urban warfare was a lot of D2D work.

      I'm also the same way with sanctions, fyi. Either you impose complete sanctions AND sanctions against those to deal with the sanctioned company or you don't. The idea of piece meal sanctions is a generally flawed negotiating strategy. AFAIK, the only case where "sanctions" worked to any real extent was the blockade of Cuba.

    3. The biggest problem with modern warfare as conducted by the USA and the Israeli -- amphibious or not -- is the impractical and impossible task of trying to fight the enemy in populated areas while being unwilling to suffer casualties and/or inflict collateral damage on non-combatants. That is cause of the difficulties, not specific hardware, tactics, training or the lack thereof.

      Finding a way to cast aside those reservations and accept the political price of do so is the solution, not a new gun or missile or VSTOL aircraft of specific ways of employing them. Basically, it should be simple. The United States should not and will not wage war lightly. But when we do; when an enemy is deemed a sufficient threat or annoyance to warrant a military campaign. We should simply lay waste to their cities, demolish their nations and destroy their civilization with the full wrath and fury of our military might in a manner that makes WWII look measured and humane. Civilians will not have the right or opportunity to stay in cities and be spared destruction to the best of our abilities. Civilians must be made to understand that if they fail to restrain, topple or otherwise prevent their leaders from getting into a war with the united states, it's all over -- their livelihood, their culture, their cities, their infrastructure, their civilization and if they do not flee their lives.

      By the end of the 1st day of a landing, the target city will look like Berlin in May 1945. If an insurgent fires a mortar at a US camp, a massive barrage of counter battery fire will level 4 city blocks within a minute and a half. If a ship is sunk in the straits of Hormuz, the responsible nation will get it's entire Navy sunk, all it's port facilities bombed to smithereens, the entire nation's power production, fuel, and other infrastructure will be destroyed. Their people will be starving in the streets with no water, no power, no sanitation, no transportation and nothing but endless misery. So they better think VERY VERY hard before provoking us.

  2. I really do suggest everyone reads the Geneva convention

    1. Would you suggest that Hamas, Iran, Syria, N. Korea, and China read it?

      What would you suggest we do about states that don't adhere to it?

    2. I'm not really sure that any nation really adheres to the Geneva Convention. Its more a reality that some violate it more than others. The reality is that war is nasty and generally the only time anyone is ever tried for "war crimes" is when they lose.

    3. Because you would be amazed at what it actually says.
      When compared with what people think it says

    4. TrT, the Coventions and Protocols are extensive and wide ranging. Is there a particular Article you'd like to draw our attention to?

    5. Almost any.
      Point at any accusation of war crimes leveled and Israel, and most against Hamas, and there is almost no chance of the the law actually backing up the accusation.

      "Israel shelled that hospital, its a warcrime"
      The actual law bans targetting buildings solely used for medical purposes. Sit a rocket launcher on the roof and its no longer "solely" for medical purposes

      "Hamas uses human shields"
      The law only prohibits forcing civilians to live on a military base
      Its perfectly legal to base soldiers in an apartment block as long as the civilians are allowed to leave.

      Its perfectly legal to drop a couple of 2000lbers on it and kill all the residents.

      The actual articles are pretty short and clear.
      Well worth a read.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. B.Smitty, in our system of civilian control of the military, of course it's a political issue! I'm arguing that our politically derived doctrine of extreme avoidance of collateral damage is flawed and needs to be re-examined. That's the whole point of the post. You may agree or disagree with my position. If you disagree, you need to answer the question, how many US lives are you willing to sacrifice for avoidance of collateral damage? I'm not willing to sacrifice any.

  4. If I may make a suggestion, we should read up on what they're calling Fourth Generation Warfare, the naming and description of which I believe was originally done by William S. Lind. Briefly, and I'm sure I won't get this exactly right, 1st generation warfare was pre-industrial era, 2nd generation warfare is what was practiced in the 1700's through WWII (and still practiced by the US), 3rd generation warfare is the maneuver-based warfare developed by the Germans in WWI (although I'd read somewhere, probably Bill Lind, that this had been previously developed and practiced by Nelson's navy), and 4th generation warfare is what clever non-state groups are engaged in these days.

    Fourth generation warfare is a war for hearts and minds, attempting to change people's beliefs and attitudes using any means possible. One way to combat 4th generation enemies, for example, is to de-escalate the conflict by buying their populace Big Gulps and air conditioners, thereby taking the fight right out of the people. Starve and trap a people, on the other hand, maybe drop some bombs on them when they fight, and you'll create a large number of new combatants for every single original combatant you manage to kill.

    Of course, if you're willing to apply the principles of 2nd generation warfare against 4th generation opponents by basically obliterating their cities and towns, well, you will "win", but you will also be asking yourself if victory was worth it given that much of the rest of the world has turned against you, and even your own people question you because you have lost the moral high ground.

    Please forgive me if this is either pedantic or sidetracking too much (or both). In a nutshell, I agree with B. Smitty that politics and military doctrine are inseparable in this case of the Israelis versus Hamas.

    1. JI, that's a very nice comment; very reasonable. The only problem with is that I can't think a single instance where winning the hearts and minds approach has worked. There may be an example but I can't think of it off hand. The US has tried it numerous times, in varied ways, and has yet to succeed in turning an enemy or potential enemy into a friend.

      Interestingly, the closet example I can think of is that of Germany and Japan at the end of WWII. We occupied the countries and eventually won the hearts and minds, in a sense. However, that only occured after setting the stage with total victory.

      Can you think of a successful example?

  5. CNO,

    The best example of a successful use of "winning hearts and minds" I can think of is the Malayan emergency, fought in what is now Malaysia back in the fifties.

    The enemy back then were Communists.

    What made this conflict very different to almost all others was the fact that it was not about religion or race.

    The reason the Gaza conflict has no solution, is because it is about and defined by religion.

    I do not see how a "heart and minds"approach can work in a conflict defined by religion or race. That is the reason when we look at recent conflicts this strategy has failed.


    1. As a native of the region I can tell you that even the Malayan emergency was a failure or at least a limited success. In the end the British managed to defend what is now Malaysia, but long lasting racial and national tensions remain to this day. It's a rather tense part of the world. In the 1980s racial riots in Indonesia killed a million people, predominantly Chinese, who were accused of being Communists.

    2. Anon thanks for the response,

      I was referring to it being a success in the limited context that communism was defeated, and that a stable government has now been in place for over half a century.

      I see Malaysia both as a good example of what this strategy can achieve but also its limitations. It was successful at dealing with the communist threat. Once the issues reverted to the long standing religious and ethic struggles, this strategy stopped working. As you correctly point out these issues continue to this day.


  6. It's the catchy slogan 'winning the hearts and minds' thats the problem and needs redefining. I think in most instances its more a case of trying not to turn the population against you or, indeed, nations. Israel understands this concept and is willing to sacrifice a number of troops.
    Dave P

  7. CNO - What I have wanted to say I or others have said, although you deleted my comments. Strangely you feel uncomfortable about using certain labels on certain races the US has made 'total war' with in the past, yet you are essentially calling for total war on the Arab world and a reconsideration of collateral damage policies. Again, this is a very politically and militarily naive viewpoint. You are also insisting on divorcing politics and war, when we all know the adage that the latter is a continuation of the former. Even if treated as a solely military problem, there are at least 3 factors in the way of your patented solution of bombing everything to hell and gone: (1) Israeli munition stockpiles, (2) Ordnance delivery mechanisms, and (3) Hardening and dispersal of Hamas stockpiles.

    1. Anon, we can easily discuss topics, even ugly ones, without resorting to descriptions that are no longer appropriate today. I appreciate your cooperation on this.

      I'm afraid that you've misinterpreted my post. I'm not calling for all out war on the Arab world. The post was about lessons that can be applied to the US military and the Marine Corps, in particular, as we develop and revise our own doctrine for future conflicts. I suggested that the previous doctrine of allowing the enemy safe refuge due to a desire to avoid collateral damage is flawed and needs to be re-evaluated. I pointed out the Israeli-Hamas conflict as an example of that.

      Even for our purposes, I'm not calling for a universal scorched earth policy of war. I'm suggesting that when legitimate targets (personnel, arms, munitions) are comingled with the civilian population and structures that we need to re-evaluate our reluctance to inflict collateral damage.

      I also indicated that I was considering the matter in isolation, divorced from politics, for the sake of discussion.

      My position is quite reasonable and tactically sound. You're free to agree or disagree but only with what I've actually stated.

      Again, I'm using the Israeli-Hamas conflict as an example to illustrate lessons for the US military.

  8. I always find H&M very annoying

    Did China win Hearts and Minds in Tianamen Square?
    Did the Soviet Union in the Prague Spring, or the occupations of it Satellite Territories?
    Did Germany or Japan focus on winning hearts and minds?
    Did the allies in occupied Germany?

    Did Genghis Khan or Julius Ceser?

    Does ISIS?

    If Hearts and Minds mattered ISIS would be facing a vicious insurgency across all its territories, instead the occupied civilians are terrified in to offering no resistance.

  9. This Gaza battle has been going on for quite some time now. Im wondering just how many precision munitions Israel has left? What happens when they run out? Are the Americans already supplying paveway guidance kits?
    Also I dont agree with TrT. Like I said, Hearts and Minds is a bad slogan to use. Both Russia and China are using the media and every other source at their disposal (short of war) to secure their aims in Eastern Ukraine and the South China Sea respectively.
    As for ISIS, at the moment they have no need for it. They are taking ground and winning battles. Given time, they will need to compromise when they need to administor their territories.
    Dave P


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.