The View From Olympus: Israel, Gaza, and 4GW

Hamas, which rules the Gaza strip, has traditionally been less competent than Hezbollah at Fourth Generation war.  Its rocket attacks on Israel, although they have frightened Israelis, have done little physical damage while they have created a moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel that hurts the former.  Now, however, it is beginning to look as if Hamas has gotten smarter in a way that poses a real 4GW strategic threat to Israel.

On successive Fridays, Hamas has sponsored demonstrations at the border fence between Gaza and Israel.  On April 27, the demonstrators broke through the fence.  Israel responded, as it has before, with live fire that killed several Gazans.  Anytime that happens, Israel suffers a defeat at the moral level, which in 4GW is the decisive level.

Hamas’s challenge is to push that defeat up from the tactical to the strategic.  Conditions may be ripe for it to do so.  Israel, Egypt, and Fatah have combined their efforts to degrade the quality of life in Gaza to the point where people there feel they have nothing to lose.  When everyday life is hell, risking that life is a modest risk.  Hamas may be able to mobilize, not hundreds of demonstrators, but hundreds of thousands.

The scenario is not hard to envision.  Hamas mobilizes, let us say, 150,000 Gazans to start marching towards the border fence.  If Hamas really understands the moral level of 4GW, it will make sure none are armed.  No one throws stones or firebombs.  People have wire cutters and other equipment to go through or over the fence, but not a single demonstrator takes any action that could hurt an Israeli, soldier or civilian.  Perhaps they carry flags, flowers, or gifts of food from hungry Gaza. 

What does Israel do?  Modern firepower can kill most if not all of the 150,000.  But if Israel does that, its strategic position in the rest of the world collapses.  In a supreme irony, Israel looks like Nazi Germany.  But if Israel does not turn on the firepower, it is invaded by an unarmed army that nonetheless seeks to occupy its land.

It is in Israel’s interest to avoid this strategic dilemma at the moral level of war.  I think it is not too late to do so.  The key is to de-motivate Gazans from risking their lives.  That, in turn, requires improving living conditions and economic opportunities in Gaza.

To pull Hamas’s fangs, Israel, ideally in cooperation with Egypt (Fatah won’t play), should announce a major program to help the people of Gaza.  That should include a steady and adequate supply of electricity, supplies, and so on.  Life in Gaza will never be easy, but it can be made tolerable, as it was not too long ago.

The question is whether a Likud government can bring itself to do this.  Its political base will react negatively.  That base does not grasp 4GW and wants Israel to mow down invading Gazans like wheat.  If Likud does not do that, other parties will seek to go around it on its right.  Critics will point out, correctly, that Hamas may use materials that Israel allows to flow into Gaza to attack Israel.  The fact that this is a tactical, physical threat as opposed to a far more dangerous strategic and moral dilemma will be lost on most of the Israeli public.  So Likud faces another dilemma: does it avert a moral strategic threat to Israel or does it act to please its political base?

I am not optimistic Likud will act for Israel rather than for itself.  Its inability to grasp Fourth Generation war has long been evident.  It sees the problem purely in terms of the physical, tactical level.  It cannot understand John Boyd’s point that this is the weakest level of war, while the most powerful level is the moral, strategic level.  (See “the grid” in Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook for more on this.)

Hamas may blow its opportunity by reverting to violence.  But if it employs the power of weakness effectively, Israel could be on the verge of strategic disaster.  I have been to Israel.  I like the country, I like the people, I have Israeli friends.  I don’t want to see that happen.  But as is so easy in 4GW, if it does happen, Israel will have defeated itself.


Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.

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