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Bullet-Point Situation Report On Israel, And Perspectives On Urban Warfare
A growing concern on the world stage
Here’s a rundown of the situation:
Rockets launched from Gaza continue to bombard Israel
Rumors of US desire to delay IDF ground operation in Gaza are now confirmed.
Multiple nations call for aid to be sent to Gaza
Hamas claims 29,000 buildings have been destroyed in Gaza
Turkey’s Erdogen calls Hamas a “liberation group”
Limited IDF ground operation occurred in northern Gaza, the most significant ground offensive since the start of the conflict
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has said that the operation in Gaza will take months
Israel’s finance minister says current direct costs of the war stand at nearly a quarter billion per day, with indirect costs not yet accounted for
Saudi Arabia has intercepted missiles fired at Israel from Yemen
Various US bases in the Middle East have been attacked now for the 9th consecutive day. Several US servicemen suffered traumatic brain injuries.
Islamic Resistance in Iraq continues to claim responsibility for attacks on U.S. bases
U.S. has carried out airstrikes against “Iranian proxies” in Syria. U.S. says the strikes were retaliation for recent attacks against U.S. bases in the region
Palestinian health ministry claims death toll in Gaza is over 7,000. Biden expresses doubt about these numbers
IDF claims to have killed Shadi Barud, deputy head of the Hamas Intelligence Directorate and key participant in the planning of the Oct. 7th attack. Several other Hamas leaders have been killed.
Israeli President Herzog says the Oct. 7th attack does not represent Islam in a message to the Arab world
Iran’s foreign minister warns that the U.S. will “not be spared from this fire,” if conflict in Gaza continues.
Biden shifts public stance on Israeli conflict, calls for a two-state solution
Additional U.S. forces to be sent to the region
It’s unbelievably difficult to find any information about what the offensive capabilities of Hamas actually look like, how Israel would go about achieving its goal of dismantling these capabilities on the ground, and how difficult that might be. It would be helpful if we could see a comparison with some analogous past warfront examples. It’s easy to imagine war today as weapons flying through the air—mortars, artillery, fighter jets, drones, RPGs, MANPADS, whatever. But what exactly does a modern ground war look like? Where is the modern ground war set? How is it won? What are its challenges?
The answers to these questions are probably some of the most important things to know for the future. The world is becoming increasingly unstable as the balance of power begins to shift away from the U.S. Hegemon. To retain dominance we have to know how to win wars—how to capture and hold large swaths of land, how to install governments that are effective, anti-fragile, enduring, and friendly to western interests. A few thoughts after spending some time trying to answer these questions:
Setting—The domain of conflict here (and most likely all hot, ground-based conflicts going forward) is highly urban, with the Gaza strip being one of the densest areas on the planet. Population stands at 2 million people living in an area of 140 square miles. To illustrate the density, Phoenix, AZ, which is pretty dense if you’ve been there, is about 520 square miles with a population of 4.6 million people. Gaza has a little less than half the population of Phoenix in an area about a 1/4th its size. The largest city in the region is Gaza City. Population stands at about 600,000 in a space of about 17 square miles; 35,000 people per square mile. A war in Gaza presents significant risk of high civilian casualties. The war of the future presents this risk. You’re fighting in a dense city.
A close example of urban warfare in a densely populated environment is the battle of Mosul, Iraq. 2 million people in an area around 70 square miles. The objective was to unseat Islamic state control over the area.
From a practical analysis I’ve been reading about the battle:
“Mosul presented U.S., coalition, and partner forces with the particularly challenging problem of conducting decisive action in a dense urban environment that restricted maneuver, command and control, and the effectiveness of fires and range of weapons. The city’s narrow streets and corridors, rubble, power lines, and unforeseen environmental hazards negatively impacted mobility and the ability to maneuver. Dense urban terrain aids in the conduct of the defense against a superior force.”
Both sides of the war took heavy losses, civilian casualties were severe, over a million people were displaced. Urban warfare is brutal.
The difference in setting between Gaza, Gaza City, and Mosul, is that Mosul had almost no tall buildings, while Gaza City apparently has sixty buildings around 6 floors or taller.
Along with tall buildings that offer significant visual advantage for Hamas, the setting in Gaza also includes an elaborate tunnel network that has been developed for over a decade.
Even if civilian infrastructure is toppled, the battlefield remains complex due to these tunnels, and “deep” and “rear” targets, key weapons manufacturing and deployment infrastructure and key logistical bases, may be totally out of the reach of the IDF. In Mosul these key operational targets were wiped out by artillery and other long-range weaponry. Hamas has a significant advantage with these tunnels.
The battlefield became a clearer image to me after learning this, and it also became confusing to consider the purpose of the IDF airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. It seems like a huge waste of time and money. From Luttwak:
And one more:
The only option for the IDF is a “close” operation. An operation that centers around close-quarters combat, which I’m assuming Hamas is more than ready for.
I’ve heard it said that conventional “bunker busters” can disrupt the tunnel network, but this soldier’s account of fighting with foreign militias who hid out in similar tunnels which faced similar aerial attacks makes me downrate the effectiveness of bunker busters by quite a lot. I don’t think they’ll work.
There are two takeaways here. First is that the situation the IDF faces is probably a lot worse than any public official in the US or Israel is willing to say openly, and as much has been confirmed by Seymour Hersh’s sources. One of them, commenting on the talk of using bunker busters to destroy underground Hamas targets, said, “The talk of JDAMS [bunker busters] is the talk of people who don’t know what to do.”
The second takeaway is that, if you want to win a modern war, dig. The tunnel situation is instructive. The usefulness of tall buildings is also instructive but, those tunnels, I can’t see how the IDF manages to surmount this.
The White House has expressed concern that the IDF does not have a clear way to achieve its military objective of removing Hamas, showing a likely concern over the situation laid out above.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett calls Qatar, “The enemy itself,” calling the gulf nation the chief sponsor of Hamas. Qatar seems like an underrated player in this conflict. This may change as the situation unfolds.
For some reason the city of Melbourne is flying Palestinian flags:
Hamas claimed days ago that an IDF rocket destroyed a hospital in Gaza, killing 500 people. The NYT and other major news organizations ran with the story. The NYT has now retracted the story and apologized, since it turned out that Hamas lied and one of its own rockets hit a hospital parking lot. This story is instructive as it shows disinformation is not an issue inherent to free flowing online discourse, it’s mostly a feature of having overwhelmingly powerful biases. I’ve only ever seen disinformation spread by people who are outstandingly competent, competent enough to convince themselves of just about anything, and competent enough to disregard epistemic caution.
There’s apparently an off-the-cuff signal that precedes direct U.S. involvement in a war. Right before war starts the Domino's Pizza near the Pentagon sees a dramatic uptick in orders to its offices. Wolf Blitzer has allegedly said to always follow the pizza (I need to confirm that). Dear reader, the pizzas are being ordered en masse. We are going to war.
The situation for Jews on U.S. campuses has grown more worrisome over the last few weeks. NYU’s Student Bar Association president was filmed defacing posters of civilians kidnapped by Hamas. Jewish students at Cooper Union had to barricade themselves from pro-Palestinian protestors.
Students projected words saying “Glory To Our Martyrs” on a building at George Washington University.
I might sound like I’m exaggerating here but I don’t think the level of anti-semitism in the world has been this high in any of our lifetimes, and the situation seems to be turning critical quickly. Ironically the danger isn’t coming from the expected suspects. It’s not white, bucolic, middle or southern Americans. The hate seems fundamental to the Islamic worldview, which brings up another interesting perspective
Almost all hard-nosed leftists seem to have this unusual affinity for Islam and actions done in the name of Islam. Lukewarm leftist countries like Britain also seem to have a natural affinity with Islam. No one has ever pointed it out as far as I know, and I don’t think anyone has explained why this is the case, either. I think Islam might end up being the ascendant form of “wokeism,” even if only by way of mass immigration. I think that this will endanger the Jewish community worldwide.
It may be necessary to build some sort of insoluble emergency fund to protect Jewish life and property through rapid relocation. This all sounds ridiculous now but keep an open mind. The end of history was yesterday, today is a brand new horizon.
How serious is Iran about an attack against the US? I don’t think it would be very difficult if it really wanted to. With a porous southern border allowing in 500,000 people a month, a large-scale insurgency could easily be mounted here. And with everything we know about urban warfare, I’m not sure the US would be capable of stopping it. I fear that something of this nature may happen in the near future
The IDF’s ground war is definitely going to happen. The only question is when. And when it does happen, I still think efforts will prove mostly unsuccessful. I’m not confident that the IDF has effective, legal means to deal with the tunnel threat. And we have to wonder about the effectiveness of their intelligence gathering if the initial attack happened to begin with. So I still think Israel will end up agreeing to peace in the end, and that the end will come relatively quickly. If it ends up being more protracted by way of U.S. involvement, we have the next point-
I’m expecting a broader war to break out with Iran directly joining the fray if U.S. really pushes into the conflict, but how far will the conflagration spread? Why is Russia testing its nuclear retaliation capabilities? I don’t see any clear way this war can directly involve Russia (or China), but maybe Iran has more pull than we think, and maybe a direct war with Iran really does trigger a larger fight. We’ll see.
I hope I’m wrong about most of what I’ve said here. I hope the world just proceeds on as normal and that all this turns out to be a speed bump on an otherwise smooth road. But we’ll see over the course of the next few weeks. Until then, we wait for more news.