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Earl Tilford / November 26, 2012

The Gaza Trap

Even though Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced an Israel-Gaza ceasefire, it’s apparent that Gaza still holds many traps for Israel.

For example, there’s the media trap. Hamas, like other Islamic terror groups, manipulates the Western media while toying with an abundance of useful idiots within certain political and religious circles. Large explosions in densely populated Gaza are more dramatic and easier for the press to cover than are rocket attacks that rain down on Siderot and Ashkelon in the south and that can now strike Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Additionally, Israeli drone and aerial responses, being far more precise than rocket barrages, mean journalists in Gaza can record and transmit dramatic explosions by precision-guided munitions with minimal risk to themselves. Not so for reporters inside Israel. Fox News leads the way in objective coverage.

The ceasefire announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton notwithstanding, it is unlikely U.S. diplomacy will broker the permanent peace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated Israel can – or will – accept. The Israelis know a deal opening the Gaza crossing points will lead inevitably to a third intifada. Furthermore, Hamas only agrees to ceasefires when it is to their advantage. Israel’s enemies have never modified their stated goal of annihilating the Jewish state and, until they do, there can be no permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Such an implacable enemy must be totally defeated. Ceasefires are irrelevant for Israel’s Gaza trap.

Strategically, Gaza presents a persistent and immediate threat while Hezbollah poses a greater, potentially more dangerous challenge from Lebanon. The Iranian threat, however, is one with which Israel must deal. Given the tenor of the Obama administration, Israel may be forced to act militarily – and alone. In that case, Hezbollah will unleash a massive missile attack on Haifa, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv. It could also send ground forces into northern Israel. Bashar al Assad, although hindered by the ongoing civil war in Syria, might throw in some support. With the Muslim Brotherhood controlling Cairo, if Israel falters, Egypt could be tempted into the fray. So, if Israel attempts to neutralize Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it makes sense to negate the strategic dimension inherent in the Gaza trap. Air power, however, can only do so much. It takes ground troops to root out guerrillas and terrorists. While Gaza abounds in both operational and tactical traps, urban warfare operates in four dimensions:

In the first dimension, at ground level, Israeli air strikes have created rubble strewn amidst the concrete canyons of the world’s most densely populated city. Rubble inhibits the movement of invading armor and infantry while providing concealment for defenders. Invading forces will be “channeled” into areas sown with mines and booby traps and ripe for ambushes.

Also at the ground level, a second dimension of urban warfare involves rooting out defenders concealed in buildings where they possess the element of surprise. Every doorway, every room, each staircase holds the potential for booby traps and ambushes.

The third dimension comes from above. While Israeli control of the air with drones and fighter planes negates some of the danger, guerrillas firing from rooftops have a tremendous advantage because tank guns cannot be sufficiently elevated to take out the threat. Furthermore, troops and some armored vehicles are vulnerable to fire from above.

The fourth dimension involves defenders moving through sewers and tunnels, which also abound in Gaza. Pop-up attacks can occur anywhere at any time. Explosives can be set off beneath enemy forces, especially when they are stymied by rubble blocking their advance.

Since the Israeli Defense Forces are among the world’s best trained and led, they certainly will have studied the lessons from the U.S. Army’s October 1993 debacle in Mogadishu and the challenges Chechen rebels presented the Russians in Grozny. The temptation will be to deal with the problem like the Russians did in Grozny and the Germans did during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, stand back and let artillery be the final arbiter. The U.S. didn’t do that in Mogadishu and Israel won’t do it to Gaza.

With the Iranian threat increasing, and with U.S. support for Israel questionable, Israeli leaders may feel their options are limited. Nevertheless, with plenty of military muscle and facing an implacable foe sworn to its destruction, Israel may be forced to disassemble the Gaza trap.

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where he is writing a history of the University of Alabama in the 1960s. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism.

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