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Preliminary Lessons from Israel Hamas Conflict - Circa 2023

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Fifth day into a conflict may be too early to derive lessons, hence these are only preliminary thoughts subject to review and further formulations. Nevertheless, some lessons are so obvious that these can be stated as initial propositions to be expanded upon as more evidence on how the conflict started and progressed can be reviewed.

Here is an initial assessment of the preliminary lessons from the Israel-Hamas conflict-

First is the obvious one that has been flagged by various sources, significant failure in Israeli intelligence in discovering Hamas intent, planning and preparations and timing for the launch of a multi pronged terror campaign with multiple objectives.

While Israeli external intelligence agency Mossad and the internal intelligence agency Shin Bet as well as military intelligence Aman have established a formidable reputation in this case what is evident is the lack of tracking the Hamas 360 degrees technically and more particularly human intelligence.

While it is difficult to penetrate organisations as the Hamas, lack of tracking activities in Gaza and that of Iranian and Hamas leaders movement and motives was not obviously no carried out systematically.

While Mossad may have a formidable reputation in tracking individual foes of Israel, the inability to track Hamas plans of 7 October will remain a singular failure. The gap could have been filled up by Aman the military intelligence which also apparently failed to do so.

The security of operations by the Hamas in this case was excellent. The attack involved thousands of fighters who were to cross Israel through multiple means. There could be a leakage of the plans during the planning as well as rehearsal phase which did not happen thus Mossad was left with no clues or trail of training activities which may have denoted the possibility of a wide-ranging attack.

The strike was launched on the anniversary of the 1973 War in which Arab states blitzed Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar thus achieving complete surprise. This is the second time that Israeli government and forces have been surprised on the Yom Kippur day, 50 years later.

Operational failures in lack of covering of barrier that was erected walling off Gaza was evident as the Hamas could penetrate with ease a number of these bringing up bulldozers at some of the points. It is a well-known axiom that obstacles are only effective if these are covered. By not covering these the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) made a cardinal error.

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New capabilities and tactics demonstrated by the Hamas appears to be another one. The operation was named, “Al-Aqsa Storm,” and commenced with a rocket attack with some 5000 strikes which served as cover for the multi-pronged infiltration of fighter’s early morning. The fighters breached the security barriers separating Gaza and Israel. Some landed by powered parachutes while motorboats were also used to target coastal towns such as Zikim, with a military base. Bulldozers were used to tear down the fence while fighters entered Israel on motorcycles giving them the mobility to move deep and attack multiple areas including civilians.

Indeed the scale and depth of the operations and the target engaged including civilian women and children, foreigners or Israelis was widespread. At least 1600 Hamas fighters have been reportedly killed in Israel up to 10 October. Some more are at large while some could have well returned after having carried out their mission.

While Non State actors were known to be able to launch operations in multiple domains such as cyber, the simultaneity of attacks with use of multiple entry points is a new revelation.

The ability of a non state actor as Hamas to carry out such operations augurs ill for those facing threats from such entities such as India. The multiple terrorist groups that are arrayed against the Indian state may have seen the operation closely and drawn their own lessons.

Asymmetry versus symmetry or conventional forces, while in the initial phase the former may have an advantage it is unlikely that these will be able to prevail over a strong state as Israel with a determined leadership. Thus, the ultimate outcome for Hamas will be a failure if the intent was to bring down the Israeli state as Hamas’ mentors the Iranian leadership has been proclaiming.

On the other hand, if the aim is to bring about a change in behaviour in Israel’s dealing with the Palestinians and avoiding violating their religious emotions this may come about in case of a political shift in Tel Aviv. But that is not a given for the moment.

Overall, the cause of the operation launched by the Hamas denotes a strategic failure of Israel which has adopted a coercive option in dealing with Palestine including nudging their sentiments in the approaches made to the al Aqsa mosque in recent months. In case Israel had adopted a more reasonable option, the Hamas would have no case to launch such an operation targeting Israeli civilians.

Hamas military commander Muhammad Al-Deif claimed that the group had “targeted the enemy positions, airports and military positions with 5,000 rockets” and that the assault was a response to attacks on women, the desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and the ongoing siege of Gaza.

Al Aqsa Mosque- Image courtesy wikpedia commons

And in the same way the operation was a strategic failure for the Hamas as targeting innocent civilians meant that this is seen as a terrorist attack by many fence sitters as India with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi unequivocally coming out in support of Israel while abandoning the balanced approach with a two state solution that has been the overall Indian policy.

For India a concern will be the defence supply chain after the disruption from one of its principal suppliers Russia engaged in the war in Ukraine. Israel is also one of India’s key defence import destination with multiple vectors, how involvement in war of the IDF will impact the same remains to be seen?

The United States has moved fast in moving an aircraft carrier group to the region thereby ensuring that groups as the Hezbollah do not derive any inspiration from the Hamas strike and launch their own operation from Lebanon. Similarly Iran is also on watch. Management of horizontal escalation that may have engulfed the region has for the time being been averted.

We hope to develop on the initial lessons and track them to a logical conclusion negating or building up on the relevance in the days ahead.


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