Week of August 9th, 2014

Executive Summary


The African conference, which was hosted by the White House overshadowed events in Washington.  However, the continued fighting and uneasy ceasefire continued to garner considerable attention.

As of this writing, it appears that an uneasy ceasefire is holding.  In that light, the Monitor Analysis looks at the military lessons learned by both sides.  Obviously, one lesson was that Hamas fighters, who have been underestimated by the IDF, did much better than Israel expected.


Think Tanks Activity Summary

The CSIS looks at the fighting in Gaza and what it should mean to US military forces.  They note, “The United States cannot rely on professional forces and superior technology alone to fight conventional wars, any more than it can rely on “soft power” and partnerships with weak and internally divided allies as a substitute for the use of force.  The United States must adapt its forces to fight at asymmetric levels of politico-military warfare. It must progressively improve its ability to selectively attack enemy with minimal civilian casualties and collateral damage. It must do a far better job of integrating its civil and military approaches to warfare, and it must focus far more on shaping the lasting strategic outcome of a conflict than on winning tactical victories.

Technology has not triumphed over the human dimension of warfare, and the United States must be prepared to engage in long, complex political and ideological struggles fought on local terms and under local conditions in a steadily more complex mix of state and nonstate actors.”

The Washington Institute argues that the US must provide more support for the Kurds in Iraq, who are fighting ISIS.  Although they note that poor disposition of forces and rivalries are hurting the Kurds, they also write, “Although the peshmerga suffered some hard knocks in the past couple weeks, they are already counterattacking — and far faster than the U.S.-trained Iraqi army, it must be said. The Kurdish military remains the ideal ally against ISIS: it is highly motivated, quite well equipped, and perfectly positioned to assault ISIS along a broad front. Now is the time to commence U.S. airstrikes in support of the peshmerga, and to greatly intensify broad-based U.S. security cooperation. The latter effort should be structured to last well beyond the current fight against ISIS and involve more than the provision of U.S. weapons.”

The Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at the instability in Jordan, an important American ally in the region.  Noting the threat of extremism inside Jordan, they say, “Despite reassurances from King Abdullah II and top government and military officials to the Jordanian public, the risk of smaller-scale attacks is higher. The potential for small groups inside the country to be seriously disruptive is not lost on anyone. Jordanian jihadists returning home from the battlefield pose a direct threat while also serving as sources of radicalization for the rising number of jihadist Salafists in the country. There is fear that the internal “fire under the ashes” will be fueled by the combination of domestic discontent, regional grievances, and battlefield successes of radical militants that inspire revolutionary-minded youth. Jihadist Salafist leader Abu Sayyaf, who coordinates sending Jordanians to fight in Syria, has made clear that with greater capacity “this regime [in Jordan] will not be left alone.”

The CSIS looks at the sectarian problems in the Middle East and say that regional political leaders are fostering much of it.  They conclude, “What is important to note about this process is that leaders use it consciously in a bid for political control. They seek to erect barriers so that they can govern (and exploit) all that is within their domain. They create threats so that they can then protect their subjects from those threats. They stake their future on the presence of enduring conflict and their ability to protect populations from it.  It is easier to erect these divisions than tear them down, but the first step in doing so is to recognize that they represent a departure from history rather than a return to it. Recreating shared interests that cut across identities is an important step, and creating security for all is another. Sectarian difference isn’t new, but its overwhelming importance is. Allowing that difference to determine everything is not a return to the past but a step into a different—and likely more violent—future.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at future relations between the European Union (EU) and Turkey.  Part of the problem, they note is that, “In recent years, the EU has elected to deal with Turkey through a piecemeal approach that has had more to do with the union’s own bureaucratic intricacies (and the fallout from the Lisbon Treaty) than with political design. Meanwhile, Ankara has pursued its dense relationship with the EU in fragmented ways, seemingly convinced that it would derive greater benefit from such a method than from a more straightforward approach.  The EU and Turkey now face a substantially deteriorating geopolitical environment. Today’s situation in the Middle East and the Black Sea is full of uncertainties and risks for both partners. This calls for a comprehensive approach from the EU and an openness to dialogue from Turkey.”

The Center for American Progress looks at US relations with Turkey and the Kurds.  In arguing for a greater role for Kurds in the region, they write, “For the United States and Turkey, the rapidly changing political situation in Syria and Iraq underpins the need for new partners with whom to work toward regional stability and the provision of basic governance. This goal reaches beyond a narrow—albeit important—notion of national security, rooted in combating militancy and denying terrorist organizations space in which to operate.”

The Institute for the Study of War looks at how ISIS is governing in captured areas of Syria.  In noting its strengths and weaknesses, they write, “ISIS’s sweeping yet exclusionary method of governance is potentially one of the organization’s greatest strengths, but it may also become one of ISIS’s greatest weaknesses. ISIS maintains social control by eliminating resistance, but this in turn places technical skills that are essential to run modern cities in shorter supply. In the process of establishing its governance project, ISIS has dismantled state institutions without replacing them with sustainable alternatives. The immediate provision of aid and electricity, for example, does not translate into the creation of a durable economy. The consequence of ISIS’s failure, however, may not be the dismantling of the Caliphate, but rather the devastation of the cities and systems that comprise Iraq and Syria such that they never recover…Though ISIS certainly has demonstrated intent to commit resources to governance activities, it is yet to demonstrate the capacity for the long-term planning of state institutions and processes. Translating broad military expansions from the summer of 2013 into a well-governed contiguous zone will be ISIS’s most daunting task yet, and may prove to be a critical vulnerability.”





Military Lessons from the Gaza War

As of this writing, the latest truce is holding and the IDF is withdrawing from much of Gaza.  The question now is if Israel achieved its goals and what lessons both sides learned from the fighting?

Obviously, Israel didn’t achieve what it set out to do, when it invaded Gaza.  It stated goal was to destroy Hamas.  But, as the fighting bogged down and Israeli Army casualties skyrocketed, the Israeli government cut back its goals – something that even senior IDF officers admitted to.  A senior Israeli military official told Jerusalem Online that attempting to destroy Hamas, “Would have required staying in Gaza for 2 years.”

Instead, the IDF changed its mission to destroying the tunnels in Gaza – a mission that was considerably easier, but still costly in terms of lives and resources.  However, it did destroy 32 tunnel complexes according to Israeli sources.

However, Israel’s decision to change the objective of the operation and then withdraw and claim victory doesn’t hide the fact that their thinking was faulty.

The first problem was the IDF’s decision to engage in a war in an urban environment.  As the Monitor Analysis pointed out several weeks ago as Israel prepared to invade Gaza, urban operations are very difficult and costly.  They are even harder on armored forces, which can’t use their mobility – as was proven by the number of Israeli soldiers who were killed in armored vehicles that were hit by resistance anti-tank rockets.

Part of the problem is the IDF’s belief in its invincibility.  Israel’s successes in the Sinai in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s have impacted its strategic thinking.  These swift victories in the barren Sinai have allowed the IDF to think that overwhelming armored power can defeat anything.  They, however, have forgotten that in 1967, in the battle for Old Jerusalem, the fighting was much slower and more costly in terms of ground gained.

The result was that Israel invaded Gaza with an army designed to fight an armored war in the Sinai Desert rather than an urban environment.

While the IDF forgot lessons from past wars, Palestinian fighters showed that they had learned from history.  They were well-trained and skilled in the use of conventional small arms.  They also took the initiative rather than wait for the IDF to attack first.  In Operation Cast Lead, in winter 2008-2009, Israel’s coordinated and massive first strike, lasted less than four minutes and killed a third of all the fighters lost during the entire operation. In Operation Pillar of Defense, in November 2012, Israel’s first strike eliminated most of the resistant long-range rockets. An early strike during Pillar of Defense also killed Palestinian military commander Ahmed Jabari. This time, Palestinian military assets seem to have been prepared for an Israeli counterstrike. The military leaders went underground, logistical units ensured that valuable assets were protected, and the entire military structure dug in for a protracted fight.

Palestinian fighters also learned the value of command and control in war. Despite weeks of targeted bombings by the Israeli Air force, they were able to maintain communication lines between rocket units, ground units, and military leadership, and carry out its operational plan.  Even as the IDF pounded Gaza, Palestinian units successfully launched combined operations involving artillery and infiltration of ground forces into occupied areas.

Palestinian fighters’ great innovation in the war was their use of tunnels.  In fact, it was Israel’s interception of a group of fighters who had emerged from a tunnel in mid-July that forced it to rush into ground operation.

However, the Palestinian tunnels were not merely a way of infiltrating into Israeli settlements and military sites but an integral element of the defense of the Gaza Strip itself.  As military thinkers have noted since the advent of armored warfare in WW II, the best way to defeat an armored attack is with a defense in depth that can channel armored vehicles and tanks into killing zones.

This is what the Palestinian fighters successfully executed.  The Israelis had underestimated the tactical significance of the tunnels and IDF tanks were hemmed into a relatively small and largely built-up space, and then attacked from the sides and rear by Palestinian fighters relying on the Gaza tunnel system.  It soon became clear that IDF losses would have continued to pile up if this attack would have continued – leading to Israel’s withdrawal.

Although the Palestinian resistance tactics of urban warfare were good, the strategic thinking on their missile offensive against Israel was an enormous moral and psychological victory for the resistance but was marginal in its military impact.  The rocket fire caused a small number of Israeli casualties.  In fact, shorter-range mortar fire nearer the Gaza border was considerably more effective than the missile attacks.

However, the resistance rocket strategy did surprise Israel, especially when its R-160 forced Israelis in the country’s central and northern sections to head for their shelters.  Although inaccurate, the chief impact of the rockets was psychological and disruptive – making normal life impossible as people rushed for the bomb-shelters. It also proved that Palestinian fighters can stand up to Israel in a conventional war.

The other goal of the resistance rocket strategy was overall successful – to try to exceed the saturation point of the Iron Dome air-defense system through heavy barrages.  The saturation attacks appear to have been successful.

That counters the claims that Iron Dome has been proclaimed an overwhelming success.  In fact, there is some criticism that Iron Dome is not as effective as advertised by the Israeli government and that the small number of Israeli casualties was due more to an effective civil defense system and inaccurate Palestinian rockets.  If a good civil defense system is partially responsible, that means that Palestinian needs to focus on this infrastructure as they rebuild Gaza.

Despite the inaccuracy of the rockets, resistance was able to maintain a steady if intermittent barrage of missiles over the course of the war despite the massive attacks from the Israeli Air Force and artillery.  According to Israeli intelligence estimates some 3,300 missiles were fired towards Israel. The IDF claims to have destroyed some 3,000 more. Its assessment is that some 3,000 missiles are left in Gaza.

Observation for the Next War

Military experts suggest that the IDF will focus more on defeating tunnels.  They already used robots for clearing tunnels and better models can be expected.  Also expect them to look at developing more effective weapons like thermobaric bombs that can kill soldiers hidden in tunnels and bunkers.  These are weapons that utilize oxygen from the surrounding air to generate an intense, high-temperature explosion.  They do however cause considerably more destruction when used inside confined environments such as tunnels, caves, and bunkers – partly due to the sustained blast wave, and partly by consuming the available oxygen inside that confined space.

Although Israel may feel smug about its anti-rocket capability, it needs to reassess it in light of the even larger rocket capability of Hezbollah.  Repots give it an arsenal of about 100,000 rockets – ten times the size of the Gazans arsenal.

In July 2006, Hezbollah fired close to 4,200 rockets at a rate of more than 100 per day. About 95% of these were Katyusha artillery rockets which carried warheads up to 30 kg and had a range of up to 19 miles.  22% of these rockets hit cities and built-up areas across northern Israel, while the remainder hit open areas. The attacks in that conflict included the Fajr-3 and Ra’ad 1 rockets both liquid-fuel missiles developed by Iran.  Israeli intelligence states that Hezbollah possesses the far more advanced  Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets, with ranges of 27 and 45 miles; and a huge quantity of simpler 107mm and 122mm rockets with ranges up to 12 miles. These rockets are capable of striking many cities in northern Israel.  And, although Iron Dome might intercept some of them, that would mean moving the batteries north and away from Gaza.




The Middle East Unstitched

By Jon B. Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

August 6, 2014


It is easy to claim that everything going on in the Middle East today represents a return to the region’s status before World War I. After millennia of pillage, massacre, and looting, the story goes, Western powers brought order to a fractious region and helped create modern states. Now, critics say the borders of the modern Middle East have outlasted their utility. They are no match for the sectarian feuds and ethnic fault lines that have always underlain—and now tear apart—the region’s independent states.  One can use this argument to explain away many of the conflicts in today’s Middle East: the battles inside Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Bahrain, and even the battles between Israel and the Palestinians. These hatreds supposedly go back centuries, so how can anyone hope to sort these countries out?

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The Real Revolution in Military Affairs

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

August 5, 2014


It doesn’t seem all that long since the United States was considering how advancements in military technology would allow it to use advances in long-range precision weapons, intelligence sensors, and command and control capabilities to dominate conventional wars. The Gulf War in 1991, the fighting over Kosovo, the initial invasion of Afghanistan, and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to topple a Saddam Hussein all seemed to prove that superior technology and tactics had led to a “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA) that would dominate modern warfare.  No one can deny the importance of such changes today. Precision strike capability combined with superior intelligence and command and control capabilities have changed the face of conventional warfare. At the same time, the Afghan War, the Iraq War, the fighting in Gaza, the fighting in Yemen, the fighting in Ukraine, and the other conflicts following the political upheavals in the Middle East have all involved a different kind of revolution.

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A Turkey Road Map for the Next EU Foreign Policy Chief

By Marc Pierini

Carnegie Endowment

July 30, 2014

European Union leaders are currently busy selecting the next heads of the union’s key institutions. Among the new bigwigs to be appointed is the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy—in short, the EU’s foreign minister—who will succeed Catherine Ashton in December. The next high representative will inherit a lackluster record but, more importantly, will also have to tackle a host of thorny topics, from Ukraine to Syria to Iraq.  Turkey will be another of these critical issues. The country is not ablaze; on the contrary, for the EU and NATO, it is a pillar of stability in a highly volatile region. But in the eyes of Turkey’s Western partners, a number of domestic and international concerns could challenge that stability. Faced with an unstable regional context, how should EU leaders handle their southeastern neighbor?

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Jordan: Between Stability and Spillover

By Andrew Spath

Foreign Policy Research Institute

August 2014

The swiftness with which the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, now the Islamic State) assaulted and overran northern Iraq brings a new level of concern to policymakers. The offensive blew a hole in Washington’s desire to maintain “a ring of Syrian containment” that favored a political solution with limited measures to support rebels against the Assad regime. As the organization expands in number and territory, and ambitiously declaring the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate, anxiety is growing among leaders and citizens in the neighborhood. Jordan, the key U.S. ally bordering territories held by the Islamic State and comprising a central part of its desired Sunni empire, is precariously situated on the frontline of the ISIL’s violent campaign.

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ISIS Governance in Syria

By Charles C. Caris and Samuel Reynolds

Institute for the Study of War

August 2014

The Islamic State’s June 2014 announcement of a “caliphate” is not empty rhetoric. In fact, the idea of the caliphate that rests within a controlled territory is a core part of ISIS’s political vision. The ISIS grand strategy to realize this vision involves first establishing control of terrain through military conquest and then reinforcing this control through governance. This grand strategy proceeds in phases that have been laid out by ISIS itself in its publications, and elaborates a vision that it hopes will attract both fighters and citizens to its nascent state. The declaration of a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, however, raises the question: can ISIS govern?  Available evidence indicates that ISIS has indeed demonstrated the capacity to govern both rural and urban areas in Syria that it controls. Through the integration of military and political campaigns, particularly in the provincial capital of Raqqa, ISIS has built a holistic system of governance that includes religious, educational, judicial, security, humanitarian, and infrastructure projects, among others.

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What Iraq’s Kurdish Peshmerga Really Need

By Michael Knights

Washington Institue

August 7, 2014

PolicyWatch 2299

Prior to August 1, the Iraqi Kurds had not felt the full brunt of attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, which now styles itself “the Islamic State”). Yet after a string of powerful ISIS strikes on Kurdish peshmerga units between Mosul and the Syrian border, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s forces are fully engaged. On August 5, KRG president Masoud Barzani stated, “We have decided to go on the offensive and fight the terrorists to the last breath.”  The United States should certainly support its historic allies, the Iraqi Kurds, in this fight. However, amid a clamor of voices calling for Washington to arm the peshmerga, it is important to draw lessons from the recent fighting that highlight the Kurdish military’s more pressing needs.

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The United States, Turkey, and the Kurdish Regions

By Michael Werz and Max Hoffman

Center for American Progress

July 31, 2014

The past four years have swept away the old pillars of U.S. policy toward the Eastern Mediterranean. Egypt, a traditional American security partner, is confronting a staggering political and economic crisis. Syria has descended into a horrific civil war with no resolution in sight. Lebanon is clinging to basic stability in the face of long-standing sectarian tensions and a massive refugee crisis. Jordan remains a strong U.S. ally but faces structural threats that stem from demographic trends and the war in Syria. Iraq is once again engulfed in a struggle against militancy stoked, in part, by perceptions that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his supporters have institutionalized their ascendancy in a way unacceptable to Iraq’s minorities. Of course, governments across the region are struggling to confront the rising influence of violent Salafi jihadists. The seizure of Mosul—Iraq’s second-largest city and home to nearly 2 million people—by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, brought this reality into stark relief.

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor


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