[Column] The spreading plague of war

Posted on : 2023-11-03 16:49 KST Modified on : 2023-11-03 16:49 KST
Going forward, war is likely to break out wherever these three conditions are fulfilled
Residents of Gaza walk through rubble from Israel’s air strikes as they leave their homes on Oct. 30 amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (AP/Yonhap)
Residents of Gaza walk through rubble from Israel’s air strikes as they leave their homes on Oct. 30 amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (AP/Yonhap)
By Kim Jong-dae, visiting scholar at Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies

Although more than 10,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have died in Israeli air strikes following Hamas’ sneak attack on Israel on Oct. 7, the political and military leadership of Hamas is holding steady. Groups of militants at the brigade level — including the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Al-Quds Brigades in Syria and the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades — have been pounding Israel with daily rocket attacks throughout the three weeks of Israeli air strikes on Gaza.

Since Oct. 27, the brigades have been coordinating operations against the Israeli tanks and armored vehicles that are approaching Gaza City. That means a joint command and control structure is being maintained despite the death of top commanders.

Hamas is simultaneously waging psychological operations that include releasing videos of Israeli hostages and taking diplomatic action by working with Iran and Hezbollah following a leadership meeting in Russia. Hamas is not merely a militant group — it’s also an ideology, an international network and a culture of resistance. In Lebanon, there’s a joint body that coordinates military activity by Hamas and Hezbollah.

Hamas’ robust resistance in this war has ominous implications for Israel. It means that Israel’s Gaza strategy of decapitating Hamas’ leadership and dividing Hamas from the Palestinian people isn’t working. Even if the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) were to enter Gaza City and wipe out the Hamas forces there, Hamas itself would not be eliminated.

Furthermore, Israeli troops can’t use their state-of-the-art weaponry in the labyrinthine alleyways of Gaza City. It took nine months for US-backed forces to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul, which had been occupied by ISIS. If Israeli resorts to similar warfare in Gaza City, it will take even longer and cost even more. Israel may find itself in a strategic dilemma.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is pushing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to immediately send the IDF into Gaza City to end the war, arguing that costs will continue to rise the longer the war lasts. But that’s exactly what Hamas wants.

On Oct. 7, when the war began, Hamas demonstrated the ability to arm commercial quadcopter drones with direct attack munitions guided by satellite navigation systems and loitering munitions equipped with video cameras and wireless links.

A released video shows munitions dropped from a quadcopter destroying a Merkava tank (the main battle tank used by the IDF), taking down a remotely operated weapon on a watchtower on the border wall with Gaza, and striking a base transceiver station. While drones were disrupting the IDF’s nerve center, Hamas militants were penetrating Israeli territory from the land, sea and air.

That sort of ingenuity demonstrates that Hamas has systematically studied and advanced the tactics Ukrainian militia used to pin down Russian armored forces to the north of Kyiv last year. If Israel underestimates the asymmetric warfare that will unfold in Gaza City, which is to say Hamas’ organized resistance using civilian assets, it will suffer a major setback.

Bad behavior is the easiest to pick up, it’s said, and murderous technology is quickly picked up and promulgated. Israel is copying the Russian military’s brutal behavior in Ukraine. The Russians have indiscriminately destroyed dams, hospitals, power plants and residential areas, even dropping white phosphorus, a deadly incendiary weapon.

Just three days after the war broke out, the IDF fired 155 mm rounds of white phosphorus, mimicking the Russian military’s behavior last year. The IDF was hoping to break the enemy’s will to resist through sheer terror.

Watching young and old people perishing in the flames of the Gaza Strip creates the impression of seeing the war in Ukraine being played back at twice the speed. The two wars that are playing out in Europe and the Middle East are also similar in their radical rejection not only of submission or surrender, but of the other side’s very right to exist. War spreads like an infectious disease.

Going forward, war is likely to break out wherever the following three conditions are fulfilled: when primal hatred is instigated at the collective level, when big shocks can be delivered at a low cost, and when government capabilities to manage and contain crises have been paralyzed.

Along with the Gaza Strip, high-risk areas include the West Bank, where the Palestinian National Authority’s control is weakening; Yemen, which is still racked by civil war; Syria and Iraq, where militant groups run wild, and Europe’s three Baltic States.

The specter of war that haunts the earth will exploit the inherent weakness of people whose wisdom has been sapped by hatred. I can only hope that the Yoon administration in South Korea, which seems set on scrapping the 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement with North Korea and is bizarrely modeling itself after Israel, will not be blinded by hatred of North Korea.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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