Thursday, March 09, 2006

Thoughts on a Sub-Conventional War

I heard Moshe (Boogie) Ya'alon speak tonight. It was mildly interesting, but as I remarked to a peer, "You Israelis make it sound so easy. Go in, kill a few Hamasniks, demolish a few houses, ve zehu." I find Israeli political intellectuals to be heavily tactical in their thinking (because of the overwhelming military culture in Israel) and very much unable to create theoretical models. But that is neither here nor there...

Ya'alon did say something which sparked my interest, however. He remarked that since '73 Israel has not fought a conventional war (and besides Iraq I, has anyone really?). It spurred me to realize that conventional war is a struggle of territory. You force the other side to say uncle by taking his land, and encroaching upon his capital. Although the Risk analogy is not perfect, it is simple. Present armed conflict, in what Ya'alon termed "sub-conventional," revolves around identity, forcing the de facto creation of Us-land and You-land. A pocket of resistance will emerge in order to define itself against its surrounding political entity (I thought better than to use the word "power").

It is in precisely this way that Israel gets screwed. In '67 Israel was like, "Ha! We won a war and captured land!" But it is in this exact period that the paradigm of military struggle shifts. Whereas in the 19th century wars to annex territory were common, I do not recall much literature about resistance fighting amongst the locals. Regions of Poland, for example, regularly moved between a variety of powers with little opposition from the locals--in this model the "two stages" of war (conquest and occupation) are one. However, beginning around 1967 these two aspects become separated. It thus becomes almost antiquated to speak of a war to annex land; if the residents of land you seize feel like creating Us-land, you are again embroiled in conflict. Since the strategy of engagement becomes completely altered, you taking the land and holding the territory become two completely different episodes.

This explains rather nicely why it is that massive military powers seem to have so many problems these days--they essentially think that the conflict of old (land war) is the same as the new war (land hold). Thus military scholars write of the well-planned Iraqi invasion, and point to the poorly executed occupation period. That is precisely wrong, however (according to Ya'alon and what I present here). The two events are not stages at all but completely separate endeavors. Thinking in these terms allows for a much better grasp of the intransigence of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as well as numerous other anti-insurgency campaigns.

2 comments:

Jose said...

I like where you are going with this. Not something i had considered in the past at all, but rings plausible to me.

Sam said...

What made the invasion of Lebanon unconventional? I'm not challenging the classification—I'm just curious. I am used to the term "conventional" being used to describe battlefield wars with no nuclear or biological weapons. I think there has been an abundance of these wars since 1973. The Vietnamese-Cambodian war, the Iran-Iraq war, the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the wars in the Congo, the Falklands, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the wars in Afghanistan, etc. come to mind. Also, "resistance fighting" has been going on as long as war has been around...