When Hamas invaded southern Israel on October 7, its terrorists swept through the border towns, causing horrific carnage. A barrage of thousands of rockets complemented this ground attack in the biggest “massacre” that Israel had to face on its soil.
The attack by Hamas demonstrates in the most dramatic way the impact and importance of a new kind of irregular war, as Foreign Policy reports in its analysis. We’ve been hearing a lot lately about ‘irregular warfare’, ‘hybrid warfare’, ‘grey zone conflicts’ and other nebulous concepts.
As confusing as the terms are, however, the characteristics are quite clear: the use of asymmetric, multidimensional “weapons” and indirect methods by a country or power that lacks the means to win in a conventional military conflict. Asymmetric means are unconventional tactics that seek to close the gap between the capabilities of an extremist organization and an organized military. Multidimensional refers to simultaneous activities in military, political, information and other domains. Indirect describes tactics that seek to avoid a conventional, hand-to-hand military conflict. With these benchmarks, Hamas’ attack on Israel is a classic scenario of irregular warfare.
Hamas attacked simultaneously by air, land and sea, bypassing the much stronger Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Firing some 2,200 rockets into Israeli territory early in the morning on October 7, it momentarily “defeated” even Israel’s famous Iron Dome missile defense system. Under the cover of the air “shield”, created by the rockets, bulldozers crossed the theoretically well-guarded borders of the Gaza Strip, allowing hundreds of “fighters” to pass.
These militant-terrorists then attacked Israeli army bases, but more so civilian homes and a major music festival, using extreme violence for a “shock and awe” effect. They killed, raped, maimed civilians indiscriminately, advertising this brutality in copious videos. Other Israelis have been kidnapped and are being held in Gaza as hostages, presumably to be used as human shields, another irregular tactic that Hamas has long had in mind.
And today, as Israeli airstrikes attempt to decimate the terrorists, Hamas is able to present images of a flattened Gaza, thousands of dead civilians, and the utter impoverishment of the living. In other words, he is trying to win the war of narratives and information, with the aim of limiting international support for Israel.
At least one year of preparation
Months, even years, of planning, training and coordination preceded the attack under the supposedly watchful eye of Israel’s Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence agencies. Documents allegedly found by Israeli soldiers suggest that the plan was planned at least as early as October 2022. Therefore, it is hard to believe that Hamas does not have an underlying objective. Certainly the group bet on a harsh response from Israel, certainly considered the attack on the Gaza Strip inevitable, notes Foreign Policy. And what did he want this to achieve? Stop the normalization of Israel-Saudi relations and ensure even greater support from Iran.
Hamas did not use any techniques, tactics or doctrines of irregular warfare that had not been seen before. Instead, he uniquely combined existing irregular tactics for great strategic gains. NGOs struggle with what they have and get creative with what they don’t. As they usually do not have tanks, helicopters, fighter jets or other equipment in their arsenals, they avoid direct attacks on security and defense forces. And Hamas illuminates four key lessons about irregular warfare and its future evolution for the international community.
The 4 lessons
First, high-tech tools don’t always guarantee an advantage. Using human rather than artificial intelligence, Hamas gathered detailed data on its Israeli targets, including vulnerabilities in military equipment and detailed layouts of the bases and cities it attacked.
Secondly, the methods, tactics, and low-tech innovation capabilities used by Hamas are not new. The team simply found a way to implement them into a deadly and effective combination. The paratroopers, drones, snipers, rockets, motorcyclists and inflatable boats used by Hamas were deployed in a combined, coordinated, multi-dimensional and asymmetric manner. According to a retired senior Israeli officer in the FP, Israel was aware of the individual tactics used by Hamas. The shock “was the coordination between all these systems.”
Thirdly, one must wait until they gain a strategic advantage, as Hamas did by hitting the Iron Dome with a massive volume of rockets. Indeed, one of the defining characteristics of irregular warfare is how actors use asymmetric and indirect tactics to circumvent stronger systems.
fourth, it is important for security forces to proactively deploy and maintain civilian options to respond to an irregular warfare scenario.