As the 11 days of clashes between Gaza and Israel ends in a ceasefire, the military analysis truly begins. The Israeli army will painstakingly review all of its operations, especially the new weapons and tactics, to judge how successful they were and what improvements are needed.
Hezbollah in Lebanon has far more rockets than Hamas in Gaza, so one of the Israeli army worries will be how Hamas and other factions were able to carry on firing from such a small area right to the end, night after night.
The fact that Israel’s Iron Dome defences intercepted most of the rockets from Gaza and even shot down a Hamas drone will be counted as a success – especially for the arms companies seeking to promote Israeli expertise to new markets.
Hamas, meanwhile, will conduct its own analysis and will try to increase its stockpile and hide its missiles more effectively. It will want to improve its ability to fire multiple barrages – all the better to overwhelm Israel’s missile defences – and will seek to develop guidance systems. For now, there are celebrations in Gaza that the bombardment is over. For Hamas, its narrative is simple: “We stood firm, the Israelis didn’t dare invade us and we kept firing to the end.”
War of narratives
During the last 11 days, a total of 232 people were killed in Gaza, including 65 children, against 12 killed in Israel. These tragic statistics are still far lower than the 2014 conflict when 2,250 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, while five Israeli civilians and 67 soldiers were killed.
The difference between the two conflicts is that in 2014, Israel sent troops into Gaza and by doing so, lost soldiers, including many from its elite Golani brigade.
As the post-conflict ‘war of narratives’ runs its course, Israel’s premier, Benjamin Netanyahu, will certainly claim victory. With Israel’s surveillance and intelligence capabilities, including drones, satellites, communications interception and many other complex systems, the Israeli army claims to have been very effective.
However, the ability of Hamas to deploy ten-round multiple rocket launchers, and hide them underground prior to launch, will be a major focus point for the Israeli army’s improvement, not least with an eye to Hezbollah. According to an article in the 19 May print edition of Jane’s Defence Weekly, one of the barrages aimed at the coastal Israeli cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon involved firing 137 rockets in five minutes. The Israeli army will also want to work on its abilities to prevent Hamas smuggling more rockets into Gaza, especially its system of speedboats operating out of Lebanon and Egypt.
Israeli arms companies will be particularly keen to put the best gloss they can on weapons performance, especially the Iron Dome system, as they aim for increased sales for their “combat-proven” weapons. Since Israeli companies work closely with US corporations, it will be a joint process with the US military lobby.
This close relationship calls into question any US involvement in mediation but may well have given US President Joe Biden power to insist on a ceasefire. The relationship has developed over decades, receiving major boosts in the years since 9/11.
When the 2003 termination of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq went so badly wrong, the Pentagon urgently sought to learn more about Israeli counterinsurgency experience. As Barbara Opall-Rome, Israel bureau chief at the US military publication Defense News, put it in an article published in March 2004: “Israel has much to offer in the technological realm, while operationally, there are obvious parallels between Israel’s experiences over the past three years in the West Bank and Gaza and our own post-offensive operations in Iraq. We’d be remiss if we didn’t make a supreme effort to seek out commonalities and see how we might be able to incorporate some of that Israeli knowledge into our plans.”
From that point on, there was increased collaboration in training, weapon development and surveillance technologies, and this accelerated with increased fears of missile and rocket proliferation from Hamas. Because of this, since 2009 the US Army has operated an advanced X-band missile early warning system on Mount Keren in the Negev desert in Israel, that is able to feed missile launch data directly into Israeli defence systems.
Until the US began building a permanent base in Israel in 2017, the Pentagon could claim that its interventions were temporary in that the system was mobile, but there is now a permanent set-up co-located with the Israeli army’s air academy near Beersheba in the Negev desert.
When construction started, the US general in charge, John Gronski, hailed it as: “…the first ever stationing of a US Army unit on Israeli soil. The US and Israel have long planned together, exercised together, trained together. And now, with the opening of this site, these crucial interactions will occur every day. We’ll have Israeli airmen and US soldiers living and working side by side.”
The US, therefore, has troops permanently based in Israel who are directly involved in its defence. This is hardly a good position for a mediator, even less so since last week Biden approved $735 million in military sales to Israel, including precision-guided bombs. However, if Trump had won last November, it’s likely that the ceasefire wouldn’t have been achieved at all.
The horrific loss of life
Although the immediate context of the conflict is most felt in Gaza and Israel, there is also a much wider global assessment that makes this current clash significant for any large military force internationally. Ever since the abject failure of the Western wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there has been a pronounced move away from ‘boots on the ground’ and into remote warfare using strike aircraft, armed drones, special forces and private military corporations.
The Israeli army has learnt the lesson of multiple casualties when confronting well-trained, determined and experienced paramilitaries: Hamas in Gaza in 2014 and Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. It will now want to avoid invasion and occupation like the plague, so specific forms of remote warfare will continue to be developed.
In the wider context though, there are two issues. One is the horrific loss of life in Gaza, which is combined with the predicament of hundreds of thousands of young Palestinians in the occupied territories, who are further provoked by the growth in violent attacks by extremist Jewish youths.
A unified Palestinian government, with the heavy involvement and perhaps even the dominance of Hamas, is becoming a more likely prospect. In the short term, Netanyahu may be satisfied with the outcome of the conflict but in the longer term, the ramifications remain to be seen.
The second issue is more certain. On the global level, militaries, intelligence agencies and arms companies will learn every lesson they can from this, both for use in future wars and to increase sales of weapons.
Arms companies will relish the opportunity to develop new weapons as the era of remote warfare unfolds. As ever, it is the arms industry that gains the most – as the Shakespeare quote goes, now thrive the armourers indeed.
Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England.