Israel Does Not Understand 4GW

Israel and HAMAS flotilla
The story du jour.

Having previously failed to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza that denies HAMAS war material and economic aid, a coalition of Islamists, Palestinian nationalists and Western Leftists used ships of Turkish registry. The IDF took the bait and blundered into an ambush where the commandos were promptly swarmed by the “peace activists”, overpowered (!) and then had to bloodily shoot their way out of a debacle.

RealClearPolitics has a better video.

Taking stock of this bit of guerrilla theater gone lethal, let’s see what the supporters of HAMAS terrorism gained:

  • The world is hearing a false narrative that Israel massacred unarmed peace activists.

  • Turkey’s ruling, authoritarian, crypto-Islamist Party has a further wedge to downgrade Turkey’s traditional military cooperation with Israel while putting political pressure on Turkish secularists and Army leaders.

  • Israel’s diplomatic isolation is greatly increased

  • Additional strain is put on the already lukewarm relationship between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government

On the moral level of war, HAMAS supporters – whose strategic objective is to end Israel’s blockade of Gaza, so that HAMAS can rebuild it’s military strength – have scored a solid triumph while the IDF have acted with all the instinctive propensity for causing self-inflicted wounds of Richard Nixon confronting the Watergate break-in.

Because Israel is powerful and democratic and its enemies, despite their viciousness and authoritarian politics, are weak, the Israelis are not held to the same moral standards by international observers (many of whom, it must be noted, begin with a strongly anti-Israel or at least, anti-Western, orientation). In a 4GW paradigm, even acting in self-defense is not enough for a strong state to play the role of “the good guy” in a globalized media environment, unless the weak side does something that is viscerally morally repulsive – ex. Abu Zarqawi ‘s extreme brutality and lust for staging ghoulish beheadings of captives on the internet.

There seems to be a stunning political-strategic tone deafness on the part of Israeli leaders in recent years. Perhaps there is a degradition of IDF tactical excellence as well. Overpowering highly trained, heavily armed, elite commandos by untrained civilians is not possible unless said commandos were sent in poorly briefed, with unworkable ROE (IMHO, this was more likely a prepared ambush than a spontaneous act). There’s no half-way method of seizing a hostile ship by force. Either you do it swiftly, while citing appropriate legal justification or you don’t and employ a different set of responses to turn the ships away in a manner that does not alienate observers.

Military force used ineffectually is as counterproductive as force used excessively. From a Boydian strategic perspective, the initiative is lost, opponents are “pumped up” while one’s own side and sympathizers are demoralized. Political irritants become inflated into disasters. HAMAS, Hezbollah, al Qaida and similar entities are not the old, state-sponsored, state-centric, PLO and they are not playing the PLO’s game.


Abu Muqawama gives the “peace flotilla” way too much benefit of the doubt here, but his analysis of how poorly the Israelis handled this situation is spot on:

One could, from the start, think a number of different things about those participating in the peace flotilla to Gaza. (Naive? Righteous? Courageous? Anti-Semitic?) But for the sake of argument, and putting ourselves in the shoes of an Israeli naval commander, let’s assume the most malevolent of motivations for the people participating in the peace flotilla. If I am in charge of doing that for the Israeli Navy, I am going to assume these people are smart and are deliberately trying to provoke a crazy response from my sailors and soldiers that will produce ready-for-television images that both isolate Israel within the international community and further raise the ire of the Arabic-speaking and Islamic worlds. I mean, that is my base assumption for what this group is trying to do. So naturally, the last thing I would want my forces to do would be to overreact, right? It’s like when your convoy gets fired on inside a crowded market: the last thing you want to do is return fire with 7.62mm, killing a bunch of civilians and giving the enemy exactly the effect he was looking for.

If something does go wrong, meanwhile, I am going to have a response ready. I am going to have my very best spokespersons on international and Israeli television. I am most certainly not going to let people like Danny Ayalon provide my government’s response, right? Because a live wire like Ayalon — who the Turks already hate, with an understandable passion — will just say something incredibly crazy like how the people in the aid flotilla were terrorists with ties to al-Qaeda. (Even if you can prove this is somehow true, everyone you need to be speaking to right now — the international community, the Turkish people, the Arabic-speaking world — is just going to think you are nuts for saying it or will roll their eyes and say, “Oh, of course he’s saying that.”)

In reality, what happened today is the Israelis got their butts handed to them. The Israeli response to this aid flotilla was a fabulous gift to Hamas and Iran. (Try to imagine, if you will, the Israelis trying to go before the U.N. Security Council to gather support for sanctions on the Iranian regime right now. They would be more likely to leave New York with sanctions on their own regime!)


George Friedman of STRATFOR ( Hat tip to Adam Elkus)

Flotillas and the Wars of Public Opinion

….The bid to shape global perceptions by portraying the Palestinians as victims of Israel was the first prong of a longtime two-part campaign. The second part of this campaign involved armed resistance against the Israelis. The way this resistance was carried out, from airplane hijackings to stone-throwing children to suicide bombers, interfered with the first part of the campaign, however. The Israelis could point to suicide bombings or the use of children against soldiers as symbols of Palestinian inhumanity. This in turn was used to justify conditions in Gaza. While the Palestinians had made significant inroads in placing Israel on the defensive in global public opinion, they thus consistently gave the Israelis the opportunity to turn the tables. And this is where the flotilla comes in.

The Turkish flotilla aimed to replicate the Exodus story or, more precisely, to define the global image of Israel in the same way the Zionists defined the image that they wanted to project. As with the Zionist portrayal of the situation in 1947, the Gaza situation is far more complicated than as portrayed by the Palestinians. The moral question is also far more ambiguous. But as in 1947, when the Zionist portrayal was not intended to be a scholarly analysis of the situation but a political weapon designed to define perceptions, the Turkish flotilla was not designed to carry out a moral inquest.

Instead, the flotilla was designed to achieve two ends. The first is to divide Israel and Western governments by shifting public opinion against Israel. The second is to create a political crisis inside Israel between those who feel that Israel’s increasing isolation over the Gaza issue is dangerous versus those who think any weakening of resolve is dangerous.

Cross-posted at

13 thoughts on “Israel Does Not Understand 4GW”

  1. The account I read said the commandos were not prepared for the violent reaction and expected passive demonstrations. I agree that the Israelis mishandled this and they should have disabled the ships, then let them drift. That could have been done at night. They did exactly the wrong thing. If they wanted to play real hardball, like the French did with the anti-nuclear people 20 years ago, a mysterious explosion should do the trick.

  2. Caroline Glick has a good analysis.

    The problem originates in Israel’s weak political leadership and is indirectly a function of Israel’s poorly designed electoral system that is based on proportional representation.

    Perhaps a strong Israeli prime minister could have handled this situation better. Netanyahu, despite his good rep in the USA, is a highly flawed leader who foreshadowed his current weakness by showing weakness in his interactions with Clinton and Arafat in the ’90s.

    Poor PR ability is a classic Israeli weakness much as over-reliance on tech is a classic American weakness. It’s a systemic problem, and the Israeli govt’s chronic ineptitude in this area suggests that the top people do not understand the scope of the strategic problem.

  3. “killing a bunch of civilians”

    Blockade runners, organized by terrorists, are not civilians.

  4. No Navy or Coast Guard in the world would have allowed attacks on its sailors without a forceful response–not the French, not the Turkish, certainly not the Russian, and (and least prior to Obama) not the American. I suspect that in many if not most cases the response would have involved considerably more violence than the Israeli response did.

    It is possible that Israel could have handled this better from a PR/tactical standpoint, but I don’t that’s the key point. The primary issue here is the extent to which certain influential groups in western society–especially among writers, entertainers, professors, etc–have romanticized Palestinian terrorism and attempted to position Israel in such a way that absolutely nothing that country can do (short of national suicide) will avoid vitriolic denunciation. The hostility toward Israel, it should be obvious, is basically a proxy for hostility toward the United States, toward Western civilization, and indeed toward civilization in all forms.

  5. I will grant that in terms of 4GW, Israel has lost this encounter. But what guarantees, other than denial, are there that we are not about to revert to 1st Generation Warfare. On a massive scale.

    We have Israel facing possible nuclear attack in the very near future from Iran. We have the United States siding for all practical purposes with Iran against Israel. And Europe. They are doing a public diplomatic dance designed to prevent any action being taken against the Iranian nuclear weapons program until after Iran launches. The Russians and Chinese are lined up alongside Iran respectively creating the Iranian nuclear weapons program and protecting it. Turkey has just switched sides conclusively, and is aiding Iran, HAMAS, and Hezbollah.[*] Iran has armed Syria and its proxy forces in Lebanon with ballistic missiles.

    [*] Since Turkey has chosen to side with HAMAS and Hezbollah against Israel; it might be time for Israel to recognize and support an independent Kurdistan.

    What if, reading the signs, the Israelis have decided that an existential war is inevitable; and there is no reason to attempt to curry favor with enemies any more? As of today, in addition to having embassies stormed, Israel had to react to yet another rocket attack [and killed 3 Palestinians with a counterstrike] and stopped a terrorist infiltration attempt. If things continue to escalate …

    This is not a situation that will last a long time.

    One thing to watch. The “Peace Flotilla” was Turkish flagged. There are reports that the next wave of ships full of “humanitarian” C-4 and AK-47’s will be escorted by Turkish warships. Keep in mind that technically, NATO still commits its members to joint defense. Turkey is still a member of NATO.

    Can you see any NATO member not jumping at the chance to at the very least declare sanctions against Israel, including the United States? Or perhaps to take direct military action?

    The “Samson Option” may not be the best choice, but we may be seeing it being left as Israel’s only choice in their view.

    Subotai Bahadur

  6. Stun grenades, smoke grenades, rubber bullets, controlled sinking etc. but paintball guns? Wtf?

    Seems like the Navy was too proud to ask around for advice.

  7. Niko… pepper balls containing OC (shot from paint markers) are no joke if you’re not protected. They have better range and accuracy than spray can applications, too.

  8. The ultimate objective of Caroline Glick’s Red-Green (Leftist/Islamist) Alliance is to smuggle an Iranian nuclear weapon into Gaza to be fired at Ashkelon.

    Iran and its lefty friends will try this over and over until Israel starts killing them all.

  9. Given that the UN, the Arabic intelligensia, the EU intelligensia, the EU itself and it’s toadies, lackies, and admirers, are all anti-Semitic, of course Israel lost the propaganda war. Before that audience no Israeli and no Jew can win.The 4G war cannot be won without real victories in ordinary war. More violence, nothing less than the covert sinking of the flotilla, would gave been a 4G, 3G, 2G, and G victory. The goal of the terrorizers is to goad Israel into an attack. An attack I hope will result in the terrorist’s and, perhaps, Islam’s destruction.

  10. We are making this much harder than needed.

    International law is crystal clear that Israel has a right to maintain a blockade of Gaza and to inspect ships for contraband.

    Ships that refuse a boarding party to inspect their cargo can be treated as hostile when they enter Israel’s territorial waters. This is serious business. The IDF can seize the ship, arrest the captain and crew for trial, deport the passengers, confiscate the cargo and, for that matter, the ship as a “prize”. Auction the ship off to the Russians or Nigerians. Good luck to the ship owners on getting it back from Putin or a Nigerian arms merchant after that. Or finding an insurance company to offer them a reasonable premium for future flotillas.

    And if all that is too much of a bother, just fire the customary warning shots and sink the ship if it proceeds to trespass on territorial waters.

  11. Agreed. It was the hesitant and half-hearted manner that killed Israel on this issue, plus going out on a legal limb so far from their territorial waters (it’s legal only because the idiots on the ship stated their intent to run the blockade instead of going to a neutral port).

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