From Tunnels to Tranquillity

By Lt Gen Ashok Bhim Shivane

Opinion

israel-hamas conflict

In the Israel-Hamas conflict, the dynamics of time, space, force, and information operational factors introduce unprecedented complexities. The unique challenges posed by the ‘Gaza Metro’ and tunnel warfare shed light on the prolonged attrition war and its moral implications for Israel. The need is for a political transition to peace which necessitates a critical role for the global community in steering the region towards coexistence and lasting tranquillity. Presenting the second part of the article “Charting the Course to Peace

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Tackling the Dynamics of Time, Space, Force, and Information: The dynamics of the key operational factors – time, space, force, and information – complicate the conflict termination profile. The combat faces added intricacies with the ‘Gaza Metro,’ a network of tunnels complicating subterranean warfare in an urban environment. This tunnel system acts as a self-sustaining web, disrupting Israeli force asymmetry by controlling time (duration and frequency/tempo of operations), denying spaces for defensive and offensive actions, and diluting Israel’s force advantage. The conflict unfolds in the skies above cities, thick with drone missiles and air attacks. Ground forces being deployed to neutralise high-rise buildings, providing an advantage to the defender, while navigating rubble and streets slows the tempo of operations. Tunnel warfare in an urban environment presents a significant challenge, prolonging the conflict at a high cost of casualties and collateral damage, which could be reflected adversely by world opinion and diminishing support for Israel’s retribution. In the 21st century, victory is measured by achieving objectives with minimal casualties and in minimum time; both are compromised in this scenario. The fourth factor, information, sees an advantage shift to Gazans with AI, deep fakes, and cyber warfare as technology vectors will add to the challenges of the moral high ground in a long-drawn war. Militarily it may be advantageous to Israel but morally and economically to sustain is a bigger challenge to the nation’s future.

Unlike tunnels of past wars, Gaza’s tunnels pose unique challenges under cities, especially beneath hospitals, mosques, and schools. Detection and destruction complexities arise due to the multiple tiers in depth (40-50m) and extensive network (500km) of tunnels. Though tunnels may not secure victory, their persistent allure remains, influencing both states and non-states alike. Unlike Merkava MK4 with active protection systems or the Iron Dome for missile defence, there are no quick fixes or technological assurances against these tunnels.

Israel faces the task of achieving military objectives and a favourable conflict termination profile amid these challenges. The stated military objectives suggest a protracted attrition war. The isolation of North Gaza from South Gaza is complete, but clearing and investing in North Gaza, aimed at isolating Hamas fighters from civilians, presents a time-consuming challenge. The plight of Palestinians forced out of northern Gaza adds another challenge with high global visibility, potentially labelled as ethnic cleansing. This compounds the psychological, moral, and economic costs of war.

The Israel and Hamas war is more about emotions and people’s hurt pride than peace. It’s a war to shatter peace that would neither justice to Hamas nor Israeli cause. Hamas’s perceived aim is to undermine the notion of Israel as a secure homeland for the Jewish people. In contrast, Israel perceives it as a conflict between the Jewish people and Gaza and seeks to quell Palestinian resistance by breaking their resolve. Israel is willing to impose significant costs on Gazan civilians in the process while Hamas looks upon them as human shields or civilians whose plight be addressed by the UN. Hamas has no love lost for the people and focuses on its leadership, fighters and terror infrastructure being protected and kept intact.

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Israeli strategy involves depopulating the area, forcing civilians to flee, and securing key locations. The severity of Palestinian suffering is intended to deter future attacks by Hamas. Israel may use the presence of displaced Gazan civilians as leverage for political gains and hostage release. The plan includes conditioning the return of civilians on implementing a new security architecture. If successful, a similar approach could be applied to the south. Israel’s requirements for success involve capturing key areas, continuing the campaign, delaying ceasefires, preventing humanitarian aid, and maintaining a prolonged presence in the northern Gaza Strip. Yet Israel relies on US security assurances to facilitate the depopulation of the northern Gaza Strip over an extended period and facilitate hostage release. This is where the Global powers and the Arab world could step in to de-escalate the already explosive situation which could spiral into a regional conflict.

The continuation of the conflict poses severe risks, leading to more casualties and deepening animosity. Israel must reflect on the consequences, questioning whether the pursuit of peace is more imperative than never-ending battles against Hamas. The international community, led by the US and Saudi Arabia, plays a crucial role in facilitating a two-state solution and ending the cycle of violence.

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Unlike tunnels of past wars, Gaza’s tunnels pose unique challenges under cities, especially beneath hospitals, mosques, and schools. Detection and destruction complexities arise due to the peculiar multi-tier depth (40-50m) and extensive network (500km) of tunnels. Though tunnels may not secure victory, their persistent allure remains, influencing both states and non-states alike. Unlike Merkava MK4 with active protection systems or the Iron Dome for missile defence, there are no quick fixes or technological assurances against these tunnels

Need for a Political Transition to Peace

While addressing the immediate crisis is paramount, a comprehensive long-term solution must also consider the political transition that must succeed it. The lack of clarity on this transition and subsequent administration of part or all of Gaza complicates the situation. Israel’s reoccupation can have disastrous consequences in an intensely hostile environment. Israel’s experience in the occupied West Bank and the rationale for leaving Gaza in 2005 suggest that reoccupation as a permanent solution can be adverse.

This framework of transition would require a pivotal role to be played by the global powers and the Arab world in shaping the way forward. It is in the interest of all proxies and global influencers to shape the environment for peace in the Middle East which benefits all including the US, Arabs, Russia and China. The United States, while steadfast in its support for Israel, should be conscious of the political implications associated with establishing a framework for a two-state peaceful coexistence solution, aligning with his longstanding advocacy for such a resolution. Leveraging its substantial regional influence and standing within the IOC, Saudi Arabia could enhance US endeavours by indicating a readiness to normalise relations with Israel. The key is contingent on the Israeli government’s commitment to a two-state solution and commitment to negotiating peace until an agreement is reached.

Post cease-fire, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), a UN agency that supports the relief and human development of Palestinian refugees, could initially play a crucial role in administrative functions. UNWRA’s experience with the socio-economic conditions of Gazans makes it well-positioned to take on greater administrative responsibilities. For peacekeeping, a UN peacekeeping force on the lines of UNIFIL AND UNDOF along with participation by countries which Israel trusts like India and also Arab states at peace with Israel—such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt—would ensure stability and security during the transitional period.

The continuation of the conflict poses severe risks, leading to more casualties and deepening animosity. Israel must reflect on the consequences, questioning whether the pursuit of peace is more imperative than never-ending battles against Hamas. The international community, led by the US and Saudi Arabia, must play a crucial role in facilitating a two-state solution and ending the cycle of violence

Eventually, the UN forces will need to relinquish its responsibilities to a NEW reformed Palestinian Authority (PA). During the period of UN deployment, the new PA should undergo political reform, addressing issues of corruption and ensuring a leadership that enjoys the confidence of the Palestinian people and the trust of the Israel polity. The critical path remains of Israel’s acceptance of the two-state solution. This reality will have to be eventually accepted by all.

Final Thoughts

The urgency of the situation demands a collective effort to halt hostilities temporarily, paving the way for a humanitarian corridor complemented by hostage release and then negotiating for a cease-fire and a sustainable transition to lasting peace and tranquillity. The alternative, marked by continued bloodshed and destruction, only serves to perpetuate a conflict that calls for a decisive and compassionate approach with a long-term visionary view.

As Israel contemplates its endgame in Gaza, the focus must shift from revenge to reconciliation, from destruction to reconstruction, and from despair to hope. In turn, Hamas must immediately return safely all hostages and reform its ideology with new leadership and transparent intentions of living in harmony, not hatred. A tall order presently but certainly desired. The international community, guided by principles of justice and humanity, must seize this moment to steer the region away from the brink of perpetual conflict and towards a future of coexistence and peace.

-The author is a PVSM, AVSM, VSM has had an illustrious career spanning nearly four decades. A distinguished Armoured Corps officer, he has served in various prestigious staff and command appointments including Commander Independent Armoured Brigade, ADG PP, GOC Armoured Division and GOC Strike 1. The officer retired as DG Mechanised Forces in December 2017 during which he was the architect to initiate process for reintroduction of Light Tank and Chairman on the study on C5ISR for Indian Army. Subsequently he was Consultant MoD/OFB from 2018 to 2020. The Officer is a reputed defence analyst, a motivational speaker and prolific writer on matters of military, defence technology and national security. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily carry the views of Raksha Anirveda