Analysis: Asymmetric conflict against sub-state jihadist foes will define 21st century war

The defense establishments of Israel, the US and other Western nations will be cooperating with one another for many years to come.

April 28, 2016 02:50
2 minute read.
Islamic Jihad

An Islamic Jihad militant attends an anti-Israel rally in Rafah.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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A recent Reuters report on the US Air Force employing the “roof knocking” tactic in Iraq, which the Israel Air Force pioneered in Gaza, is an indication of a wider trend that will define warfare for decades to come.

The characteristics of the modern battlefields that face Western militaries are converging, to the point where they share enough characteristics to allow one military to directly draw upon the lessons of another. Conflict in the 21st century is largely defined by foes that are sub-state, asymmetric and Islamist-jihadist.

These irregular entities embed themselves in civilian population centers, rendering 20th-century tank battalion versus tank battalion doctrines irrelevant.

Due to its location in the heart of the stormy Middle East, the Israel Defense Forces has amassed more experience in this type of conflict than any other military in the world, though it still has a long way to go in its mission to fight effectively under such challenging conditions.

The IDF seeks to strike its enemies while seeking to avoid harm to civilians. It employs a combination of precise, real-time intelligence, and precision guided weaponry.

The IAF pioneered roof knocking as means to warn civilians about impending strikes, as one of several tools designed to limit harm to noncombatants. Such tools also include telephone warnings, and dropping leaflets from the air.

Every conflict situation is unique, and this is particularly true in Israel’s case. Western states face the very real threat of international terrorist cells and coordinated attacks. Here in Israel, the threat level is many times more severe; enemy combatants can flood cities with thousands of rockets in a short period, and try to infiltrate the country’s borders to go on killing and kidnapping sprees in border communities.

Yet the convergence of battlefield conditions facing modern militaries is undeniable.

Islamic State operates deep in the heart of civilian population centers, much like Hamas and Hezbollah, and the US-led coalition operating against it must deal with many of the same challenges that Israel faces.

For the IDF, the age of state army versus state army is long gone.

Military planners in Israel are in a race against time, trying to restructure forces, update battle doctrine, and employ new technology to catch up with 21st century warfare.

The ability to quickly detect threats, and to translate that intelligence into precision-guided strikes, is at the heart of this effort.

The defense establishments of Israel, the US and other Western nations will be cooperating with one another for many years to come, sharing lessons and intelligence on how to deal with irregular enemies.

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