January 19, 2009: The new Israeli combat tactics in Gaza were a great success. Between January 3rd, when Israeli ground forces first entered Gaza, until Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire on January 18th, Hamas fighters were useless against Israeli ground troops. So far, 13 Israelis and 1300 Palestinians have died in the fighting. Hamas combat units tended to be quickly wiped out. The Israelis were much more aggressive than they were two years ago in southern Lebanon, and this was largely the result of a training course all Israeli troops had to go through before entering Gaza, and growing anger at the ceaseless Hamas rocket attacks on Israel..
Two years ago, Israel opened a new urban warfare training center. The complex consists of 500 structures, including several multistory ones, duplicating what soldiers would encounter if they had to fight in, say, Gaza. The new center cost $40 million and was built with the help of the U.S. Army (which has a lot of recent experience fighting Arabs in urban areas). Israel already has several smaller urban training centers, built to give new troops some experience in what they might encounter in the Palestinian territories. But the 2006 operations in Lebanon showed that many reservists not only lacked urban warfare training, but also training tailored for conditions in Lebanon or Gaza. The new training center allows entire battalions to train together, as they would in an urban environment. The complex is covered with over a thousand sensors, mostly small vidcams, which capture the activities of the troops for playback and critique. American style MILES (laser tag) equipment is used to realistically recreate the effects of weapons. Other troops and local civilians are used to play the enemy, and civilians, in the training exercises. Although Israel doesn't use women soldiers in combat, women do serve as instructors for combat skills. In the new training center, they often play the role of the enemy, and the Israeli troops usually know when this is the case, because the women soldiers are quite good.
Most of the troops that went into Lebanon in 2006, had been pulling peacekeeping duty in the West Bank for the last few years, and were trained for that. This meant that the different kind of training required for Lebanon or Gaza had not been done for a long time. The Israeli troops in Lebanon adapted, but that took time. But there wasn't a lot of time and the war up there was soon over. It's different in Gaza. The troops go in knowing what to do and how to quickly do it. Moreover, the Lebanon operation was a surprise, no one expected it. But Israelis have been demanding for years that something be done to stop the thousands of rockets being fired out of Gaza. Israelis were pissed, and the troops went aggressively and determined to do something about it. The Gaza operations was the result of months of planning. For the Israelis, there were no surprises.
Hamas was not expecting the expert and aggressive behavior of the Israeli troops. Hamas propaganda had led their fighters to believe that it would be like Lebanon, with Israeli troops advancing slowly and uncertainly. Moreover, the Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon were better trained and led than their Hamas counterparts. Hamas had become complacent, tending to believe their own propaganda of Jewish inferiority to Arabs.
As a result, most of the claimed 20,000 Hamas gunmen have deserted their units, leaving only some of the officers (5-10 percent of each unit) to carry on. By the second week of January, Israeli troops were mainly encountering Hamas officers in combat. Hamas had made elaborate plans to hit the Israelis with snipers, ambushes, remotely controlled bombs and booby traps in houses. But there were few Hamas fighters around to do all this, and the plans fell apart.
Even a special unit of about a hundred fighters, that had received combat training in Iran, was quickly wiped out when they fought the Israelis. This was very embarrassing for Iran, which had promised to turn the 20,000 Hamas gunmen into a crack fighting force. Back in Iran, this failure was blamed on the Arabs, who Iranians generally despise as lazy and stupid. Hamas doesn't know who to blame, although many Palestinians believe Hamas had deceived itself, and disappointed all Palestinians, and the Arab world as well.
In retrospect, Hamas should have seen this coming. The Israelis tore apart Fatah fighters during West Bank battles in 2002. Those Israeli troops were trained to slug it out. It was after 2002 that Israeli troops began to specialize on counter-terrorism tactics, as Israel was desperate to halt the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign inside Israel. The Israelis did, but at the cost of their troops losing their conventional combat chops. Moreover, this time around Israel was using more UAVs (live overhead video of the battlefield, allowing commanders to more effectively deploy and command their troops.) There were also some new smart bombs and electronic warfare weapons. Hamas did not pay attention, were not prepared, and got blown away.
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