U.S. Can Learn from Israel’s Experience in Gaza

Israel’s experience in last year’s fighting in Gaza produced some tough lessons the United States would do well to heed in future “hybrid” conflicts, such as the fight with the Islamic State, according to a report by retired U.S. generals.

Hamas, the Islamist terror group which controls the Palestinian territory, was able to skillfully use modern technology and sophisticated media tactics to gain strategic advantage in the 50-day conflict, in spite of Israeli tactical successes, said the report released Monday by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

“It seemed … in the court of international opinion, that Hamas came out on top,” said retired Maj. Gen. Mike Jones, former U.S. Central Command chief of staff.

Hamas also was successful in using the law of war as a weapon against Israel, by exploiting misunderstandings of its provisions to undermine the moral legitimacy of Israel’s military actions, the report said.

“War is not supposed to be a fair fight,” said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law and a former Army law-of-war expert.

Concerns about “hybrid warfare” — conflicts in heavily urban areas between modern military forces and non-state actors armed with high-tech weaponry and access to social media — extend beyond Gaza. NATO officials have been extremely concerned that the use of those methods by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine signal an intent by Moscow to use the same methods against vulnerable members of the alliance, such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and have begun developing a strategy to counter them.

And one of the Islamic State’s most enduring strengths in the face of a months-long assault by a U.S.-led coalition is its ability to use social media to get new recruits and inspire like-minded followers to attempt terrorist attacks in their home countries.

The report recommends that the U.S. military adapt its training and planning to deal with such conflicts, including more sophisticated information operations aimed at preventing attempts to delegitimize its actions in international public opinion.

The report also recommends the development of new technologies to counter tactics used effectively against Israel by Hamas in Gaza — such as tunnels and drones — because they are likely to be used in future conflicts of the same nature by U.S. adversaries.

Originally appeared in the Washington Examiner on March 10, 2015.