By Col NN Bhatia (Retd)
In a dictionary asymmetrical means when any two or more units are unequal or there is lack of proportion between the two or more constituents. For example just as in our country, the administrative units are the centre and the numerous states who do not have matching powers in all matters. Again states differ in sizes, population and budgetary allocations. Some union territories have assemblies while others don’t, creating asymmetry federalism as defined in our constitution for effective governing.
Likewise, while fighting insurgencies in Mizoram and Nagaland, Indian Army was involved in asymmetrical warfare as the fighting capabilities of the insurgents were simply unequal, far less and different and limited to hit and run guerilla tactics against the mighty and conventional warfare capabilities of the Indian Army. The insurgents being weak in resources were unmatched to conventional tactics, organisational capabilities, both operational and logistical resources and leadership of the Indian Army’s might. Likewise, in 1962, Indian Army was no match to the Chinese onslaught and war was very asymmetrical. But way back in 1967 India gave China a bloody nose in Cho La in Sikkim. Again, in 2017 in the Dokhlam and in 2020 crisis in the eastern Ladakh the game between two rivals was very much symmetrical. The US in Vietnam or in Afghanistan fought Vietcong or Islamic terrorists in asymmetrical wars and so are the Palestinians and Hamas embroiled in asymmetrical wars with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).
According to Ellen Sexton, ‘asymmetrical warfare, unconventional strategies and tactics adopted by a force when the military capabilities of belligerent powers are not simply unequal but are so significantly different that they cannot make the same sorts of attacks on each other’.
Developed and rich country countries fighting in under-developing countries like Algeria and Indo-China, now called Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, have been defeated and forced to withdraw by local forces and unorganized militias, despite their massive asymmetric resources in conventional military strength and asymmetric morale and motivation and Like French, the US followed suit in Vietnam. Similar asymmetry, has affected every war that Palestinians and Hamas have fought with the Israel.
Asymmetric Two Rivals Israel & Palestine-Macro Analysis
Nationalism. In-spite of the fact, both Jews and Arabs were living in Palestine under British power, legal asymmetry was very evident as the Jews were recognized as a nation whose rights were guaranteed by the British but not of the Palestinian Arabs who considered themselves as natives. While Jews had a definite political agenda to have Jewish state, Palestinian Arabs initially lacked similar nationalistic agenda. While Jews were fighting for the Jewish state, Arabs were fighting amongst themselves. While Jews perceived creation of home-land, the Palestinians and the Arab world lacked that do or die spirit. The conflict awareness and aggressiveness in the Jews kept on increasing in leaps and bounds with the US and European countries support but it was in other way dwindling in the fragmented Palestinians and the Arab fraternity.
Immediately after declaring independence in 1948, while the Jews laid strong foundation of Israel as a nation by building the strongest (Israeli Defence Forces IDF) in the West Asia and ensured economic and scientific advancements, holding on to existing territories and expanding and capturing more held by the Palestinians and Hamas around the West Bank (Jerusalem east) and the Gaza strip, while the Palestinians Arabs had no regular organized armed forces and fought as terrorists believing in ‘hit and run’, and ‘suicide bombing attacks’ and no ground holding. They were de-motivated, de-moralized, confused, divided and disoriented. Many Palestinian Arabs felt like refugees in Israeli occupied areas/pockets while the Jews with high nationalism kept nibbling and decimating Arabs in the West Bank and narrow Gaza strip maintaining high morale in creation of larger stable and stronger Israel, thus creating wide asymmetry in both Israel and Palestine. The Israelis got tremendousinternational support and recognitionfrom UK, the US and other countries British in Israelis cause to establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Though, Egypt and Jordan were hostile and both had fought against Israel in 1948 war and Israel fought along with UK and France in 1956 over Suez Canal issue and Israelis captured large chunk of Sinai desert from Egyptians, both normalized relations with Israel signing peace treaties. Though, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Syria, invaded newly formed Israel supported by the Arab Liberation Army and irregulars from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Yemen, they were no match to emerging Jewish nationalism. Israel was made the United Nations (UN) member in May 1049 and established diplomatic relations with numerous countries, the Palestinians are still living with ‘non-member observer state’ status since Nov 2012, thus getting de facto recognition as the sovereign state of Palestine now widely recognized by the UN member countries. India was one of the first countries to recognize Palestine and established Representative Office in Gaza, later shifted to Ramallah.
Politics, economy and international relations. Israel is very active in internal politics and has multiple political parties. Benjamin Netanyahu, Chairman of the liberal Likud (National Liberal Movement) party has been Prime Minister (PM) for the last 12 years and has been outmaneuvered by the head of the country’s opposition, Yair Lapid, a former TV anchor popular with secular broad minded middle class Israelis and Naftali Bennett and both sharing PM post for two years term each under the new proposed power-sharing deal to oust Benjamin Netanyahu who had very good relations with the Indian PM Modi. Opposition coalition has garnered support of the Israeli Arab members of Knesset (Israeli Parliament), hoping to set aside ideological differences for the shared aim of dethroning Netanyahu. Though, Netanyahu is very shrewd and popular leader both within Israel and internationally and led financial and Covid-19 crises well is being ousted out, many Israeli commentators feel he will come back as new developing coalition of Lapid and Naftali is very fragile and not last long. Who so ever may come in power in Israel, not much compromise towards Palestinians is expected. Israel now has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, but its relations with Syria and Lebanon are still fraught. Israel’s relation Turkey though earlier were cordial but not now. Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have any official diplomatic relations. However, reports indicate silent diplomacy and cooperation is going around against regional enemies Iran and Turkey. Israelis are pursuing talks are on to establish diplomatic relations , Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco.
After Israeli declared independence, the Palestinian political leadership withered. It was revived by Yasser Arafat as the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) but after his death, there was again leadership vacuum and local political leaders were not capable to prevent collapse of all national political, military and cultural institutions and women, workers and students organisations that made up the PLO and its frameworks.
While Israel’s major economy flourishes in technology and industrial manufacturing sectors. Israel is one of the world’s largest centers for diamond cutting and polishing, amounting to over 23% of all its exports. It is also world’s top few manufacturers of the military wherewithal and is one of the major suppliers of military hardware to developing countries including India. It consistently ranks high among the world’s economies, technological readiness and development, availability of capital, high quality of research organizations, scientists, technocrats, financial experts, administrators and engineers, making Israel high-income country, ranking 19th in the world in UN Human Development Index with very high life expectancy. However, the Arabs living with in Israel are less affluent and discriminated vis-à-vis Israelis in the West Bank or Gaza.
Palestine too has a multi-party system riddled with fractionalism and pluralism with the Fatah faction in the West Bank and the Hamas faction dominating the Palestine National Authority (PNA/PA) runs the partial civilian control interim self-government in the Gaza strip and the West Bank. Economy of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has deteriorated as Israel imposed numerous sanctions and economic blockade due to Palestinian terror attacks, diminishing incomes multiplying with the population growth. The cumulative effects led to the closure of factories, manufacturing units, trading by the business houses and unemployment as Arab labour was unacceptable in Israel and replaced by the migrants from east European, south-east Asian and other countries. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians were adversely affected by the Israeli blockade leaving Gaza strip as one of the poorest areas in this region, letting increase in crime and Arab suicide bomber terror attacks on the Jews settlements in both Israeli and the Palestinian held areas in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Israelis later in 1998-99 eased some restrictions to let 150,000 Palestinians to work in Israel to restore its sagging economy.
In the West Bank economy is improving gradually with increase in tourism in Bethlehem but in the East Jerusalem it has retarded due to closure, barricading and isolation of the city from the rest of the West Bank by numerous check posts manned by the Israeli police. Though Israeli government has supported construction of Jews settlements around East Jerusalem, it has severely restricted construction and development of buildings for the Palestinian Arabs.
All over, the Israeli currency is under circulation and Palestinians are not allowed to have their own currency both in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Jordanian dinar is under circulation in the West Bank and the US dollars are acceptable all over. With no own currency, the Palestinians have NO monetary powers and policies to govern with leaving them with great disadvantage on being financially dependent on Israel and the Arab world.
The PLO’s diplomatic effort is primarily focused on creation of Palestine as an independent country and it enjoys bilateral recognition from 139 countries. In Nov 2012 the UN upgrading Palestine to ‘non-member observer state’ which is ‘de facto’ recognition of the Palestine as sovereign country.
Armed Forces. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) consist of the Israeli Army (IA), Israeli Air Force (IAF) and the Israeli Navy (IN). The IDF is a conscript force raised in 1948 and has fought in all the wars Israel has fought since its birth thus making it one of the most battle-trained and hardened armed forces in the world. Even for the women conscription is mandatory and the IDF is one of Israeli society’s most prominent institutions not only responsible for country and citizenry’s security but immensely influencing the country’s economy, culture and politics. IDF has the best weaponry, technology, training and the latest Iron Dome missile technology uses radar technology and interceptors (missiles) to track and destroy incoming rockets developed at great expense with the US support. As per open sources reports, the IDF possess between 80 and 400 nuclear weapons. It has developed own tanks, aircraft, missile systems including the submarine launch version and greatly relies on information technology (IT) and artificial intelligence (AI). Some of the highlights of IDF are as under:-
- When IDF was raised immediately after the Israeli independence, country was desperately short of resources and no one earned wages including the senior commanders.
- Currently there are 176,500 active soldiers serving in the IDF.
- Israel Air Force (IAF) ranks No 1 due to its space assets, advance fighter jets, hi-tech armed drones and nuclear weapons.
- IDF is ranked No 1 in West Asia/Middle-east.
- IDF is most informal and least hierarchical military organisation. Its officers do not come from military academies and are promoted from ranks solely on their professional and leadership merits. Officers and men eat, sleep and live together and discipline is not compulsive in saluting, drill or parades.
- There is conscription and every 18 years and above male or female is required to serve- men for 3 years and females for 2 years. Released soldiers serve as reservists into their early 50s doing 1 month training and active service every year.
- Women do not serve in combat roles though there are female pilots and they serve in infantry units and large numbers of female soldiers have been killed in numerous wars. Women can avoid conscription on religious exemption and over 1/3 of Israeli females take that benefit.
- Israel is the only country where ‘deaf and dumb’ serve in defence forces using sign language interpreters and employed on non-combat roles.
- Unlike conventional armies of large countries like the US, Russia, China, India IDF is not deployed on positional defences. They maneuver rapidly relying on heavy fire from land, sea and air protecting its borders and people.
- Information Technology (IT), artificial intelligence (AT), ruthless pro-active operations are the keys to their combat effectiveness.
- While LGPTs can serve in the IDF, Arabs cannot.
- The Israeli Navy operates primarily in the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea and is the most secretive component of the IDF, often referred as ‘people of silence’ Israeli Naval Ships (INS) are equipped with all sorts of equipment including offshore nuclear second strike capability.
- The IDF very effectively used AI and supercomputing during the last conflict targeting key infrastructure and personnel against Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihadi targets collecting data through signal intelligence (SIGINT), visual intelligence (VISINT), human intelligence (HUMINT) and terrain or geographical intelligence (GEOINT) coordinated by multi-disciplinary centre targeting Hamas rocket /missile production and launch sites, Hamas naval commando unit, headquarters and residences of military commanders killing more than 150 Hamas operatives including Brig Bassem Issa.
Israel’s Mossad, employing around 7000 people is one the world’s largest espionage agencies. Covert Operation ‘Wrath of God’ was undertaken by Mossad to assassinate eight members of the Palestinian terrorist group ‘Black September’ involved in the 1972 Munich massacre killing 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team. In another similar covert Operation ‘Entebbe’ on 4 July 1976, Mossad in support of IDF commandos successfully carried out daring counter-terrorist hostage rescue mission at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. The assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on 19 January 2010, in Dubai hotel a hotel, co-founder of the military wing of Hamas was undertaken by Mossad which was criticized world over as political murder. Mossad is often suspected in eliminating many Arab, Iranian, Palestinian and other leaders opposed to Israel world over.
The IDF’s top 10 innovation making it best defence force in the world are:-
- The “Iron Dome” Air Defense System. State of the artair defense system with 70 km range laced with accuracy, speed and capacity to intercept enemy rockets and missiles.
- The ‘Trophy’ System. Creates a 360-degree protective shield around the tank instantly firing a missile to intercept and destroy enemy rocket and missile.
- The F-16I ‘Sufa.’ Highly modified F-16 aircraft, equipped with a state-of-the-art weapons system, shooting enemy aircraft using only sight.
- The ‘Merkava ‘IV’. World’s best all terrain tank with improved fire control system, ability to defend against helicopter attack and a digital battlefield management system.
- Drones. Unmanned aerial vehicle and drones (UAV & drones) IDF’s eyes at land, air and sea with ability to carry long range missions stealthily.
- The ‘Skylark’. Small, light and almost undetectable UAV with 3 h endurance and day and night capability.
- The ‘Tzefa Shirion’. 394 foot long chain propelled by a missile falling on ground explodes mines creating 394 feet long and 26 feet wide safe lane for infantry and armour to cross over.
- The ‘Eye Ball’ system. Tennis ball sized black ball if thrown inside the building transmits a 360-degree images of the room helping the soldiers outside the room to get full view of suspects inside the room.
- The ‘Namer’. Hi-tech infantry combat vehicle.
- The ‘Spike’. Hi-tech light weight shoulder fired infantry rocket launcher (RL).
The Palestinian Security Services (PSS), the armed forces and intelligence agencies of the State of Palestine comprise several institutions, notably the Security Forces and the Police. The President of the Palestinian National Authority is Commander-in-Chief of the Palestinian Forces but it has no land army, nor an air force or a navy and heavy artillery pieces or tanks and is more like a Gorilla/ terrorist force. In 2004, the loosely called 12 divisions were converted into branches were namely National Security Forces, Internal Security Forces and General Intelligence. Israel has been always advocating creation of demilitarized zone in the West Bank and Gaza strip positioning IDF check points for internal and external security.
Fatah was the largest of faction that formed PLO raised by its founder Chairman Yasser Arafat had in the past strong involvement in the Palestinian struggle and after his death its role got dwindled. The present Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas heads its now but is riddled with factionalism and ideological differences but still controls interim administration of West Bank while Gaza strip in under the control of different faction Hamas.
Hamas, derivative of Arabic word for ‘zeal’, emerged from ‘Islamic Compound’ was raised in June 1989 by Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin, a quadriplegic, from an ordinary Arabic primary school teacher, rose to be its undisputed spiritual leader. Its present leader Ismail Abdel Salam Ahmed Haniyeh is confidante of Yassin. Hamas is a Palestinian radical Islamist politico-militant hardened terror group waging war on Israel since the its raising by carrying out terror attacks, suicide bombings and rocket attacks including the recent 11 days war saying it fights against Israel in ‘self defence’. It seeks to replace Israel with a Palestinian state. Separated from more liberal Hamas controlling West Bank, It administers Gaza strip independently of the Palestinian Authority.
The strength of the all radical Palestinians groups and Hamas strength is around 75,000. They have mostly Soviet built old unsophisticated stock of basic rockets with varying ranges. Their artillery mostly is multi-barrel designed to fire in large barrages rather than concentrated carpet firing mostly imported and smuggled through tunnels from Sinai /Egypt while some are clandestinely brought to West Bank from Jordan. They have some workshops in Gaza strip for repair and maintenance. Palestinian terror groups fired nearly 3,700 rockets at Israeli targets in 11 days war. Hamas gets most significant financial and international support from Turkey and Qatar to acquire military hardware while Iran has been supplying long range missiles and rockets and hundreds of millions dollars monetary support to buy military hardware. Unlike Israel using AI to avoid civilian casualties, Hamas and Palestinian groups do more collateral damage and killing of civilian Israelis.
The Present Imbroglio
For both sides, Jerusalem is the most important for many reasons. Both claim it as their national capital, both have large numbers of Arabs and Jews living there and both have their religious shrines located there. The May 12 conflict followed a month of rising tensions between both sides over Palestinians living in the East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank as Israelis has started evicting Palestinians from these places and rehabilitating Jews.
Though both Israel and Palestine are highly asymmetrical and the damage inflicted on each other is equally asymmetrical with Israel being very superior to Palestinians in all aspects of warfare, technology, IT and AT usages, diplomacy, financial strength and support by the US and Europe and other western countries. By the situational reality check one can easily discern that there can be no peace till complex conflict is resolved between both the warring sides as both have capabilities to build super pressure, inflict heavy civilian casualties and cause severe collateral damage while targeting population centres in cities and towns on both the sides. One thing is for sure, both Jews and Palestinian’s have basically deep skepticism of each other’s willingness and ability to make peace as there exists complete mistrust between them and they cannot live as one nation with conflicting nationalism and religious bigotry. Due to the high level of mistrust, the past incurable deep wounds inflicted on each other cannot heal and if left for long would turn to gangrene and amputation. Israelis and Palestinians cannot live as confederation of two federations. Many wars have been fought between the two warring Arabs and Jews with Israelis vows of ‘No Palestinian State’ and Palestinians seeking ‘Replacing Israel with ‘Palestinian State’. The only solution lies is carving separate Palestinian country fully independent of Israel, which though both understand but are not able to enforce due to internal dynamics in both the societies. Both understand need of separate homelands for the Jews and the Palestinians but are not willing to draw international boundaries, division of assets, and trans-migration of populations resulting in colossal human tragedy like which was faced by India and Pakistan after the 1947 partition of the sub-continent. The complex unresolved boundary, property, assets, water resources and treatment of minorities and religious places issues still linger between India and Pakistan as flash points of future wars and so would be the case with Israel and Palestine if these sensitive and intricate issues are not resolved mutually acceptable to both sides with guarantees specially from the Muslim world, the big powers, international community in general, and the United Nations.
All open Google sources, BBC, Al Jazeera, TOI, IE, The Jerusalem Times, The Times of Israel and the Journal of Palestine Studies.