Saturday, 31 July 2004

Israeli Defense Forces Trying to Perfect Urban Combat Tactics, Techniques

National Defense Magazine
Quite lax rules of engagement being used in the Israeli context, for example, breaching through walls of civilian houses, not very comprehensive in terms of winning the "hearts & minds" of the Palestinian people, not very much useful in the global "media-savvy" context we live in nowadays, however, the other tactics are worth studying. opswarfare has always felt that operations other than war should use the Israeli-Palestine and Northern Ireland campaigns as important lessons to learn.
Israeli Defense Forces Trying to Perfect Urban Combat Tactics, Techniques

by Roxana Tiron

Israel Defense Forces have been working to perfect their urban warfare tactics, in an effort to eliminate militant cells in the disputed zones of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The goal is to gradually shift from a defensive to an offensive posture, said Col. Boaz Cohen, a military envoy to the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.

On the offensive, the Isreali military hunts down potential suicide bombers and their handlers before they launch their operations, said Cohen.

“We realized that we cannot deal with the reality of suicide bombers,” he said. “Through the years, we realized that there is no real [suicide bomber] profile.”

Taking the fight to the terrorist cells is the only acceptable solution, he added. Previously, Israeli intelligence experts thought that suicide bombers were young, disadvantaged and poor. Now, they have realized that there is no clearly defined profile, Cohen said.

An offensive posture creates significant challenges for Israeli soldiers, who must be prepared to identify a terrorist cell and launch an attack without killing innocent civilians, said Cohen.

That is not an easy task, particularly in the old cities that often resemble labyrinths—they have narrow streets and are densely populated. Long-range weapons are not effective in these confined areas. In most cases, weapons are fired at ranges in the tens of meters, said Cohen.

In an offensive operation that may include multiple locations, an IDF brigade-level unit stages a mounted attack to encircle suspected areas that harbor terrorists. Soldiers start attacking from different flanks, to break the resistance, said Cohen.

Israelis are known for their swarming tactic, or “planned unpredictability,” according to Yagil Henkin, a military historian. Instead of using conventional tactics, such as taking the outskirts of a town first, they systematically attack from many directions. Swarming techniques, however, can create coordination nightmares.

When they operate in small tactical units, soldiers typically focus on a single target. They enter neighborhoods in civilian armored vehicles, rapidly penetrate the area and isolate the target. Once that is accomplished the heavier, “noisier” forces come in, said Cohen.

“The first challenge is to encircle the target or the objective, and then start acting when you have all your forces with you,” Cohen said. “We call it a surgical operation, trying not to affect the civilian population. ... We move through houses, through walls. We have breaching equipment,” he said. “Although we are causing some damage, we are saving lives.”

Israeli soldiers blast holes in the walls between houses, so they can avoid moving in the streets, Cohen said.

IDF planners are known for using unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor the operations in real time.

Despite the IDF’s refined tactics, the enemy they face is tough to break. “It is not a question of using all your military power,” he said. “We have more military power than any terror organization that we are fighting.”

The conundrum is how to keep civilians separated from the terrorists, he said, a problem that U.S. soldiers also face in Iraq. “Capturing those terrorists sometimes does not break resistance,” he said. Soldiers have to avoid killing civilians who blend with the terrorists, by mistake or sometimes willingly to distract and trick the soldiers.

U.S. forces in Iraq employed some of the same tactics the Israeli military uses. They set up impromptu checkpoints, kept militants on the defensive with frequent arrest raids and encircled villages.

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