Dass der Gazakrieg kein Spaziergang werden wird, war ohnehin allen klar. Auch schon die Newsweek titelte unter Berufung auf israelische Quellen:
Israel Prepares for a ‚Long War‘ Against Hamas to Thwart Iran
Oct 27, 2023 at 2:18 PM EDT
Heute wurden ertsmals in der Jerusalem Post erwartete Zeitraumangaben der IDF bezüglich der „Operation Iron Sword“ und des Gazakriegs zur Jerusalem Post geleakt, um die Bevölkerung geistig einzustimmen und um zu zeigen, dass man einen Plan hat, nachdem Verteidigungsminister zuerst einen 3- Stufenplan, jedoch ohne Angabe von Zeithorizonten in der Knesset vorgestellt hatte:
“Combined stages of Gaza war to take several months; thousands of Hamas terrorists killed
This could mean a mix of some months of all-out fighting, followed by a significant number of additional months fighting against an insurgency after the initial “victory.”
By YONAH JEREMY BOB NOVEMBER 1, 2023 17:00 Updated: NOVEMBER 1, 2023 22:09
The combined stages of the current invasion and the expected later stages of insurgency and lower-grade fighting will take several months, informed sources have told The Jerusalem Post.
While to date, the IDF and top political officials have talked about an invasion lasting more than weeks, and other processes lasting a couple of months or more, the impression now is that it will take longer.
This will probably not mean several months of intense fighting like now, but rather a combination of strategies, followed by months of fighting an insurgency after the initial stage.
There may also not be any one marker day for an end to the fighting, as Hamas is not expected to surrender at any point. Instead, the expectation is that just as over the past week, ground forces escalated their fighting, at some later point, the scale of fighting will be gradually reduced.
Beyond several months, it is hard for the IDF to predict. Given that insurgencies in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan lasted years, the estimate right now is several months.
This is probably due to the methodical pace of IDF forces, which are mostly still based in northern Gaza, and Hamas’s avoidance of too many large-scale battles, as they wait patiently to spring ambushes.
Thousands of Hamas terrorists have been killed by the IDF, some 1,500 during the first few days. Some tens of thousands of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad forces remain in Gaza.
It is unclear how many are still in northern Gaza, hiding in tunnels, hospitals, mosques, and other civilian locations, and how many have been evacuated to southern Gaza, including more than one million Palestinians from Gaza City.But the number who have left has helped give the IDF a freer hand to act.
The military has used six different methods to encourage evacuation: phone calls, text messages, fliers, social media, public media calls, and occasionally “roof-knocking,” which includes the firing of a missile to bang loudly on a roof – without exploding – to scare and motivate civilians to evacuate, after earlier warnings are ignored.
Morale is high, despite losses
The IDF and political officials have said there is less roof-knocking in this war, simply because it intends the complete elimination of Hamas, so the surprise factor is critical.
Soldiers’ morale is considered very high and even more impressive than many commanders and Israeli society had expected from the younger generation. Some of that motivation is also highly personal.
The IDF has acknowledged that it is taking some heavy hits, including ambushes against an armored personnel carrier and a tank, but this is expected in urban war, and generally, the losses have been low given the challenging urban invasion setting. Hamas has fired hundreds of anti-tank missiles at IDF forces, mostly without success.
The military is conscious of the multifront nature of the conflict. It believes that hitting Hamas with unprecedented power in the South will restore deterrence in the North against the threat of Hezbollah, but said it is also ready if Hezbollah decides to escalate.
US support has been critical in restocking weaponry, in projecting power to other regional adversaries, and in offering useful advice for fighting in urban settings. But the IDF rejects any claims that American military personnel do anything more than give advice, which it can choose to accept or reject.
Zumindestens sind die IDF-Generäle scheinbar realistischer als einst der deutsche Generalstab, der in Hoffnung des Schliefenplans ähnlich wie dann Westmoreland in Vietnam verkündete, dass die Boys an Weihnachte wieder daheim unter dem Tannenbaum sitzen werden.Von Wochen geht keiner mehr aus mehrere Monate werden jetzt als Zeitspanne gesagt, einzelne Stimmen sprechen aber auch schon von mehreren Jahren und ziehen Vergleiche zu Irak und Afghanistan. Vergleiche zur langkährigen Einsatz der IDF im Libanon i den Folgejahren 1982 dienen nicht als Vergleichsmaßstab. Wobei man nach den anfangs „hässlichen Bildern“ und dem internationalen propagandistischen Gegensturm scheinbar mit einem Abklingen der Proteste bei Einsetzen der Tunnelkämpfe (die dann wahrscheinlich zu weniger Ziviltoten und sichtbaren Zerstörungen überirdischer Gebäude führen wird, wie auch von Luftschlägen mehr zur counterinsurgency angesichts einer erwarteten insurgency übergehen scheint. Wobei insurgency dann wahrscheinlich eben nicht nur in den Tnneln stattfinde wird, da die Hamas nicht alle Kämpfer unter Tage verlegen wird, sondern auch neue Rekruten in den werelendten Flüchtlingslager unterhalten und auch neu zu rekrutieren erhoffen wird, weswegen es dann auch wieder einige „häßliche Bilder“ geben könnte und schnell wieder Massaker wie Sabra und Shatilla zitiert werden könnten, falls sie sich zutragen sollte oder auch nicht oder auf Bodycount umgestellt werden sollte). Man scheint auch auf einen Gewöhnungseffekt auszugehen, wenngleich die Zahl der getöteten und Verletzten israelischen Soldaten steigen wird. Aber eben auch die Zahl der getöteten Hamasterroristen, die man der rachedurstigen israelischen Bevölkerung als Erfolge und Jagdtrophäen präsentieren kann. Und da der Hamasführer erklärt hat, dass in den Tunneln nur Platz für die Hamas und nicht für Zivilisten ist, kann sich die Hamas dann auch weniger auf eine „kollektive Bestrafung der Palästinenser“ bei Tunnelkämpfen herausreden. Die Lage in den Flüchtlingslagern und die humanitäre Situation der palästinensischen Bevölkerung dürfte aber weiterhin Thema bleiben. Ein mögliches Eingreifen der Hisbollah, weitere Fronten um Golan/Syrien, Westbank oder gar Eingreifen des Irans ist jedoch nicht eingepreist und man verlässt sich da auch auf die Abschreckung durch US- amerikanische Flugzeugträger i Mittelmeer und die Abschreckungskraft der IDF samt Iron Dome und Iron Beam, Arrow und Patriots,, die dem ganzen Libanon droht in die Steinzeit zurückzubomben und nicht nur die von der Hisbollah kontrollierten südlichen Grenzregionen des Libanons.
Zu den erwartenden Tunnelkämpfen gibt es auch noch einen Artikel in „ Foreign Policy“ der das Tunnelsystem der Hamas mit dem des Vietcongs um Cu Chi während des Vietnamkriegs bei Saigon vergleicht und Ho Chi Minh und sein General Giap als dessen Erfinder sieht.
“Hamas’s Tunnel Warfare Harks Back to the Viet Cong
As Israeli forces go underground in Gaza, every strike below has implications above.
By Joe Buccino, a retired U.S. Army colonel formerly deployed to the Middle East.
Ganz so kann das nicht stimmen. Als ich mir in den 90er Jahren während eines Vietnamaufenthalts die Tunnel vo Cu Chi oder das was man einen davon zeigt und nicht geheim hät, kam mir das bekannt vor. Denn als ich zuvor 1990 einmal das Revolutionsmuseum in Peking am Platz des Himmlischen Friedens besuchte, waren da in Glasschaukästen einige Modellabbildungen von Tunnelsystemen der Mao- Guerilla in einigen Dörfern. Insofern nicht neu, aber der Vietcong setzte dieses Tunnelsystemmodell der Chinesen dann großflächig in Cu Chi um, kilometerlange Tunnel , Labyrinthe und Subtunnelsysteme, wobei die Eingänge eher auf die Körpergröße der Vietnamesen zugeschnitten war als denen von US- Amerikanern, die dann doch lieber die Südvietnamesen als tunnel rats vorschickten, wobei Deutschland damals auch Schäferhunde zu Aufspüren der Tunneleingänge lieferte, wobei der Vietcong mii Chillipulver und ätzenden Substanzen deren feinfühlige Schnauzen außer Kraft setzten.. Ebenso wurde versucht Giftgas einzusetzen, aber die Tunnelsystem waren auch so konzipiert, dass dieses nur in de Vorräume eindringen konnte und den Kernbestand nicht vergiften konnte. Unterirdisch wurden da Kommandozentralen, Waffenschmieden,Hospitäler, Versorhungslager , Ausweichlabyrinthe, Todesgänge mit Bambusfallen,etc. angelegt. Und einige Tele führten sogar laut Askunft eines Vietcongveteranen vom ländlichen Gebiet bis in das Herz Saigons, auch in einige Bordelle als Ausgänge, die dann auch Ausgangsort des Sturms auf die US- Botschaft in Saigon während der Tetoffensive gedient haben sollen. Nun ja, ob das alles so stimmt, konnte man nicht überprüfen, da es keinen Gesamtüberblick des Tunneslsystems von Cu Chi gab, sondern nur ausgewählte Ausschnitte und man da auch nur eine ganz kurze Besichtigungsstrecke für Touristen hergerichtet hatte, die aber nochmals vergrößert wurde, nachdem ein etwas beleibterer Schweizer Tourist, der Tunnelratte spielen wollte, in dem schon vergrößerten Tunnel feststecken blieb und mühsam von den Vietnamesen befreit werden mußte. Die Vietcong und Vietnamesen lebten jahrelang in dieser Art Ameisenstaat unter der Erde, während die USA recht folgenlos für die Tunnelbewohner ihre Bomben und Napalm oben großflächig abwarfen.
Einen schon sehr grundsätzlichen Artikel von War on the Rocks aus dem Jahre 2015 über die Geschichte und Zukunft der unterirdischen und eben auch Tunnelkriegsführung noch hier.
“Preparing for Warfare’s Subterranean Future
April 16, 2015
Amidst the myriad mistakes associated with the Iraq War, perhaps none were as costly in terms of lives of U.S. personnel as the failure to anticipate the threat posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and, subsequently, to rapidly develop technologies capable of detecting and defeating the insurgents’ deadly innovation. Despite the extensive use of IEDs in conflicts in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, and Southern Lebanon, and the loss of U.S. personnel to IEDs in Somalia, U.S. policymakers and the military were caught unprepared for these devices that by one estimate were responsible for 64 percent of all U.S. combat deaths through 2007.
The defense community, however, has an opportunity to avoid repeating this error in regards to another potential operational threat if it does a better job drawing lessons from last year’s conflict between Hamas and Israel than it did from the various guerrilla conflicts of the 1980s. Operation Protective Edge demonstrated both the tactical challenges and strategic threat posed by subterranean warfare (i.e. tunnels), which is likely to proliferate in the coming years as weaker combatants seek to evade detection and targeting by air assets.
To be sure, Hamas’s extensive use of tunnels during last summer’s conflict was not a revolutionary development in warfare. For hundreds of years, military forces have attempted to gain the upper hand over their adversaries by maneuvering beneath them. Medieval soldiers would dig tunnels deep under an enemy’s castle walls, collapse the tunnel, and bring down the castle along with it. Similarly, in World War I both the Germans and Allied forces dug lengthy tunnel networks to be exploded under each other’s trenches, with their mining operations frequently coming close enough to each other that they conducted tunnel-versus-tunnel attacks. Jewish resistance fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising were so effective at using the city’s sewer system to outflank the Wehrmacht and attack from the rear that German commanders reported their forces developed “sewer paranoia.” During the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong used tunnels to move troops and establish massive logistics bases, with the Cu Chi network northwest of Saigon alone consisting of 150 miles of tunnels. And in Iraq, insurgents in al-Qaeda strongholds such as Anbar and the Dora and Ameriya neighborhoods of Baghdad were able to plant IEDs in sewers large enough to flip Bradley fighting vehicles with deadly results.
Hamas’s extensive use of tunnels during last summer’s conflict is only the most recent example of a combatant attempting to gain advantage by going underground. In June 2006, a joint Hamas/Jaish al-Islam unit infiltrated from Gaza into Israel through a tunnel whose opening was about 100 meters from the border in Israeli territory, killing two Israeli soldiers and kidnapping Gilad Shalit, who was eventually traded for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Between the end of Operation Cast Lead (January 2009) and Operation Pillar of Defense (November 2012), Hamas expanded its system of tunnels and underground bunkers throughout the Gaza Strip, by one estimate devoting 40 percent of its budget to the project. This extensive tunnel network — which one Israeli general said stretched for “dozens and dozens of kilometers” — offered cover and concealment for infrastructure, command functions and commanders, forces, weapons, and ammunition. As noted in a recent report by five retired generals sponsored by JINSA, this network made it almost impossible for Israeli airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets to detect or prevent movement of fighters, supplies, munitions, and weapons. The tunnels beneath protected sites, such as the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, are believed to have housed Hamas’s senior operational leadership during the fighting, thereby increasing the terrorist group’s defensive resiliency and prolonging the conflict by making it more difficult for Israel to target a key Hamas center of gravity. The tunnels were also integral to Hamas’s rocket operations, as they opened briefly to launch rockets and then immediately closed to prevent the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) from detecting the launchers’ location. This made it extremely difficult to detect and target them in real time, and allowed Hamas to continuously launch rockets into Israel throughout the conflict.
More significant, perhaps, were the 32 “attack tunnels” Hamas had dug to infiltrate Israeli territory, 15 of which reached as far as 1.5 miles into Israel at the start of Operation Protective Edge. In addition to allowing Hamas to conduct coordinated raids on multiple targets inside Israel, these tunnels gave Hamas the ability to flank the IDF from the rear. This created a tactical challenge for the IDF during the operation by redefining the concept of the front line. IDF units sometimes found themselves two kilometers into Gaza destroying the entrance to a tunnel only to have Hamas assault squads emerge from the same tunnel into Israel and threaten Israeli civilians. These squads executed six tunnel-based infiltration operations, engaging Israeli forces four times and killing 11 Israeli soldiers.
Hamas’s attack tunnels proved difficult to target and destroy. Israeli forces knew where they originated from within Gaza. Yet despite examining some 700 projects for tunnel detection or blockage systems over the past decade — to include “dozens of millions of dollars” spent on seismological, magnetic, and radar systems — the IDF did not possess a technology capable of determining where they went or their exit points within Israel. Because of the tunnels’ depth — sometimes descending as far as 35 meters (115 feet) below the surface — the technologies used by U.S. agencies to find smuggling tunnels under the Mexican border were not applicable to the Israeli-Gaza border.
The inability to remotely and accurately detect these tunnels ultimately required the IDF’s major ground incursion into Gaza. Initially, Israel’s political leadership sought to neutralize the tunnels solely through bombing. But this proved ineffective. Air strikes only obscured the tunnel entrances and failed to destroy their multiple branches or the assault teams waiting underground. When it was determined that ground troops were necessary to address the attack tunnel threat, IDF maneuver units advanced a couple kilometers into Gaza through prepared defenses in urban terrain, operations that resulted in the majority of IDF casualties.
Once the tunnel entrances were secured, other problems frustrated efforts to destroy the tunnels. A shortage of excavators and drillers meant the tunnels had to be dealt with sequentially rather than simultaneously, prolonging the ground operation. Once on-site, robots proved ineffective as they lost communications past 100 meters into the tunnel. Consequently, IDF engineers were sometimes only able to destroy the first or last 200 meters of a tunnel, which can easily be re-excavated. The air pressure at that depth reduced the effectiveness of various explosives, adding to the challenge of exploding the tunnels. It sometimes took 16 tons of Emulsion (an explosive material injected into tunnels from a truck-operated system) and 60 mines to destroy a single kilometer of tunnel. Although successful in accomplishing its stated objective of destroying the attack tunnels, the ground offensive came at a significant cost, with the IDF suffering more casualties than in any operation since Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007.
The challenges posed by tunneling are by no means an exclusively Israeli problem. Given the U.S. military’s technological dominance on the battlefield, our future adversaries will seek to create similar asymmetries in order to counter U.S. air superiority. As precision guided munitions allow U.S. forces to become increasingly adept at engaging targets in heavily populated urban terrain, the next logical evolution for opposing forces will be to move underground.
There is already significant evidence that other rogue states and non-state entities either possess or are developing such capabilities. Defectors have reported that the North Koreans have built 21 infiltration tunnels under the Demilitarized Zone into South Korea, although to date only four have been discovered. For more than a decade, and possibly with North Korean assistance, Iran has been building extensive nuclear facilities in networks of underpasses and bunkers across the country to protect them from potential Western airstrikes. Similarly, one reason Israeli air power was not decisive during the 2006 Second Lebanon War was because of Hezbollah’s tunneling capabilities that provided the militia with an extensive system of underground bunkers and rocket-launch sites, including one with air conditioning, a cafeteria, dorms, medical facilities, and three-foot-thick cement ceilings. Moreover, for years residents of villages in northern Israel have claimed to hear drilling noises underground, raising as-yet-unconfirmed suspicions that Hezbollah is also constructing offensive-oriented tunnels. Hezbollah is also allegedly digging tunnels for drug cartels on the Mexican-American border. Finally, estimates place the underground network dug by Syrian rebels to avoid the Assad regime’s airpower and snipers at between 500-1,000 tunnels, including one that was packed with explosives and detonated under the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Directorate headquarters in Aleppo on March 4th killing 20 government soldiers, one of several such rebel attacks that harken back to subterranean warfare’s medieval roots.
Two bills have recently been introduced in the House of Representatives to address this challenge. On March 10, Representatives Gwen Graham (D-FL) and Doug Lamborn (R-CO) proposed the United States-Israel Anti-Tunnel Defense Cooperation Act (H.R. 1349), and on March 30 Lamborn introduced The Partnering to Detect and Defeat Tunnels Act (H.R. 1649). Both bills seek to establish a research and development partnership between the United States and Israel similar to that which produced the successful Iron Dome missile defense system, only directed towards detecting and destroying tunnels such as those employed by Hamas beneath Gaza. (The second bill is both more specific in terms of determining U.S. government responsibilities and more expansive in terms of geography to incorporate South Korea and other allies.) Both bills merit serious consideration and eventual passage, not only as a means of reiterating the strength of the U.S.-Israeli security cooperation despite the spate of recent political controversies — both genuine and contrived — between the Obama administration and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but also because of the high probability that U.S. forces will eventually encounter an adversary seeking to exploit the subterranean domain against us.
In addition to expeditiously passing the anti-tunneling bills noted above that have been sent to the relevant committees, tunnel detection technology — to include airborne-mounted platforms — must be rapidly developed to counter the increased use of tunnels. U.S. tunneling technology also needs to be developed, for clearing or exploiting enemy tunnels will be difficult if access is limited to only tunnel entrances and exits. A tactical tunneling capability to rapidly dig our own entrances into enemy tunnels — while being protected underground ourselves — can negate the effects of enemy defenses and booby traps. Finally, the Department of Defense should conduct extensive testing of thermobaric weapons — which have been used successfully against caves in Afghanistan — against tunnel networks.
If the retired generals that studied the Gaza conflict are correct that subterranean operations — both for offensive and defensive purposes — may constitute a separate domain of warfare “equivalent to land, sea, air and cyber domains, requiring its own tactical doctrines,” the United States cannot afford to be caught unprepared. We owe it to our servicemen and servicewomen to learn the lessons from recent conflicts and develop responses to the threats posed by tunneling before we commit them to battle.
Benjamin Runkle is a former Defense Department official, Director on the National Security Council, and Professional Staff Member on the House Armed Services Committee. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the author of Wanted Dead or Alive: Manhunts from Geronimo to bin Laden.
Und zur urbanen Kriegsführung noch ein weiterer Artikel und ein Global Review- Interview mit dem Urban Warfare- Spezialisten John Spencer:
“Urban Warfare, Sieges, and Israel’s Looming Invasion of Gaza
October 27, 20223
With Israel’s looming ground offensive against Hamas, and considering the population density of Gaza, urban warfare will certainly be a significant component of the conflict. Urban warfare in Gaza will not be a deft war of maneuver, but rather a slow, methodical grind of attrition. The Israel Defense Forces’ relatively small size in relation to the population density and urban sprawl of Gaza will strip away many of the Israeli military’s inherent asymmetries. Moreover, two additional factors will increase the voracity of urban warfare. First, due to Gaza’s small size, there is almost no land available to fight a war of maneuver on open, flanking terrain. Second, even if there were available open terrain, Hamas will benefit from fighting within the tight confines of the city, whereas the Israel Defense Forces are optimized for mobile warfare on barren plains. As a result, outsiders must anticipate that the conflict will be urban, and because Hamas fighters will not willfully expose themselves to the Israeli military’s sophisticated weaponry, I believe Hamas fighters will hug both Gaza’s urban infrastructure and nest within its civilian population. By staying close to infrastructure, Hamas’ fighters are afforded basic protection from the Israel Defense Forces’ ability to observe, detect, and precisely target their force. At the same time, by operating amongst the Gazans, Hamas can capitalize on the brutality of urban warfare in the information spectrum by showing the world the death and destruction that accompany combat in urban areas.
The siege is a critical component of urban warfare, yet it is often overlooked in today’s analysis of armed conflict. The reasons for this are varied, but more than likely this has to do with the term itself. The word siege immediately elicits images of trebuchets, ballistas, and castles on 16th-century European battlefields. Nevertheless, in recent years a handful of scholars stepped into the murky waters of sieges to better understand how they fit into contemporary armed conflict. Drawing on observations from wars in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, and the Philippines, for instance, Harvard Law School, in coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United States Military Academy’s Lieber Institute, hosted a two-day conference in the spring of 2022 on international law applicable to sieges in urban warfare.
Moreover, Professor Anthony King also examined sieges in his work Urban Warfare in the Twenty-First Century. King situates sieges in their modern military and geopolitical context, arguing that the increasing size of cities, coupled with the decreasing size of militaries, finds micro-sieges becoming a common occurrence in armed conflict. Small contemporary forces use micro-sieges, as opposed to full-scale sieges, to isolate only one part of a much larger urban area, to maximize the siege’s effect on the military force and civilian population trapped therein. Operation Iraqi Freedom’s battle of Sadr City is one example of a micro-siege, whereas the Russo-Ukrainian War’s siege of Donetsk Airport (also referred to as the Second Battle of Donetsk Airport) is another classic example of a micro-siege.
Sieges, however, are neither an anomaly of contemporary armed conflict, nor something that is the result of bad tactics or attritionalist ways of warfare. A survey of armed conflict finds that 60 sieges of various sizes and duration have accompanied conflict since the end of the Cold War. Moreover, all 60 of those sieges occurred in urban areas. Given that arc, and the likelihood that urban warfare will play a significant part in the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza offensive, it is not a stretch to assume that sieges will maintain a central position within the looming conflict. The international community should thus expect to see one, if not more, sieges during the ground offensive. Given the Israel Defense Forces’ size relative to Gaza’s urban population, these sieges will likely be proximal micro-sieges, radiating from Israeli bases of power and oriented on tactical and operationally relevant military, and potentially political, objectives. Based on quantitative analysis of post–Cold War sieges, if Israel can conduct its sieges between one to 12 months, then they will be operating in the space in which states most often win sieges. Regardless, sieges, much like the other facets of urban warfare, are dirty, deadly business. Israel will have to balance the purpose and effectiveness of siege operations against the international community’s response to identify the true impact of those operations.
What Are Sieges?
Sieges are a multifaceted tool for combatants in armed conflict. Sieges are typically associated with an aggressor encircling a defender. The defender is historically a military force, but by virtue of that force being entrapped in an urban area, noncombatants come under siege as well. This is now the case in Gaza. Aggressors can be any actor — state, non-state actor, proxy force, mercenary group, or any other combatant with the strength to snare an adversary in a city or town.
Encirclement, however, is not a siege’s causal mechanism. In some cases, an aggressor does not possess sufficient size to entirely encircle an urban area, but still finds value in prosecuting a siege. Therefore, the aggressor knowingly executes a porous siege. Operation Inherent Resolve’s siege of Mosul (2016–17) is an example of this situation. The Iraqi Security Forces, bolstered by the U.S.-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, did not possess sufficient force to completely encircle the city of Mosul. The Iraqi Security Forces and U.S.-led coalition nonetheless bifurcated the city and conducted micro-sieges to squeeze the life out of the Islamic State. In many other cases, however, adroit actors will leave a portion of a siege open. The aggressor might do this for a variety of reasons.
First, a porous siege provides the aggressor with intelligence. An open artery to and from a siege affords an aggressor the opportunity to observe what goes into and comes out of a besieged area. That information, in turn, allows an aggressor the opportunity to better understand the defender’s capabilities, resource capacity, and force disposition.
Second, an aggressor might use a siege as a punitive action. Consequently, leaving a valve open allows the aggressor to keep metered amounts of supply flow into a besieged area, allowing the defending force and the affected population to remain in the fight longer than they would if contact with the outside world were cut entirely. In doing so, the aggressor can actually increase the severity of punishment on the besieged actor by applying a steady degree of death and destruction on the defender over time. The sieges at Donetsk Airport (2014–15) and Mariupol (2022) are examples of this dynamic. In each case, had the Russian military and its proxy forces closed the perimeters entirely, the Ukrainians would have likely faltered much sooner. But having left a small artery open, the Russian military and its proxy forces inflicted greater punishment by extending the time in which they made Kyiv’s forces defend themselves and spend resources to sustain their force.
Third, a porous siege allows a cynical aggressor the ability to provide a nod of nominal good will to the international community and the provisions of international humanitarian law. Yet, similar to the first option, this also provides an aggressor the opportunity to gain information on the status of the defender’s forces, the overall situation, and force locations.
If an encirclement is not a siege’s causal mechanism, then what is? Put simply, actors use sieges because they accelerate an adversary toward exhaustion and, as Professor Cathal Nolan writes, exhaustion through attrition is how wars are won and lost. Exhaustion is the materiel inability and/or cognitive unwillingness of an actor to continue fighting. Sieges, unlike head-to-head battles, are one of the best ways an actor can effectively impose materiel loss on their adversary, while parrying the reciprocal loss.
It is important to note that a siege is not just a tactical consideration. Sieges can occur in battles, but in most cases, sieges are more often operational and strategic military activities. Time is a useful independent variable for categorizing sieges into tactical, operation, and strategic consideration. Time is a good metric because it reflects the tension between resource consumption, resupply, operational and strategic resources, and resource distribution across all levels of military activity. Put another way, time is a useful metric because it closely links military activities with exhaustion.
Carrying this idea forward, it is possible to categorize sieges of 30 days or less as battles, sieges of a month to six months in length as operations, and any siege longer than six months as a campaign. Referring back to the 60 post–Cold War sieges referenced earlier in this article provides interesting results. Tactical sieges (i.e., battles) occurred in 18 percent of the cases. Operational level sieges, or those lasting from six months to a year, occurred 35 percent of the time. Strategic sieges, or those lasting longer than a year, account for 47 percent of the post–Cold War sieges. Of that 47 percent, 18 of those sieges lasted significantly longer than a year. Given the data, despite the lack of acknowledgment in many policy, academic, or defense circles, sieges are considerably more important than mere tactical considerations.
In building my dataset on sieges, I began with the post–Cold War period because it more closely aligns with today’s state of the international system than does examining the problem from an earlier point in history. This is important because war and warfare often reflect the periods of time in which they originate. Therefore, data about a modern siege, for instance, would be skewed by incorporating siege information from a period such as World War I or the 19th- century Crimean War.
My research combed through armed conflict in the post–Cold War period and identified 60 sieges. I found that sieges occurred in almost every conflict from the Yugoslav wars of the early 1990s to today’s conflicts in Mali and Sudan. Through my research, I sought to find answers to the following questions: Does the aggressor or defender most often win in a siege? Using states, non-state actors, and principal-proxy dyads as the metric for measurement, which actor fairs better in sieges? What factor does time play in sieges?
As is explained below, I found that aggressors do win more often than defenders in a siege. However, they do not win as unanimously as one might think. Second, non-proxy aligned states come out on top in most sieges, with proxy dyads coming in second, and non-proxy aligned non-state actors finishing last. Regarding time, proxy dyads and non-state actors prevail 80 percent of the time in sieges lasting 30 days or less. States, on the other hand, come out on top 52 percent of the time in sieges lasting between one and six months, and they win 82 percent of the time in sieges that go on for six months to one year. Surprisingly, sieges lasting longer than a year see the state’s dominance give way. States prevail in 39 percent of sieges lasting longer than a year, whereas non-state actors prevail 28 percent of the time, followed by proxy dyads at 17 percent. Although I do not have the data to explain why states thrive in the middle of the siege timeline continuum and do not thrive on the short and long ends of the spectrum, the assumption is that the middle band — between one month and one year — better suits a state’s logistics network. On the short end of less than a month, states might not perform as well because they are quickly overcome by surprise. On the long end of the spectrum, or longer than a year, a state’s power might wain due to flagging political or domestic support. Nonetheless, further research is required to make better educated insights to that problem.
Having framed sieges in post–Cold War armed conflict, who most often wins in siege situations? Of the 60 sieges recorded between the end of the Cold War and today, 60 percent have been won by the aggressor, 30 percent by the defender, and the remainder split between ceasefires, multiple victors, and stalemates, with a few that are ongoing. The besieging actor — referred to as the aggressor — is commonly (61 percent), but not always, a state. Non-state actors, on the other hand, are the aggressor 34 percent of the time. The remaining 5 percent is split across other non-traditional combatants such as proto-states and principal-proxy dyads.
Based on the type of actor, what do the statistics say regarding war outcomes? States win sieges 48 percent of the time. Of significant importance, principal-proxy dyads come in second in win percentage. Principal-proxy dyads, such as Russia and the Donetsk People’s Army, for example, come out on top 23 percent of the time. Non-state actors follow principal-proxy dyads, registering victory 18 percent of the time. The remaining percentage is split amongst stalemates, ceasefires, and ongoing sieges.
The data thus indicates that the aggressor, regardless of their status as a state or non-state actor, is likely to win a siege. Nevertheless, the defender’s 30 percent win percentage suggests an aggressor’s success in entering into a siege is anything but a foregone conclusion. If Israel initiates a siege or series of sieges in Gaza, it is statistically acceptable to assume an Israeli victory. Yet at the same time, if Hamas enlists proxies, or if it operates as a proxy for a larger state such as Iran, it is quite likely that they significantly increase their odds of victory.
Data aside, the competing strategies of Israel and Hamas, on a tight battlefield spotted with densely populated cities, suggests that a horrific war of attrition is afoot. Moreover, the war of attrition will not be limited to military forces, but it will also consume civilian life.
The Legality of Sieges
Under the protection of international humanitarian law, militaries are afforded a surprising amount of latitude for siege operations. Under international humanitarian law, military necessity, proportionality, and distinction are what provide commanders the legal freedom to conduct sieges. Article 23(g) of the Hague Convention of 1899/1907 outlines what is acceptable under the principle of military necessity. Article 23(g) states that a combatant is prohibited from destroying or seizing an adversary’s property, unless the destruction or seizure of property is demanded by the necessities of war. Moreover, this principle must be applied in consideration of other elements of international humanitarian law. Further, military necessity does not act as a defense for prohibited acts.
Proportionality, on the other hand, states that the loss of life and destruction of property that accompany an attack must not be excessive considering the tangible military advantage expected to be gained.
Distinction is the most important element of international humanitarian law relating to sieges. Additional Protocol I prohibits indiscriminate attacks. The protocol’s Article 51 outlines the protection of civilian populations in war zones. Article 51 states that civilian populations and individual civilians should be protected against the inherent dangers of war. Moreover, civilian populations and individual citizens should not be the object of military attacks. Further, attacks or threats of violence to terrorize the civilian population or individual citizens are prohibited. Importantly, Article 51 also makes provisions for civilian populations or individual citizens who take it upon themselves to take up arms. It asserts that once an individual or group of individuals directly participates in hostilities, they lose their protected status.
Further, distinction is important when considering sieges because of the likelihood of indiscriminate attacks. Article 51 provides three provisions defining indiscriminate attacks: attacks not directed at a military objective, attacks using a method or means that cannot be directed at a specific military objective, and attacks whose method or means cannot be limited to a military objective. In addition, Article 51 records two types of attacks that are categorically defined as indiscriminate and thus violate the principle of distinction. Those two conditions are: a bombardment that treats a city with multiple military objectives within it as one collective military objective, and an attack that generates loss of civilian life, injury to noncombatants, and destruction of civilian infrastructure that is excessive to the military objectives.
Additional Protocol I, Article 51 also asserts that reprisals against civilian populations, individual civilians, and civilian objects are prohibited. Military forces are not allowed to move civilian populations or forces from one place to another on a battlefield to shield the force from the effects of combat. Put another way, the use of civilian populations and individual citizens as human shields is prohibited.
Additional Protocol II, among other things, states that combatants must protect civilian populations and that civilian populations and individual civilians must not be the object of an attack. Starvation of civilians is also prohibited as a result of Additional Protocol II. Although it prohibits the starvation of civilians, it does not explicitly state that the starvation of military forces is a violation of international humanitarian law. Regarding starvation, Additional Protocol II also states that the destruction of objects indispensable to the survival of civilian populations, such as food, water, crops, livestock, farming area, and irrigation implements, is strictly prohibited. Note that military forces are again excluded from this condition.
There are several other agreements that also govern international humanitarian law. The Geneva Convention provides several other distinctions pertinent to the legality of sieges. Moreover, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court further codifies many of the provisions found within Additional Protocols I and II, as well as the Geneva Conventions, into a coherent body of rules regarding international humanitarian law.
The language within the corpus of international humanitarian law is broad and resultantly provides military commanders and their political leadership with latitude to conduct sieges so long as civilian populations are properly accounted for. The language within international humanitarian law selectively excludes military forces as a protected element on the battlefield, thus making operations such as a siege legal under international humanitarian law as it pertains to international armed conflict and non-international armed conflict.
Moreover, international humanitarian law does prohibit starvation as a method of warfare, but it does not equate sieges with starvation. As a result, sieges in warfare are allowed, so long as the combatants account for and provide protection for the civilian population and individual civilians within the conflict’s zone of military operations.
The state of Israel, however, is not a signatory to either Additional Protocol I or Additional Protocol II. Israel’s justification for this is that they do not reflect customary law and therefore are not binding. Nonetheless, the Additional Protocols are considered to be norms of customary international law, and they are therefore binding on all parties in conflict, regardless of their status as a signatory or not.
Nonetheless, as several members of the international community, to include the United States, France, Canada, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom, recently stated, Israel is well within the parameters of international law to defend itself against terrorism and further terrorist attacks. Israel does appear to be honoring the letter of the law as it pertains to international humanitarian law. It has made several calls for civilian populations and individual citizens to temporarily vacate known hotspots in Gaza. Questions remain, however, regarding the legality of such moves because the mass deportation of groups of individuals can be construed as excessive and not proportional to the engagement area in which Israel intends to operate. Further, Israel is allowing humanitarian aid to reach the Palestinians within Gaza.
Israel will make mistakes and unintentionally hurt innocent civilians. That is certainly one of the most unfortunate aspects of armed conflict. Nevertheless, Israel and the Israel Defense Forces appear to be judiciously applying combat power against military targets, while adhering to the tenets of international humanitarian law. To address concerns of potential bias, it must be noted that adhering to international humanitarian law does not mean that civilian casualties and collateral damage will not be a byproduct of Israel’s right to defend itself. Moreover, the language used in international humanitarian law is occasionally contradictory and worded so theoretically that it can be used to justify the actions of, or to castigate, any combatant engaged in a conflict. Civilian casualties and collateral damage are an unfortunate part of war, regardless of how closely all parties in a conflict try to adhere to international humanitarian law.
Given the latitude that international humanitarian law provides states and militaries to conduct a range of military operations, the frequency of sieges in modern armed conflict, and the siege-friendly conditions of Gaza, it is safe to assume that if Israel does initiate a large-scale invasion of Gaza, then sieges will be a key part of the offensive. Moreover, if Hamas does go underground and utilizes the reported tunnel network that links the disparate parts of Gaza with one another, sieges will likely play an important part in countering the tunnel challenge.
Further, many militaries consider sieges within the acceptable methods of warfare, with the caveat that the civilian population and individual civilians are appropriately protected. Israel, for example, states that sieges are wholly acceptable so long as civilian populations are allowed to leave the city. In terms of process, the onlooker might expect to see a general siege of Gaza, albeit one that is quite porous. Israel will attempt to close routes into the strip, while controlling the flow of humanitarian aid and other necessities of life. Once Israel and the Israel Defense Forces have identified their supporting military objectives, most likely oriented on a city, a garrison, or a force within a city, they will move to establish a micro-siege, or a proximal encirclement and offensive operation against that objective. Due to the considerable force and logistics requirements to maintain a single siege, much less multiple sieges, the Israelis will likely collapse the larger siege of Gaza so to focus forces and resources into micro-siege. Depending on circumstances, the Israelis might keep a small portion of the larger siege of Gaza in place if doing so denies support or reinforcement from external actors.
Therefore, the international community should prepare itself for the worst. Unfortunately, protections for civilian populations, individual civilians, civilian objects, and resources often fall well short of ideal once hostilities begin. As a result, civilians get caught in the middle of horrible, hostile action between competing parties. Given Gaza’s small size, civilian populations and individual civilians have very little recourse regarding relocating from battlefields. If Israel’s offensive attacks into Gaza with full force, onlookers must thus anticipate significant numbers of civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure. Precision munitions will not provide much assistance in offsetting the problem of civilian casualties and collateral damage. The promise of precision becomes quickly neutralized when operating in dense urban terrain.
Sieges will likely accompany any Israel offensive into Gaza that looks to gain physical control of territory. Sieges will likely accelerate military casualties, civilian deaths, and damage to civilian infrastructure. Below the surface, sieges will complicate things such as civilian, noncombatant medical care and access to food stuffs and water within Gaza. The international community, to include nongovernment organizations focused on caring for noncombatants in war zones, should proactively prepare for what might well be inevitable and not wait until it is too late, and they are forced to play catch-up.
Amos Fox is a PhD candidate at the University of Reading. He is currently the chief human resources officer for the Irregular Warfare Initiative and hosts the Revolution in Military Affairs podcast.