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Gaza will change the future of war The Malmgren Ratio has been inverted

How can a $60 toy drone infiltrate the Iron Dome?Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images

How can a $60 toy drone infiltrate the Iron Dome?Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images


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October 18, 2023   6 mins
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October 18, 2023   6 mins

Peter Drucker, the Austrian-American management guru, once said: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence — it’s acting with yesterday’s logic.” The unfolding events in Israel are a sharp reminder that we keep making our future a hostage to yesterday’s logic. This is because we are overconfident in our dazzling technological prowess. The belief persists that big armies and expensive high-tech weapons are always the solution — even though the world keeps being destabilised by small armies with cheap low-tech weapons.

On 9/11, we learned that trillions of dollars of American defence spending could be overwhelmed by $5 boxcutters for sale in any hardware store. On Israel’s 9/11, we learned that a $60 toy drone, a $600 rocket and a $6,000 paramotor could overwhelm the world’s most formidable defences, including Israel’s billion-dollar Iron Dome. Hamas managed to evade detection by Israel’s multibillion dollar intelligence capability simply by turning its electronics off and by not deviating from its daily routine. Going dark beat going high-tech; analogue beat digital.

As Israel’s tanks mass on Gaza’s border, the world awaits the start of a chain reaction to the massacre of Israeli civilians. This is like witnessing a Jujitsu match where leverage matters more than size. Hamas wanted to provoke Israel into deploying old-fashioned, highly symbolic weapons, such as tanks. Are tanks the best tech for rescuing the many Israeli hostages? For imposing the greatest damage on the perpetrators? No. But Israel will use them because it wants to create a visual show of force. Hamas is betting on this, knowing that in an Instagram world, Israel’s tanks will generate endless images appearing to show Israel’s brute force, which Hamas believes will increase support for the relatively defenceless occupants of Gaza.

Hamas, however, is far from defenceless: it has 3D printers, laser-sintering devices, and manufacturing facilities in their tunnels, which churn out guns, bullets and more. Perhaps this is why Israel’s surveillance systems didn’t pick up on the drones, ammunition and paramotors that Hamas used to transport humans across the border: they weren’t imported, but were manufactured underground in Gaza. Their essential components, after all, are not hard to come by. As Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib has observed, Hamas uses unexploded ordnance, rubble, and discarded or damaged metal and wiring to recycle materials and parts into new weapons. “The irony here,” he wrote, “is that the IDF’s operation indirectly provided Hamas with materials that are otherwise strictly monitored or forbidden altogether in Gaza.” Hamas, it seems, has brought new meaning to the term “circular economy”.

For the West and Israel, the deeper problem here is that we cannot unlearn our faith in technological prowess. We still believe that having nuclear weapons is always the answer, even though we’ve already discovered that it is impossible to use them in response to Putin’s old-fashioned ground war in Ukraine, or even to his direct nuclear threats. The game is not worth the candle.

At the heart of our cognitive dissonance is the fact that an old mathematical formula has been disrupted by modern technology. Harald led the first study on Anti-Ballistic Missiles for the Joint Chiefs under President John F. Kennedy and Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara. This project was later popularised by President Ronald Reagan as the Star Wars Initiative. When Harald began his study, his task was to determine what it would cost to build an Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) system that could counter an incoming Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) from the Soviet Union before it reached American airspace. The question was this: would an ABM system alter how the Soviets calculated the cost of Mutual Assured Destruction? In other words, could it make it too expensive for the Soviets to keep up? Drawing on the ideas of his associate, Tom Schelling — who later won the Nobel Prize for his idea of game theory — Harald concluded that for each dollar spent on a hypothetical ABM system, it would cost the adversary roughly seven dollars to penetrate it.

Of course, it would not matter whether the ABM system actually worked. It is incredibly mathematically difficult to successfully target and hit a super-fast moving inbound ICBM mid-air. The leverage math was easy, though. The Russians understood the 7:1 calculation. When Reagan announced the Star Wars Initiative, the Soviets understood that they’d be forced to spend far more than the country could possibly afford. The overwhelming cost played no small part in bankrupting the Soviet Union, though its demise came from the fear of running out of the cash needed to keep up with Star Wars, not from the damage inflicted by Star Wars itself. This brought the Cold War and the Soviet Union to an end, and left a lasting impression on America’s leading military thinkers including Richard Perle, Caspar Weinberger, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney, who deployed the ratio everywhere from their various powerful roles in American defence policy.

Today, Harald’s ratio has inverted. It’s at least 1:7 now, and probably much more. This is evident not only from 9/11, but also from the events in Israel. Hamas deployed absurdly cheap rockets against the Iron Dome. It did the maths: by one estimate, the Hamas missiles are 100 times less expensive than the $50,000 Tamir receptors in the Iron Dome, which can defend Israel against 96% of the projectiles thrown at them. So Hamas simply launched many more rockets — and they got through the 4% window because many more were fired. Simple.

None of this means we can rule out that Hamas didn’t have the support of advanced technology. Days before the massacre in Israel, on 27 September, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard successfully placed a third Noor satellite into orbit. Was this a total coincidence? The Noor-3, with vastly better cameras than Noor-1 and Noor-2, gave Iran the ability to monitor events on the ground in Israel and Gaza with much greater accuracy and coverage than before. It allowed Iran 24/7 coverage. What if that camera footage was made available to Hamas? And if facial recognition technology was used on that live feed or video? The aim of that tech is not so much to recognise a particular person but to determine the emotional state of groups of people. Could this have been used to determine that the Israelis on the ground were relaxed and obviously not expecting a problem? Such tech is certainly capable of this — and while it isn’t cheap, it’s a lot cheaper than it used to be.

Nor are its uses simply defensive. Over the past year, the Ukrainians have been forced to become experts in drone warfare. On the one hand, they have learned that holding a $5 yoga mat over your head blinds satellites to the human heat signature, allowing them to sneak up on Russian assets and destroy them. On the other, they have also developed their offensive capacity, making not just drones but underwater drones. In the Black Sea, for instance, the Russians had to move their fleet after Ukrainian “experimental” and unmanned “Sea Baby” drones wreaked havoc, damaging subs and the undersides of sizeable superpower vessels.

If Ukraine can operate this kind of technology, Hamas probably can too. This week, the US moved two aircraft carriers into range of Israel. This raises the risk of another USS Cole situation. In 2000, two suicide pilots in a cheap rubber Zodiac-type boat ripped a 40-foot-wide hole in the Cole, killing 17 American naval personnel and injuring another 40.

For now, though, Hamas’s use of drones will continue to be associated with its recent reliance on paramotors with parafoils. These are usually found at beach resorts and so appear perfectly innocent. No doubt Israel has every airport and landing strip around under observation, but modern drone tech no longer requires such assets. In 2014, The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel’s Intelligence Service, Shin Bet, had discovered that Hamas was receiving paragliding training in Malaysia. But it never seemed to have occurred to anyone that paramotors and parafoils could be used to transport an armed human over the heavily surveilled Gaza border.

Elsewhere, cheap toy drones played a large part in disabling and destroying Israel’s expensive surveillance system on the Gaza border. Hamas used them to dazzle, damage or destroy the expensive optical sensors that Israel relied upon to detect inbound threats. The Israelis should have understood this technology. After all, Israeli-made drones helped Azerbaijan retake Nagorno-Karabakh just last month, while Turkish drones have profoundly shifted the balance of power in the ongoing war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. People are clearly understanding the tech but are yet to realise the inversion of the leverage ratio.

Closer to home, we can see this in the US’s continued enforcement of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) regime, in the mistaken belief that all or most valuable tech originates in America and must not fall into the hands of opponents. Awkwardly, it seems that many of the guns Hamas used in the siege had been lifted from the piles of weaponry the US left behind in Afghanistan and Iraq. Failing to consider their intellectual property value, the US ditched them because they were too expensive to destroy and too old to bother returning home. The US saw old broken guns without enough usable ammo. Did Hamas see an opportunity to create CAD (Computer Aided Design) models, which would let them 3D print or laser-sinter parts to repair and even replicate these weapons? Perhaps.

Meanwhile, those who want to change or damage the balance of power in the world at an already fragile moment will continue to deploy technologies that we ignore or laugh at. And this dangerous form of complacency is not just a problem for Israel. Once those tanks drive into Gaza and the conflict metastasises further afield, it will be a threat to the entire West.


Harald Malmgren is a geopolitical strategist, negotiator and former aide to Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford
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Nell Clover
Nell Clover
7 months ago

Survival bias is the the logical error of concentrating on entities that passed a selection process while overlooking those that did not. The article is riddled with “survival bias”. It makes any conclusion it tries to reach worthless.

The classic example of survival bias comes from WW2 when engineers studied damaged planes to identify where extra armour was needed, and where armour could be removed to balance the weight. The most bullet-riddled parts were the obvious candidates for more armour, and less armour for the less damaged parts. What was overlooked was that these planes had survived despite these bullet holes, it was bullet holes in the undamaged parts that destroyed planes, and those destroyed planes didn’t make it home to be looked at by engineers. The benefit of the existing armour was less obvious because of survival bias.

When the authors write “we’ve already discovered that it is impossible to use them in response to Putin’s old-fashioned ground war in Ukraine, or even to his direct nuclear threats. The game is not worth the candle” they are ignoring all the possible Russia-Ukraine war scenarios prevented by possessing nuclear weapons.

When the authors suggest Israel’s Iron Dome has been overwhelmed, they ignore the larger heavier rocket attacks that would be possible without it.

It is pure academic cant (actually in this case professional lobbying by a family dynasty) to suggest because a solution to one problem doesn’t solve all problems then the solution must be worthless.

Last edited 7 months ago by Nell Clover
A D Kent
A D Kent
7 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

If Hezbollah properly join the fray then I think the Iron Dome could well be overwhelmed. I don’t think it has been fully tested yet. I’d then be worried that Israel may find themselves tempted to use some kind of ‘tactical’ nuclear weapon as their only option against an opponent possibly rather less averse to losses than they may be.

J. Hale
J. Hale
7 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Yep, if Hezbollah really has 100,000 rockets deeply dug in in southern Lebanon, then tactical nuclear weapons might be the best way to destroy them in mass.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
7 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Israel might use drones to set fire to Iran’s oil export terminal on Kharg Island. It’s the source of the money that funds the terrorists throughout the Middle East. Or Israel could just nuke it in response to a Hezbollah attack, sending a message to all the terrorists.

J Bryant
J Bryant
7 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

(actually in this case professional lobbying by a family dynasty)
Yes, that’s what struck me most about this article. This type of self-serving article reflects badly on Unherd.

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
7 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

No. They present some interesting hypotheses, some of which ring true. Just because they’re in the business, it doesn’t mean their points aren’t valid. In fact, it suggests that they know a lot about their subject – more than you or I.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
7 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Agreed. Sounds like an evasion to me. First thing I ask myself when I hear such arguments is, what are they trying to sell me.

William Shaw
William Shaw
7 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

An accurate assessment of the flawed logic of this article.
Both authors claim to have been aides to US presidents.
I can only say, God help us if any western government is currently employing “experts” of similar quality.

Last edited 7 months ago by William Shaw
Bret Larson
Bret Larson
7 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Just because they are saying this to us, doesn’t mean they would say it to the president.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

The liquid/glycol cooled Merlin engines in the Lancaster didn’t help,
as shown by how much ‘safer’ the Bristol-Hercules radials were in the Halifax.

Last edited 7 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Peter Joy
Peter Joy
7 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

What you say about survivor bias is true so far as it goes, but I don’t think that’s the relevant issue here. Their point about the ratio is sound enough. There are times – such as 1914-17 – when the technology of defence (magazine rifles, MGs, barbed wire, railway-delivered reinforcements) stymies conventional attack. Then, as in 1918, new technologies and tactics arrive (creeping barrages, tanks, specialised close support aircraft, sub-machine guns and small unit tactics) that crack the problem. This may be one of those periods where the technology of attack gets ahead, again (though on a strategic level, continuous satellite recon seems to be pushing in the opposite direction in Ukraine).
If Hamas can get four (even of 100) heavy explosive rockets past Iron Dome and onto Israel for a total cost of $60,000, while simultaneously burning $5 million of US taxpayers money, they will, quite rationally, see that as a good rate of exchange. As Stalin put it, quantity has a quality all of its own.

Last edited 7 months ago by Peter Joy
David Barnett
David Barnett
7 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

I don’t think the precise details matter. The fundamental thesis is correct. Our centralised military organisation and its costly hardware is best suited to dealing with similarly organised (i.e. state) adversaries. They are not well suited to dealing with numerous dispersed adversaries.
*
It is the dilemma of asymmetric warfare: The large centralised power must either expend huge effort to defend against a small threat, or resort to annihilation or terrorising the supporting population of the dispersed adversary. This was why Sherman wreaked so much wanton destruction of the south despite the final defeat of the Confederate state army in the American Civil War.
*
Think about the cost of the centralised approach to preventing another 9/11 type attack. Quite apart from the cost of bureaucracies like the TSA, every commercial flight we take requires subjects us to humiliating civil-liberty violating security theatre.
*
New technologies have lowered the cost to small actors of inflicting disproportionate damage to large actors.
*
Ultimately, the economics of warfare govern how states are organised. For 500 years mass production techniques and the economies of scale caused states to coalesce into large and larger entities, but that peaked in the mid 20th century. Since then, the optimal balance has been tipping back towards smaller political entities, and advances in technology are dramatically reducing that optimal size.
*
All such transitions produce havoc as the beneficiaries of the old structures try desperately to keep their privileges.

Charlie Dibsdale
Charlie Dibsdale
7 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Also the slight contradiction in the article about Iran’s modern satellite technology with the cost of this cannot be cheap. We are witnessing an arms race between offensive and defensive capability within Ukraine and Isreal. For example Laser weapons have the potential to redress the cost of expensive missile defence against cheap homemade missiles and drones. There has been an obvious major mistake in intelligence but is this a problem of tech?

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
7 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Well looks like the experts are no good at peace negotiation.
Does not seem like they even consider that position.
All that technology for what ? Endless war ?

Last edited 7 months ago by Mark M Breza
Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
7 months ago

What nonsense is this?

“We still believe that having nuclear weapons is always the answer, even though we’ve already discovered that it is impossible to use them in response to Putin’s old-fashioned ground war in Ukraine”

That’s not why we have nuclear weapons.

B Moore
B Moore
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

If you want to find out why we have nuclear weapons, just look at Ukraine. Putin would never have invaded a nuclear equipped Ukraine.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
7 months ago
Reply to  B Moore

And the west guaranteed their borders when they gave up their nukes.

Simon Adams
Simon Adams
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Yes my thoughts exactly. There were several other strange comments in the article. It’s as if the authors aren’t aware of “MAD” etc, and have only just realised the difference between conventional war and terrorism.

George Venning
George Venning
7 months ago

What if the facial recognition technology on the Noor 3 satellite was used to determine when the Israelis were looking relaxed and then attack when their guard was down?
FFS
Maybe it was possible to infer that the Israelis weren’t expecting trouble by some other, less sophisticated, means – the decision to organise a music festival within a mile of a heavily fortified border perhaps.

The answers to the Israel-Palestine problem and the Russia-Ukraine problem and the China-Taiwan problem, among many others, aren’t technological or even military. They are, ultimately, political.
As long as great powers seek to resolve political injustice primarily through military means, all of these problems will get worse and will continue to generate ever more horrific destructive technologies with their horrifying side-effects. The authors are right about that at least.
Even the end of the Cold War is scarcely a great advertisement for this strategy and for the same reason. Star Wars may have contributed to the collapse of the USSR but the determination of the west to strip its assets and further immiserate the population afterwards, has lead, pretty directly to the re-emergence of Russia as a resentful and hostile power – just like Germany in the aftermath of WWI. Contrast that with the treatment of Germany after WWII and you see the immensity of the lost opportunity here.

Terry M
Terry M
7 months ago
Reply to  George Venning

As long as great powers seek to resolve political injustice primarily through military means…
When has political injustice ever NOT been ultimately determined by military might? Ans: Never.
the determination of the west to strip its assets and further immiserate the population afterwards
The West actually reached out to Russia and its former satellites to help. It was internal Russian oligarchs and criminals who stripped it assets, not Western governments or private companies/individuals.
Get the facts right and you might have an argument.

George Venning
George Venning
7 months ago
Reply to  Terry M

To your first question, I think you could respectably argue that the Good Friday agreement was a pretty effective example of a political settlement which, at the very least, de-fanged quite an unpleasant conflict. Similarly, the end of apartheid South Africa, was a recent striking example of a conflict that ended with a reconciliation process rather than the blood-letting that many would have predicted to follow. Neither of them perfect of course, but perhaps we could agree that the decision to “settle” either conflict militarily would have been much worse.
As to the fate of Russia after the Cold War. Yes, it was internal oligarchs and their bully boy gangsters, who looted everything that wasn’t nailed down (and plenty that was). But why was so much of the Soviet state available for looting in the first place? It was because of the decision to sell it all off immediately at knock-down prices to people who barely had two kopeks to rub together – the “shock doctrine”. And where Yegor Gaidar get that helpful idea? Where did the phalanxes of economic advisors who helped him do it come from? Oh yes. From the West. And where did all the money that was so ruthlessly extracted from Russia end up? In the West.
After WWI, the victorious powers looted a prostrate Germany through reparations both in cash and in kind – leaving the Germans frustrated, impoverished and desperate to break out of permanent subservience. Leading to even greater conflict.
After WWII, the Americans provided incredibly generous support all across western Europe to re-build industries, modernise factories and so on. A generation or two later, the western nations that had fought for centuries were transformed into the world’s squishiest boc of peacenik surrender-monkeys with some of the highest standards of living the world has ever seen.
I’m simplifying and the parallels are not exact but which of these two patterns does the demise of the Soviet Union most closely resemble?

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
7 months ago
Reply to  George Venning

Decadence is a ‘thing’.

George Venning
George Venning
7 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Certainly. But, if you had to choose war or decadence for your children, it isn’t even close.
(Not that I think that is actually the choice)

Andrew F
Andrew F
7 months ago
Reply to  George Venning

You forget that Garmany and Japan unconditionally surrendered to end ww2.
Russia is still peddling the myth of Great Patriotic War and claims ww2 started in 1941.
Whereas it was Russia as ally of Germany which started ww2 and kept supplying Germany with war material till June 1941.
I am sure that West bankers facilitated Russian oligarchs.
But other countries like Poland or Czech Republic didn’t follow the same path.
The same goes for China.
So what happened and is happening in Russia is Russians fault.
Tsarism, Communism or Putinism, it is always the same Russian genocidal imperialism, poverty and violence.

mike otter
mike otter
7 months ago
Reply to  Terry M

No it was the refusal of Bush Senior and his running dogs Major, Kohl & Co to let the newly non communist Russia join the world banking and currency system. I empathise with the US decision as Russia is so resource rich it can out-starve any other polity BUT if you assumem the other guy is going to screw you and you do it first you are guaranteeing an outcome. My experience in negotiation leads me to think in all but the clearest situations you give the other party a way out so that a compromise pre war, litigation, non -payment etc remains an option. I have outlasted 90+% of my competitors using this method – they collect business enemies like i collect cars and concert tickets LOL

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  mike otter

Precisely how many 18th century European Wars were fought, with nearly everyone getting a ‘prize’.

Robin Whittle
Robin Whittle
7 months ago
Reply to  George Venning

The author of this article is wildly mistaken in even imagining that the Noor-3 satellite could do facial recognition. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noor_(satellite) states that it weighs 24 kg and that the camera has an image resolution of 6 to 4.8 metres. There’s no such thing as “footage”, meaning video, from a satellite at 450 km elevation. Such satellites produce still images from scanning across terrain, whenever they happen to pass over an area of interest, which might take weeks due to the orbit not being subject to change.
The ability of masses of cheap missiles or drones to overwhelm very expensive defenses is important. Likewise the ability for a ~$1M hypersonic missile to disable an aircraft carrier. However, this author is not always, or perhaps ever, dealing with facts. Why, without references, should be believe that an ABM system could work so well as to require 7 x the expenditure by the Russians to overcome it? The assertion that this ratio caused the collapse of Soviet Union is absurd. I am a paying subscriber and find many Unherd articles interesting and valuable. Not this one.

Henry Mayhew
Henry Mayhew
7 months ago
Reply to  Robin Whittle

I work in the defense field and much of what they say is very true and actually important.

Peter Joy
Peter Joy
7 months ago
Reply to  George Venning

Yes, I find that bit hard to believe. What were they supposed to be doing? Looking up at the sky while sunbathing, with dramatically anxious looks on their faces?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago

The sounds rather like the invincibility of the low tech, ultra cheap English longbow against the expensively equipped chivalry of France.*
However we tend to forget that in the end the French thrashed us by using Milanese armour and field guns, as at Castillon in 1453.

(*Battles of C,P,A and V.)

Last edited 7 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Nell Clover
Nell Clover
7 months ago

Hamas will remain a dangerous thorn, but nonetheless a thorn, whilst it has access only to primitive weapons. Hamas has only primitive weapons because of Israel’s blockade and incursions into Gaza to destroy Hamas cells.

Hamas would happily trade up to more sophisticated weapons if it could. Give Hamas a state and end the blockade and it will become armed with more sophisticated weapons, and then it will be a knife at the throat of Israel.

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
7 months ago

A battlefield longbow made of yew with flax or silk string and 60+ perfectly straight arrows was an elite weapon, made by a range of different craftsmen and only usable by a very highly-trained elite. The overall cost of fielding and servicing a corps of archers was enormous.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

But cheaper than a Milanese armoured horsemen and field and siege artillery.

Last edited 7 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Simon Neale
Simon Neale
7 months ago

Possibly, but not “low tech, ultra-cheap”. Quite the reverse.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
7 months ago

Wasn’t it the Welsh longbow?

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

Of course it was. This is what I mean about bending history to suit the argument.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
7 months ago

Indeed, history often comes round to bite you in the Butt.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago

I agree ‘we’ pinched it off the Welsh!

David Owsley
David Owsley
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

Welsh and English

David Owsley
David Owsley
7 months ago

The ‘tragedy’ of the Battle of Castillon was that nobody leant the lessons of the Battle of Formigny three years previous.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  David Owsley

“Old habits die hard”.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
7 months ago

This article also comes under the 1:7 ratio as the comments are far superior;-)

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
7 months ago

“Two thousand pounds of education
 Drops to a ten-rupee jezail.”
Rudyard Kipling: Arithmetic on the frontier.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
7 months ago

The author seems confused. Murdering civilians is not the same as winning a war or changing political realities. If anything Hamas’ action will harden Israel’s resolve to stick to force and not to make concessions to the Palestinians in the West Bank. Nor will any other Arab country be any more welcoming of Palestinian refugees. Who would want to give Hamas a home?
My guess is that the IDF knows where the tunnels are or at least has a good idea. The Achilles Heel of tunnels is the need for ventilation. These systems will be accessible above ground.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
7 months ago

According to reports, a lot of Israelis think the war shoul be fought without regard too the hostages. One thing that would mean would be to blow up every tunnel opening you find, closing it, preferably with a fuel air explosive that removes as much oxygen from the tunnels as possible.

Abe Stamm
Abe Stamm
7 months ago

If I had to choose between the collective brain power of the authors of this article and those of the Israeli Defense Forces coupled with Mossad, regarding military intelligence and modern warfare strategies, I’d choose the later.

Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
7 months ago
Reply to  Abe Stamm

I am not so sure about that – they were clearly sleeping on the job here, having no clue that Hamas planned an attack of this magnitude. Complacency is the curse of civilisation, as is being overly reliant on technology.

Alex Colchester
Alex Colchester
7 months ago

A fascinating article and perhaps the only UnHerd article to date that attempts to see the disregarded ‘alternative take’ on the conflict.
All these cheerleaders for heavily armed Namer and other expensive and cumbersome Israeli killing machines are about to realise how vulnerable such items are in dense urban environments.
I can’t believe the IDF is actually considering going into Gaza City on the ground. It’s insane. The place will be riddled with IED’s.
I would have thought the Israelis would be knowledgable about the story of ‘David and Goliath’.

Last edited 7 months ago by Alex Colchester
Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
7 months ago

I woul suggest we do the experiment. The IDF has prepared for action in Gaza since 2007. It may have ways to deal with IEDs. However, Hamas possibly uses most of its explosives for rockets, leaving little for IEDs.

Perry de Havilland
Perry de Havilland
7 months ago

“We still believe that having nuclear weapons is always the answer, even though we’ve already discovered that it is impossible to use them in response to Putin’s old-fashioned ground war in Ukraine”

Really? Russian nuclear weapons have worked exactly as intended. The reason Russia is able to brutally attack Ukraine & only find themselves fighting Ukraine, rather than coming face to face with NATO directly, is because Russia has nuclear weapons.

Without the threat of Russia’s nukes, Poland would have militarily ejected Russia from Kaliningrad last year.

Deac Manross
Deac Manross
7 months ago

Cheap drones are one thing for warfare’s future, but when I was doing graduate studies in microbiology back in the 1970’s it was not traditional or nuclear war that kept me up at night, it was bio-warfare. Still does. Once developed, cheap and targetable. Whether Wuhan was an accident or a weaponizing way-station along the way matters not. It’s just around the corner in any case.

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
7 months ago

If our military and the academics who support it weren’t such intellectually in-bred fools, all this should have been obvious generations ago. Mao told us all about it and showed how it worked in the 1940s and early 1950s, and Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap repeated the lesson in the 1960s. And Osama bin Laden in the 1990s and early 2000s. And plenty more.
We need to incorporate in our diplomatic and military planning “Red Teams” that are deeply immersed in the cultures of potential adversaries, who can advise on what those people are likely thinking and what capabilities they can bring. We did a bit of this in the late Cold War, but that was like vs. like, Warsaw Pact vs. NATO. We need Red Teas like that for people like China, sure, but we need several more for entities that are really different from us in culture, mindset, goals, and resources, starting with Iran and working from there.
And once we do that, we still must remain humble in the knowledge that no matter what we think we know, there is infinitely more that we don’t know.

Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
7 months ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

When the US invaded Iraq the Pentagon hardly had any Arabic speakers..

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
7 months ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

Unknown unknowns?

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
7 months ago

All well and good, but what should the Israelis do?
Diplomacy guarantees that the perps are still running the show when the dust settles.
A “surgical” style of urban warfare is not possible; they’ll be shot at from every rooftop. And there is reason to beleive that there are thousands of hidden weapons all over Gaza.
It seems obvious to me that they must destroy the tunnels. To accomplish that they need to empty the landscape of civilians. Because destroying the tunnels means knocking down many, if not most, of the buildings. (The entrances and vents would naturally be hidden in basements and groundfloor storefronts.)
The rest of this tragedy is even more horrible to contemplate…

Tom Condray
Tom Condray
7 months ago

“If wishes were horses then beggars would ride.” comes to mind. I doubt the current tragedy unfolding in the Middle East can really be traced to an over reliance on technology. Rather, the immense weight of media-driven public opinion continuing to insist the Palestinians are oppressed creates the environment wherein those oppressed people can wreak havoc and mayhem.
Israel’s efforts to protect itself from Hamas have been continually challenged and even derided as keeping Gazans from creating prosperity for themselves. The refrain of an intractable, intolerant Israel representing the only obstacle to a functioning, peaceful Palestinian state worked its spell to such an extent that any efforts to remain vigilant and focused on Hamas perfidy were seen as counterproductive.
No matter Hamas continues to insist in it foundational statements that the destruction of Israel is its primary purpose. Like the American correspondent who once said massive crowds of Iranians shouting “Death to America!” were simply repeating a meaningless slogan, world leaders demanded Israelis listen to wiser heads cajoling them into ignore facts and embrace wishes.
We see the result. And, we see the inability of those whose repeated demands for normalization at the borders of Israel and Gaza to accept the reality that Evil exists however much we wish it otherwise. Or, that the appeasers and Israel detractors were the ones who gave birth to this atrocity.
I’m not holding my breath waiting for any acts of contrition from our wiser heads, and the self-appointed leaders who know best.
Contrition, after all, requires remorse.
And remorse requires a conscience.

A D Kent
A D Kent
7 months ago

Haven’t we learned this already given the epic run of defeats suffered by the US since the Second World War. Did ‘we’ not learn it in Vietnam? How about Iraq and Afghanistan?

Re the high-tech weapons, we’ve seen all sorts of boondoggles since Star Wars. We’ve the F-35, the Litoral Combat Ships, the Zuwaldt destroyers, the UK’s Ajax APVs and many more. We’ve seen the West’s technically advanced, but complicated and brittle gear not live up to expectations in Ukraine once the RF got used to them (see the HIMARS, Leopard IIs, Challenges, Bradleys and especially the Patriot missiles). The Iron Dome is probably already on this list now and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Namer tanks joined them soon.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
7 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Perhaps, but think about all the money that was made building them!

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
7 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

What we haven’t learned is that we have to use our weapons to implement a winning strategy. Guerillas need supplies. Without supplies, they die.

In Vietnam, we waited to bomb and mine North Vietnam’s harbors until December, 1972. If we had done that in 1965 or 1968, it would have been a much easier war to win.

In Afghanistan, we should have eradicated opium poppy fields under Taliban control. They were the source of funding for Taliban supplies.

We eradicated ISIS once we bombed their oil tanker trucks and oil fields, stopping their source of funding for supplies. We also changed the rules of engagement, bombing military targets without regard to human shields.

Under the rules of war, any military installation is a legal target, regardless of whether there are civilians on or near the target. If there are civilians on or near the target, it is the resposibility of the controling authority, ISIS in Iraq and Syria, to move civilians away from military targets. ISIS did the opposite. Eradicating ISIS may have taken 10,000 civilian lives.

John Solomon
John Solomon
7 months ago

“It would have been a much easier war to win”
Perhaps I am misunderstanding the implications of this sentence, but I didn’t think that America won the war in Vietman.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
7 months ago
Reply to  John Solomon

The US lost in Vietnam. We had no chance because we failed to cut off North Vietnam’s supplies until it was too late. My point is that the US could have, possibly would have, won if we had used our superior air power to close those ports in 1965 or even as late as 1968. By 1972, the public in the US had no further patience for the war. Please notice, it took North Vietnam until 1975 to recover from the bombing enough to overrun the South. By that time Congress had cut aid to South Vietnam by 75% and outlawed air strikes in Southeast Asia. In effect, Congress voted to lose the war.

I’m a Vietnam Era veteran, served stateside USAF 1972-1976.

David Wildgoose
David Wildgoose
7 months ago

It wasn’t “us” who defeated ISIS, it was Russia who provided that service to humanity.

I am afraid we were the ones funneling ISIS with weaponry via various dodgy so-called “democratic resistance” groups.

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
7 months ago

The Noor-3, with vastly better cameras than Noor-1 and Noor-2, gave Iran the ability to monitor events on the ground in Israel and Gaza with much greater accuracy and coverage than before. It allowed Iran 24/7 coverage. What if that camera footage was made available to Hamas?

I thought the current received wisdom was that Iran didn’t collaborate with Hamas over the recent attack, and indeed were taken by surprise. Has it changed again?
Anyway, it’s all good news for armchair and academic experts in geopolitics, military strategy, technology, modern history, and ethics.

John Solomon
John Solomon
7 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

I am sure there must be a good reason, and I apologise for my ignorance in not knowing what it is, but why is Iran allowed to put satellites into orbit? Would it not be relatively easy for them to suffer a ‘malfunction’ or a regrettable collision with some space junk? Or is that technologically difficult to achieve?

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
7 months ago

Another excellent UnHerd article.
Well researched and presented. Thought-provoking. Just what we need.

Ben Shipley
Ben Shipley
7 months ago

A bit slick with the arguments here. Reads like an academic paper, sliding in tasty nuggets of supporting data while ignoring basic realities. Hamas did not defeat Israel, any more than Al Queda defeated the US. And I can’t wait to see all those 3D printers churning out enough weapons to take on the IDF. Articles like this spend more time admiring the pretty bows with which they wrap up their arguments than they do actually researching those arguments. And it shows.

Connecticut Yankee
Connecticut Yankee
7 months ago
Reply to  Ben Shipley

Al queda did defeat the US. Who governs Afghanistan?

Alex Colchester
Alex Colchester
7 months ago

One point I would like clarity on, from someone with such knowledge.
Why didn’t Russia simply spend on developing their own Star Wars defensive system? If, as the author contends it was 7:1 to try and evade Star Wars, by improving one’s own ICBMs to penetrate the defensive US Star Wars system, why not instead of spending the 7 to get through, simply spend the 1 to stop US nukes getting into USSR?
This would have created a game theory environment where neither had any advantage for a 1/7th of the cost.

Last edited 7 months ago by Alex Colchester
Terry M
Terry M
7 months ago

The Russians were far, far behind in computer development that is necessary for tracking incoming missiles and targeting them with your defensive missiles.

Alex Colchester
Alex Colchester
7 months ago
Reply to  Terry M

Thanks. Makes sense.

David Clancy
David Clancy
7 months ago

USSR had missiles on its border whereas US-directed missiles were thousands of miles away

Alex Colchester
Alex Colchester
7 months ago
Reply to  David Clancy

What about from Russian nuclear subs? They could have been a few miles offshore from continental USA, no?

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
7 months ago

Thank you. That is by far the best article I have read here about the conflict.
[I’ll spoil that now by saying that I don’t see a clear moral case that the change to a multi-polar world order shouldn’t take place.]

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
7 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

I finally found out, what you were talking about the other day. It is pretty much proven, that the Israelis are supplying arms to Azerbaijan. Guess, “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” in this case. Meanwhile the outrageous ethnic cleansing of the Armenian minority was taking place. Wonder, if the arms supply was the idea of Netanyahu’s government? It seems that many Israelis aren’t ok with this


Last edited 7 months ago by Stephanie Surface
Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
7 months ago

Do you mean the unpopularity of Netanyahu in Israel?

Arthur G
Arthur G
7 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Well, the moral case is that no one seems to want it except the bad actors, and it makes major wars, especially nuclear war, far more likely. If the US-led order goes away, every state is going to heed the lesson of Ukraine and realize they MUST have nuclear weapons, or they’re a target for aggression. When you have 50, not particularly stable, mid-sized countries with nukes, the odds that one eventually uses them is very high.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
7 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

The US-led order is going away whether you like it or not, I’m afraid.
The biggest danger we could actually inflict is a Putin defeat, not the ceding of the Donbas, which is now inevitable. Destabilising Russia is what would lead to their nuclear weapons being spread around the world.

Alan Hill
Alan Hill
7 months ago

Pump 1000s of tons of sea water into the Hamas tunnels. Should be quite easy and would certainly complicate things for Hamas. Cheap and low tech as well.

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
7 months ago
Reply to  Alan Hill

There are hostages down there.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
6 months ago
Reply to  Alan Hill

I remember in the past Egypt using this exact tactic after insistence to Hamas to not rely on any Egyptian assistance in Hamas’s suicidal war against Israel. From memory, it was used roughly 4 or fewer years ago by Egyptian authorities against Hamas!

Roberto Sussman
Roberto Sussman
7 months ago

The author misses important points that account (at least partially) on how and why Israel’s defenses became sufficiently vulnerable for Hamas to penetrate its territory with low cost military technology. Not everything is top military technology, the recent turmoil and the incompetence of Israel’s present government weakened overall security. Extreme right wing ideologues play leading government roles, they prioritize settlement of the West Bank, even at the expense of other issues, such as overall security. The most influential leader of this extreme right (Smotrich) has a leading position in security and has dismissed warnings of over all security flaws. Battalions guarding the south were transferred to the West Bank to protect a few messianic settlers. At he same time, politics in 2023 were dominated by massive protests against the government’s attempt to overhaul the Supreme Court, with high tech military personnel failing to report to duty as a way of protesting. While the Hamas attack was not on the horizon, these developments contributed to create the security sinks where Hamas’ terrorism entered.

Josef O
Josef O
6 months ago

This review is outdated. The Israeli army fought with completely different criteria. So never make predictions about the future.

Steve Hall
Steve Hall
7 months ago

At last an informed, sensible article. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the IDF mostly conscripts and reservists, and 40% women? Against hardened, fanatical nothing-to-lose Hamas fighters in a dense urban environment riddled with tunnels? Hezbollah is threatening a multi-front conflict. Syrian militants are still active around the Golan Heights. The IDF are still waiting on the border. The result of the ground war is not cut and dried, and unacceptably high losses would force the IDF to level Gaza City and use bunker-busters. There are tunnels in the southern region of Gaza too, which would have to be dealt with. The resulting deaths and massive refugee crisis would see Israel’s reputation in tatters amongst the global South and East, and support in the West might decline. Bringing in an effective peace-broker would be the sensible option, but that’s highly unlikely. Risky for Likud. Let’s see what they do.

Last edited 7 months ago by Steve Hall
Peta Seel
Peta Seel
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve Hall

Everyone in Israel, including women, has to do national service. In that sense the IDF is mostly conscripts and reservists, but very well-trained ones. Never forget either, that the Israelis are fighting for their very existence so it isn’t a case of “nothing to lose”, rather one of everything to lose if they don’t fight.

Steve Hall
Steve Hall
7 months ago
Reply to  Peta Seel

There’s truth in what you say, but, firstly, there’s a substantive difference between being well-trained and fanatical and/or battle-hardened, and, secondly, Israelis are fighting for their abstract existence as a nation. Hamas have upped the ante where they’re willing to sacrifice their bodies. If there is no quick resolution to the ground war – we don’t know what Hamas have in store – how far are Israel wiling to go down that path, possibly now on multiple fronts? Likud have to make a big decision. I don’t envy them. Peace-broking is still possible. Sometimes – although not too often – an escalation of violence, when both sides realise how far their opponents are willing to go, is the most effective time for this. It would save a lot of lives.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 months ago
Reply to  Peta Seel

Yes Israel is fighting for its existence, but Jewish people can exist outside of Israel, many quite comfortably. I’m sure Australia and the US could fit in a lot.

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
7 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Jewish people lived quite comfortably in Germany, Russia, Spain, England, etc. until they didn’t. (England expelled the Jews in 1290. Oliver Cromwell, needing financial support, welcomed them back.)
So Australia and the U.S., or wherever you’d like to resettle the Jews, could change their mind. What happens then?

Abe Stamm
Abe Stamm
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve Hall

I think you misunderstand of the level of training Israeli women, who are conscripted at age 18, achieve during their 2 years and 4 months of mandatory service:
comment image

Stevie K
Stevie K
7 months ago
Reply to  Abe Stamm

Good point.
How did you add the image to your post?

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
7 months ago
Reply to  Stevie K

To view his HTML in Safari, use the Develop add-in and then View Page Source. There are similar functions in other browsers.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
7 months ago
Reply to  Abe Stamm

In a war of the cradle, killing IDF women must count double. Not to face censure for the killing of civilians while you do so is just a bonus.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
7 months ago

This logic doesn’t work as well if Israel doesn’t care about civilian deaths – or is prepared to use a tactical nuclear weapon on Iran. I think both are possibilities.

William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
7 months ago

It also didn’t help that it was a Jewish holiday that weekend, and many border guard soldiers were on leave. Too much reliance on a wall as well as tech.

Last edited 7 months ago by William Edward Henry Appleby
Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
7 months ago

Many must be thinking about a military paradigm shift in which the territory is razed to the ground in a series of nuclear interventions – a Gaza emptied above ground then literally erased.
Of course, this has not been tried since the end of World War II but the technology has moved on. If the Gazan population is moved to the south and then most across the Egyptian border, then the tactical battlefield device may even be tried.

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
7 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Egypt might have something to say about that. If Egypt wanted Gaza, it would have Gaza because *Gaza was formerly a part of Egypt*. Obviously they don’t want that kind of trouble.

T M Murray
T M Murray
7 months ago

This article seems to miss the point. Its focus is exclusively the means. I can’t help but think that so much of what happens in the world is a by-product of infantile male fantasies of omnipotence (“boys and their toys”) and this article only confirms that gut-level instinct. The focus should not really be on which toys get used, but whether any should be used at all, and if so, who benefits? When the dust settles, let’s look at what has been achieved by these means. Then and only then can we analyse whether using them was worthwhile.

Last edited 7 months ago by T M Murray
Phil Re
Phil Re
6 months ago

As it applies to the present conflict, the authors’ analysis overlooks two important considerations. First, it doesn’t consider the cost of the tunnels themselves. The tunnels were integral to Hamas’s assessment that it could offset Israel’s conventional advantages, and they were not cheap! Second, Hamas’s situation is unusual in that it’s almost entirely dependent on the patronage of Iran and Qatar, and on diverting massive amounts of foreign aid from international bodies. It has never had to count costs in the same way that the US and the USSR did.