Tuesday 5 August 2014
Gaza: we will be back here again
Assessing the battlefield through the prism of media is not by any means a reliable way to gather information. Footage can give us certain clues but never the whole of the picture. It will not be until the IDF publishes their combat reports that we can make any concrete observations, and it should be noted that such analysis isn't possible without such transparency. We should be thankful that the IDF do publish when there is nothing that says they have to.
That said, I am going to indulge in some semi-informed speculation. Footage I have seen shows the IDF using various projectiles, mainly artillery to collapse tunnels. We have also seen footage of IDF combat engineers collapsing entrances to tunnels. But this isn't the first time the IDF has done this - and my bet is, it won't be the last.
In common with the tunnels of Chu Chi in Vietnam, echoing the American experience, these tunnels are very quickly restored when only sections are collapsed. In some instances in Vietnam, heavily shelled bunker complexes would be restored in fewer than 48 hours.
In order to fully collapse the network, charges must be placed at regular intervals along the whole tunnel to ensure all of it comes down. The US army employed Tunnel Rats to do this very job. It was a dirty and dangerous assignment. But that was a long time ago.
There is now a great deal that can be done with cheap robotics and with just a few alterations, existing technology dating back to the 50's could be effectively employed to destroy tunnels permanently. If Hamas then wanted a tunnel network they would have to get digging from scratch.
This could then be prevented by UAV patrols and geospatial analysis which was refined for IED detection in Afghanistan. This is made much easier now that we know the probable locations. This should to be part of an ongoing security operation because without it, we will be here again. Israeli defence analysts have been saying this for long enough. Whether the IDF will listen is another matter.
Sadly, the challenges are more political than they are technical. Israeli defence bureaucracy is little better than our own, and there is nothing like a national defence establishment for stubbornness and resistance to good ideas. I believe the IDF has probably done a much more thorough job of collapsing tunnels this time around, but seemingly their methodology is flawed and that's why I think this won't be the last time we see a big set-piece military incursion at tremendous cost. And that's a terrible shame.
As much as there are strong humanitarian and security arguments, there is also a major economic motive for getting this right. Science and applied thinking will always yield better results than brute force and ignorance. And if it can be done without giving the enemy the propaganda material on which it thrives, there is a distinct military advantage too.