Dr. Robert Packer
PL SC 437
December 17, 2012
“Asymmetric conflict” between two opposing parties often involves the weaker combatant resorting to strategy - albeit generally unconventional - that compensates for its inadequacies in size or strength (Arreguín-Toft 2001). Recently, the phrase has come to define violent conflict between a conventional, highly capable military and an unconventional, illequipped, but resilient opposition (Tomes 2004). The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas in November of 2012 represents a classic example of asymmetric conflict (Pillar 2012) per both definitions.
A number of decisive explanations exemplify asymmetric conflict (Arreguín-Toft 2001), such as the willingness of the weaker party to suffer greater costs, external support for the weaker party, and hesitation to amplify violence on behalf of the side with higher capabilities, among others. For multiple reasons, this explains why Hamas engages in sporadic rocket launches and attacks against Israeli soldiers at the Israeli-Gaza border (Pillar 2012), which are designed to wear down the resolve of the Israelis in a war of attrition. Since 1950, weak actors have won a majority of all asymmetric conflicts (Arreguín-Toft 2001; 106). Due to Israel’s unequivocal military advantages in both technology and armament, Hamas recognizes the necessity in avoiding a full-on conventional war. Thus, it realizes the need to employ unconventional strategy if it wishes to wear down the resolve of Israel and have a chance at success towards their end goal: the complete elimination of Israel and the creation of a new, Muslim, Palestinian state. Hamas’ constitution and practices glorify martyrdom (Marcus et al.), through which it provokes Israel to attack and garners internal support for future conflict. Through its willingness to suffer the death of its own civilians and leadership, it has successfully provoked Israel to enter its territory and fight a smaller, land war. Moreover, despite the ensuing civilian deaths, the change in location to Gaza City, and the constant regeneration of new leadership, Hamas’ soldiers remain motivated to defend its homeland (Byman 2012). This is
precisely where Hamas gains its advantage: where it is willing to suffer loss in order to extend the war, Israel is not.
The theory of truncated power of asymmetry plays a role in the lengthy nature of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. The theory states that power asymmetry between a more powerful state and its challenger are truncated at the local level, which also makes the conflict impossible to resolve quickly (Paul 2006). This is evident in Hamas’ strategy of forcing Israel to fight a local, land war. While Israel may possess far more military capabilities with respect to its airpower, intelligence, and technology, it does not possess the same advantage in terms of ground Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers (Byman 2012). The effort of Hamas to force Israel to fight a land war truncates the asymmetry in power between the two states and would force Israel to spread its troops to a dangerous level. Furthermore, a land war would mean more casualties in the IDF and less domestic support for Israel and President Benjamin Netanyahu’s continued efforts to isolate Palestine (Pillar 2012).
More importantly, Hamas now has the external support of Egypt, which is currently ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’ parent organization. This specifically truncates the asymmetric conflict, because a long-term conflict in Gaza could entice Egypt to terminate its peace treaty with Israel, which would bring incalculable consequences for Israel’s security in the region (Reuters).
The conflict between Israel and Hamas embodies the very definition of asymmetric conflict according to Arreguín-Toft. Hamas successfully forced Israel’s hand in recognizing the power of Palestine through its unconventional strategy of launching rocket attacks against Israel...
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