Surprise is inevitable. The antidote is adaptive capacity baked into institutions. IDF is demonstrating this now.

Sure, the division guarding Gaza got beaten up pretty bad. But could Hamas hold ground or do anything of real military significance like send convoys all the way to the West Bank? Nope. Israel has reserves. 1973 this is not, even if the shock is similar. Add Hezbollah to the mix and Israel still isn't mortally threatened enough to whip out the nukes like it came close to 50 years back.

Hamas, meanwhile, threw its best punch up front. Now it has to hope that the IDF will do a dumb assault straight into the heart of urban Gaza that provokes Hezbollah into joining the party and generates enough international outcry to force Israel into a ceasefire. It's locked in to a particular course of action when time is not on its side and the IDF can choose to cut Gaza into segments instead of trying to occupy the whole thing.

I can't help but see this as the death knell for Palestine. The deliberate mass targeting of civilians by Hamas transforms the character of the conflict. It's the 1990s again, and Israel won't hold pull its punches considering the dynamics of its internal politics. Biden won't be able to do anything to slow Tel Aviv's roll because he's pivoting hard to the center in a desperate attempt to win re-election. Whatever sympathy Americans felt for Palestine is dissipating fast as the media here pumps out more images of terrified Israelis than it has Ukrainian civilians in recent months.

Hamas just pulled a Putin. A hazard of surprise is that a shock to the system can rebound. Pearl Harbor was a fantastic idea in purely linear spreadsheet style cost-benefit calculation that assumed the USA would naturally see the benefit in negotiations after losing its Pacific Fleet and colonies. Instead, a majority of Americans expressed outright support for genocide against the Japanese and celebrated when their cities burned.

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A great exposition on the art and effect of surprise, Mick. Failure of the imagination in the side of the attacked will always be a facilitator of surprise. But we are missing another key element: political failure that leads to the weakening of the intel and military forces or political failure that distracts the intel and military forces toward frivolous or low priority issues are also facilitators of achieving surprise. In the instant situation there was clear political failure by Netanyahu and his far right coalition assigning resources to objectives that were not so critical to security (West Bank expropriation of land and property, judicial reforms, splintering secular vs orthodox). Pearl Harbor was no different in some ways as the US was more fixated on the Atlantic and the U-Boat threat, managing the splintered US home front who wanted to avoid war at all costs vs those who saw the threats internationally, and fighting off continued challenges to new deal programs.

Yet, surprise while initially shocking and paralyzing, can come at a cost. Japan totally misread the US and the effect such an attack would have and then facing the prospect of the industrial might of the US. Hamas as well, will now reap the whirlwind of Israeli revenge, but also unfortunately, the rest of the 2 million inhabitants of Gaza who have nowhere to hide.

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As always, Sir, I enjoyed your column today.

Now, having said that, I do have one quibble, a rather serious one, I submit.

You, as with so many in the media (I apologize for lumping you in with the media) have termed Hamas soldiers as "militants." I object to that term and I submit that the correct term is "terrorist."

This issue has bothered me for some time; I quite understand that one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter. I asked Mr. Google for a definition of "terrorist" and he (Mr. Google) told me that a terrorist is, "a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims."

Just to be sure of my use of words I further asked Mr. Google about the meaning of the word "militant" and he told me that "militant" means "a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims."

So, both use unlawful violence and intimidation but I am certain that you will note the clear difference: a terrorist applies that violence and intimidation not against an army or authorities of an opponent but against civilians.

I submit that the activities of Hamas were not lawful in the country of Israel and, further, I would expect that within Gaza itself the Hamas government (oxymoron, no?) would outlaw murder, rape, abduction. Well, it would except that those acts were perpetrated against Israeli civilians so, of course, Hamas says it is just peachy. But, that is murder, rape, abduction, etc. against civilians.

So, I ask you, Sir, why do you call Hamas "militants" rather than "terrorists" except to be politically correct and to not ruffle any feathers of Hamas supporters?

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It’s already happening in Ukraine. Thousand dollar air drones taking out million dollar tanks and artillery, and sea drones putting holes in multi million dollar warships will soon be joined by drone swarms taking on fighter aircraft and overwhelming troop concentrations on the ground. Cheap low-tech is about to make many highly expensive, high tech equipment obsolete or too expensive to risk on the battlefield.

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The IDF had apparently shuttled the bulk of their combat brigades to the West Bank to protect settlements some time beforehand. Israeli apparently had seen Hamas practicing maneuvers but only had an incomplete picture. They don't appear to have understood that Hamas could put the different parts together into a much more dangerous complete package. Even if they got close to comprehension, without the combat units ready they're would been nothing they could have much done.

I think this one is down to Hamas' cunning and discipline.


credit where credit is due

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Intelligence and operational failure go hand in hand. Intelligence failed to provide the warning and operational complacency provided the opening and muted the response. Obviously the Israelis were on minimum manning due to the high holidays and it appears that those left behind were not at the highest operational state. It's likely that, for a long time, the main threat was seen as small scale infiltrations and the ISR and QRF postures were built around this. The large scale incursion achieved surprise, overwhelmed C2 as well as the QRF capacity. Complacency probably had a role; maintaining a long-term high level of alertness and attentiveness to new threats in a defensive posture like this is very hard. I noted at least one destroyed Merkava that had been driven out with its dust cover still on the barrel. I also recall that operational complacency was a contributing factor to the ambush and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers that led to the 2005 Lebanon war.

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Excellent article. I would argue that, in some sense, our (Western) increased ISR capabilities have given us a false sense of security by believing that we “know everything” and nothing can be hidden from us. That, along with a false sense of Western superiority, leads to a belief that we are so intellectually and scientifically superior that no one can surprise us. I learned that the hard way in Vietnam. But years of intel analysis dealing with the North Vietnamese, Khmer Rouge and Kim Il Sung’s North Korea gave me a good appreciation of how smart, resourceful and cunning people can be. I watched in alarm in the 1980s as we decimated our Humint capability in the US in the belief that our superior “technical intelligence” would tell us everything we needed to know. That, combined with little appreciation that what we needed to know now was not necessarily what we needed to know 10 or 20 years from now, led to little funds being spent to develop human networks that we would require in the 21st century. I had several sources rejected because they were in areas that “we were not really concerned with” that later became key to our safety. By then it is to late. First glance indicates that the Israeli’s were defeated by the same hubris. They did not believe that the Palestinians could build an operational security system that would thwart Israeli and US intelligence capabilities - but they did.

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Just wait until the Pentagon's officer-driven obsession with autonomous warfare leads to an epic defeat at the hands of some clever enemy that develops a low-tech exploit. Human-machine fusion can leverage the strengths of both kinds of intelligence. Going all-in on one side leaves you vulnerable to someone who is forced to go to the opposite extreme. Kinda Yin-Yang ish.

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