Sunday, April 12, 2009

Learning to Wage War

Haaretz has an interview with three Duvdevan soldiers recently awarded medals of bravery for... sparing civilians. It's quite a story.

The fundamental challenge is that Palestinian murderers and planners of mass murder aren't identified as soldiers, as international law requires, nor do they act from military installations. They act from within the civilian society all around them. Which means, either you kill them with some civilians near them, or you don't harm them for fear of doing so, or you figure out how to pinpoint them in their kitchen, say, and nab them while sparing the other family members in the same kitchen. This is the policy Israeli chose for the West Bank, though it's the hardest of the three. A special unit, Duvdevan, was set up to do just that. Since no other army in the world knows how to do this, there weren't any international manuals or training camps, so Duvdevan had to learn on its own, by trial and error; initially, back in the first Intifada, there were too many errors. But the determination to succeed (understandable, given the alternatives), combined with an ever-rising level of professionalism, has forged a unit unparalleled anywhere, that in most cases succeeds:
A.: "There was an alley in the marketplace - all the stores were open and you hurry through the passageway, in order to maintain surprise and not to be 'burned' [identified] along the way. We broke into the house. He didn't understand where we had come from. Mabruk was sitting on the floor. He immediately jumped on his wife, using her as a shield."

R.: "Half a meter away was an M-16 with a magazine of ammunition inside. Ostensibly we had full legitimization to shoot him, because he was endangering us. But his wife was near him and he wasn't holding the weapon in his hand, so we didn't fire. There was a room there of two to three square meters, with his wife and a lot of children inside. He's an older man, but nobody's fool. He only had to roll over to reach the weapon. All he had to do was turn around with the weapon on automatic and mow down three or four soldiers. A less experienced soldier, who has not been trained for this mission, would have opened fire and killed several children."

A.: "The guys remained calm. The weapon was on the floor. One of us took it from Mabruk. We attacked. He went wild, but we handcuffed him. In the end, the trick was to use selective firing. The fighters identified a woman and children and didn't shoot. It's a matter of a momentary decision. Now another complicated stage begins - leaving the refugee camp with him. It's already 10 A.M. Lots of people are outside. All the punks in the neighborhood had already heard that we came. He had collaborators and friends who would have fired on us as we were leaving. We got out of there very cautiously with the guy."
Sometimes the wanted men escape:
When they broke into the house, the man's wife was inside. "Although the house looked terrible afterward, the woman was not hurt," says A. "Her only injury was from being punched by the wanted man before he escaped. He apparently suspected her of informing on him."
Inevitably, sometimes people get killed - Israeli soldiers, for example:
In another operation, in February 2008, the same fighters arrested Majdi Mabruk, the head of the Popular Front in the Ein Beit Ilma refugee camp in Nablus. Among other things, Mabruk managed to smuggle an explosive belt into Tel Aviv, to be used to launch an attack on Yom Kippur in 2007; the device was confiscated by security forces. During the manhunt, another terrorist, his partner, killed Paratroops commando fighter Ben Zion Henman. In another incident, while trying to arrest Mabruk, an officer from the Givati commando unit was shot in the neck.
At the time, I wrote about Hanemann's death here.

Interestingly, according to the article, the IDF doesn't generally want to kill these murderers, preferring to arrest them and interrogate them for further information, even though this means that sometime in the future they'll probably be freed, either as part of that bogus peace project we keep hoping will lead somewhere (I certainly do), or in return for a kidnapped IDF soldier at the rate of 1:1000. I was also tickled to see that an important impetus for developing the methods of Duvdevan came from that well-know IDF consultant, Amira Hass:
About five years ago, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot was serving as the commander of the IDF forces in the West Bank. Eisenkot, now the head of Northern Command, then called the military approach in the West Bank "an M-16 instead of an F-16." The ability of the IDF to reach the operatives everywhere, to pull them out of their hiding places by the hair, he claimed, is a far greater deterrent to the terror organizations and the Palestinian population than mass shows of Israeli strength.

The West Bank commander based himself on a surprising source: articles by Amira Hass in Haaretz, in which senior Palestinian operatives said that they felt a certain "professional respect" for the enemy only when the soldiers engaged in face-to-face combat with them. The Palestinians considered the use of tanks and helicopters as a demonstration of cowardice on the part of an enemy that surpasses them in its military capability.

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