Our good friend, The Male Brain, sent over a very interesting article in response to my previous post about how the West can conceivably win against guerrilla warfighters. Below is his translation of an excerpt from an article written 6 years ago by Brigadier General Amatzia Chen, IDF (Ret), concerning how the elite special forces Unit 424 “Shaked” of the Israeli Defence Forces successfully subdued and destroyed an insurgency in Gaza in the early 1970s. The article holds some core lessons for the modern day, and reinforces the original point that I raised in my own article, wherein I pointed out that governments have to seek and destroy with a moral purpose. As Gen. Chen points out, in order to fight successfully against guerrilla forces, first you have to be willing to engage them “in the weeds” directly, with the right tools, training, and techniques to ferret them out and destroy them in combat. As always, many thanks to Dawn Pine for his continued excellent contributions to this site.
Unit 424 in Gaza
Following the 1970 Black September series of attacks in Jordan, Arafat moved his forces to Lebanon. Following their establishment there, the Gaza extension started revolting.
It started with the killing of the Erview family kids in January 1971. An Arab teenager threw a grenade into the family vehicle killing the 2 kids. It shocked Israeli public opinion. I was appointed at the time to be the head of Unit 424 (Shaked unit).
Terror within the civilian population was a surprise to the IDF. It was a new kind of challenge, which the IDF never faced. So, being totally ignorant of the situation, Moshe Dayan, the Minister of Defence at the time, ordered the IDF to “let them rot”. The IDF was supposed to only patrol the roads and leave the refugee camps to the terrorists. The PLO was able to secure the camps, recruit volunteers, store guns and munitions and establish its MO.
Following the Erview murders, the IDF was ordered to go in and eliminate the terror. The only known way was from the time of the British mandate – “the group method”. Essentially, 4-5 soldiers were to go over to different locations, track terrorists, and make it hard for them to operate. Another method was to round up an entire neighbourhood or village to identify the terrorists. I was opposed to those methods, since it barely affected the terrorists and took a heavy toll on us. It also created multiple opportunities for disciplinary issues (e.g. opening fire) since we were not working within our organic units. After 2 months of Gaza operations, in which we mostly ran ourselves down, we went on a training tour.
I took the time to establish an alternative to the group system. The PLO was well aware of it, and recruited kids to follow us and alert them. I came to notice an interesting phenomenon: During an encounter with the terrorists, the population would freeze and the terrorists would run to hide.
I came up with a different MO, opposite to the group MO. We would concentrate our effort in a specific geography in order to surprise the enemy and maximise our strength. The whole unit came to D quarter, with each battalion operating a different side.
The surprise was to be achieved by raiding the target, going in pairs. Soldiers were to shoot semi-automatic, via the rifle’s sights, thus securing both the population and our troops. The aim was to sweep every street at once and disable the terrorists to flee.
Four Factors of Success
We launched mid-day, and within 3 minutes it was over. Results: 5 dead enemies, 2 civilian casualties (one of the terrorists dropped a grenade which injured a mother and daughter) and zero casualties on our side. The following day we did the same in a refugee camp. The operation was given the name, Onslaught. Results: four dead and one captured. He was a senior terrorist, which we considered a major breakthrough: He led us to their hideouts, following that also interrogated them. Later he would convert to Judaism, marry, and become a full fledged Israeli citizen.
We continued our onslaughting in the rest of the camps. Results were similar. Our achievements forced the terrorists to focus on survival. Within 2 months’ time the terror was eliminated and peace came back to Gaza for several years.
Unit 424, Sayeret Shaked, was the dominant force on the Gaza strip. It captured ~90% of the wanted, blew up ZERO houses [demolishing houses to stop Islamist fighters is a method sometimes used by Israel – TMB] and killed one innocent man – an 86-year-old deaf person who did not hear the soldiers’ orders to stop and provide identification.
Eliminating terror in Gaza was an unprecedented historical achievement. It was made possible by 4 factors:
- The importance we attributed to learning from our mistakes;
- Command culture by General Sharon head of southern command, focusing on boundaries of authority and responsibility of field officers;
- Professional mastery of the troops, who knew how to fight the terrorist without hurting the innocent and their property; and above all:
- Observing the basic failure of investing troops in all friction points without superiority, this led to the decision of focusing the effort thus achieving tactical resolution.
Even with this exception of overpowering guerrillas by regular forces, the top brass and history division did not debrief the chain of command on the ongoing success story. Since no lessons were learned, in the 1987 Intifada, the IDF was again at the same point it was 16 years ago: surprised and without know-how to handle terrorists which are supported by the population.
Uprising is not an act of God, and can be foiled just like in the past. All it takes is to re-adapt the basic MO focusing on overpowering, which can be achieved in stages and concentration of mid-resolution. This will lower the friction points, by restoring peace and establishing deterrence, by using larger forces. With that one should use the other branches of power (tax collection) and fast jurisdiction to create sustainable stability.
Fearing “escalation” and supposed bloodshed, such operations have no factual basis. It is quite the opposite: as proven by hundreds of operations with large forces, there were no casualties on our side and the other one.