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A Chaoplexic Divine Victory? Not Entirely.

At the suggestion of Tim Stevens and Mike Innes, I'm reposting for the symposia comments that I first made in response to the earlier CTlab interview with Antoine Bousquet. I'm also expanding on them a little too, to address the excellent point that Martin Senn has made on decentralized warfare and escalation.

My reflections originate from a passing comment on insurgency, chaoplexic operations, and the 2006 war in Lebanon that Antoine made in his interview:

Any smart opponent of hi-tech militaries such as the U.S. or Israel will seek to operate in urban terrain where it can easily conceal itself and strike using swarming tactics (as have done Iraqi insurgents and Hezbollah in Lebanon). There is an obvious match between urban battlespaces and the decentralised networked approach of chaoplexic warfare and in all likelihood they are fuelling one another.

Hizbullah's self-proclaimed "Divine Victory" in 2006 has certainly attracted considerable attention from analysts of insurgency, COIN, and asymmetric warfare. However, I think we have to be rather careful here about what Hizbullah did - and didn't do - in the war, since it has fairly significant consequences for any analysis of either insurgent operations or the balance between cybernetic and chaoplexic management of military forces and their battlespace.

Hizbullah typically did not seek to lure the Israel Defense Forces into urban areas, and transform these into ambushes with the use of swarming tactics in which attackers would mass, strike, and dissipate. Such an approach would have been a poor use of Hizbullah's relatively small number of relatively well-trained fighters, its intimate familiarity with the terrain, and its access to long-range precision-guided weapons (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles). Instead, the majority of kills against the IDF were in hilly and broken but relatively open terrain, in which ATGMs could be fired from prepared and concealed positions into often pre-established kill-zones, sometimes in conjunction with IED attacks, closer-range RPG ambushes, or covering fire from small arms or even the odd mortar or two. In this sense, battles were often surprisingly scripted in their operational design, even if decentralized at a tactical level.

Certainly, IDF intelligence collection was degraded by placing some assets (weapons caches, prepared defensive positions, some Multiple Rocket Launchers) in urban areas to confound electronic sensors . Such placements also complicated targeting, both physically and politically. However, many (and possibly most) key Hizbullah assets were deployed outside build-up areas, both because they provided broader fields of fire and observation, and because the need for operational security (such sites being easier to protect and secure against Israeli HUMINT collection). Thus, an awful lot was simply concealed in rural areas with traditional CCD (camouflage/concealment/deception) techniques - techniques that differed little from those used in the World Wars. In some ways what was new about this was how very old it was.

Hizbullah's battle management could be considered chaoplexic in that many Hizbullah battles with the IDF were fought by small units operating together yet semi-autonomously, with fallback and shelter positions identified to allow a relatively fluid use of the battlespace. Considerable authority for tactical operations was devolved to local commanders. Doing this required a quality of, and confidence in, lower-level cadres and Hizbullah "NCOs" that is rare for insurgent groups, and indeed for most non-Western militaries. It also required that Hizbullah solve the inherent morale and motivation problems that arise when soldiers fight in relatively small and dispersed groups. Religious-nationalist ideology played a role in offsetting these problems, suggesting that there may be interesting things to be studied in how ideational factors (and not simply networked communications) may be central to chaoplexic operations. So too did the quality of training (Hizbullah being, in many ways, the only meritocracy in Lebanon).

What was not very chaoplexic about this was the high degree of reliance on fixed positions and prepared fortifications, and the tight fire discipline exerted by the senior leadership over units with "strategic" implications (heavier and longer-ranged surface-to-surface missiles in particular). This was for precisely the reasons that Martin Senn raises: if local commanders were allowed excessive leeway over rocket attacks against Israel, it could lead to either escalatory targeting (for example, attacks against Tel Aviv or the chemical facilities at Haifa), or timings and volumes and timings of fire that were out of tempo with Hizbullah's political requirements. Also, Hizbullah (via its al-Manar television station) proved adept at marrying certain types of military action with its information operations (most notably evident in its successful naval SSM attack against the Israeli frigate INS Hanit) - all of which required centralized command and control.

Indeed, in many ways Hizbullah is a very Leninist organization in its politico-military hierarchy - much, much more so than (say) any of the Iraqi insurgent groups. This degree of control allowed Hizbullah to choreograph the IO and diplomatic battlespace in ways that would have not have been possible were combat operations fully decentralized.

Of course, it should also be said that Hizbullah's successes, as in any war, were also a function of their relationship to IDF campaign strategy. As well as it all worked out for Nasrallah in 2006, a different IDF response (either more limited, or involving major ground operations from the outset à la 1982) could have had markedly different political and military outcomes - with the cybernetic and chaoplexic elements of Hizbullah military action being either a boon or a liability to the group depending on the precise context. As Antoine so rightly notes in his comments on my original comments, "the effectiveness of any strategy or tactics is always a function of those employed by the opposition. This inherently relational and contextual nature of armed conflict is what to my mind precludes the elaboration of a set of technological or organisational systems that can deliver victory everywhere and at all times."

Rex Brynen is Professor of Political Science at McGill University. An acknowledged expert in the politics and conflicts of the Middle East, he is the author of many books, the most recent being Palestinian Refugees: Challenges of Repatriation and Development (2007, with Roula el Rifai).

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