Gaza and the Future of War: Some Observations

By Robbin Laird

The insightful piece by Harald Malmgren and Pippa Malmgren on Gaza and the future of war has outlined a number of key changes in the conduct of war which deserve further comment.

They have argued that the conflict in Gaza has seen the use of new approaches and technologies which should reshape our perception of how conflict is conducted and how that affects the approach and thinking of the U.S. and allied militaries regarding the conduct of modern conflict.

In the past decade, analysts have generated such concepts as hybrid war and the gray zone to discuss ways in which the major powers have been confronting one another either in terms of the lead up to or an alternative to direct armed conflict.

Here the analysts have focused on a third case – direct conflict by neighbors using technologies designed for collateral damage guided by precision targeting. Something akin to the conduct of World War I attrition tactics with new means of technology.

The purpose is to generate effects within the context of an overall campaign of information war designed to affect who and how outside powers align with the combatants.

We have seen this both in the NATO war in Ukraine with Russia and with the Hamas in Gaza. Both are being fought by “neighbors” on each other’s territories. These are not conflicts conducted at distance by 21st century precision strike forces or, in other words, of the type developed by the West and for that matter, China.

So we need to focus on what these are really cases about – namely, territorial conflict between neighbors where control of specific territory is being contested. It is not about operations at great distance or an attempt to dissuade, deter or force an adversary who wishes to defend his territory against a great power foe at distance, such as the Soviet Union versus the United States or the Chinese against the United States, Japan or Australia.

What this clearly does show us is a key lesson for the United States – there are no easy interventions in a third country where groups within that third country have access to drones, missiles, and destructive means that can be used for both collateral damage as a primary deterrent and precision strike where possible. In other words, sending in the Marines in surgical, limited strikes is increasingly off the table in such scenarios.

I would simply argue that the technology they highlight has shifted our understanding of how territorial conflict of neighbors can and is conducted and with that capability shifting towards what I would call World War I attrition with 21st century means.

But one needs to add the character of modern information war to the warfighting mix. The conflict is conducted with a clear eye of influencing the global players who will choose to engage or not in the support on the side of one of the adversaries or recruiting supporters to come to the fight from other countries. The world has become a recruiting station with the true impact of globalization to be seen in terms of mobilization as simply relocating persons from their home country to whatever Western state such persons are temporarily based.

Never ignore the use of collateral damage as a key tool in information war and working the global social media and use AI to craft a narrative in your favor to attract allies and to deter opponents.

How this plays out in terms of direct great power conflict is more of an open question.

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Gaza and the Future of War