The Palestinian militant groups– such as Hamas, al-Aqsa Martyr Brigade and Islamic Jihad-have carried out the war philosophies of Chinese legend Sun Tzu to perfection. But the author of Art of War left a few philosophies that are ignored by these groups and eventually will be the reason for their defeat from the people they claim to represent.
According to some Chinese historians, Sun Tzu was a general who lived in a time characterized by political instability and social violence of the 5th century BC. Coming from a Taoist clan of experts in arms and fighting, he built his warlord reputation approximately the same time Confucius built his own philosophical legacy. Ho Lu, king of the state of Wu, made Sun Tzu general of his army. Numerous opponents were simply crushed by Tzu strategic power and combat theories.
For thousands of years, Tzu systematic treatise on war influence many world leaders and famous generals. Simultaneously, Tzu wisdom also gives the subjugated an indispensable stratagem against its powerful subjugator. Consciously or unconsciously, the Palestinian militant groups execute Sun Tzu principles as a foundation of their martyrdom operations inside Israel. Their main weapon against Israeli military occupation is not the suicide bomber, but the implementation of the Art of War.
Sun Tzu wrote: “Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hasten downwards. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike as what is weak”
There is a simple reason why Hamas has not seriously planned an assassination attempt of any Israeli prime minister. If they could, they would, but it is practically impossible. Israeli prime ministers are one of the most protected politicians in the planet. A mission of this magnitude requires more then a human bomb and simple calculations. On the other hand, a crowed area represents a perfect target for being less protected.
Sun Tzu wrote: “Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be rousted to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards” Hamas launched its first martyrdom operation in Israeli soil in retaliation of Baruch Goldstein massacre in Hebron. Yet, to send a person willing to wrap an explosive belt around him and blow up in a crowed area must be motivated by a desperate situation. The brutal Israeli military occupation-collective punishment, land confiscation, extrajudicial assassinations, curfews, checkpoints, home demolitions- in which violates many international laws and U.N resolutions provides the perfect pretext for such action. Hamas combines that daily humiliation, torture and suffering in occupied land with misrepresentations of the Koran to create their perfect human weapon.
Israel has ordered military strikes against Palestinian resistance groups using tanks, helicopters and combat jets to retaliate against a previous militant attack, to continue their target assassination campaign or simply to eradicate them.
Subsequently, these religious and national anti-occupation organizations vow revenge for the killings of their members and innocent people.
During pro-resistance rallies, militant spokesmen spread out threat messages threw the media to create anxiety. Israel strengthens curfews and checkpoints in Palestinian occupied territories. Security forces in Israel are amplified and put on high alert since nobody, not even Israeli counter-terrorist experts or Mossad, knows where or when the next attack might occur. Ironically, all this security activity benefits Hamas and Islamic Jihad in secretly preparing a martyrdom operation, according to the Chinese thinker.
Sun Tzu: “The spot where we intend to fight must not to be made known; for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points; and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the numbers we shall have to face at any given point will be proportionately few. For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his right, he will weaken his left. If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak.”
This theory explains, for example, why Israeli security forces consistently fail to avoid militants from boarding buses–one of Hamas most successful targets since 1994. It’s practically impossible for Israeli defense ministers to provide complete protection to all public locations every single time. Then again, Islamist militants converted Israel in what Sun Tzu describes as “open ground” by attacking restaurants, bus stations, universities, shopping malls, theatres, cafeterias, synagogues, nightclubs and even one of Likud’s offices.
Sun Tzu: “Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected”
During the second Palestinian uprising, militants exposed vulnerabilities in places that assumed were exempt from violence. For example, in order to avenge an Israeli aggression in West Bank, Islamic Jihad sent a suicide bomber to a disco en Tel Aviv jam-packed with youngsters; Hamas sent their own bomber to a pizzeria en Jerusalem at lunch rush hour. Both activists seem to have slightly amalgamated into the crowd without creating suspicion. Each place was unprotected.
Sun Tzu: “Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots.” March 2002, an al-Aqsa Martyr Brigade sniper killed 10 Israeli soldiers at an army checkpoint in West Bank before escaping. Apparently, the skillful sniper traveled from a secret route and chose an out of sight location, waiting until the soldiers were relaxing.
In able to avoid suspicion among Israelis, the Palestinian resistance groups have exploited one of Sun Tzu most important rule: “If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you need not to fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
June 2002, a Hamas activist, dressed a Jewish orthodox student, blew up in a Jerusalem bus after Israeli helicopters attacked Gaza Strip. He avoided suspicion at the bus entrance by speaking perfect Hebrew. Knowing your enemy is able to persuade him of being on his side. Motivated by a previous Israeli incursion, Islamic Jihad sent three gunmen, dressed as Israeli soldiers, to ambush a bus near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. They were able to persuade the bus driver to slow down before opening fire.
Knowing your enemy also becomes a crucial requirement for a political assassination.
The Popular Front of Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) carefully planned the slaying of Israeli right-wing leader Rehamen Zeevi in a Jerusalem hotel in retaliation for the killing of their leader Mustafa Zibri by Israeli troops. According to investigators, the assassins must have studied Zeevi’s movements for months in able to get to him without security intervention.
After Israeli helicopters killed spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin and Dr. Abdel Rantissi, Hamas threaten a major martyrdom operation. Seven months pass by and nothing happen. The international media speculated that Hamas was weak to respond. The only revenge coming out of Gaza was verbal threats. Israel attributed Hamas inactivity as a direct result of its controversial wall barrier and target assassination policies. However, this same inactivity and weakness assumption from the media benefited Hamas in the long run, according to Sun Tzu: “Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near” September 2004, Hamas activists blew up two buses seconds apart in the Israeli town of Beersheba.
In order for martyrdom operations to succeed in Israeli soil, militant factions must overcome multiple obstacles that are part of the daily life of occupied land. Second, they must subsist against Israeli government policies towards them– especially the targeted assassinations policies. Third, they must confront policies imposed by the Palestinian Authority. Fourth, if there able to get inside Israel, they face alerted civilians, security forces and camera surveillances.
Therefore to succeed, Hamas and other militants followed Sun Tzu tactic rule: “Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by infinite variety of circumstances.” January 2002, al-Aqsa Martyr Brigade recruited the first female suicide bomber. Her name was Wafa Igris, voluntary worker at a Palestinian hospital. She detonated her explosive belt inside a supermarket in Jerusalem. Islamic Jihad’s first female suicide bomber was a 29 year old lawyer- whom lost her husband in a gun battle with Israeli troops- and detonated herself in a restaurant after shooting the security guard at the entrance. Hamas sent their first female activist to a military checkpoint. She tricked Israeli soldiers in having a metal plate in her leg and blew up in a security office when ordered to strip her clothes. Israelis and Palestinians were among the wounded. The organization said it sent a woman because of growing Israeli security obstacles facing its male bombers.
In addition, Hamas weapon engineers and bomb-makers introduced the Qassam Rockets which have been launched at Jewish settlements and Israeli towns. Although Qassam Rockets lack a guidance system and have not yet flown beyond five miles, Israel considers these rockets a bigger threat then Islamic Jihad’s al-Quds rockets. Hamas also announced it was developing the first Palestinian anti-aircraft missiles to counterattack Israeli helicopters.
March 2004, a powerful explosion ripped apart an Israeli armed vehicle in Gaza strip during a violent military raid. The troops were headed to the boarder of Rafah and Egypt when it crossed a road bomb. Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility. Both groups knew the vehicle was headed there to search for a tunnel use to smuggle weapons. Militants attacked a second armed convoy with anti-tank missiles. There operation succeeded by following Sun Tzu principle: “Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him”
One of Hamas main problems confronting Israel superiority, other then living in a brutal military occupation, is dealing with spies. Hamas leadership, including other groups, knows that Israel depends on information provided by spies. Everything about hideouts, members, weaponry, future martyrdom operations and reunions has a price. Palestinians could become Israeli spies when presented with bribes and coercion. Despite the secrecy and protection level, Israel could locate and kill any militant leader combining the most sophisticated military technologies with feedback from spies. This includes military air strikes, car bombings and explosions using small electronically apparatus. Take for example the 1996 assassination of Yahya Ayyash, infamously known as the engineer. Frustrated from seeing Palestinian youths being killed by Israeli troops, Yahya Ayyash introduced the technique of suicide bombing in the Palestinian asymmetric warfare. In a massive manhunt, Yahya Ayyash was assassinated when a friend pass him a cell phone. It exploded when Yahya was using it, killing him instantly. Many times, Hamas and al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades have publicly executed spies. However, this Machiavellian approach goes against Sun Tzu war philosophies regarding spies.
Sun Tzu: “The enemy’s spies who have come to spy on us must be sought out, tempted with bribes, led away and comfortably housed. Thus they will become converted spies and available for our service.” Militant groups must take this rule in consideration for their own survival. Instead of killing spies, Hamas should find ways to persuade them. Israel collects feedback from spies to increase its hit list on militant leaders. Hamas, adapting Sun Tzu teachings, must convert these spies and control the information given to Israel.
Besides resisting the military occupation, Hamas has gained social admiration for funding schools, sports leagues, orphanages, mosques and healthcare clinics. However, clashing against Palestinian Authority has forced many Palestinians to reconsider there historical admiration. Hamas rejected President Mahmoud Abbas offer to join his government staff.
At the same time, knowing the pressure he is receiving from Washington and Tel-Aviv to disarm militant groups. Hamas cannot continue to assume the P.A long corruption record is sufficient justification to challenge its democratic authority, recognized by the international community, and disregard any attempts of dialogue. This continuous rejection could have terrible consequences. Coming to blows against a democratically elected president such as Mahmoud Abbas is not representing the people’s best interest, no matter how many loyalist you have. A civil war between Palestinians is a burden Hamas should avoid being responsible. Neither Israel’s unilateralism nor Palestinians Authority’s corruption is worth a civil bloodbath. Militant groups are already being held accountable for the lawlessness in Gaza strip. Peace opportunism requires great sacrifice. The Irish Revolutionary Army (IRA) agreed to disarm in able to conserve the peace agreement between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Then again, Belfast is not Gaza strip and the Road Map is certainly not the Good Friday hand shack. Before declaring war to a “new enemy”, Hamas and other militant groups should remember Sun Tzu valuable words: “There no instance of a country having benefited from a prolonged warfare.”