Urban Warfare, Civilian Casualty, & Human Shields | John Spencer | EP 454

Urban Warfare, Civilian Casualty, & Human Shields | John Spencer | EP 454

Coming up (00:00:00)

  • Hamas built 400 miles of tunnels in Gaza, weaponizing the law of war by using human shields.
  • The challenge faced on October 8th was unique because Hamas is not just a combatant or a terrorist organization, but a political structure with a vast army and a human sacrifice strategy.

Intro (00:00:34)

  • John Spencer, a former infantryman and officer with combat experience, has an academic career focused on the complexities of urban warfare.
  • Urban warfare is a relatively new field of study due to the recent rapid urbanization of the planet.
  • The conflict between Israel and Hamas is primarily an urban warfare conflict, with additional elements such as public relations.
  • The conversation focuses on Gaza and Israel, discussing the Israelis' goals, barriers, and the complexities of urban warfare in the context of the October 7th events.

Urban warfare explained (00:02:16)

  • Due to the lack of research in urban warfare, John Spencer, a military veteran who participated in the invasion of Iraq, became an expert in this field.
  • The Modern War Institute was established to address the gap in understanding contemporary wars, including urban warfare.
  • Urban warfare was previously avoided due to its complexity and the belief that bypassing cities was more advantageous.
  • The urbanization of the world's population, technological advancements, and the emergence of non-state actors have shifted warfare into cities.
  • The significant increase in the number of cities with over a million people since the 1950s has contributed to the neglect of urban warfare studies.
  • Institutional factors, such as cultural resistance within militaries and the absence of dedicated urban warfare centers, have also played a role in this neglect.
  • Urban warfare often results in high civilian casualties and negative consequences for both sides involved.
  • Some military cultures are resistant to change, and militaries tend to envision future wars based on past experiences, preferring to fight wars they are familiar with.

Problems with fighting out in the open (00:07:47)

  • Modern armies face challenges in open areas due to technological advancements, such as inexpensive drones that threaten large military equipment.
  • Urban warfare has proven successful against advanced military equipment, as seen in the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict where drones were effectively used.
  • Urban terrain neutralizes the advantages of advanced military equipment and provides defensive advantages to defenders, acting as a "great equalizer" that forces stronger forces into unfavorable situations.
  • Contrary to popular belief, many urban battles throughout history were unplanned meeting engagements, and proper preparation and defense of urban areas can enable successful resistance against powerful military forces.
  • Urban warfare aims to achieve political goals rather than destroy the enemy's military, and despite its importance, there is a significant knowledge gap on the subject.

The Gaza conflict: lawfare and hundreds of miles of tunnels (00:13:21)

  • Israel faced a unique challenge in Gaza due to Hamas' extensive preparation for urban defense.
  • Hamas had 15 years to prepare and built 400 miles of tunnels ranging from 15 to 200 feet underground.
  • Hamas used lawfare by building tunnels underneath civilian structures, such as hospitals and schools, to deter Israel from targeting them.
  • Hamas' strategy involved using civilians as human shields, making it difficult for Israel to conduct military operations without causing civilian casualties.
  • Urban warfare poses significant challenges due to the intermixing of combatants and protected objects and populations.
  • The laws of war, developed after World War II, aim to limit civilian casualties and protect civilians during conflicts.
  • Hamas' strategy in Gaza involved weaponizing the law of war by using protected structures, such as hospitals, as bases for military operations.
  • Hamas' human sacrifice strategy involves using civilians as shields to deter Israel from targeting them, making it difficult to conduct military operations without causing civilian casualties.

The human shield strategy, academic capture (00:17:32)

  • Using civilians as human shields prevents the enemy from attacking without violating the laws of war, leading to a public relations victory for the shield user.
  • Hamas and Iran may have provoked the October 7th attack to undermine the Abraham Accords and turn the Arab world against them.
  • The Abraham Accords have held, but Israel's incursion into Gaza has damaged its public relations.
  • The strategy of using human shields and academic capture is succeeding because the world's leading academic institutions are producing people who can't think critically.
  • Kman thanked American universities for their support, even though they advocate for the destruction of Israel.

Iran is the global exporter of terrorism, why the October 7th invasion failed (00:20:25)

  • Iran is the world's global exporter of terrorism.
  • Iran funds, trains, and directs its proxies, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iraqi Shia militias, to attack the United States and Israel.
  • The October 7th invasion of Israel by Hamas was part of a broader plan to activate the West Bank, Hezbollah, and launch a large-scale attack.
  • Hamas's attack on October 7th was an invasion of Israel, not a terrorist attack.
  • The invasion aimed to reach as far north as possible, activate the West Bank and Hezbollah, and carry out a large-scale attack.
  • Hundreds of ordinary Israelis, including off-duty police and 70-year-old veterans, stood in the way of the invasion to protect their country.
  • The Israelis were ready at the individual level to protect the country and did not solely rely on the military to stop the invasion.

The general population needs to be prepared to resist; Ukraine (00:24:30)

  • The general population needs to be prepared and trained to resist in urban warfare.
  • Civilians often lack the knowledge and skills to resist, even if they have the will.
  • The history of war and examples like Israel's actions in Gaza demonstrate the importance of Total Defense.
  • Total Defense involves the entire society preparing to resist and defend against an existential threat.
  • The purpose of war is to rapidly overwhelm the enemy, not destroy them completely, in order to make them lose the will to fight.
  • Russia's invasion of Kyiv aimed to quickly take control of the city and the government, but the people resisted despite lacking the means to do so effectively.
  • Total Defense is a concept that emphasizes the importance of societal preparedness and resistance against an existential threat.
  • Examples of countries with a strong Total Defense culture include Finland and Poland.
  • The law of war does not allow for proportional killing based on the number of casualties suffered by one side.
  • The law of war permits a proportionate response with the necessary force to achieve a valid military aim.
  • In Israel's case, the valid military aim would be to eliminate the potential future threat posed by Gaza.
  • The use of force should be limited to what is necessary to achieve the military aim, avoiding excessive or unnecessary force.

Hamas will sacrifice any number of its own people, “Martyrdom is the path” (00:27:16)

  • Hamas uses a human sacrifice strategy, willing to sacrifice its own people to achieve political goals.
  • Hamas's goal is the destruction of Israel and the death of all Jews worldwide.
  • Hamas believes in martyrdom as the path to achieving its goals.

To what degree can you blame the indoctrinated for their actions? (00:29:57)

  • Palestinian citizens, especially the younger ones, are indoctrinated by Iranian propaganda from a young age.
  • Indoctrinated individuals believe martyrdom is the best pathway forward.
  • Indoctrination can be very effective, as seen in the consequences of propaganda among young people on American campuses.
  • A study in 2016 found that having even one politically correct course can significantly predict sympathy with politically correct authoritarian views.
  • Other predictors include low verbal IQ, being female, and having a feminine temperament.

Planned propagandization (00:31:37)

  • Planned propaganda is a proven Iranian strategy to radicalize a population to achieve political goals.
  • Iran has used this strategy in Palestine through primary school education, books, and the Palestinian Authority's "pay for slave" program.
  • The goal of this propaganda is to create an ideology that supports Hamas and its actions.
  • Civilian casualties in urban warfare are often used as propaganda by the weaker side to garner international support.
  • Hamas uses civilians as human shields, making it difficult for Israel to target them without causing civilian casualties.
  • This situation creates a dilemma for Israel, as it must balance the need to defend itself with the need to avoid civilian casualties.

The Israeli strategy, how to differentiate Hamas from the civilians (00:34:01)

  • Israel's strategy is to remove Hamas from power and dismantle its military capability.
  • The difficulty lies in distinguishing Hamas from the civilian population, as Hamas uses human shields and does not have any designated military buildings in Gaza.
  • The laws of war provide guidance on identifying combatants, even in cases of non-state actors who do not wear uniforms.
  • Hamas has a clear military structure with identifiable members, including brigade commanders, battalion commanders, and company commanders.
  • The goal of dismantling a military is not to destroy all members of the organization but to remove its power and prevent it from carrying out attacks.
  • After removing Hamas from power, deradicalization programs and disarmament efforts will be necessary to prevent the resurgence of violence.
  • Successful examples of deradicalization and disarmament can be found in historical cases such as Germany and Japan.

How to know when Hamas has been defeated (00:37:33)

  • Hamas is still in power and is still a recognizable entity.
  • Hamas's military strategy is based on time, relying on the international community, particularly the United States, to pressure Israel to stop its operations.
  • Hamas's strategy is working, as evidenced by the protests on American campuses after the October 7th ceasefire.

Optics: how social media became a tool in warfare (00:40:22)

  • Iran has manipulated actors in the West to organize protests against Israel's military actions, exploiting the aversion to brutality in warfare prevalent in liberal democratic societies.
  • Non-state actors and great powers may use urban warfare and media manipulation to turn the population of their opponents against them, forcing their governments to make concessions.
  • Criticism of Israel's use of a 2,000-pound bomb in Gaza is part of a communication strategy to vilify Israel and is not based on accurate information.
  • The speaker argues that such criticism puts national security at risk by limiting the military's options in combat situations and reflects a dilemma faced by Western liberal democracies in balancing effective military action with concerns about civilian casualties and human rights.

Mitigating civilian casualty, evacuating cities (00:47:17)

  • To minimize civilian casualties during urban warfare, Israel evacuated over 850,000 civilians from combat areas in Gaza, establishing the Alasi humanitarian zone as a safe haven.
  • Unlike other conflicts, Egypt's refusal to accept refugees complicated the evacuation process.
  • Israel carefully planned the evacuation to prevent Hamas infiltration and split Gaza along the W Gaza river, ensuring the safety of civilians before engaging Hamas.
  • Despite the risk of negative publicity, Israel prioritized civilian protection to maintain international support.
  • The United States provided recommendations, such as limiting troop divisions, to help Israel achieve its goal of zero civilian casualties.
  • Hamas was unable to move military assets during the evacuation, but tens of thousands of radicalized individuals remain in Gaza.

The 10% who couldn’t leave (00:55:08)

  • 10% of the population, approximately 150,000 people, remained in Gaza during the conflict.
  • Hamas prevented many civilians from leaving by setting up checkpoints and firing on those trying to escape.
  • Hamas used the humanitarian safe route as a media opportunity to falsely accuse Israel of striking civilian areas.
  • Israel began its military operation with airstrikes on known Hamas military locations.
  • The use of heavy bombs in urban areas was restricted due to the potential for civilian casualties.
  • Hamas forces utilized an extensive network of tunnels to avoid being targeted by airstrikes.
  • Hamas rigged houses to explode as Israeli forces advanced.
  • Northern Gaza was chosen as the initial target due to its strategic importance and concentration of Hamas forces.
  • Hamas spent 15 years constructing a vast network of tunnels for defensive purposes.
  • The tunnels were used to store weapons and supplies, and to move fighters and hostages.
  • The tunnels were a key component of Hamas' strategy to hold off the IDF and gain international support.

The tunnels are a complex problem (01:00:20)

  • Israel's invasion of Gaza has been less effective due to Hamas' extensive tunnel network.
  • The tunnels are vast and complex, with estimates of their length ranging from 300 to 400 miles.
  • Israel has found tunnels that were previously unknown, demonstrating the inadequacy of their knowledge about the tunnel network.
  • Destroying all the tunnels is not feasible due to their extensive reach and the lack of sufficient explosives.
  • Flooding the tunnels, attempted by Israel, was not successful.
  • Hamas diverts aid money and market profits to fund the construction of tunnels.
  • Iran provides direct funding for the construction of tunnels.

UN hypocrisy, UNRWA in Gaza (01:02:15)

  • The presence of Hamas data centers and tunnels under UNRWA facilities raises questions about UNRWA's knowledge of these activities.
  • UNRWA's claim of ignorance is either a confession of incompetence or malevolence.
  • Hamas controls Gaza, and working there requires membership or affiliation with Hamas.
  • The Gaza Health Ministry, run by Hamas, provides unreliable casualty figures that include deaths from various causes, including Hamas rockets landing in Gaza.
  • The Hamas casualty count also includes missing persons reported on social media or by families.
  • The world often accepts the Hamas-provided casualty figures without question, despite their lack of reliability.

TikTok, how the algorithm aids terror (01:05:10)

  • TikTok's algorithm promotes images that portray the IDF as barbaric and inflates civilian casualty rates.
  • This strategy is particularly effective in influencing female protesters on college campuses.
  • Russia, China, and Iran benefit from this algorithm as it amplifies their propaganda without requiring direct effort.
  • The first battle of Fallujah in 2004 serves as an example of how information warfare can defeat a superior power.
  • Al Jazeera aired photos of injured children during the battle, leading to unverifiable claims of high civilian casualties.
  • The Iraqi Governing Council threatened to disband if the US didn't stop the battle, demonstrating the effectiveness of information warfare.
  • Pictures of hurt children resonate strongly and are effective weapons in victim-victimizer ideological games.
  • The IDF is often falsely accused of purposely harming children, but evidence does not support this claim.
  • The IDF has implemented various technologies to minimize civilian casualties, such as drones with speakers and cell phone tracking.

All things considered, who is winning the war? (01:09:52)

  • Israel is considered to be winning the war based on several factors.
  • Hamas was forced to release over a hundred hostages during a temporary ceasefire, putting them at a great military disadvantage.
  • Hamas increased the population of a city by 300% during the ceasefire to use civilians as human shields, a strategy that largely went unnoticed by the media.
  • Israel has dismantled Hamas's military, including its rockets, tunnels, and other supplies.
  • Despite constraints from the world, Israel has been successful in clearing dense urban terrain and reducing Hamas's military supplies.
  • Israel has also been successful in securing the borders and constructing new roads to create a different security environment.

However, Hamas's leadership surviving the war could undermine Israel's success. (01:09:52)

  • If Hamas's core leadership survives the war, it could negate Israel's achievements and prolong the conflict.

Where are the Hamas leaders hiding? (01:14:05)

  • Hamas leadership is still in Gaza.
  • The survival of Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas, would be seen as a victory for Hamas.
  • If October 7th becomes Palestinian Independence Day, it would lead to greater violence.
  • Northern Israel is currently under attack by Hezbollah.
  • The situation in Northern Israel is an existential threat due to the large number of Israelis who cannot return home and the financial cost to the nation.
  • Hezbollah will not stop attacking even if Israel stops its operations in Gaza.

The roots of anti-Semitism, the canary in the coal mine (01:16:58)

  • Anti-Semitism is rooted in jealousy of successful minorities.
  • Jews are the "canary in the coal mine" because they are the perennial successful minority.
  • When a culture goes after the Jews, it is one step away from going after the successful themselves, which leads to doom.
  • People go to war not to win, but to inflict sufficient cost on the enemy.
  • The spirit of burning everything to the ground and dancing in the ashes is alive in campus protests.
  • The idea that the conflict is an Israel-Palestine or Israel-Arab world issue is a perpetuation of violence.
  • There are 2 million Arab Israelis living side by side in Israel today, and they are not trying to immigrate because things are good for them there.
  • The normalization of relations between Israel and Arab nations is preventing actual prosperity.

The Abraham Accords still stand (01:20:21)

  • The Democrats' unwillingness to give credit to the Trump administration scuttled the expansion of the Abraham Accords.
  • Despite setbacks, the Abraham Accords have remained intact, preventing Iran from achieving its desired outcome.
  • John Spencer believes Israel has the capability to win the war but is uncertain if they will.
  • Spencer criticizes the international community for prolonging the war by demanding unrealistic solutions and misapplying paradigms like counterinsurgency.

War is politics: perception and reality (01:22:17)

  • Israel faces a dilemma in Gaza due to international constraints and its reliance on allies for survival.
  • Continuing the operation in Gaza is necessary to prevent Hamas from remaining in power and to avoid future attacks like the one on October 7th.
  • Stopping the operation would legitimize Hamas's success, damage Israel's public relations, and fail to address Hamas's grand strategy.
  • The military strategist emphasizes the importance of recognizing the destructive nature of urban warfare and challenges the notion that Israel intentionally harms civilians.

Are people swayed by evidence? The psychology of ideology (01:30:37)

  • People who are more naive and ignorant tend to view the world through simplified lenses, such as the victim-victimizer narrative.
  • The victim-victimizer narrative is appealing because it provides a simple explanation for everything and allows people to position themselves as moral actors by allying with the victim.
  • This narrative is often promoted on university campuses in the name of education, leading to the rise of anti-Semitism on the radical left.
  • Fear-mongering about war is effective because people fear what they don't understand and want it to stop.
  • However, there are worse things than war, and understanding this requires looking into darkness, which is difficult for people.
  • The guest, John Spencer, will discuss his military career, how he entered the academic world, and why he chose urban warfare as his area of study.
  • They will also delve into the details of urban warfare, including civilian casualties and the use of human shields.

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