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Why Israel Is Performing So Badly Against Hamas

It has become clear that Israeli forces are not succeeding at taking out Hamas. Israel’s own estimate of Hamas casualties from October 7th to the ceasefire was one to two thousand Hamas deaths. This is almost certainly an overstatement, for obvious reasons.

Maps of the Israeli invasion show control of a fair chunk of Northern Gaza, but it isn’t full control: they still get attacked by Hamas in most of these areas. Videos of Hamas attacks often show amazing levels of Israeli incompetence, most often lack of infantry screens for tanks.

The reason is simple. For decades the Israeli army has primarily been used as a paramilitary occupation force: they shoot, bomb and beat up civilians who can’t fight back. You become good at what you do, and when it comes to terrorizing civilians, the Israelis are top-notch. It’s why they train police forces and paramilitary forces around the world, including in America and India.

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But if you specialize in beating up people who can’t fight back: in sniping civilians, bulldozing houses, raiding civilians homes and so on, well, you aren’t going to be good at fighting military forces.

On top of this Hamas’s military wing has only one real job: to fight Israel. So a force optimized for beating up civilians (the IDF) is fighting a force which while woefully under-equipped, is optimized for fighting them.

Israel’s main reason for damn near indiscriminate bombing is because they want to ethnic cleanse and/or genocide Palestinians. But another reason is that they suck at fighting Hamas, and so “mowing the grass” is all they really can do: it’s all they really know how to do. For a couple generations now, the IDF’s main strategies against enemies in areas they don’t control has been bomb, bomb away and their strategy in areas they do control has been raids, beatings, snipers, bulldozers and so on.

The IDF is just hyper-optimized for fighting people who can’t fight back effectively, and unfortunately for them, Hamas is optimized for fighting the IDF.

It should be added that this is a specific example of a general rule: occupation armies become weak (they also become brutal and stupid). It’s one of the reasons why you should never use your army as an occupation force for any significant length of time.

If you must occupy for long periods, you should have a separate organization which is not under the same command. And your military should despise that organization and consider them dishonorable scum. If it’s any other way, your military will be useless when you face a real enemy.




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  1. Danfmto

    I can no longer find any media reports on IDF casualties. In Oct the Israeli press would post some but it stopped at around 50 dead. The Al-Qassam telegram channel posts several updates a day where IDF casualties seem likely but this news is clearly censored.

  2. Feral Finster

    I suspect that Israel intentionally undercounts Hamas deaths so as to provide a justification for Israel’s real goal in this war, which is the ethnic cleansing of Gaza, and barring that, outright genocide. By a similar token, Israel inflates the total number of Hamas.

    It’s harder to rationalize indiscriminate terror bombing of children if there are supposedly hardly any Hamas left to kill. Tends to raise questions like “so what are you really trying to accomplish, here?”

  3. Being inadequate at fighting Hamas, and being unable to take them out sounds like it helps Israel with their actual goal.
    Taking out Hamas removes one of their justifications for bombing, and starving civilians. Those 8 year old “human shields” need “evil terrorists” to shield or else you’re just killing children.

  4. Purple Library Guy

    @Feral Finster & Oakchair: Ehhh, if Israel didn’t have any actual Hamas left to fight they’d make some up, so no, I don’t think they’re constrained to understate the number of Hamas they’ve killed. In any case there is approximately zero chance they will be able to wipe out Hamas, and there would be zero chance even if Hamas was hapless as a military organization, because they don’t exactly wear uniforms or arrange themselves in pretty formations the better to spot and bomb. The problem isn’t killing them, the problem is finding them. Meanwhile, the more Palestinians Israel murders the more Palestinians will consider themselves part of Hamas or equivalent. Even if Israel were to successfully reconquer the entire Gaza strip and reliably whack everyone who attacked, they still wouldn’t be able to root out Hamas from the population.

    Anyhow, I think the propaganda needs of looking competent to Israelis, and indeed to the US government, outweigh any propaganda needs to minimize the amount of genocide they’re doing to the wider world. After all, the US government doesn’t care who they genocide, but does care if they’re an effective ally. So no, I really doubt they’re understating Hamas casualties. Instead, they’re almost certainly exaggerating them, as Mr. Welsh says.

    (Incidentally, the killing vs finding thing is these days fairly true in conventional warfare too. If you look at the Ukraine war, I have the impression currently that Russia is undertaking various pushes forward only partly to gain territory, but mainly to force Ukraine to defend the territory and thereby show Russia where their forces are, so those forces can be taken out with accurate modern artillery, bombs and drones. Because in a war of attrition, it doesn’t matter if the casualties are 10 to 1 in your favour if they are low enough that the enemy can replace everything they lose. And when there’s no movement, everybody’s forces can hide, making it harder to destroy them. Even if an advance makes the ratio worse, if the ratio is still fairly favourable and the total losses are pushed to where the enemy cannot replace them, that takes you where you need to be–a state where the enemy will eventually run out of people and/or equipment.)

  5. VietnamVet

    The truth is that morality and empathy are gone in a world that is ruled only by money. In the past like WWII in Germany and Japan, the goal was to kill all men of military age and merge the remaining children and women into the victor’s society. This fact accounts for why 0.5% of today’s men carry Genghis Khan’s Y chromosome – 750 years later. Israel’s aim is to kill and cleanse Palestinian women and children. That’s money talking. Today’s ruling ideology states that there is no such thing as society.

    You can see the effect of the end of the draft and the volunteer US Army in Ukraine. NATO Generals are blaming dead Ukrainians for the failure of the summer offense against Russia not their complete misunderstanding of the facts on the ground and in the air — the depth and density of Russia’s minefields that destroyed the attacking western armament. The Western Empire is so detached from reality it will destroy itself like Germany did in WWI and WWII and is on the way of doing it again, a third time, in WWIII.

  6. DMC

    Yet another factor is the demographics of the IDF. It is very largely composed of 19 years old conscripts and middle-aged reservists activated for the current emergency. Neither are particularly well suited to fighting house to house in a bombed over urban setting.

  7. mago

    I once watched an herbal healer and organic grower take off a sandal and slap at a chain of ants streaming across a concrete walkway.
    I thought, “What? You think you can kill every ant in the world?” But said nothing.
    In Costa Rica I witnessed two women whacking a stream of cockroaches flooding out of a septic drain, and they denounced me for my inaction. In that case I spoke out and said, “What? Do you think you can kill every cockroach in the world?”
    Apparently the Zionists view their brown skinned brethren as ants and cockroaches to be exterminated.
    Kill the nit and kill the lice was the view of the EuroAmericans practicing genocide on Native Americans.
    There’s no winning in the extermination race, just a whole lotta death and suffering going on.
    Also a shitload of negative karma accrued.
    When will we ever learn . . .

  8. Carborundum

    Uh, that’s not an operator within feet of the IDF. That’s a borescope being poked up to see what’s what on the surface (think a visible light periscope, with fibre optics as the transmission medium, with a little omni mike as a bonus). Judging from the hollow scraping noise, probably coming up through a metal tube that was either pre-installed or that they poked up though the overburden. Lot better than the stuff we used to fish under doors back in the day.

  9. Jan Wiklund

    It all depends on if Hamas is supported by the civilians or not.

    They haven’t run Gaza very well since they were elected, and people like Alastair Crooke think they have lost a lot of support.

    On the other hand, the Irish republicans civilians emptied their bedpans over when they were lead away from the Posthouse they had occupied were elected to the parliament when they had saved the Irish from the French trenches.

    So such support goes up and down. Heaven knows how it stands now.

  10. Andre

    Well, yea, but there is a reason why Hamas exists. Here’s my idea. Hamas exists because the Israelis hate Palestinians. You shouldn’t “yea, but” that. It’s a fact. So, I keep putting into the search engine “Why do the Israelis hate Palestinians?”, and get some interesting answers. Because they’re bigots? The simple answer to the whole thing is that they could live peacefully. Then there would be no need for this discussion. And I have a hard time talking about anything else when I think about children, and lots of them, being killed. Still. I put all the noise aside and I get this: Israel is really bad!

  11. Mark Level

    A couple of quick thoughts–

    Andre’s mostly correct, but I think it’s clear why the Israelis hate the Palestinians– they have to dehumanize them (as Mago notes) to exterminate or drive them off their original lands, they cannot have any sympathy or even empathy as human beings if they are to achieve their goal to take over the (fake, a total lie) Torah’s “Eretz Yisrael.” The whole thing is founded on a sick lie, which the atheist Herzl spread, that “God gave us these lands forever”. The historical Israel-Judah was small relative to the other regional powers & existed for a few centuries. (Compare Egypt’s 3,000 year plus continuous history.) The use of Ukranian-Russian-Latvian (etc.) “Khazar Jews”, wholly European (like Bibi, whose ancestors may have passed thru Palestine quickly tens of thousands of years ago en route to Eurasia), light-skinned & blue-eyed go back to slaughter the Palestinians, who were centuries ago the real Jews but converted to Islam!! Bigots is too weak a word for Nazis, Banderists or Zionazis– I don’t know if a strong enough word has been invented, but I imagine it will be one day. The “religion” is only a veneer, it’s a cynical thing about exterminating “the other” & stealing everything they have, one of the oldest & most sickening stories in human “civilization.”

  12. StewartM

    It should be added that this is a specific example of a general rule: occupation armies become weak (they also become brutal and stupid). It’s one of the reasons why you should never use your army as an occupation force for any significant length of time.

    Interestingly enough, anecdotal evidence from the post-WWII occupation armies, Allied and Soviet alike, supports this truism. From the Soviet side, Allied observers reported Soviet troops were ‘of poor quality, indifferently clothed, and ill founded in equipment” (in transport at least). On the Allied side, an officer at a US headquarters described the occupation troops as “useless or worse than useless.” He continued “Right after the war, all the good combat troops left, and what we got instead were the sweepings from the jailhouses and the officers who had managed to avoid service.”

    Also—despite the myth of “Red hordes”–the Soviets de-mobilized quickly. They had to get men back to the farms and the factories, else the Soviet Union was staring at hunger once Lend-Lease ended. Moreover, there was the Bandera partisans in the Ukraine to deal with, which required the use of 8 Soviet army divisions (from memory) and wasn’t fully quelled into 1955.

  13. StewartM

    Andre–you can’t grant Palestinians human status if your quasi-religiously justified ideology involves stealing their land.

    As I said, this is the Europeans/Americans versus Native Americans all over again. “Jewish homeland” ideology is their rehash of “manifest destiny”, designed to justify the theft of something not yours. And likewise, eventually it comes down to “the only good Indian (Paleastinian) is a dead Indian (Palestinian).

    The ethnic cleansing/genocide of Native peoples in the Americas was what inspired Hitler (who loved westerns!) to do the same in Eastern Europe, save his “Indians” were Poles, Slavs, Russians, and above all, Jews. Those who say “never forget!” the Holocaust yet say “Stand with Israel” have just demonstrated they learned NOTHING from history. If you truly believe in “Never Again!” (and I do!) then you don’t “stand with Israel” any more than you “stood with Nazi Germany”.

  14. Carborundum

    I spent some time this afternoon looking at the publicly available imagery from this one, and I’m not so sure that the IDF is doing as horribly as billed. If they were getting their asses kicked, I would expect to see a significant number of distinct engagements where they were under aimed, effective fire losing people. I would particularly be looking for indications of coordinated action (e.g., classics like the dogleg ambush).

    That’s very much not what I’m seeing. There’s definitely attacks and definitely losses of material and presumably people – and *definitely* IDF tactical action that does not bear a lot of relation to what I was taught to be good practice, but the scale of action I’m seeing is miniscule. It’s the same dozen or so actions – none of which show significant tactical proficiency (by pretty much *anyone* – I suspect we’re looking at a version of the famous armouring the bomber issue; if the videographers run into people with real proficiency, they don’t make it back to share the video) packaged with slick intros and cut like 90s MTV (look it up kids). Bottom line, I actually find the Israeli media reports of IDF losses plausible.

    Whether any of this strategically successful (both in terms of “narrow” military / domestic policy strategy or broader international geopolitics) is quite another issue. There, damned if I know. I suspect a lot is going to ultimately depend on whether they have been paying attention to Keegan (he said that if one was going to go into Afghanistan, one would be advised to treat it as a punitive raid and have a plan to exit expeditiously).

  15. Andre

    Stewart M: I fully agree about the Native American comparison to the Palestinians. Re: moving them all to Egypt. I sent Bernie an email in which I was quite pissed off at Biden and wrote “Or maybe we could just move the remaining Palestinians to Egypt, and we can call it the Arab trail of tears.” Andrew Jackson to Joe Biden, eh? I don’t have much use for Andrew Jackson and Biden may have moved into the same category with the ‘bear hug’. So are the Israelis copying us – I can hear Bibi bringing up our treatment of Native Americans, in response to criticism from us. Meanwhile civilians and children are still being killed.

  16. StewartM


    My only quibble with you (and Ian) is that I don’t see Biden as an agent of cause. Biden’s strength, as well as his weakness, is that he doesn’t have a strong set of positions he adheres to. Rather, he listens to the ‘experts’.

    When the experts are right, he will do or attempt to do good things. Where they’re wrong, he does bad things. On foreign policy issues, both here and Ukraine and especially, his “experts” in the room are a bunch of Henry Kissingers. On foreign policy, and in many economic issues as well, our collective ‘wisdom’ is pretty much dead wrong. And that’s a problem for whomever is in the White House.

  17. Altandmain

    I think my last comment got eaten,

    Anyways, the entire Western world suffers from this. The US hasn’t fought a serious opponent since WW2. Even then, the US vastly overstates it role and understates the USSR’s role in defeating Germany.

    Likewise, the UK had this problem. The UK was not prepared for WW1. It also suffered from that problem in WW2. The reason is because it was focused on imperialist colonial wars. It’s military in early parts of WW1 and WW2 didn’t do so well at first and had to undergo a very steep learning curve.

    The US has this problem now as well.

    The first problem is that industrial warfare is fundamentally different than guerilla warfare. It means that the US doesn’t have overwhelming industrial strength. US troops and mercenaries that have served in Ukraine didn’t do so well. They aren’t used to fighting in an environment without total US air and artillery supremacy. That’s a huge shock. One fear is what the US will do if the US gets into a war and they take losses of carriers and the like. The main risk, in other words, is that it would go nuclear after the US ruling class panics.

    A second problem is doctrine. Early WW1 era fighting was built around fighting a war in the 19th century. If one looks at the tactics that the European powers used in the opening phases of WW1, it was almost like they were fighting the Napoleonic Wars again. They ignored the trends that had developed during the Industrial Revolution, along wars like the US Civil Wars and the Crimean War about the implications. Similarly, the US and NATO doctrine is built around the Gulf War, with a very limited appreciation of what had changed and how it affected war.

    The US is in a similar position, having waged wars against Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc. These were mostly Neo-colonial wars meant to enforce US hegemony and steal the natural resources of the nation they were invading. In other words, they were like the wars the British Empire waged.

    A third problem is greed. The US military industrial complex is not built around weapons made for best combat effectiveness, but corporate profit maximization of companies like Lockheed Martin. Western governments are all corrupted by the rich, who act through intermediaries like lobbyists to corrupt any pretensions of democracy and accountability.

    A fourth problem is declining Western innovation relative to the rest of the world. Russia for example has more advanced electronic warfare and hypersonic missiles, which the West doesn’t have.

    This will be an even bigger problem if the US is stupid enough to go to war with China.

    As for who has more manufacturing, China has more manufacturing than the US and EU combined. Most of China’s military is closer in structure to Russia’s, with large state owned enterprises that does both military and civilian products.

    This is a way of saying, it’s not just not Israel that is weak, it’s all of the Western armed forces.

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