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The Hamas’ defense in the Gaza strip

It is not easy to manage and defend the repulsing urban zones. Its employment demands high requirements to the Hamas combatants:
An enough motivation, which encourages them to follow the armed way and risking their lives for its cause. That appeases and rationalizes them the inevitable fear for the fighting in the nearby distances with a superior enemy, until the seniority offers to them new impulses. A good training in the infantry fighting, which gives them trade and confidence. A successful cooperation between the small units that garrison the zones, that guarantees them a cohesion without fissures in their tenuous and lean deployment and that allows and facilitates the command conduction and the accomplishment of his plans. To get iron nerves tempered by everything previous, that accustom them to fight in solitary or in small groups, refusing to flee in face of the implacable threat of the heavy Israelis military fire.

To all this «professional» tension that these irregular fighters support, there joins the tension created by a civil fierce fight. That they keep, for their will, intermingled with their unarmed families and homes, which turn out to be equally threatened and attacked. For all this, among the two tens of thousands of existing Hamas militias, not more than 20 % of them can in these moments use this kind of defensive fight.

These urban irregular enemies protect themselves extending their defensive positions beyond what would be necessary in a conventional defense. Covering this way a major occupied surface. In the defense zone they establish several reinforced delaying points. These protect the most critical positions of the zone, incorporate in the defense the buildings with steel structure , specially resistant, and form fire bags to ambush the Tsahal soldiers that gets through. But there are very few resistant buildings in the crushed and mistreated Hamastan. The resistance nests have in the Gaza zone more importance, provided that the occupation of the zone of defense is more tenuous, they cannot strengthen the positions too much for not stand out them to the Tsahal, the sights are more short and exist numerous approximation routes. They depend on the delaying points and they fall back to them, if are invaded or destroyed. Numerous alternative or exchange positions exist, more of the habitual in this kind of fight. This allows to deceive the Tsahal about the forward limit of the defense position, its real extension, the limits of the sectors that form it, the intentions of the rebel command of the zone about its defense and to disperse the heavy fire of the attacker. In the edges of the urban zones they never establish these fixed positions. Those are occupied by combat advanced parties which mission is to receive the possible explorers or civil observers, to avoid surprises and to deceive about the real tracing of the defensive zone. The occupants of combat advanced positions, distributed in pairs of sentries and some very small mobile patrol, fall back in their moment towards the more interiors delaying points.

These Hamas urban «fortresses» are diffuse, secret and imperceptible to the strangers. Only in a few hours their previous works are reinforced and occupied. It is necessary to enter in the houses to detect perforated walls and to find alleys under a furniture or a carpet. Its communication routes need more working time to get done, but also are less evident. Their firing positions are not complex. They need a few interlaced firing sectors, an immediate protection against the Israelis irruption in mass or with commands, a few covers against the heavy normal fire and a sufficient concealment that keeps them away from the sights of the enemy probable successive positions and his approximation avenues. The obstacles and the mines, even false in certain percentage and always distantly to not betray them, will serve to break in parts the enemy assault and to offer to them more static targets, for example for the mortars, which will have registered its fires. The destruction that generates the ample heavy fire support without aiming to a precise target, reinforces the rebel combat positions, surrounding them with debris that divide and impede the accesses of the military, except when they are reached by a ordnance direct impact. To operate this defensive net structure the Hamas militias have prepared numerous and narrow tunnels, dragging trenches and gaps in garden walls and interior walls of the buildings. In such a way that, away from the enemy sights, allow them to occupy the combat and observation positions at wish, to defend them more or less time or not, to move among them and to reinforce the most threatened or pressed positions.

Generally the Hamas irregulars would try to shoot from the front, with isolated or couples snipers preferably armed with the SVD sniper rifle, at individual and small groups of Tsahal infantry soldiers. And to attack from the flank or the rear at the enemy units that penetrate in their defensive zone, which already are disintegrated in squads or platoons with one or two armored vehicles in close fire support. Those prepared communications aforementioned allow them to appear, always in small number, behind or at the flanks of the Israelis units, while these stop, regroup, ask or receive instructions, or decide where to advance, and to erode them, causing some casualties. For example, from a basement or a floor, through an irregular hollow in a yard or garden wall, under a parked or destroyed vehicle in the street, where emerges a narrow tunnel with a covered and disguised mouth. From these positions the armed rebels fire some RPG-7V rockets or several short blasts, always aiming, of the Soviet RPK light machine gun or the obsolete RPD, but which always appear with irregular rebels. The interior houses courts serve them to place the mortars, which constitute their the only «heavy fire» fighting source, protected by a near infantry position. They fired them with the maximum angles on the abundant, large and always excessive Israelis concentrations. The usual mortar is the 82 mm. Russian modern M-1937 model. Here that the attacker presents three times more men (in fighting means the proportion must be 20 to 1) neither favors nor facilitates their labor. But this offers the persecuted Hamas defenders more targets against use their exiguous fire power. Especially because, in a given moment, is small the attackers’ proportion that are putting in real distress the defenders. Similar positions, protected by the houses and the interior courts environment and surrounded by innocent and unarmed inhabitants, are those that they use to stubbornly launch their free flight rockets, the Kassam and the Iranians, more modern and with more operational range which receive dismantled, on the Israeli nearby populations at the north of the Gaza strip.

The crucial moment for the defense comes when the Hamas zone commander decides to evacuate it, after having stopped and delayed the enemy assaults for some time. Trying to cause him losses as high as possible, but without been exposed excessively to a fighting in the close distances, or to be outflanked or to lose his freedom of action. This is inexorably tied to the transfer of space to the Israelis enemies. For it, the Hamas militias avoid and get through in opportune moment (using the night or a stop in the enemy attacks), the direct assault of their enemy, not his extensive or vague bombardment, without precision. The militias have enough exit tunnels directed to not very nearby buildings (often official and even respectable (mosques), offices, companies and some houses) or dry riverbeds (wades) and not evident bushes in the open land. From there they could disperse through the outside in very small groups towards friends reception positions, in the first moments. The protection of the evacuation is therefore vital and both entrances or exits from these tunnels are always covered by resistance nests, which take to end their rigid defense.

Some tactical and operative conclusions for this defense fighting.

The ground defense of Gaza is very difficult to maintain through the time. The strip lacks geographical space to be able to establish a flexible defense deployed in depth. This is necessary to give power, solidity, continuity and support to the rejection fight.

On the other hand, the external supply of weapon, ammunitions and military equipment to Hamas is strangled by Israel. That has bombarded accurately the zone of communication tunnels around Rafah, at the south of the strip, which were concealing crossing the border with Egypt. To guarantee its complete sealing, the Tsahal has established, at least, two «military locks» managed by mechanized infantry and tanks, near Netzarim and Tel Katifa and transversely to the land strip. Which practically prevent the transit (traffic is merchandising) of military equipment proceeding from Egypt.

Hamas’ «military» structure socially agrees with the local Palestinian clans. Its tactical top unit is a reinforced «battalion» of about half a thousand men, for giving it a practical «name». In its elite units, Hamas tries that the formation, training and equipment of the infantry militias are homogeneous. The mutual support of the sectors of the defense during an Israeli assault, is this way difficult and precarious. It is more difficult yet to realize counterattacks, not sectorial countershocks, over the ground Israeli penetrations against the Gaza strip.

Those will attack following 2 or 3 different and convergent directions. Seeking to disperse the Palestinian rejection fire, to disturb the command conduction of the defense and to break the coherence and consistency of all the position. With the first assaults, as unexpected as possible, on the edge of the populations, to obtain a few advanced depart positions and to be already on their interior. To continue then their difficult systematic work of advance and sweep. There are two Israeli indispensable infantry mechanized brigades in this operation: the Givati and the Golani. The first counts with small units trained for the assault with limited objectives in urban zones. The Golani is famous for her fight against the Syrian tanks in the war of the Yom Kipur of 1973, blocking their pass across the Golan Heights, to the plains of Galilee, and forming part of a tactical task force of combined arms of the Tsahal. The Golani has 4 or 5 battalions well trained in the urban war, using training camps very similar to the Palestinian populations.

Hamas, in its desperate fighting, is going to look for the serious enemy erosion (Israel is very sensitive to the men’s loss) in the numerous isolated microcombats that will happen during the irruption and the Israeli advance in the populations. But without being able to give a tactical transcendence, far from it operational, to its present military struggle.

The best thing that Hamas can do now is to leave this Numantian combat, without military hope. Looking for protect and keep its militias and people and to be prepared for another better occasion. Where, its blood’s effort in Allah’s path, this is the sense of the military «yihad», would be more useful and productive tactical and operatively


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Enrique Alonso nació en La Habana. Tras el establecimiento del régimen comunista se trasladó a España, licenciándose en Ciencias Químicas en la Universidad de Oviedo.

Es titulado por la Universidad Complutense en Química y Tecnología del Petroleo (dos cursos) y en Logística por la Cámara de Comercio de Madrid (un curso). Ha realizado su labor profesional durante más de 30 años en REPSOL y empresas anteriores, absorbidas posteriormente. Su trabajo se centró en la investigación de lubricantes (Centro de Investigación de la calle Embajadores), el área comercial y la logística de lubricantes (unas 100 mil Tm. al año de productos a granel y envasados, con un presupuesto total de unos 1000 millones de ptas).

Ha sido colaborador en la década de los 80, del diario Pueblo y, a través de la agencia EFE, de diversos diarios españoles e hispanoamericanos en temas de política internacional y militares.

Es autor de la novela “Operación Elefante”, publicada en 1982, que trata minuciosa y extensamente de las operaciones y tácticas de las guerrillas y contraguerrillas en la Angola socialista prosoviética de Agostinho Neto, apoyada desde 1975 por tropas cubanas. 

En 2005 publicó en inglés el ensayo “On the Nature of War”, que es una teoría de la guerra basada en el desarrollo y la aplicación práctica de 10 “sistemas operativos”.

Actualmente es colaborador permanente de la revista española War Heat International.

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