Tactical Lessons from Israel Defense Forces Operations in Gaza, 2023

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This paper seeks to identify lessons relevant to the British Army, based on analysis of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operations in autumn 2023.

The IDF’s operations in Gaza, beginning in October 2023, provide valuable lessons for the conduct of urban operations. While there are many aspects of the fighting specific to Gaza, other lessons are more widely applicable. This paper seeks to identify lessons relevant to the British Army, based on analysis of IDF operations in autumn 2023. The paper is a study of military tactics and does not address the wider operational and strategic situation.

As regards dismounted close combat in an urban environment, the IDF found that the risk of fratricide owing to cross-boundary fires meant that units should have non-contiguous unit boundaries for units advancing along the same axis. Thus, IDF units would have a movement corridor, and a fires corridor allocating on each side. Given the very narrow frontages of manoeuvre, it was found necessary to have combined arms elements in intimate support down to platoon level.

The IDF had persistent challenges with rubblisation, both because it created obstructions for movement and degraded the ability to describe the terrain and thus coordinate and control fire. The IDF has concluded that specific training is necessary for what it is terming ‘devastated terrain warfare’. Specific drills for talking soldiers onto target when looking at irregular terrain must be practised.

It was also found that adopting a sequential approach to surface and sub-surface operations ceded initiative to the enemy and reduced tempo as units mounted deliberate clearance operations in their rear area. Instead, the IDF found that it was more effective to carry out simultaneous surface and sub-surface operations. This required careful battlespace management as movement below ground did not always correlate with unit boundaries above ground. In general, the IDF did not find that there was much of a requirement to deliberately clear high-rise buildings, as there was limited tactical value in being above the second floor.

Operations in Gaza have highlighted the criticality of organic lethality at echelon. Hamas tactics have evolved over the course of the fighting, but each iteration saw different groupings of fighters endeavour to rapidly engage isolated IDF units before disengaging. In practice these tactics did not perform well because Hamas was not able to concentrate sufficient firepower. It therefore often failed to inflict significant damage, while the IDF were generally able to suppress attackers and thereafter deliberately target them. For the British Army the lesson is clear: organic lethality must be increased in close combat echelons.

The ability to responsively employ precision fires in close proximity to friendly forces – allowing higher echelons to increase the lethality of close combat forces – has become critically dependent on access to the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS). The IDF found that once units had UAS organic to their formations, there was a significant challenge to identifying friend or foe. Once the enemy was also employing UAS, friendly electronic protection saturated the spectrum, interfering with digitised command and control. This has produced a requirement for reversionary methods to be available, and for improved EMS battlespace management.

The IDF ultimately suppressed Hamas’s capacity to concentrate forces because of its access to air delivered effects. It is worth noting that buildings do not offer significant protection against air delivered munitions, because of the weight of ordnance that can be dropped with precision. The lesson for the British Army is that urban defence must be premised on effective air defence covering the urban space.

The application of air delivered fires to bypass the physical protection offered by urban terrain creates significant challenges for discrimination. First, there is the question of what cannot be seen as regards concealed civilians. Second, in conventional and unconventional conflict, combatants are increasingly blending in with the civilian population in a manner that makes discrimination difficult. The IDF have struggled with this problem and it has been exacerbated by the IDF ceding critical elements of the information environment, such as casualty estimates, to entities associated with Hamas.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza has been disastrous. Much of this relates to issues of getting aid into the Strip, which, other than ensuring the efficiency of searching cargos at scale, is a political rather than tactical military problem and therefore falls outside of the scope of this paper. Where there are transferable lessons for the British Army is in the challenges the IDF have had in distributing aid. On the one hand Hamas has sought to gain control over aid distribution to re-establish control of the territory. This is antithetical to Israel’s war aims. Yet the IDF closely supervising distribution is a recipe for clashes at aid points. The IDF has not found a system that assures adequate supply and distribution of aid while also preventing Hamas from exerting control along the process. This dynamic challenge bears careful study as meeting humanitarian obligations are an essential part of urban operations, but when required at scale can rapidly unhinge the tempo and capacity of a formation.

There are many more lessons identified in this paper that bear scrutiny. There are also likely to be further lessons that emerge from later stages of IDF operations in Gaza.


Dr Jack Watling

Senior Research Fellow, Land Warfare

Military Sciences

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Nick Reynolds

Research Fellow, Land Warfare

Military Sciences

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