Confused Warfare

Reviewed by Yagil Henkin

Diffused Warfare: War in the Twenty-First Century
by Haim Assa, Yedidya Ya'ari
Miskal, 2005, 150 pages, Hebrew.

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ccording to the old cliché, generals are always preparing to fight the last war. But since World War II, as conventional conflicts have increasingly given way to unconventional ones, military scholars and war planners have become intensely focused on the future. Most agree that wars will no longer be waged between national armies; instead, at least one side will be a non-state actor, such as a terrorist or guerilla organization. Some even claim that today, all the classical foundations of warfare have become obsolete.
Haim Assa, former strategic adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and head of the National Security Council of the Prime Minister’s Office, and Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Yedidya Ya’ari, former commander of the Israeli navy, were part of a committee that sought to devise new strategies to fight unconventional wars. Their conclusions form the basis of their new book, Diffused Warfare: War in the Twenty-First Century. Assa and Ya’ari have emerged with a detailed plan for remodeling Israel’s army, and their ideas will undoubtedly reverberate throughout the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
The book begins with the assertion that future conflicts will be staged between civilizations and without boundaries. The concept of the “front” will become a thing of the past, as will the directing and maneuvering of large armies. States will have to rely instead on a strategy of “diffused warfare,” and make use of what the authors call “dynamic molecules”: Task-force-oriented teams of small, highly competent ground forces capable of intelligence-gathering, reconnaissance, and direct-action missions, and who can also direct airstrikes, naval fire, artillery, and cruise missiles, and pilot unmanned drones. These teams will function seamlessly with other “molecular units,” all of which are directed toward a common goal by means of a higher command framework. As the authors explain, this framework “creates one logic that leads to a specified effect.”
These molecules are expected to operate against enemy targets simultaneously, with no need to capture or occupy territory. The enemy is to be struck at every point—whether at the front or the rear areas—immobilized, and destroyed. Furthermore, advanced communications and intelligence operations will create a “network” of information-gathering and sharing to help reduce uncertainty in wartime, avoid the unnecessary concentration of forces and the financial cost of ground battle, and conserve an army’s strength and resources. In encountering terrorist and guerilla enemies, the authors explain, diffused warfare “simply produces counter-asymmetry as a response to the asymmetry presented by the enemy.” In this way, the idea of molecular units can be seen as an extension of the tactic known as infiltration, by which forces quietly bypass the strongest enemy defenses in order to attack important targets behind the front lines. Large armies tend to forget the importance of this means of waging war, despite its distinct advantage—the element of surprise. Fortunately, this advantage is not lost on Assa and Ya’ari, who propose the building of an army whose fundamental skill lies in its ability to outmaneuver and outwit the enemy on its own turf.
The essence of diffused warfare, the authors conclude, is for combat units to be powerful, fast, and fluid, while satisfying two major requirements: The reduction of collateral damage and the reduction of costs. While Assa and Ya’ari do not say so explicitly, meeting these goals requires that the IDF turn into a downsized, professional army, one based on career service rather than conscription. No doubt, were Assa’s and Ya’ari’s proposals implemented, they would result in a smaller yet far more technologically savvy army—and one dramatically different from the IDF of today....

Yagil Henkin is a doctoral student in military history at Bar-Ilan University, and an Associate Fellow at the Shalem Center. He is the author of the forthcoming book Un-Guerilla Warfare: The History of the War in Chechnya, 1994-1996 (Ministry of Defense Publishing).

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