Battlefield Lessons For Ukraine From The Hamas Attack Against Israel
From preparing for the complexity of urban warfare to addressing technological vulnerabilities and gaining self-reliance in military production, the unfolding crisis in Israel has a number of critical messages for Ukraine.
Updated Oct. 12 at 7:15 p.m.
KYIV — Last weekend, Israel, a nation with an annual defense budget exceeding $16 billion, found itself successfully penetrated and attacked by light infantry units.
The Middle Eastern country experienced one of the deadliest days in its history, with more than 1,200 people killed, and 150 taken hostage. Israeli settlements fell under enemy control, a situation not witnessed since 1973. Ukrainian news site Livy Bereg, which has been chronicling Russia's full-fledged invasion of Ukraine for nearly two years, believes the events of the weekend should serve as a significant point of interest for the people, leaders and soldiers of Ukraine.
The Palestinian attackers launched a coordinated assault on a network of checkpoints and border towers in Gaza. They employed a range of tactics to stretch Israel's defenses, including breaching the mesh fence using explosives, cutting tools, and armored excavators. They used motorcycles, buggies, and jeeps, and even took to the skies with hang gliders and motorized paragliders. They also launched attacks from the sea using speed boats.
The Israeli fleet performed relatively well, destroying several boats and thwarting an amphibious assault on Zakim Beach by combat swimmers and special forces.
While they were trying to evacuate Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers who were surrounded near the border, IDF helicopters came under fire and sustained damage from MANPADS (Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems), resulting in two damaged vehicles. Notably, at least four Merkava tanks were disabled, facing attacks by drones and grenade launchers.
Terrorizing civilians, scattering the defense
The attackers immediately targeted Israeli civilians, continuing a trend that has been observed in recent wars in Syria, Yemen, Georgia, Ukraine, and Iraq. Attackers aim to disrupt civilian life, prevent civilians from supporting their troops as volunteers or informants, and discourage civil resistance. Provoking a local population exodus, especially in urban areas, is a common tactic employed by aggressors.
The Hamas militias swooped in on an electronic music festival called "Mesibat Teva" meant to promote peace, held close to the Gaza border. Dozens of young people were kidnapped from the event. This is essentially a terrorist attack orchestrated to highlight vulnerabilities in Israel's security system, take hostages, and disrupt negotiations between Jerusalem and Riyadh. The negotiations with Saudi Arabia, promising improved relations with Gaza and a relaxation of the blockade, were a primary target of this attack, as it undermines the goals of radical elements in Gaza who oppose warming relations with the Arab world.
In southern Israel, defense relies on concrete towers and a gated fence
The attackers primarily deployed light infantry armed with machine guns, anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), tandem warheads for grenade launchers, and machine gun-equipped vehicles. Russian "Cornet" ATGMs and their Iranian counterparts, along with modern MANPADS (Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems), have consistently found their way into the hands of groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Drones also played a role in the conflict. Several videos show drone strikes, a choice of weapon likely influenced by experiences from a previous conflict in a northern country. Fortunately, the drones haven't yet reached the level of being fully remote-controlled (FPV).
In southern Israel, defense relies on concrete towers and a gated fence, fully autonomous with generators, solar panels, and wells. During alarms, personnel retreat into shelters, and surveillance is carried out through remote turrets equipped with cameras and firing ports. Attackers targeted these turrets with homemade bombs, while garrisons faced frontal assaults amid blinding fire from the firing ports.
Bases that housed a significant portion of daily personnel and workers during alarms faced attacks from organized stormtrooper groups, posing challenges for the scattered defense.
The attackers also seized control of the IDF base in Kisufim in the southern region, captured a tower in Kibbutz Nir Am, and managed to breach through to the cities of Sderot, Ofakim, and Ashkelon.
:A Ukrainian soldier checks a Leleka drone before an exercise last month
Oliver Weiken/dpa via ZUMA
Sderot witnessed intense street battles, where local citizens armed with hunting weapons joined forces with Israeli police to confront armed groups traveling in pickup trucks.
The police suffered significant losses. Several police stations in Sderot, Rahov, and Segev were seized, resulting in the deaths of two station commanders and multiple operators from the elite "Yamam" anti-terrorist unit of the Israeli police.
The situation in Sderot was eventually resolved with the deployment of heavy weaponry. Precision airstrikes were also initiated within Gaza, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of attackers and severing the enclave's electricity supply.
Lessons for ukraine
The unfolding crisis in Israel holds several lessons for Ukraine:
1. Israel has made significant changes in its approach towards the Gaza region by disbanding its central brigade. This reflects a shift from relying on civilian militias to placing greater trust in elite security forces like the Mossad, Yamam, and the IDF. Ukraine should also optimize and prioritize its military resources effectively.
2. While Israel has been at the forefront of the drone revolution, there have been gaps in its electronic warfare capabilities and protection fort tanks and infrastructure. Ukraine should prioritize a comprehensive approach to modernizing its military, including addressing technological vulnerabilities.
3. Gaza's urban environment presents unique challenges. Militant groups have hidden their infrastructure in civilian structures like hospitals and schools. Rocket attacks from high-rise buildings have added to Israel's difficulties, as targeting these structures can lead to negative international publicity. Ukraine should also carefully consider the complexities of urban warfare in its military planning.
4. Gaza's missile program has relied on underground workshops and Iranian technology. Ukraine should focus on self-reliance in military technology development and not solely depend on foreign assistance.
5. Dividing and securing Gaza, as envisaged in the 1994 Oslo Peace Accords, would require significant resources, including the creation of additional military divisions and territorial units. Ukraine should recognize that achieving similar territorial security objectives would entail substantial financial investments and a long-term commitment.
6. Allowing the enemy time to adapt can nullify even a significant technical advantage and tens of billions invested in defense. It's crucial to recognize that Ukraine is not in conflict with Arab nations but with a country actively developing hypersonic missiles, raising special forces, and expanding its artillery divisions while striving to produce a substantial number of shells annually. Ukraine's production of missile defense systems and anti-aircraft shells may lag behind its needs. To address these gaps, Ukraine should intensify mobilization efforts, both on the home front and in industry. The recent example of a breach in Israel's defenses, despite walls and watchtowers, serves as a reminder that surprises can occur even in heavily fortified areas.
7. Northern Ukraine has extensive forest regions patrolled by border guards. But support for these units, including the supply of mortars, often relies on private contributions. It's essential to prioritize national security over less critical endeavors, like stadium construction or beautification projects.
8. On a geopolitical level, we must also recognize the emergence of an axis comprising Moscow, Tehran, Damascus, and Pyongyang, representing an alliance of dictatorships and terrorists that provide mutual support. This harsh reality underscores the need for Ukraine – a nation whose security, like Israel's, relies significantly on the United States – to closely study and learn from the experiences of others.
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