Monday, July 19, 2004

The Swarm

The Palestinian leadership crisis continues to unfold a breakneck speed.

Hundreds of armed Fatah members clashed Sunday evening in Rafah with Palestinian military intelligence troops loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's nephew. Shots were fired during the clashes, and the Fatah gunmen torched several buildings used by the military intelligence in the Gaza Strip. The gunmen were protesting the appointment of Musa Arafat by the Palestinian leader over the weekend to the post of head of the Palestinian security forces. Musa said earlier Sunday that he would not resign, despite the protests in the Gaza Strip against his nomination. Arafat's weekend decision to promote his nephew sparked a wave of criticism in the Palestinian leadership Sunday, a day after thousands took to the streets of Gaza City to protest the appointment.

The first gusts of the storm were felt much earlier when United Nations Envoy to the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed-Larsen saw fit to criticize Arafat, something the UN does not often do. "Mr. Larsen spoke a couple of days ago before the UN General Assembly in New York on the situation in both Palestine and Israel, holding President Arafat responsible for the current security deterioration and delay in Palestinian reforms." Arafat responded by declaring Roed-Larsen persona non grata throughout the Authority, an ironic order from a man himself confined to a small compound by the Israeli Defense Forces.

Then Arafat's own Prime Minister, who had declared Roed-Larsen's statements out of order, himself resigned ostensibly over the appointment of one of Yasser's relatives to the position of security chief in Gaza. That followed on the heels of the kidnapping of "Gaza Police Chief Razi Jabali and Colonel Khaled Abu Aloula, the director of military coordination for the Gaza Strip, and four French aid workers" by factions opposed to Arafat. If the message needed emphasis his opponents provided it by torching and looting the Palestinian government offices. Trapped in his headquarters on the West Bank Arafat removed his relative, Moussa, as an apparent concession to his opponents. Reuters reports:

Abdel-Razek al-Majaideh was named director of General Security for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, replacing Moussa Arafat, whose appointment to the post on Saturday triggered clashes between gunmen and his loyalists. Moussa Arafat's apparent demotion seemed to be an attempt by the Palestinian president to defuse the most serious leadership crisis he has faced since returning from exile a decade ago. Gunmen opposed to Moussa Arafat -- viewed by many Gazans as a symbol of entrenched corruption -- battled security forces on Sunday in clashes that left 18 people wounded.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz dryly suggested that all was not well with the Intifada and that Gaza had begun to look like Iraq with team colors reversed and both sides losing.

The reports of chaos and intra-Palestinian violence coming from the Gaza Strip demand a look at parallel situations in other places in order to grasp what is going on. Certain elements of the Gaza instability that ignited over the weekend appear at first to be copied from Iraq: the abduction of political leaders and foreign citizens, the armed local uprising, the establishment of fragmented and family-oriented organizations.

It was not the first time that factions had opposed Arafat. There had been political opposition to him before. What was new was an acceptance that terrorist tactics against him were now permissible. Suddenly Gaza appeared less a threat to Israel than to Egypt. The whole skein of terrorist networks was threatening to blow back right on to its state sponsors.

The length of the present crisis in Gaza is likely to determine whether the outcome will be a civil struggle and a mass of organizations that lack any overall control. Such a scenario is the primary concern of the PA as well as of Egypt and Jordan. Senior Egyptian officials held long conversations with Arafat over the weekend concerning the outbreak of violence. According to Egyptian sources, Arafat tried to calm down the Egyptians, and told them everything was "under control." It's questionable whether this claim relaxed the Egyptian security forces, who determined that a continuing deterioration of the situation in Gaza was likely to lead to the failure of Egyptian intervention in the Strip in connection with Israel's disengagement plan.

Egypt is no longer relying on Palestinian cooperation with an Israeli pullout, an Egyptian source said. "Egypt doesn't want to be caught in the crossfire among PLO organizations, and between them and Hamas. If the Palestinian house cannot organize itself, we will not do it for them," he said. An Egyptian military analyst suggested that "it's possible that at the moment Egypt will be compelled to wait and see who is directing the Palestinian Authority - the street or the leadership."

The near civil war in Gaza; the fighting within the House of Saud; the conflict between terrorist factions in Iraq may not be isolated phenomenon but the consequences of the Israeli and American campaign against terror. From Iran to Lebanon the terror masters are no longer secure in their own kingdoms. In an article in the Naval War College Professor Edward Smith reminds us that Clausewitz defined victory as imposing a state of chaos on the enemy: the definition of a rout. Chaos was itself a condition that the enemy had sought to impose upon us by applying disruptive terrorism to set routines of civilization. Smith points to

a dangerously misleading assumption underlying much thinking today about the “revolution of military affairs”: that the United States will always be technologically superior and thus fight faster and better. In reality, tempo of operations is not solely a function of technology; it is also a function of the centralization of command. One can choose to trade centralized control for speed and scope of operations. This may forgo some of the ability to mass effects on a specific objective, but if the effect sought derives from the pace and scope of the attacks rather than from the amount of destruction, or from a cumulative impact rather than specific actions, then this trade-off may be acceptable. In other words, one could confront a technologically superior enemy by creating a new asymmetric zone in which small, decentralized units could operate successfully but in which an opponent using large formations under centralized control could not respond coherently.

America was going to be left defeated and confused. Those decentralized units, like Al Qaeda's airplane hijackers, could tie down a disproportionately large conventional force as the hapless United States was engaged everywhere and effective nowhere. Yet America, in its own way, was redressing the balance by organizational adaptation and the application of new technology. What if it could act so swiftly, so multifariously and so locally that the enemy would be literally overwhelmed by an attack on all fronts?

Instead of thrusting a rapier into the OODA cycle at precisely the critical time, we could unleash something akin to a swarm of bees. Even if no single unit has a decisive impact, the overall effect might be to leave the victim swinging helplessly at attackers coming from all directions, unable to mount any coherent defense save retreat. In essence, we would provide so many stimuli that adversaries could no longer act coherently but must constantly recycle ... The result would be lockout.

A cyclical reboot. The Blue Screen. By broadly attacking terrorism at many levels yet targeting leadership figures individually, the United States and Israel may have created the chaotic effect of an attacking "swarm" upon the foe. Psychologically speaking, this moment may have arrived when Israel targeted Hamas chief Yassin with a Hellfire missile although the effort existed long before. The perceptive Steven den Beste suggested that Israel's real goal in striking Yassin was to create a series of permanent power vacuums in the enemy ranks: in other words, to unleash chaos. The decentralized and cellular nature of terrorism would then begin to recoil upon the enemy state sponsor. Like a carnival dinosaur, the terrorist murder machine had to be carefully caged to prevent it from turning on its masters. In fact, the whole point of terror was to direct the whole mass of frustrations in repressive and dysfunctional societies at the external scapegoats: the Jihad is an excuse for avoiding the task of making Islamic society work. A successful American and Israeli effort to blunt the enemy attack and destroy its command linkages would turn the beast on its keepers. The key to successfully surfing this wave of chaos is to sit right on the boundary of control and watch the enemy get eaten away.

Opposing forces in any battle are therefore likely to have their own, quite different, edges of chaos. These two edges of chaos define three zones. Zone 1 is the zone of chaos—all the combinations of scale, scope, and pace that neither side would be able to manage. Zone 2 defines a complex, asymmetric region in which the better equipped and trained force can coordinate operations but the other cannot. In Zone 3 is the realm in which both sides can operate comfortably—the zone of order. ... If one side is consistently able to operate beyond the other’s edge of chaos, it can induce a state of despair in which further resistance is, or at least appears to be, futile. Focusing precisely on vulnerabilities most likely to drive the enemy into chaos can accelerate this process.

Whether this is in fact beginning to happen is open to speculation. But in the meantime, let's all watch Arafat try to stay in the tube.