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Tanya Goudsouzian is an Istanbul-based Canadian journalist covering the Middle East and Afghanistan. Her work has been published in outlets including the Washington Post, Al-Jazeera English and Newsweek.
Since the start of the Ukraine war, military operations have ushered in a tidal wave of new technology.
Unlike wars of the recent past, we can now see the depths of the battlefield with ease; weapons have surgical precision; and technology — whether drones, communications intercept, satellite imagery or GPS — is comparatively inexpensive. Commercial drones can destroy trench lines, small missiles can rip apart armored vehicles, and even minor threats can send warships scurrying.
Yet, while many analysts may proclaim a new epoch in ground warfare, as Israel consolidates its grip on Gaza City, it might just turn out that Ukraine proves to be an exception.
In Ukraine, both Moscow and Kyiv have decided to fight symmetrical conventional operations. The technological changes on this front have proven substantial, but as both sides adjusted their tactics, it has resulted in far fewer operational gains than many pundits and analysts predicted. And after 18 months, the battlefield has devolved into static front lines and trench warfare with no end in sight.
According to a recent brief by the Soufan Center, “four months into Ukraine’s counteroffensive, the battle lines have hardly budged, offering evidence the war could become a protracted conflict that Ukraine’s allies may not have the appetite to support.”
Clearly, both Ukraine and Russia have adapted to neutralize new technology’s impact.
In Gaza, however, there is no such symmetry of technology, forces or tactics. The enemy has a vote, and Hamas has elected not to fight the Israeli army in the way Ukraine is fighting Russia. It couldn’t if it wanted to.
It would essentially be suicide for Hamas to attack on open terrain with its few mechanized vehicles and mortars. Thus, recognizing the lack of parity, the militant group is fighting in a manner that adjusts to Israel’s numerical and technological superiority, and there are already examples that illustrate how Hamas will adapt to this asymmetry.
For example, while the proliferation of drones in Ukraine has provided better visibility of the battlefield, rendering it virtually transparent — meaning there are few places to hide significant combat power, logistics facilities and command posts that are characteristic of conventional operations —Hamas, by contrast, is attempting to take away that advantage in Gaza, hiding in residential buildings, labyrinths of tunnels, as well as mosques, schools and hospitals to blend in with the civilian population.
Equally important, by dispersing its forces and logistics stockpiles, Hamas also “looks smaller” and presents far fewer high-value targets.
Next, given the significant improvement in signals intelligence, command posts are another lucrative target on both the Ukraine battlefield and in Gaza. Russian command posts are large, concentrated and emit significant, unique electronic signatures; they also require layered and redundant communications to coordinate units, artillery, air support and logistics operations. Thus, detecting these communications with advanced electronic collection capabilities is relatively simple, as is connecting those locations with long-range artillery, rockets and missiles.
Hamas, meanwhile, has adjusted to Israel’s superior detection of signals by “talking smaller.” The militant group broadcasts a far lighter electronic footprint out of necessity, as it has years of experience in recognizing that phone, walkie-talkie and text communications will be detected. As such, Hamas has developed disciplined use of cellphones, minimizing transmissions around key events like the attacks on October 7.
Nonetheless, the numerous attacks carried out by Israeli air forces since then demonstrates that Israel’s intelligence assets are still able to detect key targets — though certainly with more difficulty than experienced in Ukraine.
Finally, precision weapons are one of the major advances that have impacted the Ukraine war but will, again, have far less impact in Gaza. Game changers in blunting Russia’s offensive, precision weapons — ranging from man-portable Javelins to long-range guided ATACM missiles — are now everywhere. And the ability to connect drone sensors to precision-guided artillery, Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) missiles and anti-tank weapons has fulfilled the dream of every commander: One shot, one kill. Hundreds of artillery shells or dumb bombs are no longer needed to attack a target — a single JDAM missile or suicide drone can blast an entire headquarters.
Israel has the same precise “sensor to shooter” capabilities, but it will undoubtedly have far less effect in Gaza City. There, the overwhelming advantage in precision is diminished by camouflage and tunnels, as well as the simple fact that there are only a few missile launch sites and mortar positions — as well as virtually no large troop formations, mechanized vehicles or large ammunition stockpiles to attack. Precision is an advantage, but one that is significantly downgraded against a group hiding in a large metropolitan area and is skilled in small-unit tactics.
It’s also worth noting that the side that can select the time, place and method of fighting earns a major advantage in battle. Napoleon was a master at this, and the point hasn’t been lost on Hamas either — its choice to fight in Gaza’s dense, crowded urban terrain is deliberate. It’s the toughest form of combat battle, and mitigates Israel’s vast superiority in numbers, equipment and technology.
Much can be said about Hamas’ superior communications strategy, impassioned population and radical ideology. But while these capabilities will prove critical, Hamas’ ability to nullify significant recent technologies that have proven so critical in Ukraine can’t be overlooked.
Over the past year, the world has been watching as a Russian Goliath fights a smaller Ukrainian one, with new technology allowing Kyiv to fight Russia to a standstill — but this won’t be the case in Gaza.
Hamas certainly won’t win. But it may not entirely lose either.