Air power has limitations in urban warfare

An airforce does not put the flag on top of a hill in a war. 

This phrase was used frequently during wars that Israel fought in the last 20 years. It means that air strikes alone cannot win a war.

In the context of operation Pillar of Defense, this sentence has been changed to: “When you make every effort not to harm civilians, an airforce cannot be the critical mass to gain victory”.

Since the operation began on 14 November, the Israeli airforce has performed 1,500 strikes on targets in Gaza. These were against rocket launchers, weapons storage sites and military camps.

If Gaza was not one of the most densely populated areas in the world, the air strikes alone would have undoubtedly brought an end to the rocket attacks against Israeli cities and towns.

But the ability of the airforce to target launchers before or after launch has been limited because many of them are hidden near hospitals, schools and other public places.

This was expected before the operation, and it changes the way the air strikes are performed. It affects not only the selection of targets that are getting the “go” from the intelligence sensors that Israel operates, but also the type of weapon that is being used.

To put an end to the rocket attacks from Gaza, you must act with brutal force. The Israeli airforce could not use even a small percentage of its firepower, because of the way the potential targets have been positioned on the ground.

This is a lesson to any other country that will have to fight a conflict that falls into the category of urban war or low intensity war. 

Acting according to humanitarian guidelines, this kind of war is  very limiting, but air forces must get ready to operate under these limitations.

It is much simpler when the enemy is there, alone, and is a legitimate target for any type of weapon and any amount of firepower. But it is much more complex when the enemy uses civilians as human shields.

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