Schroedingers Crisis

November 11th, 2018. On the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War world leaders gathered in France to celebrate the end of one of the most violent conflicts in human history. Trump, Macron, Putin, Merkel, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netayanhu were all in attendance.

Benjamin Netanyahu had to cut his visit short. Supposedly, An operation to install surveillance equipment in the Gaza Strip had gone wrong. The Israeli special forces had been engaged by militants and air power had to be called in. By the end of the night, one Israeli Lieutenant Colonel and a militant commander lay dead.

Like the World War a century before, an unplanned conflict was set in motion. Israeli politicians and Palestinian militant groups alike could not accept the deaths of their soldiers lying down.

The following morning a massive barrage began with rockets and mortars striking Israeli towns throughout the day. Israeli retaliated by bombing symbols of Hamas’ power like the TV broadcasting station and an intelligence headquarters.

After a day of intense cross border fire, with Hamas sending 500 rockets into Israeli towns and Israel striking 160 targets in Gaza, a ceasefire was declared. By all reasonable accounts, Netanyahu rebuked his hawkish cabinet and agreed to the ceasefire. Hamas also quickly accepted.

But, maybe more important a question is how we got here. How did a country and an Islamist enclave who have held from escalation for months wind up on the brink of a major conflict?

Clearly, Netanyahu did not think that it was likely, he was engaged in diplomatic niceties in France on the night of the botched mission. Hamas had nothing to gain from another war either. The Gaza Strip was in no condition to sustain another major war. Living standards have already declined rapidly and some estimates predict it would uninhabitable in just a few years.

Yet, hundreds of rockets and missiles flew over the skies of Israel and Gaza.

The political nature of war, as well as it’s unpredictable nature goes a long way to explain this.

Wars are fought by politicians to achieve political ends in absence of a viable diplomatic alternative. In this case, Hamas was put in a position where it felt it needed to save face and firing a massive barrage of rockets at Israel. At the same time, Israel’s right-wing government would have been served by projecting strength through harsh military action.

Luckily, unlike a century before both sides agreed to stop before the conflict exploded again. While politically costly in the short term, Netanyahu held out against a full-blown military operation that could have spiraled into another ground war in Gaza.

The lesson here is that not all powder kegs have to explode at every spark. But this often takes sacrifice. Netanyahu took a political blow, and the incident led his Minister of Defense to resign in protest.

The causes of warfare and the instability of peace have changed little of the past hundred years, if at all. War is unpredictable; which tinderboxes turn into raging infernos is a matter of incalculable interactions between uncountable actors. Just as with a century before, the death of a single man can put two armies or even an entire region on the brink of war. Each crisis is like a Schroedinger’s cat. You can only know when there will be war you open the metaphorical box and find yourself engaged in a war.

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Women of World war II

The recent Battlefield 5 trailer has stoked controversy over the role of women in video games. While most of the criticism comes from misogynists I do believe there is a valid discussion to be had about the subject.

Personally, I disliked the trailer because of two things: The gameplay it portrayed seemed incoherent and lacking in any kind of narrative and second, the way the developers chose to include women didn’t do the actual women of WWII justice.

The Gameplay

The gameplay the trailer portrayed seemed incoherent and lacking in any kind of narrative. It wasn’t sure exactly where the scene was supposed to be taking place or what time in the war.

The characters were hopping around blasting things. The weapons didn’t seem to fit any kind of specific roles or class types and I had a hard time suspending disbelief when the characters jumped out of a second story window and shot down an ME 109(?) with an MG 42. I couldn’t follow the trailer and I didn’t understand how what was presented was supposed to work inside actual gameplay.

(Also: Why are jeeps falling from the sky and crushing Nazis? Where are they coming from!?)

The gameplay I’ve seen does little to alleviate these concerns. I far as I can tell the developers have blurred the line between classes. For example, any player can now revive another instead of needing a medic which somewhat defeats the point of having a medic class in the first place.

The combat has also been shifted to focus more on infantry rather than vehicles, which seems kind of self-defeating given the setting. Why would they set a Battlefield game in the war that introduced the world to modern armored operations and then reduce the number of vehicles from the previous game?

This is not a good thing for a franchise that has distinguished itself (at least in my mind) as the more “hardcore” less “arcade-like” competitor to Call of Duty with more complex environments, gameplay mechanics, and vehicles.

The Elephant In The Room

In terms of the inclusion of women in combat, I believe what the trailer portrayed was both historically inaccurate, potentially damaging and honestly?; Lazy.

Let us be clear: Women did serve in front-line combat during WWII, but not with the Western Allies and certainly not with the fascist Axis. There was no point in which the Americans, British, Germans, Italians or French used female soldiers in the way they are portrayed in the trailer. Certainly, they would have an issue allowing any soldier missing an arm into combat.

In my opinion, If EA wanted to portray women in combat they should not have invented artificial female characters. There were thousands of female snipers and pilots that served in the Soviet Armies that would have easily fit for a game about World War II and made for a great narrative.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko, for example, had 309 kills to her name and received the Hero of the Soviet Union for her contribution to the war effort. For the sake of comparison; the legendary sniper of the Battle of Stalingrad, Vasily Zaytsev had from 242 to “over 300” confirmed kills (Russian source) and Chris Kyle tallied just 160. That’s right, Pavlichenko killed twice as many men as one of America’s most famous snipers.

220px-Lyudmila_Pavlichenko,_before_title
Lyudmila Pavlichenko

The Soviets also fielded three regiments of bombers piloted by females, the most famous of which were the 588th “Night Witches.” They earned the moniker because they operated at night and would cut the engines in their Po-2 biplanes on approach to target. Without the rumble of the engines, the canvas of the wings was said to sound like a broomstick. Swedish power metal band Sabaton even wrote a song about them.

Po-2
A Po-2 used by the 588th

In fact, women served in a variety of combat roles. Mariya Oktyabrskaya drove a T-34 tank. Sergeant Oktyabrskaya was killed in combat in 1944 around Vitebsk and was posthumously awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin for her bravery.

Maria_Oktyabrskaya_photo
Mariya Oktyabrskaya

There is a rich history here that has been left untouched by western media. These stories of real women could have formed the basis of a great narrative that showcased the real women who fought the Third Reich on the front lines. Given the current debates over the role of women in combat, such a tale seems to be greatly needed.

In this article, Liza Mundy gives an overview of Svetlana Alexievich’s book “The Unwomanly Face of War.” Here there is a real view of female soldiers, some as young as 13 who took up arms and fought. It details how they sniped and pulled men from burning tanks. How they starved and endured the barren conditions of the eastern front only to comes back to be called “Army Whores” and “Military Bitches.” These were the real women of the front.

What EA is doing is shoehorning in diversity unnecessarily. The inclusion of a British female sniper is in especially poor taste because it both whitewashes British sexism and erases the roles of the Soviet snipers that appear to have inspired the female sniper archetype in the first place.

Glossing over important and often uncomfortable historical realities like sexism also defeat the purpose of including females in the first place. They are creating a separate universe where these realities did not exist and failing to educate the public about them in a way that assists in creating respect and equality for the real heroes of the war.

I understand that the Second World War is heavily mythologized in the media and in popular culture and what EA is doing has, in some ways, been done before. However it was a real event, tens of millions of people died in some of the most horrible ways imaginable. This number includes roughly 400,000 Americans. It was a war so horrific that it’s aftermath set the stage for a world order that exists to this day.

But I think this really to my final point: Battlefield is not a game about World War II just like Like Battlefield 1 was not a game about WWI. These are fantasy games that use these wars as a backdrop for Dice and EA’s latest iteration of their gameplay mechanics rather than using them as the basis of a gameplay experience.

Let’s be clear: This isn’t Call of Duty 2 or World at War where the player was given a bloody introduction to a sniping lying on a pile of bodies in levels that reference famous battles and classic movies. This isn’t a narrative driven game or high art like BioShock either.

In my opinion, this is all representative of a turn towards a more generic, cut down shooter that focuses less on immersing the player in a complex historical environment and more on loot crates.

I would love a game where I got to play as Lyudmila Pavlichenko. The sheer amount kills she had and the place she fought in (Crimea) would make for amazing level designs and an even better gameplay. But EA will likely not deliver that. Battlefield 5’s single player will be like Battlefield 1’s. Short, fantastical, and with little actual relation to anything that actually happened during the Second World War.

It will not seek to inform or make the player think. It isn’t going to be a game that gets anyone interested in studying the Second World War or examining the role of women. It’s just going to be another game.

Russian Technology Failed in Syria

In the months following the Joint U.S, French, and British attack against the Assad regime’s chemical weapons facilities it has become clear that Syrian air defenses failed to meaningfully degrade the limited strike.

Assad was either incapable or unwilling to engage coalition with his air defense systems. He sent his fighter aircraft away from Syria before the strike and his missiles engaged only after weapons fired from coalition aircraft had impacted their targets. The missiles were not guided as Coalition forces did not detect any lock-on, reporting that 40 Syrian missiles were “fired at nothing” following the airstrikes.

Russia has continued to claim without evidence that 71 missiles were intercepted by Syrian Air Defense while the Pentagon holds that no missiles or aircraft were engaged successfully.

Russian MFA missile claim twitter

Russian media went on the claim the Pantsir S1 showed “almost 100 % effectiveness” yet goes on to claim that the sites struck were not protected by air defenses.

Here you can see satellite photographs of two of the target zones hit by the strike. In these photos, one can clearly see the effect of multiple impacts on several different buildings. Some buildings are no longer standing and others are hollowed out.

In this video of the strike (shot in Damascus), it’s clear that Syrian Air Defense did not effectively respond to the salvo of cruise missiles. At time mark 1:10 you can see several dozen cruise missile hit their targets in a very short period of time.

The intercept ratios the Russians are putting out also casts doubt on the veracity of their claims. Russian state news agency Tass claimed that the Syrians managed to down 71 missiles using a combination of 112 mismatched interceptors ranging from the 1960s vintage S-125 to the Strela-10 (a Stinger equivalent, sometimes mounted in pods on armored vehicles).

The success of either of these systems is unlikely because their age, design intent and the conditions they were operating in. The S-125 and S-200 for example were are not designed to hit low flying targets like cruise missiles and Strela is more suited to slow-moving targets like helicopters.

The ratio of hits is also unusually high( like Putin’s numbers during the last election). Western nations often fire at two to four interceptors to ensure target destruction, Syria is claiming that it’s dated air defense systems managed to achieve an 80% hit ratio firing less than two interceptors per missile, at midnight using air defense systems from the 1960s.

No video evidence of interceptions or crashed American missiles has surfaced either. The only videos we have are of dozens of allied missiles impacting Damascus.

Pictorial evidence also points to a complete failure of Syrian Air Defense. One photo seems to show interceptors being fired at a 45-degree angle and continuing skyward. While this would match an intercept trajectory for a bomber or fighter flying at high altitude, it doesn’t add up when you are trying to intercept a cruise missile designed to hug the ground.

Given the extensive damage, one can only conclude that even if the Syrians did manage to engage American missiles, the response was completely ineffective. All three targets were hit multiple times and many of the buildings were completely demolished. Those left standing look to be hollowed out.

The lying on the Regime is understandable. The Regime needs the propaganda to keep itself going. It has a well-known tendency to exaggerate numbers. It has claimed absurd success rates against Israeli aircraft and missiles despite having only a single confirmed kill against the IAF in the last 36 years.

Just a few weeks ago they the regime declared that it had intercepted nine Israeli missiles, only to redact the claim when it was relieved that there were no missiles and the regimes sensors had malfunctioned.

I believe Russia’s interest in perpetuating this lie is two-fold. First, Russia’s defense industry is vital for the functioning of the Russian state. They need to be able to sell weapons. The Russians then, are attempting to cover up just how badly outmatched some of their air defense systems were by legacy American, British and French aircraft using new missiles.

Second, the operational success of the American strike threatens Russia’s own conventional deterrence. Some systems like the Pantsir S1 are still in service with the Russian military, as are the Buk missile systems. The failure of these systems against a well tried, (even cliche) American mode of attack is not only embarrassing but undermines their conventional deterrence vis-a-vis NATO, which would be able to generate much more firepower in a war against Russia.

Add insult to injury, the Pentagon has claimed no stealth aircraft took part in the business end of the strike and that EA-6B Growlers provided electronic warfare support. B-1B Lancers, and French Typhoons, and British GR4 Tornados delivered all airborne munitions with F-22s sitting back to protect troops against possible retaliation.

When you add it all up it paints a dire picture for Russian air defense. Not even their propagandists have claimed that any of their legacy systems actually engaged an allied aircraft. With strike ranges on the order of 370 km for the JASSM and 1600 km for the TLAM. Allied aircraft and ships would be outside the range of even the S-400 air defense systems and most almost all anti-ship missiles.

In a war over the inability of the Russian made air defense systems to mitigate an American missile attack, let alone engage the airplanes that launched them poses a significant problem for the Russians. Supposedly, the S-300 would do better, but there a fewer of them and the capacity of the force has limits, especially when you consider that a full-scale attack would involve several hundred missiles. The invasion of Iraq involved 802 tomahawks alone.

 

 

Israel’s Declassified Airstrike

In March of 2018, the Israeli government officially admitted that it conducted an air strike against Syria’s nascent nuclear program in 2007. Haaretz published an extremely detailed article with accounts from those involved. The admission is a rare step for a nation that often prefers ambiguity over transparency and gives us an interesting glimpse into the workings and status of both the Israeli military as a fighting force               and for U.S-Israel relations.

Below is a list of observations I made while reading the article.

 

2007 Syria reactor strike.
The reactor before and after the strike.

 

Israeli Denials Are Often About De-escalation

From the article is it clear that the mission was kept secret for 11 years for political reasons, not military security. After the bombs fell, Israeli military intelligence and Mossad were much more concerned that embarrassing Basher Al-Assad than revealing operational secrets. Face-saving Military retaliation was the overriding concern, not revealing Israeli operational methods.

Israel Is Still Using The Prussian Method

Although by far the most competent military in the region, the Israeli Defense Forces are not a hegemon. As a military of conscripts and reservists, the IDF cannot be constantly mobilized. A mobilization that gets the IDF up to fighting strength could also alert enemies to its intentions. If Israel massed troops in the Golan to defend against Syrian retaliation, they risked tipping off the Syrians and compromising the mission.

Israel then, is still operating on a Prussian-style doctrine where it focuses power where it is needed quickly, rather than an American-style doctrine where a professional military is kept ready to deploy at all times.

Israel Consulted With The United States Before The Strike

In American discourse, Israeli military actions are often framed as completely independent actions. that is, they are taken regardless of external influences, and often in spite of them. This article makes clear that the U.S government was consulted months before the operation and was kept in the loop almost until the decision to bomb the reactor was made.

If this holds true for more recent strikes the U.S government could still be privy to sensitive information. Israeli air strikes against regime and Iranian targets in Syria are a possible example.(although these are also mostly unconfirmed.)

The United States Benefits

In Syria, the U.S used Israel as both a source of intelligence and a means of achieving a strategic objective while minimizing political costs to itself. It is clear from the report that the United States saw an attack on Syria’s reactor as politically unviable given the failure of intelligence (in both senses) in Iraq. The U.S could not afford another blunder, so it fell on the State of Israel to play policeman.

George W. Bush’s statement “a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do” is indicative of his intentions. He (and by extension the U.S government) was clearly willing to give Israel a free hand to protect itself and police the region while shielding the United States and the Bush administration from the political consequences.

Israel Has Self-Imposed Restraints

In contrast to its hyper-aggressive public persona, the Israeli government was extremely concerned about the environmental and human damage that could have resulted from the destruction of an operational reactor. The Haaretz article makes clear that this was a serious bone of contention within Olmert’s government and that Israel may have thought twice about blowing up the reactor if it had gone hot.

Syria Does Not Want War With Israel

In 2007 Assad’s army was at full strength. Despite this, and the recent Israeli failure in Lebanon, Assad allowed his reactor to be destroyed without so much as firing a shot in return.

The reason for this quite becomes obvious one looks at the course of the Syrian Civil War. In 2007 The Syrian army was unprepared to do much more than terror bomb civilians and kill protesters. As is the case in many dictatorships, the military is a tool of domestic politics, rather than an all-purpose fighting force. Its raison d’être is to protect the regime. In a direct confrontation with Israel, Syria would have been crushed, and Assad knew it.

 

We Don’t Need to Restart the Nuclear Arms Race

About a week ago retired Navy Vice Admiral named Robert Monroe penned possibly the worst opinion piece I have ever read. Entitled “Only Trump can restore America’s ability to win a nuclear war” the article was riddled with factual inaccuracies and terrible policy perceptions.

Here I’m going to take a few quotes from the article and demonstrate exactly why it’s such rubbish.

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Achtung Drone

On January 5th a swarm of thirteen drones operated by Syrian rebels attacked two Russian bases in Syria. While the attack was unsuccessful, it was the first of its kind, and indicative of the type of warfare that we can expect to witness in the future in regard to unmanned vehicles. While militants have used small drones to attack government forces before, they were never used en masse in a “swarm”.

In this capacity, they have the power to transform warfare.Read More »

Destroying the Focal Point

The non-use of nuclear weapons has been a phenomenon of the past 70 years. Since the atomic strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no nuclear weapons have been fired in anger despite massive stockpiles, hair-trigger alerts, and the nuclearization of every weapon from ICBMs to 155mm artillery.  This peculiar behavior has been analyzed and rationalized over years, giving rise to theories concerning escalation spirals, limited nuclear war, mutually assured destruction and disarmament.
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It’s Time For a New Israeli-Arab Peace Process

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has set off a firestorm in the Middle East and the Islamic world. Across the spectrum, states, terrorist organizations and U.S allies have repudiated the move as a threat to the peace process or a provocation. Protests have erupted in the West Bank and Gaza with some Palestinian factions calling the move a “declaration of war and Hamas calling for a third Intifada.” Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat went as far as to declare it the end of the decades long U.S brokered peace process and refused further negotiations until the decision is reversed. PA President Mahmoud Abbas made his own fiery speech denouncing the move and  proclaiming Jerusalem to be the “Capital of Palestine” (fun fact. I got slightly nauseous typing that).

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