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What Do Cities Have To Do With Wars And Warfare

In recent history, military warfare has generally avoided highly populated urban areas. This does not mean that major cities have not been victims of military devastation. At the end of World War II most of Europe's mega-cities were in ruins. The new forces of war, and particularly aerial combat, aerial bombings, and newly developed ballistic rockets had a horrific influence on city centers. The introduction of nuclear weapons to the scene brought the two cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the ground in seconds. But still, the enemy's cities were considered his "weak belly," and not his front line. According to many experts this has all changed.

According to Dr. Russell Glenn of the Rand Arroyo Center in California, urban warfare will inevitably become a much more common component in military struggles. Moreover, this component will be significantly different from its' past origins. Most military doctrines, said Glenn, are designed for urban confrontation behind enemy lines, and view the entire population in these areas as belonging to the enemy's forces. This is most prominently seen in classic urban warfare doctrines where the proper way to enter a room is by first clearing it with grenades and gunfire. This of course is useless when the fighting takes place in ones' own city, and this would seem to be the leading scenario of the future. Brig. Gen. (Res.) Gideon Avidor stated that urban attacks are the weapons of the weak. Not surprisingly, this same statement has been used many times against terror and terrorists. Following the terrorist incidents of September 11, it is now clear that in theory (as much as in fact) terror and urban security are closely linked. This link seems to have been a major focus of agreement at the conference, between most leading experts in various fields. Urban centers provide more targets and victims concentrated together in a small geographic area than any other form of settlement. They also provide areas for hiding the perpetrators, and in some cases (as was seen in April 2002 during the IDF operations in Ramallah and other West Bank towns) the city's civilian population may provide aid and support for the attackers. In relation to this, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Eitan Ben-Eliyahu (a former Israeli Air Force chief) stated that while modern armies find more and more reasons to avoid urban warfare, this is less of an option for guerilla fighters and small forces.

As Ben-Eliyahu explained, modern weaponry today is so sophisticated that the desired targets and objectives of an offensive may be reached surgically without endangering infantry and armor forces. Today's laser guided missiles and "smart bombs" can pinpoint the smallest targets from the air. But, this of course is only an option for the more advanced military forces. Small units of terror, guerilla and insurgency use much less sophisticated technology, and therefore rely on human persistence, inelegance and sacrifice as their only optional "smart bombs." This seems to have been the case in numerous suicide bombings in Israeli cities, and also in Manhattan, where standard commercial airplanes were transformed into a twenty ton fuel bombsite using no more than simply knives.

Furthermore, operating in large urban areas has another strategic advantage when it is perpetrated by terrorists. Terror is inherently a psychological warfare, aiming to influence a much larger public than those directly injured or killed by the actual acts of violence. In this regard, the world's mega-cities serve as a theatre for the masses, allowing for both direct audience and easy access to the media. Moreover, when warfare takes place in one "back yard," the impact is much more visible and striking. Suicide bombings in Israel have affected the entire population, causing diffuse emotions and even behavioral changes amongst large populations. But this is by no means an Israeli phenomenon. The psychological effects of September 11 were highly visible. Prior to this event it was almost impossible to imagine that any incident could lead to a total closure of US air space and naval borders to civil transportation. It was assumed by many, that in order to bring about such a scenario, one had to disable American anti-aircraft capability, and gain total advantage over the US Air Force - and this over the entire mainland of the North American continents. But in fact, all it took was but several handfuls of men, with primitive weapons. This demonstrates not only the effect on the general public's opinion, but that terrorist actions may in fact influence elite's and decision makers' opinions. Continuing with this train of thought, many have claimed that the American assault on Afghanistan was also a direct result of the events that took place in Manhattan this last September.


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