The term siege congers up images in the minds of some of medieval warfare, with catapults, flaming cauldrons of oil, knights in full armor and regalia, and stone battlements. For others, it might be artillery and mortar fire, napalm strikes by tactical aircraft and B-52s dropping 500 lb. dumb bombs during the Vietnam War. There was the famous Siege of Paris by the German Army in 1871 and that of Leningrad between 1941 and 1944. Most sieges lasted a year or two, with some number running between 3-7 years. The longest siege on record, 21 years, is that of the Candia (modern day Heraklion) on Crete. A mixed force of Knights Templar and Venetians held out against the Turks for 21 years.
The region along the Eastern Mediterranean coast is no stranger to protracted sieges. The most famous of these is probably the Roman siege of Masada between 37 and 31 CE. Another was the siege of Constantinople, modern Istanbul, in 1453. Jerusalem itself was successfully besieged by the soldiers of the 1st Crusade. The city of Acre was besieged no fewer than three times by Crusaders. During the second siege (1189-91) the Crusaders were themselves besieged in their camps by a reinforcing army. Several centuries later, Napoleon tried his hand at besieging Acre during his Anabasis out of Egypt.
Sieges are difficult for both sides. To be successful, the besieger must have the means to cut the city under siege off from outside sources of supply and reinforcement. This is no small task if those besieged can be resupplied from the sea or, as the Germans learned at Leningrad, across frozen Lake Ladoga. The besieger can try to starve the city into submission or risk enormous casualties assaulting their defensive works. Conversely, the besieged city could hope that illness, inadequate logistics or the arrival of a friendly army would wreak havoc on the besieger.
The situation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza, although termed a blockade, is really a siege. Both sides use the classic techniques of siege warfare, including small sallies against enemy combatants, firing weapons – including rockets, artillery, mortars and air-delivered weapons – into the camps of the other, the creation of both purpose-built and improvised defenses and efforts to enlist allies to help lift the siege. Among the new items in this conflict are the Iron Dome missile defense system, the operation of armed drones over Gaza and the use of ground robots, particularly for exploring Hamas tunnels.
The current blockade of Gaza is already seven years long and shows no signs of abating. In a way, it is problematic to use the term siege when referring to the situation between Gaza and its neighbors. There was for a long time regular and controlled movement of goods and people across the borders. At the same time, Israel has limited access to Gaza by land, sea and air since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007. The new Egyptian government recently followed suit, shutting down the hundreds of smugglers’ tunnels that were Gaza’s lifeline. This action all but single-handedly precipitated the latest round of fighting in a desperate attempt by Hamas to achieve a lifting of the blockade.
Israel knows that it can conquer Gaza if it must. The costs would be extremely high to both sides. It could at this point literally starve the people of Gaza out. It has chosen to do neither which, unfortunately gives Hamas the false sense that it can withstand the blockade forever and simultaneously, continue to fire rockets into Israel and engage in other terrorist activities.
Slowly but surely, the siege of Gaza is undermining the position of Hamas and its control over the people of Gaza. By every reasonable measure, Hamas has lost the latest round of fighting at the military, economic and political levels. Even with massive foreign assistance, it will take a decade or more to restore the damage done in this latest round of fighting. It is noteworthy that Israel was able to devastate Hamas’s rocket production and storage capabilities, destroy a significant fraction of its tunnels, engage and kill hundreds of Hamas fighters and obliterate much of its command and control with a minimum of the force they have in hand and while striving mightily to obey the laws of war and avoid collateral damage. Imagine what would have happened in Gaza had the Israeli Defense Forces employed all its military means free of constraints.
But because Israel is determined to operate with restraint while defending defending itself against the terrorist threat, and Hamas has no real military options, the blockade/siege of Gaza is likely to continue. Israel is now working on a ground sensor network to detect tunnels being driven from Gaza into Israeli territory. Looking ahead, it is entirely possible that the siege of Gaza could enter the history books as the longest in human experience.
Find Archived Articles: