CoveTalk | Reflections on Defence of One's Homeland
01/07/2024

Reflections on Defending the Homeland: What the Australian Army can learn from the 7 October 2023 Hamas attack and the Israeli response

On 7 October 2023, Hamas terrorists launched a surprise attack on Israel. By its very nature this was a terrorist attack by the militia, intended to invoke fear by murdering and mutilating civilians, delivering – as Bruce Hoffman has argued – a statement of intent comparable to those of ISIS and the Einsatzgruppen[1]. Over the course of hours and days, militants abducted an estimated 250 Israelis, including soldiers, civilians, and children (one reportedly only months old)[2]. A military response to such an attack was inevitable and unavoidable. It was also what Hamas and its allies sought. Since the initial attack both sides have been locked in continuing violence. This is internecine conflict – warfare by its very definition – both violent and horrific. It is made even more so by the fact that all sides are claiming to fight for, and in, their Homeland. The strategic implications for Israel, the region, and international security continue to reverberate.

It is often forgotten that humans are complex, and we ought to be able to hold two conflicting ideas in our minds simultaneously. We should thus be able to condemn Hamas’ use of terrorism as horrific (labelling their continued use of hostages as unacceptable), while also critiquing the Israeli response as vengeful (resulting in devastation, the death of innocents, and a humanitarian crisis of the first degree), as well as being strategically counterproductive. Along with 152 other countries in the United Nations, Australia has called for a ceasefire in the conflict, stating that ‘[c]ivilians must be protected, the catastrophic humanitarian situation must be addressed, and the hostages must be released’[3].

Yet despite such international appeals, and in the face of significant societal partisanship among Western nations such as Australia, the conflict continues. Israelis and Palestinians have both emphasised propaganda and information warfare and have leveraged support from their respective diaspora and broader sympathetic audiences to protest publicly in support of their cause. The resultant societal schisms have been, politically, a cause for concern, with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese commenting on 6 May 2024 that:


Social cohesion is being frayed at the moment. I’m very concerned at what we’ve seen… We need to make sure that people in positions of authority use that authority to not promote division, but to promote social cohesion[4].  
 

What the Prime Minister is alluding to here is the tendency for people to affiliate with – or be backed into their ideological corners – when faced with divisive issues. These schisms can undermine the very bedrock of a state’s power as the population becomes divided against the state, or against themselves. Recognising this tendency is fundamental when considering the defence of a homeland, and one of the key targets of terrorist actions and strategies. In a divided society, to what extent can the government and military rely on their populace to support whole of nation efforts requiring some acceptance of hardship and deprivation of privileges through either enlistment for service, or through other support focused on the national interest?

Military staffs and their leaders must be able to elevate their minds above the violent milieu and consider the bigger questions[5]. As military professionals, it is our duty to observe the course of the warfare that is currently unfolding in the Middle East and the actions and activities of both sides. Such ‘lessons learned’ must be used as a basis upon which we can further our own education and understanding of the profession of arms[6].

In this talk hosted by 2 (AS) Division and streamed by The Cove on Tuesday 25 June, Dr Levi West discussed these considerations. By fostering greater awareness of the implications for fighting for, and from, one’s homeland, this presentation lays out some considerations for homeland defence, a task of significant relevance not only to 2(AS) Division, but to the Army and ADF as a whole.

About the Speaker 

Dr Levi West is an internationally recognised authority on terrorism and counter terrorism. As of July 01, Dr West will commence a 3-year role as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Australian National University, researching radicalisation as part of an Office of National Intelligence grant. From 2013 to 2022, Dr West was the Director of Terrorism Studies at the Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia (CSU), where he remains a faculty member. Additionally, Dr West is the Director of Leviathan Analysis, a bespoke consultancy service providing a diversity of strategic advisory services to a broad range of government stakeholders, particularly within the national security domain. Dr West is also an Adjunct Fellow with the Irregular Warfare & Special Operations program at UNSW Canberra; an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Institute for Sustainable Industries & Liveable Cities at Victoria University; an expert with The Cipher Brief; and a Director with Praxis Advisory. He is also a 2024 Non-Resident Fellow with the Irregular Warfare Initiative, a joint project of Princeton University’s Empirical Studies of Conflict program and West Point Military Academy’s Modern War Institute.

Dr West holds a PhD from Victoria University. His thesis, submitted in 2022, which won the Terrorism Research Initiative Thesis of the Year competition, was entitled Violent Propaganda: Violence, Communication and Technology - The Strategic Logic of Terrorism. He also holds a Master of International Security Studies, and Masters of Policing, Intelligence, and Counter Terrorism from Macquarie University, and a Graduate Certificate in National Security Policy from the ANU. His research interests focus on the intersection of terrorism, communication, and technology. He has been published in academic journals and scholarly books, as well as national media outlets and on prominent national security blogs and podcasts. He has lectured at numerous academic conferences, and to law enforcement, intelligence, military, and policy audiences both domestically and internationally, including at institutions such as Cornell, Oxford, NYU, and Reichman University, as well as the US Naval War College, the Indian National Police Academy, the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation, and the Australian Defence College. Dr West has liaised with, and directly advised, the Australian and US intelligence, special operations, and law enforcement communities in relation to counter terrorism matters. He is a frequent media commentator and sought after speaker on terrorism and counter terrorism matters.
 

End Notes

[1] See Bruce Hoffman, “From Einsatzgruppen to Hamas: A Historical Continuum of Mobile Mass Murder”, Irregular Warfare Initiative, 31 October 2023, https://irregularwarfare.org/articles/from-einsatzgruppen-to-hamas-a-hi…

[2] See Laurie Kellman, “About 30 children were taken hostage by Hamas militants. Their families wait in agony”, AP news, 27 October 2023, https://apnews.com/article/children-hostages-israel-palestinians-gaza-o…

[3] Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “Australia call on parties to agree ceasefire’, media release 04 June 2024, https://www.foreignminister.gov.au/minister/penny-wong/media-release/au….

[4] Prime Minister Anthony Albanaise quoted in an article by Andrew Tillet, “Social cohesion ‘fraying’, Albanese admits amid anti-Israel backlash”, Australian Financial Review, 6 May 2024, https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/social-cohesion-fraying-albanese-a…

[5] See Stephen Day, Thoughts on Generalship: Lessons from two wars (Canberra: Department of Defence, 2015). Available online at https://researchcentre.army.gov.au/library/occasional-papers/thoughts-g….

[6] Australian Army, ‘Evolving an intellectual edge’ Professional Military Education for the Australian Army (Canberra: Australian Army, 2017). Available online at https://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2…