Israel’s Tet Moment?

Shortly after midnight on January 30-31, 1968, during celebrations of the Lunar New Year (Tet) , NVA and Viet Cong (VC or NLF) forces launched the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam. The site(*) includes pages on declassified Tet documents, and a 50th anniversary retrospective on the Offensive. According to the latter, 70-80,000 troops in total were involved in the attacks, although estimates vary widely, as do estimates of the casualties. The important northern city of Hue was only cleared of NVA and VC troops on the 24th of February, and the siege of Khe Sanh only lifted two months later. Even though military intelligence was aware that something big was in the offing, the scale of the offensive shocked the military and the governments of both the US and South Vietnam.

The offensive was a military disaster for the NVA and VC. The expected popular uprising against the occupiers and their running dogs did not eventuate. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) surprised the Yanks and the VC with their effectiveness in repulsing the attacks. The VC was broken as an independent force in the South, and its units had to be made up by NVA soldiers. In the larger scheme of things, to wit, US media, public opinion and politics, it was the key to eventual victory. Opinion turned more strongly and broadly against a war about which nothing but optimistic assessments had been coming from the Administration and the military. The abiding image of the Tet Offensive is of the Saigon Police Chief summarily executing a VC prisoner, accused of executing a South Vietnamese Lt Col and his family, in the street.

Within months, the US began a drawdown of forces and the process of “Vietnamisation” of the war effort, and as the 1968 elections loomed, President Johnson announced that he would not seek another term, and the Democrats fell with him as the Nixon Republicans swept to power.

The Democrats had their revenge in the overthrow of Nixon, after which Congress cut military and economic aid to South Vietnam by 30%. When the NVA launched its major offensive, Gerald Ford’s pleas to Congress to increase military aid were ignored by the party which had engineered the war originally.

This may sound not so much as history but as prediction, and there is certainly a lesson here for America’s current and possibly erstwhile allies. The Ukrainians are looking very nervously over their shoulders as I write. However, is there any possibility that the US will ever turn its back on a request for military aid from Israel? Nonetheless, what parallels might be drawn?

Vietnam exposed the government and the military of the US to trenchant criticism in a way and on a scale that had not occurred to that point. The draft was fuel to that fire, as it was here, but it was not the only or, I think, the main factor. Something about the democratic social contract had been broken. The gulf between the official story of the war, involving as it did such notions as opposition to communism, the defence of the freedoms promoted by the U.N., the universality of American democratic values, and U.S.’ leadership of the Free World was such a mismatch with the bungled reality that such values themselves came under question.

Israel has a strong peace movement, which defines one of the fault lines of Israeli politics. What the effect on the peace movement of this attack and the military response will be, who can say? One thing is certain though. The prestige of the IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet has been shattered by this event. Something similar might have been said about the intelligence failure of 1973. But in that case, the IDF was able to enhance its prestige by recovering from its initial defeats to achieve victory against powerful state armies on two fronts. That description does not apply to Hamas. It may be that Israeli society experiences the tensions of the U.S. (and Australia) of 1969/70 in its response to Gaza and its attitudes to the IDF.

It is misleading to describe the Hamas incursion as a “terror attack,” any more than to describe ISIS’ sweeping away of the opposing armed forces of various states in its initial creation of the Caliphate as a “terror attack.” It was a military campaign, one of the primary weapons of which was terror. 9-11 was a terror attack. Hamas’ seemingly rag-tag army attacked and defeated the IDF in its own bases, destroying the vaunted Merkava tanks, and murdering civilians in the process. But let us not delude ourselves that this was not primarily a successful attack on the IDF on a startlingly broad front. I doubt that the Israeli public will misunderstand that when they assess the IDF, Mossad, Shin Bet, the Prime Minster and the Defence Minister.

Israel is now at a crossroads, facing Gaza. Netanyahu has announced the call-up of 300,000 reservists. That number may ring a bell. Russia, once Plan A had been thwarted, also decided to call up 300,000 reservists. Oh, how we laughed; “we” being the Western pundits. Well, Russia did manage the call-up of 300,000 reservists, not without some hiccups. But the Israeli call-up is, on some reports, experiencing severe difficulties in provisioning the largest call-up since 1973, or perhaps ever.

Recall that the US and the EU have been scrambling to supply artillery shells to Ukraine, and have been scouring the reserves of any country which had 155mm ammunition, in particular, in its inventory. South Korea has a strict policy of not providing lethal military aid to combatants; Ukraine, for example. But South Korea negotiated to sell 100,000 rounds of 155mm ammunition to replenish diminishing US reserves. Similarly, the US has dipped into the reserves it controlled in Israel to supply the insatiable Ukrainian demand for shells. At least 300,000 rounds were in the process of being transferred at the beginning of this year. Suddenly, the imperatives for ammunition have changed. But the Western supporters of both Ukraine and Israel cannot manufacture more than a fraction of the ammunition that was already being consumed in Ukraine.

Is this virtual total mobilisation necessary to contain Hamas? Gaza has a population of 2 million in an area of 360 sq km. In declaring war on Hamas, and effectively on Gaza, Israel must keep Hezbollah at bay in the north, and protect the Golan Heights from incursions. Hezbollah has bases in Syria, including sites outside Damascus, so any commitment to fully support Gaza will tend to draw Lebanon and Syria into the conflict. This show of force was probably to discourage such involvement, and so far it seems to have worked, as only minor skirmishes have occurred at the Lebanese border.

Western audiences seem incapable of realising that Arab and Persian eyes view the situation in Gaza differently, and this polarisation, characteristic also of internal Western divisions, is extraordinarily dangerous. Netanyahu’s aggressive stance may work to discourage Gaza’s Muslim neighbours, but if the IDF attacks Gaza en masse, and the aircraft and rocket attacks continue at near the same level, then, no matter how much Arab leaders may privately consider Hamas and the Palestinians to be troublesome pests, public outrage may force their hands.

Would Hamas have attacked had not the West, and the US in particular, been preoccupied with Ukraine? The Zelensky curse, thought to be contained, has struck again.

(*) The first appearance of the site in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine is on 21st of January, 2018. The pace of changes picked up in 2020/1, then increased markedly in 2022/3. For context, the New York Post published the Hunter Biden laptop story on the 14th of October, 2020. Five days later, 51 “former intelligence officials” signed a letter to the effect that the laptop bore the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.

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October 11, 2023 4:51 pm

Hamas’ seemingly rag-tag army attacked and defeated the IDF in its own bases, destroying the vaunted Merkava tanks, and murdering civilians in the process.

Not saying that this is wrong but I haven’t read any reports about engagement of Hamas with the IDF. I did see a picture of a knocked out tank but apart frpm that I don’t recollect any “army v army” type of interactions being mentioned anywhere. Happy to be educated.

October 11, 2023 4:58 pm

The offensive was a military disaster for the NVA and VC.

Yet thanks to the braindead lamestream quisling meeja in the US and here, it was wholly “misreported”, subsequently becoming a PR triumph for North Vietnam and the VC. Full steam ahead and just ignore the ever mounting mounds of bodies.

I can’t see public opinion swinging back to the gazans and hamarse any time soon, no matter how brutally the Israelis choose to eventually deal with them.

This is a good thing and wholly deserved.

October 11, 2023 5:31 pm

They may have had credible indications, but then what?
Launch pre-emptive strikes, igniting a storm of international
condemnation from the usual crowd, for an unprovoked attack upon
the peace and freedom loving people of Gaza?

October 11, 2023 5:47 pm

I don’t recollect any “army v army” type of interactions being mentioned anywhere. Happy to be educated.

Marty, it’s not hard to find on X/ Twitter, especially on the day of the attack.

Lotocoti, a lot of their perimeter security was inadequately manned, many of their bases had only a skeleton crew, and much of this was caught with their guard down and/or overwhelmed by coordinated attacks.

October 11, 2023 6:23 pm

Pearl Harbour, Darwin, anybody?

Desert Storm?

“Information” is NOT “intelligence.

“Intelligence is a “best estimate” based on a thourough enalysis if information to hand. It should be constantly updated as new information comes to hand; i.e., a cyclic process.

This is the “Forever War”. It has been going on since that dodgy sand-pirate set up shop, 14 hundred years ago.

October 11, 2023 6:43 pm

a lot of their perimeter security was inadequately manned …

Perhaps that was holiday SOP.
We know frontline IDF units were caught napping.
We don’t know if the people with the good seats were too.

October 12, 2023 9:42 am

The capacity of homos counter-intelligence will be an important question to answer in due course.

Fragmentary intel that cannot be drawn into a pattern to present to political masters?

Peter, the phrase ‘bungled reality’ applied to the Vietnam War, is, I suggest, based on the third-party filters whom Rabz mentions above. Some of these were very successfully duped by the Communists into undermining their own countrymen.

Zulu Kilo Two Alpha
Zulu Kilo Two Alpha
October 12, 2023 9:59 am

. The abiding image of the Tet Offensive is of the Saigon Police Chief summarily executing a VC prisoner, accused of executing a South Vietnamese Lt Col and his family, in the street.

That VC prisoner was captured, in civilian clothing, armed, next to a ditch containing the bodies of South Vietnamese civilians. He was suspected of cutting the throats of a South Vietnamese Lt Col, his wife, his six children and his elderly mother. Said VC prisoner had no rights to any protection under the Geneva Convention, and was receiving his just penalty under international law.

October 12, 2023 10:15 am

I said a couple of days ago in jest that Israel should invade the Suez.

I’m starting to think it’s exactly what should be done.

Take the Suez until Egypt takes every Gazan. Threaten Jordan with similar if they don’t take West Bankers.

October 12, 2023 10:45 am

Israel’s Tet Moment?

‘From the river to the sea’ is not a metaphor, as Hamas have demonstrated.

If peacenik Israelis didn’t grasp that before, they surely will now.

Fair Shake
Fair Shake
October 12, 2023 11:48 am

I’m still a little perplexed how and why the Israelis had a music festival of peace (attended by so many countries) so close to barbarians who want them killed. Its as though social media up-tickers of peace were clueless as to the evil that watched, waited, organised, then executed. You only needs to be a superficial reader of history to know ones enemy will continue to surprise and attempt to destroy you given time and resources. As someone posted above, its a forever war. Hamas rockets of peace make that abundantly clear on a regular basis. No social media signalling will stop the depravity of Hamas. The younger gen really do reflect social media. No memory, no lessons learned, the world is a safe place, we all love each other. Well not all and once again Israel is surprised.

October 12, 2023 1:43 pm

Texas Tech University has a large Vietnam War archive, much of which is available online. Granted, it’s time consuming to sift through, but they have many primary documents of interest (for hardcore mil hist nerds only!).

Mark Moyar’s books are also worth a read.

October 12, 2023 4:25 pm

‘Intelligence failure’ – OK, have to agree on that. But otherwise there a very big differences from Tet. Even if it did not actually succeed in toppling the South Vietnamese government, the Tet offensive reinforced the impression for the voters in the USA that the Southern regime was ineffective and vulnerable, as well as being of dubious legitimacy. It was a sign of what was to come and that the US could not prevent the inevitable, which undermined the case for keeping US forces there. Israel, on the other hand, is a formidable military power in its own right and a democratically legitimate state (whatever the crazies may say) – with nuclear weapons! The threats against it are very grave, but it can defend itself and is not about to disintegrate as a state, like South Vietnam did. Also there is the possibility of other allies for Israel if Iran looks likely to become involved – the Arab states cannot afford to let Iran become too strong.

October 12, 2023 4:44 pm

Also there is the possibility of other allies for Israel if Iran looks likely to become involved – the Arab states cannot afford to let Iran become too strong.

I’m not sure you’re reading the room correctly in that region if statements over recent days are correct, incl. overnight.

October 12, 2023 9:48 pm

Mikhail Khodarenok: Israel’s war on Hamas could lead to the end of the Gaza exclave

Amid a wave of confusion, the argument that the country’s intelligence and air defenses failed is unfounded

On Saturday, Hamas militants attacked Israel, quickly seizing several border settlements and establishing control over a large area of territory.

The terrorists used bulldozers to overcome fences on the frontier with Gaza. The use of boats (in small amphibious landings) and paragliders was notable in the course of the fighting.

Taking advantage of the total surprise of the attack, the terrorists managed to take partial control of the relatively large Israeli towns of Sderot, Netivot, Ashkelon, and Ofakim, as well as some settlements and kibbutzim in border areas.

Hamas militants also stormed Israel Defense Forces (IDF) bases at Kibbutz Re’im and Nahal Oz. The IDF suffered significant losses in terms of killed, wounded, and captured.

The total size of the invading force has been estimated at around 1,000 (essentially a reinforced battalion).

Was there an intelligence failure?

Many observers have been quick to attribute Hamas’ successes to miscalculations by the Israeli security services and the IDF. There is no doubt that there were some shortcomings.

In general, however, the accusation that the Israeli security services were caught napping by the attack is clearly exaggerated.

In fact, virtually all of Hamas’ preliminary actions on the eve of October 7 were not related to the preparation of an armed invasion as such.

After all, even the most sophisticated Israeli technical intelligence could not, by definition, reveal the formation of strike groups, their occupation of areas of operation, the deployment of rearguards, and many other things that precede a classic armed invasion.

Moreover, Hamas did not create any such strike groups.

Yes, there was some movement along Gaza’s borders with Israel, as there always has been. Kassam-type rockets were still being hammered out by the hundreds and thousands in craft workshops, but that too is a common activity in the Gaza Strip.

There were, as always, violent demonstrations waving automatic rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades, but it is still very difficult to associate the movement of two or three bulldozers towards the border with preparations for the outbreak of a military conflict.

It should also be noted that Hamas did not need a large fresh supply of weapons and military equipment, which could have been detected by the relevant intelligence services, to carry out Saturday’s attack.

It had sufficient resources of its own for a military action of this magnitude – adventurous and suicidal in nature and without any ultimately positive consequences for the group.

It should be added that, for objective reasons, it is very, very difficult to work as an agent among the population of the Gaza Strip. In addition, only a very narrow circle of people, mostly related by family ties, are allowed to make fundamental decisions within Hamas.

Therefore, the accusations against the Israeli intelligence services certainly have their place, but at the same time all the abovementioned circumstances must be taken into account.

Has the Israeli war machine failed?

There are also doubts among some experts about the effectiveness of Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. However, the point here is that every anti-aircraft and defense system is limited by what is known as rate-of-fire. That is, the ability to defeat an airborne enemy attack at a certain density: to engage, track, and shoot down a certain number of targets (for example, 25 per minute).

If the enemy launches 5,000 Kassam missiles in 20 minutes, no dome can cope with that number of targets. If each target were to be fired at in a two-missile burst (as is common in combat operations), at least 10,000 defense missiles would be required, at a cost of $20,000 each (and that’s in 2014 prices). There are indications that Israel has already requested additional systems from the US.

It has also been reported that Hamas formations seized several Merkava tanks (including the latest modification, the IV variant) from the IDF, some of which have been burned.

However, it is unlikely that the terrorists will be able to use this armor in combat as it requires a completely different level of training.

According to some reports, Hamas could not even start a Merkava IV, let alone use its fire control system.

Thus, the claim that Hamas’ armed units base their actions on analysis of their own experience and the enemy’s weaknesses, as well as a detailed study of the latest trends in modern military art in armed conflict zones, is an exaggeration by some analysts.

The militants do not demonstrate anything “cutting-edge” in the field of military art.

What to expect from the fighting on the ground?

October 14, 2023 10:25 pm

DB – I guess we will just have to wait and see how things go with the Arab states from here on. But I reiterate my basic point: Israel ain’t no South Vietnam. It was encouraging how, despite the bitter political arguments of recent times, they managed to form a government of national unity very quickly in the face of the crisis.

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