Special Operations - Psychological Warfare

Recently we were visiting one of our military sponsors. While we were talking our sponsor, a big six foot tall non-Jew named Bill, he told us a story from a recent tour of duty he did at U.S. Special Forces (SOCOM) headquarters in Tampa. It turned out that he was in the in the main control room when the mission that captured Saddam Hussein was occurring. Bill was able to watch the live video feed as the mission evolved, including pulling Saddam from his "spider hole". He told me that for many hours he was unable to tell anyone about what he saw. All he could say to his wife was: "watch the evening news, and you will see something exciting." Once the story broke he was allowed to tell her what he had seen.

Saddam "Just say Ahhh.."When he finished talking, I was ready to jump up give him a Yasher Koach (but Bill would have been clue-less about what Yasher Koach means!) Why? Because he had just connected the dots for me. You see, I had been fascinated by the video of Saddam's medical exam after his capture. Who could forget the image of Saddam having to "Open Wide, Now say Ahhh..." while a medic stuck a tongue depressor in his mouth and shined in a light to examine his tonsils? Now Bill, had connected the dots for me. Of course! The mission was done by a Special Forces A-Team! That means that they were trained in PsyOps (Psychological Operations). They might have even had a PsyOps team with them.

This was brilliant bit of PsyOps. The clean shaved, man-of-steel, supremely powerful and disciplined dictator image that Saddam had built for himself since 1958 was destroyed by by less than a minute of video. Here was the hero of the secular nationalist Arab movement. This was the Saddam who was a role model and spokesman for hundreds of millions of Arab youth who revered him as the image of an Arab man-of-might who could stand up to the West. These 30 seconds of video were better than any toppling of statues. Not only did it show Saddam reduced to a bearded wild-man. It also had him going through that silly all-too-familiar degrading rite that we all go through when the doctor says: "open wide...". It toppled the superman image completely.

This was also a tremendous win in the battle within the Arab world. The values and beliefs that Saddam represented also collapsed. The arrogant anti-west nationalist movement known as the Baath party in Syria and Iraq is dead after 47 bloody years. The video was more effective in collapsing the real "infrastructure" of the anti-west Arab forces than millions in weaponry, smart-bombs, and ground troops. It was a great lesson in how Special Ops and especially PsyOps is more important in modern warfare than billions in technical sophistication.

Of course, one can argue that these anti-west forces have found a new home: Moslem fanaticism. True, when evil is driven out of one place it searches for a new place to live. And the Moslem religion with its uncompromising values is a great "rug" to cover all sorts wickedness. Not that Islam is per-se inherently bad, but rather it provides the best place in today's world for such terrorist to go. [You could argue that in the time of the Crusades, the terrorists joined the Knights of Templar, but of course, that option does not exist today - besides I don't have the historical background  to discuss this issue]

How not to do PsyOps

Israel just recently did its own bit of PsyOps. Not intentionally, of course. But the recent exportation from Gush Katif and Shomron sent a powerful psychological message to all Jewish enemies around the world. Military experts know that there are two components to warfare: the physical war and the psychological war. In many ways the second is more important. Once your enemy feels that future fighting is hopeless, you have won. On the flip-side, if you are Napoleon and conquer Moscow but your enemy does not feel it has lost, all the technical and physical superiority will not give you victory.

Very simply then, the Arab and Moslem terrorist now know that Jihad works, and we can expect them to use it more and more to further their aims in more and more places in the world. It is a winning strategy. First in southern Lebanon and now in Gaza. In fact, it is so successful that it can get the "enemy army" (i.e. the IDF) to actually join one's own side and further the aims of the Arab world - i.e. the destruction of Jewish towns and cities and ultimately all of Israel.

Yassam'niki (the new Israeli Cossack)Furthermore, we saw another very disturbing trend in Israel these last weeks. A special riot police force has been employed against Jews called the Yassam. They dress totally in black (like SS officers), have special helmets, and have no name-plates so they can operate without legal constraints. They have been specially trained in hand-to-hand violence (bone crushing, jamming fingers in the face, nose, etc) as well as how not to leave identifying marks of damage. In the last few months they have been deployed frequently in KGB-like actions to suppress Chassidic Jews, hilltop protesters, and of course in Gaza. Sometimes they break up non-violent protests by riding in on horse-back swinging clubs (similar to how the Cossacks would carry out a pogrom). They are a wonderful psychological suppression force that currently is mainly used not for true riots, but rather to suppress legitimate political demonstrations and protests.

The use of these "police" (who seem to be for the most part non-Jewish Israelis) to carry out pogroms against Jews, as well as use of the army to drag people out of their homes and to destroy Jewish homes and shuls, sends a very clear message to Anti-Semites around the world. For hundreds of years pogroms were carried out across Germany, Poland, France, Russia, Iraq, Syria, Morocco by anti-Semites against Jews. What did they do? They dragged Jews out of their homes, destroyed homes and shuls. In the last hundred years, we have not seen much of this: it became taboo. But at a deep psychological level the taboo is now broken. They have seen Jews do this to Jews! Hey, that means even Jews agree that some Jews deserve this treatment. And the justification can be quite minor, i.e. that they live in the wrong place, or too close to us.

This was a great PsyOps loss not only for Israel but for all Jews. Indeed, since the exportation we have seen a big up-tick in anti-semitic attacks around the world.

Lessons to be learned from Special Forces and PsyOps

United States Special OperationsThe United States has developed a very interesting method for the training and use of special operations team members (Green Beret, Navy Seals, Army Rangers, etc.). Firstly, special forces frequently operate in small teams behind enemy lines. They don't have the support services that main-line troops have (transportation, engineers, supply teams, medic teams) and often they are out of touch with their commanders. This means that have to be trained to be extremely self-reliant improvisers, knowing how to live off the land and take the initiative without asking for explicit commands and approval. Unlike normal infantry, where explicit orders is the norm and rewards in the forms of medals and team recognition are standard, special forces troops need to improvise and innovate, and their successes are often never recognized because of security needs. Therefore, one of the more unusual training exercises they undergo is an exercise in self-reliance. The trainee is told to travel to a distant town, assess the needs at that location, and be successful. But he is not told how to get there, when he needs to be there, who he is to team with, or exactly what the mission will be when he gets there. However, everything that he does will be timed, measured, and analyzed and he will undergo a rigorous after-action-review to asses his performance.

Secondly, special forces personnel, contrary to popular myth, are usually too valuable to use in combat situations. Every one of them undergoes advanced training in medical procedures, multiple languages, cultural training, PsyOps, civilian affairs, engineering and construction, in addition to familiarity with a wide variety of foreign and domestic military equipment. The point of this training is not that they personally be able to do the fighting, but rather to act as catalysts to train and organize the local population to fight the battle. Special forces operate in the back yard of the insurgents and terrorists trying to inspire and lead the local population into becoming an anti-insurgency force. They know the language and culture, they know that the majority of the grass roots population is interested in stability and not terrorism and insurgency. They use their civilian affairs teams to build local governing bodies and their engineering and medical training to build clinics and infrastructure projects. This all builds confidence, trust, and ultimately a self-reliant local population. They then train them how to defend themselves and to root out the forces of evil among them.

Mivtzah TeffillinThere is an utterly amazing parallel in to be found here. For 40 years, the Rebbe has trained shluchim to operate this way. Just like SpecialOps personnel they have been sent to distant cities. They are only given the most general top-level directives (inspire the Jews there to be proud of being Jews, and take pride in doing Jewish mitzvot). They have to learn the lay of the land, how to get things done, what works and what does not, and use their own initiative, innovations, and creativity to accomplish the mission. They will never be told if they are doing enough, doing it fast enough, or be given medals and honors for succeeding. However, they will all undergo an rigorous "after-action-review" in Shamayim (Heaven) when they are done where an accounting of every activity will be made and analysis will be done.

Secondly, they are not supposed to do "combat" themselves. They are to act as catalysts. (A catalyst is a trace chemical added to a mixture of chemicals that does not take part directly in the reaction, but rather it starts the chemical reaction among the other chemicals). Shaluchim catalyze their local population to do mitzvot. Yes, they do some of this "combat" themselves. But their main mission is to organize the local population. To build the infrastructure of schools, shuls, mikvot, bookstores, and kosher food stores so that the community can be self reliant. To provide the spiritual medication to heal the communities ills (divorce, inter-marriage, etc). In the end, the shaliach will be successful when the community can defend itself and create its own shluchim who will carry on the battle.

Chabad of Chevron Torah told us long ago that we are the Tzivos Hashem (the "Army" of G-d). We have it in our ability to form a special forces that is more powerful than all the armies of the world. In parshat Devarim, Ekev, and Reeh we are often warned about our fears. The Torah tells us that we are prone to thinking of ourselves as "few and weak" and that the other nations as "many and mighty". That we might be great, but they are greater. But that when we hold firm to Hashem and our mitzvot then we are promised that the rest of the world we recognize us as a "wise and knowledgeable nation" and will assist us in our mission.

All special forces find themselves as a small force behind enemy lines, but they know that they have a catalytic power that can start a chain reaction that can topple dictators and change the world. All it takes is the right PsyOps message. Torah has given that message to us. We only need to restudy this "mission plan" and to use our own personal creativity and imagination in how to apply it in our own locality. If we are firm and confident in our mission, we can be the Special Forces that transmit, transform, and catalyze the local population of our planet.

The reward will be great. For when the Jewish people are truly united with one heart, we will be a fitting vessel for the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days, and the end of this dark bitter golus.

The Author is the Chief Scientist at a U.S. Army funded think tank in Massachusetts, USA.