Israel’s response to a Hamas cyber attack was real-time. What does this mean for warfare in the future?
One of the unwritten rules of global warfare has always been a ‘reasonable’ response to an attack. Does India’s counter-strike in the aftermath of the Pulwama attacks qualify on that count? That is what most countries felt given that India had hit back at the terrorists who had orchestrated the attack on the convoy of paramilitary forces. But Israel’s response to a suspected Hamas cyber attack on its interests was to bomb into oblivion the house where the online warriors were operating from. The question many warfare theorists are asking now is whether this was a proportionate attack? The United States (US) did not even use low-yield tactical nuclear weapons when it was chasing Osama bin Laden or in any of the wars that it has been involved in after it dropped the “Fat Man” nuclear bomb on Nagasaki. That said, Israel’s responses to Palestinian terrorist attacks has almost always been disproportionate, using far superior weaponry against a State that barely exists.
But there are a couple of things that we should all keep in mind. With increased digitisation in the world, a cyber attack can itself be disproportionately more damaging than a physical version. Paralysing the banking or electrical system of a nation can cause far more damage economically than a bomb. It might not kill any people, at least not directly, but as demonetisation has taught us, a shock to the financial system can be extremely damaging to the economy. So should the response to such a transgression also be physically proportionate? That is clearly something that will have to be determined on a case-to-case basis but nations are rightly becoming more aware of the risks and the need to respond to such attacks. Primarily because a digital offensive may not allow any State the liberty of time to script an equally potent digital counter-offensive. Sometimes, there may not be enough digital assets to compromise, sometimes the attacking State would have secured its own digital assets. A physical reaction may be the only way to respond in such a complicated scenario. Taking out the nerve-centre of the attack by blowing it up could well be a baseline response and that is what Israel seems to have done. Other countries may have different ways of responding — they may employ sleuths or assassins to go after the perpetrators. This is a brand new world of warfare that we are entering into and the answers to many of these questions will unfortunately only come after the scale of a devastating impact.
Courtesy: The Pioneer