By Barnaby Chesterman
A new warfare trend is spreading across the Middle East and the rest of the world as conflicts are raging in cyber-space.
The traditional battleground in the days of swords and shields was a close contact battlefield where men met men, face-to-face, eye-to-eye. But with the invention of machine-guns and then tanks the battlefield spread over greater distances, before taking to the skies in the age of Spitfires and Luftwaffers.
The blockbuster James Bond movie, Moonraker, introduced us to the notion of space battles, but reality has completely by-passed that development and war zones have moved straight into cyber-space. Now battles are raging on the computer networks of the Middle East and around the world, in a new type of warfare that is redrawing the lines of combat.
In October, Palestinians bombarded networks of the Israeli foreign ministry and parliament with a flood of information that led ministry computers to crash for several hours. In the same week, Israeli hackers penetrated the Web site of the anti-Zionist guerilla group Hezbollah, altering it to greet visitors with an Israeli flag and strains of the Israeli national anthem. Defense experts now believe that this increasing trend is heralding a new kind of battle.
The Kosovan conflict was the first where cyberspace was introduced as a battlefield. Serbian propaganda services knocked out NATO computers for several hours by bombarding its headquarters with 10,000 e-mails and jamming networks. US government departments and military bases have also come under fire from cyber-attacks, throughout the last year.
But for the last three years the United States has taken the lead in developing early-warning systems. Defense experts John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt wrote a report for the US think-tank, the Rand Corporation, in which they envisioned war of the future as a scenario in which “small, highly mobile forces, armed with real-time information from satellites and battlefield sensors, will strike at lightning speed in unexpected places.”
They compared future armies to the Mongols of the 13th century who, although outnumbered by opponents, were able to dominate with their supremacy in battlefield information. “Institutions can be defeated by networks, and it may take networks to counter networks,” they concluded. “The future may belong to whoever masters the network form.”