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WASHINGTON – The United States and Israel have been engaged in “non-obvious” warfare for a few years against a common target – Iran – but, until now, it’s been a discreet means of engagement as a substitute for outright military conflict, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

The cyber attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities and the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists fit in this category. So does Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate’s work through proxies it created to launch attacks against India but also undertake terrorist attacks in Afghanistan against troops of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In effect, such an engagement constitutes a war between Pakistan and Afghanistan without outright military conflict between the two countries.

It’s not just a Western concept. Countries such as Iran similarly have engaged in such activities against a superior military force, such as the United States.

Now, a defense contractor, the RAND Corporation, has sought to lay out what all “non-obvious warfare” encompasses.

The types of warfare that could be considered to be non-obvious include:

  • Cyber warfare
  • Space warfare
  • Electronic warfare
  • Drone warfare
  • Sabotage, special operations, assassinations and mines
  • Proxy attacks
  • Weapons of mass destruction
  • Intelligence support to combat operations

Dr. Martin C. Libicki of RAND points out that non-obvious warfare is in stark contrast to a tank invasion, with their uses limited.

“It is quite difficult to take over the capital of another country anonymously,” Libicki wrote in the Fall 2012 Strategic Studies Quarterly.

A recent example of non-obvious warfare was infecting the Iranian nuclear program with the Stuxnet electronic virus. And then some of its nuclear scientists were blown up in Tehran, to which the Iranians reciprocated on at least one occasion.

“Even if wielded solely in pursuit of good aims,” Libicki said, “such (non-obvious) techniques corrode both military values and diplomatic norms. Non-obvious warfare, almost by definition, has to be the work of small teams that must isolate themselves from the larger community, much like intelligence operatives, lest word of their adventures leak out.

“The efforts of the small non-obvious warfare teams would leave the mass of the national security establishment quite uncertain about what exactly was going on and who exactly was behind all the activity.”

Libicki pointed out that wide adoption of non-obvious warfare would likely result in a more suspicious world.

“Once attacks are shaped to look like accidents,” he said, “many accidents will start to smell like attacks.”

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