Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Israel-Lebanon War: an updated analysis

In his usual analytical style, Anthony Cordesman(, has recently published an updated version of his earlier analysis of the Israel-Lebanon war. While for the most part, his analysis endorses his earlier remarks about the failure of Israel’s war effort, this time; it is enlivened by third-party, on the spot commentary. In giving a run down of the overall failure of the IDF, Cordesman notes that in each of the five major goals that Israel set for itself, at the start of the conflict:
  • Destroy the ‘Iranian Western Command’ before Iran could go nuclear.
  • Restore the credibility of Israeli deterrence after the unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005, countering the image that Israel was weak and forced to leave.
  • Force Lebanon to become and act as an accountable state, and end the status of Hezbollah as a state within a state.
  • Damage or cripple Hezbollah, with the understanding that it could not be destroyed as a military force and would continue to be a major political actor in Lebanon.
  • Bring the two soldiers the Hezbollah had captured back alive without major trades in prisoners held by Israel-not the thousands demanded by Nasrallah and the Hezbollah.

Were either not fulfilled and or dependent upon the third parties, id est, the United Nations and the International Community, to be implemented. Such as the ‘disarmament’ of Hezbollah, which has now been quietly dropped as a practical goal, regardless of its initial inclusion in the cease-fire resolution. In short, far from reinforcing Arab perceptions of Israeli invincibility, which have indeed taken a bit of a knocking from the events of the last six years, the war will no doubt lead to the opposite impression in the region as a whole. As Cordesman himself, notes:
“Deterrence is a matter of perceptions, not reality. Israel retains its conventional superiority or edge against the regular military forces of its Arab neighbors, and particularly against the only meaningful threat on its borders: Syria. It has made massive improvements in its forces since 1982, adapting the most modern technology and tactics available to the US to its own technology and tactics, and retaining a nuclear monopoly.... The problem however is Hezbollah, regional and global perceptions. Some serving Israeli officials and officers claim Israel succeeded in this goal, and that the deterrent impact would grow as Arab states and peoples saw the true scale of damage and refused to allow Hezbollah and other non-state actors to operate on their soil because of the cost and risk. In contrast, Israeli experts outside government felt that the fighting did weaken deterrence and did show Israel was vulnerable.... In general, both serving and non-serving Israelis seemed to underestimate the anger Israel’s strikes might generate, and the fact that the level of damage inflicted might create many more volunteers, make Arab populations far more actively hostile to Israel, strengthen the Iranian and Syrian regimes, and weaken moderate and pro-peace regimes like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia”.

In short, the entire gambit was a debacle from start to finish. In particular the ‘stop’ and then ‘go’, and ‘stop’ again, ground offensive, which only really commenced in earnest in the last two days of the campaign would be comical, if matters were of not so serious import. One can only comment, that the in-experience of both the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister were readily apparent, in believing that a mere 10,000 ground troops, many of them, recently called-up reserves, would be able to tackle in a credible and forceful way, Hezbollah. The comparison with 1982, when about 100,000 ground troops were utilized, in going to Beirut in seven days, requires no commentary from this observer. Particularly revealing are the comments by an (un-named) Israeli, tank reserve officer, on the campaign:
I have known Danny (a pseudonym) for many years but never have I seen him as angry as now.
He is a commander of a reserve battalion in the armored corps and a moshav farmer in civilian life. His epaulets rank him as major. Tall, muscular, bulky, in his late forties, he cuts a dashing figure speeding in his armored jeep through a curtain of diesel fumes and whirling dust alongside his clanking, snorting column of Merkava tanks returning to base from Lebanon.
Danny is angry at the last three chiefs of staff - Ehud Barak, Shaul Mofaz, and Moshe Ya'alon -for having neglected the land forces in favor of the air force, for sacrificing ground mobility on the altar of high-tech wizardry, and for squandering tank specialists in the nooks and crannies of the Intifada.
Danny is angry at them for slashing the army budget by 13 percent, and for downgrading the reserves by a whopping 25 percent. To be in top form, a tank reservist needs a five-day refresher exercise each year. Most hardly got that in the course of three years, others in the space of five, and yet others none at all.
Danny is angry at the rushed fashion his reservists were mobilized, with depleted provisions, outdated equipment, and insufficient supplies. Their transition from family normality to a place of hazard and death was too abrupt to allow for battle conditioning. His reservists, living by a bond that is impossible to describe and impossible to break, had too little time to pound themselves into front-line discipline through tough exercise, ruthless discipline, and absolute obedience. Some were so out-of-shape they caved in under the grueling stress.
DANNY IS angry at the lack of aptitude of the younger enlisted recruits. Tankists by designation but drafted into the Intifada as foot soldiers by necessity, their stance was not that of tank crews but of crack commandos. Full of drive and guts, they know more about tracking down terrorists in the labyrinths of the refugee camps in Jenin and Nablus than a tank's maneuverability, technology, and self-protection mechanisms in Lebanon.
Inevitably, the first such crews to cross the blue line had little notion of how to function in the forbidding and grim terrain of the fractured Lebanese battlefields, with their steep hills, dry stream beds, twisting roads, deep ravines, and Hizbollah's formidable anti-tank arsenal.
Danny is angry at the armchair pundits for disparaging the formidability of Israel's main battle tank, the Merkava. Its latest version, the Merkava 4, is perhaps the finest in the world. Born of necessity in the seventies when countries refused to sell Israel their main-line tanks, a brilliant armor tactician named General Israel Tal conceived the Merkava whose latest innovative design combines maximum firepower and maneuverability with paramount crew safety. There is no such thing as an impregnable tank, but the Merkava 4 is the closest thing to one.
NOW IN its fourth generation, the Merkava 4 proved its mettle in the harshest tank battle of the war, fought in a precipitous gorge west of the crook of the Litani River in the central sector – the battle of Wadi Saluki.
Two of the eight Merkava 4s were knocked out of commission and their commander was mortally wounded, caught in the sights of long-range, Russian-made, Syrian-supplied, laser-beamed, self-propelled Kornet anti-tank missiles, with their lethal dual warheads that penetrate the armor and then detonate incendiary blasts within. But the reserve commander saved the day, rushing to the rescue of the other six by leading their climb up sheer slopes to the top of the gorge, an ascent few other tanks in the world could navigate. In all, four crewmen died in the battle of Saluki, a battle which was an unqualified triumph of the Merkava 4. Had those tanks been of an earlier generation, not equipped with state-of-the-art technology and active self-protection mechanisms, 50 crewmen might well have perished.
DANNY IS angry at being caught off-guard by a highly sophisticated, well-armed guerrilla force, shielded by civilians in villages now laying coated with brown dust from the shattered walls of houses and pockmarked with the debris of battles which time and again one of our generals declared to have been won - places where our wounded were slow to be rescued, where the smell of unbathed, dehydrated men lingered long for lack of logistics, mingling with the stench of blood and medicine and dead bodies.
Danny is angry at the initial reports claiming the enemy was decisively beaten and that Hizbullah's retreat was a rout and a flight. He was suspicious at the lack of the signs of disorganized retreat: why so few prisoners? Where were the jettisoned boots, the dumped weapons and ammunition along the roadsides? Who in Military Intelligence knew of the fight-to-the death doctrine of the fanatical foe, or of the ten-meter deep bunkers and tunnels, impervious to the greasy black puffs of the 130,000 bursting shells which rained down on them through the hot summer sky of this futile campaign?
DANNY IS angry at the strutting Napoleonic pomposity of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz at the war's start, and at their unrealistic war goals, not least the return of our two kidnapped soldiers.
Standing now amid the tumbled shambles of Israel's hopes, they remain magically unperturbed with a marvelous incapacity to admit error. All is laid at the door of the generals: had but the prime minister been told this, retreat would have been an advance; had but the defense minister been told that, defeat a victory.
Danny is angry at a government whose conduct of the war was marked by sluggishness, negligence, divided counsel, and fatal misjudgments. Lax management at home translated into lax management in the field causing contrary and confusing orders. Once divinity of doctrine was questioned by the troops, there could be no return to perfect faith. And thus it was that on the very eve of the cease-fire, the cabinet squirmed uncomfortably through a long summer morning and afternoon, unready and unwilling to grasp the nettle until it was too late, until there was hardly any point any more to what they said and did, until more young men had to die.
Like a fated creature blown by the winds of Homeric gods, they did not change direction. Cutting losses, removing blunder, altering course - these are repugnant to this government, to any government. Admitting error is out of the question. Everyone has an alibi.
Danny is angry most of all at the shirkers of Shenkin Street - a metaphor for the bon ton, chattering, elitist draft dodgers who mock and scoff and sneer and leer at every symbol of Jewish patriotism which he and his fellow reservists cherish.
A wise prince aught always be a good asker, said Machiavellian. What Israel needs now are great askers. Danny and his angry men are the greatest askers of all.

There is no doubt, that ‘Danny’ has a good number of American counterparts serving and has served in Iraq. We need to more of them, and if the Lebanon debacle has no other purpose, it will one hopes, have blasted to kingdom come, the idea, that military campaigns can be won, and won quickly by air power and high technology only. An ultra-dangerous illusion, best gotten rid of, as quickly as possible, lest our Neo-Conservative ideologues attempt to put it (yet again) into practice vis-à-vis Iran.


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