soldiers lower flags 88.
(photo credit: )
The first reaction to the capture of Cpl. Gilad Shalit near Kerem Shalom four months ago was an impressive massing of force on the border of the Gaza Strip. Long lines of tanks and armored fighting vehicles (AFV) were marshalled for the benefit of the TV cameras, and artillery batteries were set up.
In the end only small-scale incursions took place. The rest of the force was hurriedly moved north two weeks later, where they took place in what was, if anything, an even more hubristic exercise.
After the setbacks in Lebanon and the failure so far to rescue Shalit, the IDF is a much more humble organization.
The largest operation since the Lebanon War, this week's "Squeezed Fruit," is being conducted on a much smaller scale, at least in the media arena. There are no interviews of generals overlooking the battlefield and the forces go in and out quickly and quietly.
It took the IDF two days to even announce the operation, and it wasn't due to the requirements of field security; the Palestinians knew the army was there the moment it began blowing up the smuggling tunnels near Rafah. The top brass, under investigation for mismanagement in Lebanon, is chastened and instinctively keeping a low profile, even though this time they seem to be doing something right.
In the absence of the generals, the soldiers and officers taking part in the operation exuded a quiet confidence, very different from the bombastic behavior during the summer.
"All of us in the army felt in Lebanon that we weren't fulfilling our full potential," a soldier in an elite unit who fought in Lebanon and is now taking part in the operation on the Philadelphi Corridor said this week. "Every one knew that he could do much better in his particular role, if only we had been allowed. It was very frustrating. This week I felt that I was playing my part."
There were also operational lessons learned from the fighting in Lebanon, where soldiers in buildings, tanks and armored fighting vehicles were hit again and again by Hizbullah's anti-tank missiles.
The assumption by IDF intelligence is that although the Palestinian organizations have recently obtained advanced missiles, they are not yet trained in their use, and are nowhere near the level of Hizbullah's proficiency. "We still try and take more precautions than in the past," said an engineering officer. "We used bulldozers to build dirt barriers around our forces to shelter them from missiles."
"One thing we've understood in Lebanon," said a tank officer who fought in Lebanon and now commands an armored unit in the Strip, "is that the new missiles can penetrate even the newest tanks. That doesn't mean we stop operating armored forces, we're soldiers and that's our job. What we can do is use all the tactics we learned in training for avoiding enemy fire that somehow we've forgotten over the last few years and we were painfully reminded of in Lebanon."
In the current operation in Gaza, the IDF is beginning to look like its old self again. Self-confident, focused, light on its feet and concerned more with operational capabilities than with media visibility. It almost seems as if the series of knocks it suffered over the summer have done it some good.
This doesn't mean that all the lessons have been learned. As in Lebanon, the operational area down south wasn't closed off to unauthorized elements, making the media's job almost too easy. Then we found the unguarded parking lot of AFVs, just waiting for someone to drive them off home, and almost despaired of the army ever changing.