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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
There's no denying the bitter taste that the Lebanon campaign has left in Israel's mouth. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz are all facing tough criticism - which grows tougher every day. With a long list of foul-ups, it's easy to criticize them for dancing through Lebanon with two left feet.
"From our side, the whole thing was one big balagan," according to Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a 25-year veteran of Military Intelligence who is now a member of Bar-Ilan University's staff of experts at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
"It was a mess in terms of the targets that were chosen, it was a mess in terms of preparing the troops for their mission, it was a mess in terms of delivering ammunition and rations to the soldiers in the field," Kedar said.
"The troops got one order and then, while on the march, were given different orders. Very few people actually knew what was going on... You have to just thank God that there weren't more casualties, because the whole thing was planned in a disorderly, sloppy fashion."
Had Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah been killed in the fruitless raid in which Israeli F-16s dropped some 23 tons of bombs on an empty building in Beirut, it is likely that the Lebanon campaign would be considered successful. Instead, it is widely being viewed as a botched job and a defeat - not because of the facile argument that the IDF's "aura of invincibility" has been pierced, as many Arab and European commentators like to say, but simply because the army allowed itself to look confused and amateurish.
Last Sunday, as an initial review committee was taking shape, Brig.-Gen. Yossi Heiman admitted that senior commanders had disappointed the nation with their handling of the war.
"Despite heroic fighting by the soldiers and commanders, especially at the company and battalion level, we all feel a certain sense of failure and missed opportunity," Heiman said at the ceremony marking the end of his stint as the IDF's chief infantry and paratroopers officer.
"At times," he said with unusual candor, "we were guilty of the sin of arrogance."
Heiman's confession, said Uzi Arad, founding head of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, was a sign of how well-deserved the public criticism is.
"When soldiers report that there was confusion in the field, it is because there was confusion at the top," said Arad, who served in the Mossad for a quarter-century and has held senior advisory positions in the government.
Also, he said, "the military and political echelons were not always coordinated with each other - and the National Security Council, which is supposed to integrate the military and the political echelons, was nowhere to be seen. All these things need to be corrected."
ULTIMATELY, THOUGH, the strongest criticism of the IDF - the one that will prove to be more significant in the long run than any operational bungling - is that it did not meet its strategic goals in the fight against Hizbullah.
As Kedar put it, "Achievement and failure in this war have to be measured according to the expectations. The expectation on our side was to disarm Hizbullah, and we didn't do that. So it was a failure."
Boiling down the month-long campaign in Lebanon to such an extent does oversimplify the complex nature of the fighting. But it also helps focus attention on the most important question of the war's aftermath: What happens now?
Firstly, said Moshe Marzuk, a former head of the Lebanese and Palestinian desks in Military Intelligence and a researcher at Herzliya's Institute for Counter-Terrorism, Israel will have to reassess Hizbullah's position and that of the Lebanese government after the war. On that score, he said, there is reason for satisfaction.
"We have achieved at least two things in the fighting," he said. "One is that... our demand, since 2000, that the Lebanese Army deploy in the South, is being met. All these years the Lebanese avoided their responsibility, and we had no address for our concerns. Today, after UN Security Council Resolution 1701, they have accepted this responsibility. So now we have an address."
As for Hizbullah, Marzuk said, "Militarily, we have struck a very hard blow against them. They won't admit it, but we struck their fighters, their weapons, and their command structure very hard. It'll take a long time for them to get back on their feet."
What's more, he said, "We have made the world more aware that Hizbullah is not just some local organization, but has aspirations beyond Lebanon. You now see more awareness, in Lebanon and outside it, of the danger posed by Hizbullah."
from guerrilla strikes against Israel to rehabilitating the country for whose destruction it is responsible.
"Hizbullah needs time to heal, but it also needs time to shore up its constituency," said Marzuk. "After all, Hizbullah is not just about missiles, but also its population and its social structure. After claiming to protect the people, it has brought them ruin.
"So, now they'll have to pay huge sums of money to rebuild the country. And I say, good! If Hizbullah has to choose between building houses and buying weapons, let them build houses!"
ASSUMING THAT another round of confrontation with Nasrallah's militia is inevitable (or at least probable), the IDF will need to review the mistakes of the latest fighting. Did it correctly apply its war fighting doctrine? Or could it produce better results next time if air and land fighting systems were to be better coordinated? Also, how much will Hizbullah have learned by then? And what other, possibly new, strategic threats will Israel face?
"Whoever says there will be an exact repeat of what happened [this summer] is wrong," Arad warned. "Who says that all the factors will be the same? Israel's strategic view cannot remain fixed on just one scenario, on the false assumption that the next time will be the same. It is almost certain that it will be different."
Arad does not believe that Hizbullah would seek to use any of the chemical weapons of which its supporter Syria is believed to have considerable stockpiles.
Such an attack would invite a response "many, many, many times worse than any damage they would inflict on us," he said, in an oblique reference to Israeli weapons of mass destruction. "No one wishes upon themselves total annihilation - not even Hizbullah."
Nor does Arad fear the possible stationing on the Lebanese border of advanced Russian-made surface-to-air missiles of the kind that proved extremely dangerous to the IAF in the Yom Kippur War.
"It is not worth it," he said, "for Lebanon to present itself as a serious enemy to us. It is very worthwhile for them to not have Hizbullah on the border, and it is very worthwhile for them to not make us view them as an enemy."
Still, he insisted, "We must not return to the routine. We must be in a state of mobilization - because the coming challenges will be even more difficult than what we saw in the past month or so."
By that Arad means the possibility of a confrontation on a much larger scale, both geographically and in terms of intensity.
"You have to know what the next arena will be for Israel: It will be the combined threat of Iran and its ally Syria - together with their proxy Hizbullah, and their links in Hamas," he said.
"The character of the next conflagration may be entirely different, too - say, with Syria, at its initiative, or even at our initiative, or at the initiative of the West. Or it could be with Iran, which is on a collision course... Now there is talk of sanctions, but if Iran goes for a nuclear weapon, there may be a Western-American campaign against Iran.
"Around all these options," Arad continued, "there are also all kinds of permutations... How to reach battle readiness while at the same time dealing with the Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrian and Iranian threats is the problem facing the entire military-political system right now."
WITH THAT in mind, it is imperative that Israel project strength and ability.
"That's why," said Arad, "it is a mistake for us to even discuss surrendering the Mount Dov area - what Hizbullah calls Shabaa Farms - to either Lebanon or Syria. If Lebanon were willing to uphold UN Security Resolution 1559 and disarm Hizbullah, and sign a peace agreement announcing a full peace and the end to all conflicts with Israel, then it could be done... But to unilaterally surrender land to a country with which you don't have any peace agreement would be a historic mistake, an incomprehensible mistake."
Already, said Kedar, there is a danger that our enemies will interpret the latest fighting as an invitation to attack an Israel that is not mighty but very vulnerable.
Syrian President Bashar Assad's inflammatory speech this week, Kedar said, "told our enemies that Nasrallah's methods are successful, that Israel has no answer for guerrilla attacks."
It is precisely that impression that Israel tried to erase from the minds of its enemies when it sent jets and troops into Lebanon on July 12. Whether it succeeded in preventing the next war is something that the commission of inquiry - and time - will determine.