From Winograd to Damascus

Absence of any serious discussion of critical Syrian factor striking.

February 9, 2008 22:35
3 minute read.

IDF tank 224.88. (photo credit: IDF )


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The Winograd Report is long on generalities and short on specifics. We learn that in going into Lebanon there was never a concerted plan between the government and the IDF about the goals of the operation. Defeating Hizbullah for invading Israeli territory and attacking an IDF unit, with loss of life and the capture of two Israeli soldiers, was the broad aim. But the strategy that was to be pursued, and the tactics to be applied, were never articulated, so they were never formally approved. The public part of the report does not enlighten us on certain aspects of the IDF campaign in Lebanon, but presumably these are described, and - where called for - harshly criticized, in the secret section of the report, reserved for the higher echelons in the IDF and the government. WITHOUT inside information, one can only speculate. But in reviewing the public material, one is struck by the absence of any serious discussion of a critical item - the Syrian factor. Yet no analysis of Israeli strategy in the Second Lebanon War can be undertaken without factoring in the Syrian quotient. It would appear, that in the eyes of the IDF command and the government officials involved, the war commenced as a search and destroy operation, without any intent of making it an extensive engagement. Once it was clear that advancing against the Hizbullah was not a simple matter, IDF chief of general staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz proposed bombing Hizbullah supply lines and bases in Beirut and elsewhere to induce them to capitulate. Despite the considerable success of this strategy, it did not break Hizbullah, and it was finally recognized that only a major ground operation could do the job. Israeli strategy has always been to avoid frontal attacks, since these are costly in lives, and may not achieve the desired aims. A FAVORITE tactic is a pincer operation in which the enemy falls into the lap of two converging forces. Given the entrenched nature of Hizbullah forces, this would have been a natural approach for the IDF. Had it been undertaken, the Hizbullah line would likely have been outmaneuvered and the Katyusha rocket launcher sites would have been within easy reach of IDF forces. Such a move, however, would have entailed mobilization of some of the reserves so as to increase the necessary manpower, and a vast addition of equipment and supporting services. This was certainly not beyond the scope of Israeli power, and had it been undertaken it would have taken a heavy toll of Hizbullah forces. But a campaign of such dimensions in Lebanon carried with it the threat of possible Syrian intervention in the conflict - and Israel was not prepared or interested to widen the battleground to this degree. It was one thing to punish Hizbullah; it was another to become entangled in a major war that was neither warranted nor essential for Israeli security. It was only when the Security Council was on the verge of adopting a resolution instituting a cease-fire that Israel could attempt to inflict punishment on Hizbullah and gain some tactical advantage from the new lines, confident that Syria would not intervene, in what was essentially, a limited operation on the eve of the war's windup. This explains Israel's belated move in the last 60 hours of the engagement - but it was done at frightful cost in IDF lives. In sum, it is only by taking the Syrian factor into account that one can appreciate the reason for Israel's failure to rout the Hizbullah, and to cleanse southern Lebanon of terrorist activity. The war demonstrated several vital conclusions: That air-power, as essential as it may be, still cannot determine the final outcome of a conflict. A ground operation is absolutely essential. Secondly, that wars are like chess - one must figure out in advance, not only your own move, but the reactive move of the opposing party, the next step, and the step that follows this move, with all of the possible implications down the line. Perhaps our generals, and certainly our political leaders, should be first tested on their mastery of chess before we allow them to launch campaigns. The writer is the James G. McDonald Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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