Top defense official: It would take IDF months to clean out Hezbollah

Predicts soon some soldiers will take orders from autonomous units

A car drives past a poster depicting Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in Adaisseh village, near the Lebanese-Israeli border, Lebanon July 28, 2020. (photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)
A car drives past a poster depicting Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in Adaisseh village, near the Lebanese-Israeli border, Lebanon July 28, 2020.
(photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)
In order to truly clean out Hezbollah from its strongholds in any future conflict, it would take the IDF months, Defense Ministry director-general Amir Eshel said Tuesday night.
He spoke as part of Tel Aviv University’s Yuval Neeman workshop for Science, Technology and Security videoconference on a new book about the future of war by Dr. Haim Asa, former adviser to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and TAU emeritus Prof. Joseph Agassi.
Eshel, who was formerly chief of the Israel Air Force, said that if Israel fought like it had in past wars, it would take “not days or weeks, but it could be months” before Israel was able to establish order in core Hezbollah areas.
The Defense Ministry director-general stated that, “while we would be doing it, they would be shooting rockets at us.”
Imagining what he said was a best-case scenario, Israel might successfully strike around 80% of Hezbollah’s 150,000 rockets.
This would mean a potential 30,000 rockets raining down on Israel, causing untold physical and economic damage as well as a much greater loss of life than the country has been accustomed to even during wars.
Eshel said that all during this time the IDF would also be forced to strike civilian areas where Hezbollah’s weapons are hidden.
Despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presentation at the UN General Assembly Tuesday night on Hezbollah’s weapons being hidden improperly in civilian areas, he said Israel would still take a major hit to its legitimacy for expected Lebanese civilian casualties – however unintended.
To avoid this dark scenario, Eshel said that Israel needs to make multiple major changes in the way it fights wars.
He said that Israel must “understand the change” in the inability to win wars decisively “and must understand the limits of its military power.”
Qualifying these remarks, Eshel said the inability to win wars decisively is not the result of a “change in our abilities. It is not that we cannot hit hard,” noting that the IDF can still strike “very hard.”
He said using Israeli force in a way that quickly ravages and destroys Lebanon’s infrastructure is much more likely to get Hezbollah to a ceasefire than playing the old-style game of chasing its concealed guerrilla fighters.
Hezbollah, he said, is much more afraid of a long period of having to rebuild that infrastructure than it is of extended guerrilla fighting and firing rockets against the Israeli home front.
But more broadly he said that Israel needs to recognize that strategic issues surrounding war and postwar diplomacy mean that even a superior military force would only go so far.
While still striving for as short a war as possible, he emphasized improving the resiliency of the civilian home front in the face of rocket attacks.
Eshel said that Israel must cooperate with key nation-state powers and influencers long before a conflict comes along so that those relationships can quickly bear fruit and lead Hezbollah back to a ceasefire as quickly as possible.
Another key trend in warfare would be Israeli growth in the use of autonomous weapons and vehicles.
The former air force chief said he strongly supports this trend, but felt the need to address some critics.
“There is a growing feeling about autonomous remote weapons that there is a robot and it does whatever it wants. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
Rather, he said that “there is always a human who is watching the battle, so it is not just a robot. A human is in the loop.”
He said that someday there will be greater use of autonomous vehicles, saying “it is unstoppable.”
However, he added that the actor who “makes the laws will still be people. If they are immoral people, they [autonomous vehicles] will be immoral. If they are moral people, they [autonomous vehicles] will be moral. Eventually there will even be autonomous units with command [over some lower-ranked] people – this is the right move.”
Eshel did not explain how exactly the chain of command would work at this stage in terms of higher-ranking humans commanding mid-level autonomous units that, in turn, command lower-ranking humans.
TAU technology official Isaac Ben-Israel, a former IDF major-general, moderated the conference.