|Book Review by Gilad
Captives in Lebanon
By Ofer Shelah/Yaov Limor,
Miskal, Yedioth Ahrononth and Chemed Books, 2007
Anatomy of a Colossal Defeat
One year after the humiliating Israeli defeat in Lebanon I found myself reviewing the Israeli fiasco through the eyes of two renowned Israeli military analysts, Yoav Limor and Ofer Shelah. In a recent book named Captives Of Lebanon the two have managed to assemble a very detailed journal of the chain of events that led to the war, the war itself and the endless lists of Israeli operational, tactical and strategic failures. However, Limor and Shelah do not stop just with the Army and its commanders, they skilfully convey an image of a society that has lost its way, a society that has gradually become detached from its own reality and from its surrounding environment. A society that is facing total moral collapse, led by an egotistic, self-centred leadership, both politically and militarily.
Israels military defeat last year in Lebanon took the world by surprise. It initially shocked Bushs Administration as well as Tony Blair who were both very quick and keen to give Israel a green light to destroy Lebanons Shia leadership, not to mention obliterating Lebanons civilian infrastructure. Bush and Blair werent the only ones who came in for a shock, it also stunned the Arab world. Arab leaders are not used to the defeat of the Israeli Army. Moderate Arab leaders found themselves following the TV images in which a single Muslim cleric was teaching Israelis what defiance was all about. Seemingly, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and an insignificant number of warriors, proved to be the first Arabs to defeat the Israeli Army on the ground. Their victory left Israel shattered. The Israeli power of deterrence disappeared completely. It became a subject for historical research. The IDF Supreme Command was shocked as well: a month after the war, General Udi Adam, the IDF Chief Commander of the northern front, had resigned. It didnt take too long for Dan Halutz, the IDF Chief of Staff, to follow his lead. Amir Peretz, the Minister of Defence, was ousted by former PM Ehud Barak. It is rather clear that the Israelis are fully aware of the scale of their defeat in Lebanon. Yet, it seems as if the Israelis do not know how to amend the damage. They are truly in love with their good life, they are captivated by the image of technology and wealth.
Though I am not so sure whether the book is going to be translated into other languages (it is in Hebrew), I would classify this book as a must read for anyone who is interested in the affairs of this region. The book is a glimpse into Israeli society in what seems to be its final dysfunctional yet destructive state. I am convinced that those Americans who have been moronically sponsoring the Israeli death apparatus for almost four decades, those who still believe that Israel is a regional super power had better read this journal of Israeli military cowardice and general political malfunctioning.
Though the book wouldnt say it, the message is rather clear. Israel operates as a megalomaniac violent Jewish ghetto motivated by some bizarre murderous zeal flooded with American lethal technology. As Limor and Shelah reveal, in spite of the fact that the conflict on the ground took place on a very narrow strip of land (the Israeli border on the south and Litani River on the north), the Israeli artillery had managed to shoot over 170,000 shells. In comparison, in the 1973 war while fighting against two strong state armies over two very large fronts, the Israelis had launched only 53,000 shells. The figures relating to the Air Force are even more striking. Though less than a few concrete targets were available for the IDF intelligence, the IAF (Israeli Air Force) had launched as many as 17,550 combat missions, this translates into 520 missions a day, almost as many as in the 1973 war (605 a day). Yet, in 1973 the IAF was fighting two well-equipped air forces, it was engaged in a fair amount of air-to-air combat and a relentless struggle against the latest Soviet ground-to-air missiles. None of that happened in the Second Lebanon War. The IAF was engaged solely in hammering Lebanese soil. It literally threw and launched everything it had at its disposal, presenting a merciless method that in places (southern Beirut for instance), had a similar effect to the infamous 1940s Anglo-American carpet bombardment.
Why did the Israelis react so harshly to a local border incident? Why did Israeli politicians and military chiefs lose their ability to employ strategic and tactical considerations? Why did they all fail to define achievable military goals; something that would give their war a time frame, shape and justification? In short, why did the Israelis lose their way? This is indeed a crucial question. Though Limor and Shelah refrain from asking these questions, their book manages to provide some answers. I will try to summarise some of their points.
The Military Lets start with the Army. The Israeli Army has undergone a serious transition in the last four decades. In the years that followed the rapid 1967 invasion, it was ground officers and tank brigadiers in particular who were promoted to lead the Army. Post 1967 Israel believed in Blitzkrieg, an offensive onslaught that simultaneously puts into action some large ground forces together with close air support. After the 1973 war, following the limited success of ground forces and tank divisions, this trend has changed. Gradually, it was the veterans of the Israeli special units who had been promoted to high command positions. Probably the most famous among those veterans was Ehud Barak, the highly decorated commando officer who ended his military career as the IDF Chief of Staff. It was Barak who as Chief of Staff appointed his ex subordinates for high positions in the Israeli Supreme Command. Ground officers were pushed aside.
This transformation within the Israeli Army had two motivations behind it: first, the Intelligence assumption that not a single Arab state would consider a total war against Israel in the near future; and second, since the first Intifada and the general rise of Palestinian civil resistance, the Israeli army found itself engaged in more and more policing operations. Within such a shift there was not much need for massive ground training. Tank and artillery brigades seemed to be useless and even irrelevant to the newly emerging defence needs of the Jewish state. Large units of combatant soldiers were diverted into policing tasks in the West Bank and Gaza. Within the changing scenario, it was initially Israeli special units and security chiefs who took the lead in what the Israelis perceived as their war against terror. Consequently, more and more Israeli commando veterans found their way to the IDF high command and later straight into the highly militarised Israeli political life.
But things didnt stop just there; it didnt take long before Israeli special units failed to provide the solutions to what seemed to be a constantly growing Palestinian civil resistance. Sending the salt of the Jewish earth into Gaza in the wee hours proved to be too dangerous. It must be told that as much as Israelis love to see their young boys terrorising Palestinians, they cannot stand seeing their beloved Rambos being ambushed and killed.
It was just a question of time before the Air Force was left to deal with Palestinian defiance. Capitalising on some advanced American technologies, Israel let its F-16s and Apache helicopter gunships launch guided missiles against Palestinian civilian and military targets. The philosophy was rather simple: the IAF was there to maintain the Palestinians in a state of a constant awe. As it happened, in the last decade, the IAF has become the leading force in the war against Palestine, the Palestinian people and their imminent Islamic leadership. The IAF was quick to develop a tactic that was soon named targeted assassination. According to the new Israeli military doctrine, all that was needed was some Intelligence on the ground, which would be followed by a single Israeli jet launching an American guided missile in highly populated Gaza. The achievements were rather clear. In many cases targeted Palestinians were assassinated, in very many cases they found their death alongside innocent civilian bystanders who were unlucky enough to be in the proximity. These unfortunate people were in the wrong place at the wrong time. In many other cases the pilots just missed or were misled by Intelligence. As a result, many Palestinian civilians, old people, women and children found their death. Clearly, no one in Israel could care less. When Dan Halutz, still the IAF commander, was asked how it feels to drop a bomb that kills fourteen Palestinian civilians, his answer was short and simple. It feels like a light bounce on your left wing. Halutz, the cold-blooded officer, the man who ordered the murder of so many Palestinians, was the right man in the right place, it didnt take long before he was asked to take the lead of the Israeli Army.
As time went by, the Israeli government refrained from endangering young Israeli soldiers. The Israeli war against terror has become very safe warfare on the verge of a computer game. Sheik Yassin, Dr. Rantisi and many other civilians fell victim to this form of murderous tactic. Apparently, Israeli military leadership has been overwhelmed with the success of their new killing method. The people of Israel had a new God, namely technological superiority. The last Israeli wave of generals, many of them pilots and special units veterans, got accustomed to the belief that Israel may maintain its regional supreme power by capitalising on its technological superiority and overwhelming firepower.
As Limor and Shelah reveal in their book, in the last decade Israeli soldiers literarily stopped training of any form of large tactical operations. With the IAF chasing the enemies of Israel in their bedrooms, who needs tanks and artillery? Young Israeli tank drivers were redeployed soon after their initial and minimal training into elementary guard tasks in the occupied territories. In practice not only were those soldiers foreign to their original military tasks in tanks and artillery, they were not familiar at all with any form of large operational tactical manoeuvres. In other words, as far as the Israeli army is concerned, it lost its readiness for war. So The Palestinians Actually Won. Many analysts regard the Palestinian resistance as a militarily futile struggle. At the end of the day, not much harm can be inflicted by a bunch of kids throwing stones. Reading Limor and Shelah may imply that in reality, the Palestinian struggle was actually far from being futile. In fact, it was precisely Palestinian civil resistance that has managed to exhaust the Israeli army. It was the Palestinian resistance that led the Israeli army into a state of paralysis. It was the Palestinian resistance that stretched the IDF manpower to its limit and stopped the Israeli army from training towards the next war. It was the Palestinians who turned the Israeli soldiers and their commanders into a bunch of cowards who prefer to win wars while sitting in front of computer monitors moving joysticks. It was actually the Palestinians who devastatingly dismantled the IDF readiness for war.
It is very much as Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has been suggesting in one of his most declamatory speeches. Israel was indeed hiding behind technological superiority just to cover its cowardice and incomprehension of what the living in the Middle East may entail. The Israeli army has become used to smashing Palestinian civilians in their homes, to murdering their emerging leadership, to terrorising pregnant women in roadblocks, to shelling young kids in their school classes, so this was indeed very easy. Yet, when the IDF was asked to engage some tiny groups of lightly trained paramilitary enthusiasts, it collapsed shamefully. It collapsed in spite of its technological superiority; it was defeated in spite of its overwhelming firepower, in spite of Bushs and Blairs disgraceful support. The Israeli Army collapsed because it was incompetent, it was not ready to fight, it did not know how to fight and, of most concern for the Israelis, it didnt even realise what it was fighting for.
Soon after the conflict in Lebanon developed into a total war (at least in the eyes of the Israelis) it became clear to most Israeli generals that the IDF doesnt have the means to address a rain of Hezbollah Katyusha rockets. If the initial Israeli goal was to stop the Katyusha rockets and to bring home the two captured Israeli reserves, these goals proved to be beyond reach. The Israeli commander soon learned that without proper and quality Intelligence, their superior firepower and technology lost any relevance. As funny as it may sound, in a matter of a few days the Israeli leadership adopted some post-structuralist vocabulary. Rather than providing the people of Israel with a simple straightforward victory they all started to communicate in terms of a narrative of victory. Days from the launch of the Israeli campaign the Israeli military began to talk in terms of an Image of victory rather than victory per se. Shimon Peres started to use the term perception of a victory. Yet, even perception and image of a victory proved to be far beyond reach.
The Only Democracy in the Middle East
As useless as the Israeli army proved to be, the Israeli government wasnt any better. Ehud Olmert, the PM, the man who was voted to disengage from Palestinian territories, had very little understanding of military affairs. If this is not enough, Amir Peretz, the Labour leader, the man whom Olmert appointed to be his Minister of Defence, lacked any significant knowledge in defence matters as well. For the first time in its history, Israel was led by two professional politicians who had no military background. On the face of it, one may expect that such a dramatic shift would curb the Israeli hawkish tendency within the military and political realm. In practice, the opposite happened. Both Peretz and Olmert found themselves dragged and manipulated into a large-scale conflict by the bloodthirsty Chief of Staff. Considering their inexperience and the short time that they had been holding office, neither Olmert nor Peretz could come up with some creative alternative solutions that might avoid conflict yet would achieve something more. Rather than holding the Army back and giving diplomacy a chance, they both let Halutz lead the country towards unnecessary escalation. Without understanding the full picture, the Israeli government ended up promising Halutz the necessary time and support to achieve goals that were beyond reach to start with.
But the truth must be said. Olmert and Peretz were not alone in their cabinet. In fact, they were surrounded by military analysts, intelligence experts, ex-generals and security services veterans. Olmert had in his government Reserved General Shaul Mofaz, the ex Chief of Staff, a man who spent the late phase of his military career fighting the Hezbollah. Avi Dichter, a Security Services veteran was there to comment on the IDF operative suggestions. They had in the government Benjamin Ben Eliezer as well, a reserve Brigadier who had been an expert on Lebanese issues for the last three decades. Shimon Peres was himself a Prime Minister and a Defence Minister in the past. Reservist General Ami Ayalon, and ex-IDF General as well as a former Chief of the Internal Security Services offered his help to Amir Peretz. Yet, none of these experts managed to form a decision-making body, none of the above managed to moderate the military enthusiasm of Halutz, Olmert and Peretz. Like a leaf in the wind, the Israeli government was manipulated by the Generals and later by the public opinion that turned dramatically against the leadership and its inadequate achievement.
As time went by, with military failure becoming public knowledge, the more desperately Olmert, Peretz and Halutz tried to change the course of the war just to save their future careers. Though they realised that the chances of achieving a victory were melting down by the hour, they were determined to present the public something that would look like a victory or even simply as an achievement. This is apparently what political survival in the Israeli democracy means for real, you have to present something that may look like a victory. To call it a name, Peretz, Halutz and Olmert ordered the Army to cause some real devastation, assuming that this would gratify the Israeli voter. The IAF and the artillery command reacted instantly, some heavy barrages of cluster bombs, missiles and shells rained over southern Lebanon. In the last 48 hours leading to the ceasefire, Israel emptied it entire stock of weaponry. According to Shelah and Limor, Israels ammunition stocks reached the red light position.
In order to save the political careers of Olmert and Peretz, the IDF launched more and more pointless risky operations with very limited tactical value. These operations failed one after the other without achieving a single thing. Yet they exposed the IDFs weaknesses. They revealed an Army and a political leadership in a state of a panic. Towards the final hours of the war, some isolated patches of Israeli special units were stranded and starved along the southern Lebanese front with no access to water and food. A few units of Hezbollah warriors had managed to encircle top Israeli commandos. Seemingly, no one in Israel dared to risk logistic convoys into the battlefield. Food and ammunition that was dropped from cargo airplanes fell into the hands of the Hezbollah. In some areas, the wounded IDF commandos were lying on the ground, waiting many hours for rescue units. The defeat was total. The humiliation was colossal. Not only was the Israeli Defence Army unable to defend Israel anymore, it even failed in defending itself.
Limor and Shelah expose many more interesting issues:
Brigadiers who failed to fight alongside their soldiers, instead they preferred to run the battle from secluded bunkers inside Israel.
Helicopter gunships were not allowed to enter Lebanese air space just to avoid the risk of being shot down, as a result, Israeli commandos were left to fight Hezbollah on equal terms (lacking air support).
A Lieutenant Colonel who refused to lead his soldiers into Lebanon admitted being deficient in operative tactical knowledge.
Reservist soldiers were heading towards the front with hardly any of their combatant gear because of some severe shortage in the army emergency stockrooms. Some of those reservists ended up spending their own money so that they could buy the necessary gear.
More details regarding Dan Halutzs 12 July stock exchange affair. Apparently, the Chief of Staff, General Halutz phoned up the bank and ordered them to sell his investment portfolio soon after he learned about the clashes in the north. All this happened just before he himself ordered a further escalation.
Seemingly, the Israeli army is all over the place, it is under trained, it is heavy, it is messy, and its leaders are corrupted to the bone. The Israeli political leadership isnt any better. Though Peretz is no longer at the Ministry of Defence, Olmert, Mofaz, Dichter and now Barak - all qualified mass murderers - are still cabinet members. Considering the state of its army, Israel may have to consider a swift change of direction, it cannot fight anymore. It lacks the endurance. But seemingly this is not going to happen. As it seems, in the next Israeli election we are probably going to see the eloquent yet belligerent Benjamin Netanyahu fighting the belligerent yet far less eloquent Ehud Barak.
For years we tended to believe that Israel would not be defeated in the battlefield. Learning in detail the events of the last war allows us to consider that this may not be the case. The Jewish state has already been defeated in battle and this may happen again sooner than we think.