Failed Intelligence Dogs First Steps of Israel’s Campaign
Day 15 of the Lebanon war, Wednesday, July 26, brought home to Israel the full force of its intelligence failure.
If Israel’s policy-makers, its military and its home front were caught unready for the clash with the Hizballah, it was because Military Intelligence-AMAN and the Mossad had not given them the correct data for envisaging a war on the scale on which it has developed.
In back rooms, some senior members of the Israeli intelligence community are privately noting symptoms of the dread Yom Kippur syndrome recurring 33 years after another intelligence failure laid Israel’s lines of defense in the south and the north open for Egyptian and Syrian armies to swarm across to Israel’s heartland.
Over the years, one inquiry commissions after another, pointed the finger at Israeli intelligence for failing to discern the approaching multiple Arab offensive engineered with the help of Red Army generals and KGB First (foreign) Directorate agents.
They also blamed the fallacious concept held by prime minister Golda Meir and defense minister Moshe Dayan, according to which the Israeli armed forces’ strategic superiority could safely be counted on to deter Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Syria’s Hafez Assad (father of Bashar) from going to war.
The two Arab armies shattered this complacency on October 6, 1973 when their surprise attacks brought the IDF within an inch of collapse.
In July, 2006, Israel’s leaders were not prey to such illusions. With all the saber-rattling from Tehran and Hizballah leaders, Prime minister Ehud Olmert, defense minister Amir Peretz and chief of staff Air force Lt-Gen. Dan Halutz could not help knowing that Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah was bent on war, or that he was backed solidly from Tehran and Damascus, which equally support the Palestinian radical Hamas, Jihad Islami and the Fatah-al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
No secrets there.
Nonetheless, Israeli citizens, the United States and the entire Middle East were taken aback by an astonishing spectacle: in two weeks of grueling combat, one of the most powerful armies in the world is still unable to subdue a 5,000-strong militia in one battle after another, or halt the rocket blitz which is day by day grinding down one- third of the country.
Israel gets two months from Washington to finish degrading Hizballah
In two weeks, the crack Golani regiment, known for its awesome feats of valor, has not come up with a single tactical stratagem for bringing the enemy low.
Hizballah’s strutting propagandists are making hay; they are bragging to Muslims, Arabs and Islamic terrorists the world over of their prowess in meeting the legendary Israeli army on equal terms and inflicting heavy casualties. Israel’s failure to seize the battlefield initiative is already bearing disastrously on geo-strategic equilibrium in the Middle East, the war situation in Iraq, the global war on terror and the standoff between Washington and Tehran.
US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice came to Beirut and Jerusalem on July 24 and 25 with few options. She had to stick to the line that a quick ceasefire would solve nothing and provide no stability for the Lebanese government. What she did not say out loud was that Washington and Jerusalem did not hold the levers for a ceasefire; they were in the hands of Hassan Nasrallah and Tehran. To rub it in, the Hizballah chief made it clear the day after she left the Middle East that his militia would not accept “humiliating terms” and his men would shoot at any member of a multinational force that that set foot in Lebanon.
Rice and Olmert, when they met in Jerusalem, could only agree that Israel had made no more than slight inroads on the Hizballah offensive headway in two weeks of fighting and would need more time to produce results.
That being the case, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Jerusalem sources reveal exclusively, the US secretary, after urgent consultation with the White House, told the Israeli premier that he had until the second half of September to bring the military offensive to a satisfactory conclusion, i.e. to disable Hizballah.
That was the minimum period Washington needed to bring diplomatic moves to mature into an effective international stabilization force for South Lebanon.
How on earth did Israel and the IDF land in this predicament? And where did Israeli intelligence go wrong?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s analysts point to six principal weaknesses:
1. Israeli elected leaders, Olmert and defense minister Peretz, lack military experience and the skills required for managing a war.
2. The military leadership qualities of chief of staff Lt.-General Halutz, former commander of the air force where he grew up, are questionable.
3. Olmert’s predecessor left him with a flawed legacy. During his six and-a- half years as premier, Ariel Sharon shook up the top levels of the IDF’s general command, military intelligence and the Mossad (although not the Shin Bet) and stuffed them with appointees who subscribed to his political philosophy.
IDF rested on its laurels – and hi-tech
This was the first time in Israel’s history that the top military and security echelons were picked for their political outlook. Sharon’s axe created a monolithic establishment lacking in the motivation burning in their predecessors for developing brilliantly innovative methods of warfare.
4. In six years of counter-terror warfare against the Palestinians, the IDF focused on perfecting small-time tactics for keeping local terror fires under control, but failed to produce methods applicable to a transition from fighting terrorists to waging war. Hizballah has foisted this transition on the Israeli military.
5. Israeli war planners, like the US army in Iraq, came to rely too heavily on air power, firepower and high-tech weaponry for combating terror. They neglected to draw the lessons of the three-year Iraq war.
6. Hizballah’s tacticians and their Iranian Revolutionary Guards mentors studied every Israeli move in its 2002 Defensive Wall Operation against the Palestinian terrorist stronghold of Jenin, which ended in all the towns of the West Bank falling to the Israeli military. Taking this battle as their master plan, they invented a new war doctrine to fit a Hizballah offensive against an Israeli army which has not revised its doctrines of war in the intervening four years.
The battle fought in Jenin’s refugee camp on April 14, 2002, was the only engagement in the entire Israel-Palestinian conflict in which Hizballah and al Qaeda terrorists fought Israeli forces face to face.
The Palestinians fielded a small number of fighters. The Israeli army won the day but paid dearly in casualties. Drawing on the Jenin lesson, Iranian and Hizballah war planners are hammering at the Jewish state’s most vulnerable point – military losses. By maximizing Israeli casualties, they believe that Hizballah does not have to win the war; it will turn the tables sufficiently to achieve parity with the Israeli army. For a small militia dependent on two outside governments, Iran and Syria, for heavy weapons and permission to use them, this would be no mean feat – better in fact that any Arab army has ever achieved in the past.
Nasrallah is fond of boasting that he has surprised Israel and will again. But it must be said that, going back to the Yom Kippur shock, the Israeli army did in fact recover from its early setbacks and turned the tide. It is still early days, and Israel may have surprises of its own up its sleeve. The pressure of war on the country’s borders and their homes under attack has always goaded Israel’s army into flights of improvisation and stimulated its generals into using the war arena as a testing ground for ingenious new ideas.