Israel’s Surprise Raid of Baalbek Is No Panacea for Tactical Ills
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Israel’s audacious commando raid of a Hizballah stronghold near Baalbek more than 100 km north of the border recalled the old panache associated with Israeli military feats in the past. However the 22 days of the Lebanon war have shown an army hampered and slowed down by tactical and intelligence deficiencies which showed up in the costly Maroun er-Ras and Bin Jubeil operations in South Lebanon – and again this week in the Ayta a-Chaab battle. Those three engagements have claimed 17 lives. Between six and eight thousand troops and reservists are now deployed in South Lebanon fighting in Hizballah village-strongholds and positions along the Israeli border and plunging deeper for the mission assigned this week to push Hizballah out of the south as far as the Litani River. More such battles therefore lie ahead.
It is therefore important to heed the senior Israeli officers who tell debkafile that a single successful commando raid is not going to cure the deficiencies hampering its 22-day Lebanon campaign.
The officers direct most of their criticism at the Northern Command’s handling of the war, arguing that the IDF should have kicked off the entire campaign with a series of audacious assaults like Tuesday’s Baalbek operation so as to catch Hizballah off-balance. Without these tactics, the three battles against a tough enemy which refuses to break under sustained battering were bound to end as they did.
On July 28, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 263 cited its military analysts on the IDF’s six principal failings in the Lebanon war:
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.
Israel’s top military and security echelons have never before been 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 hi-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 had 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 and loss of life in general. 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. But much depends on Olmert, Peretz and General Halutz, giving them enough rein to succeed while restraining their own pointless and often damaging statements