The balance sheet of the second Lebanon War certainly does not point to an IDF victory. Even in points, it’s closer to a loss than to an achievement, when taking into account the home front’s extended suffering.
Indeed, in light of the relative UN good Security Council resolution we received, and possible positive future developments in Lebanon itself, we were not defeated. However, what happened to us is very similar to the defeat suffered by the American military in Vietnam and Iraq, and to the one suffered by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the Russians in Chechnya.
I covered some of those wars. I saw from up close how guerilla fighters overcame the most powerful, modern armies in the world because they knew how to fully utilize their intimate familiarity with the war zone and the local population’s support.
Yet this isn’t the only reason. The guerillas won also because they received unlimited material, planning, and moral support from a patron country or countries.
Another reason: Guerilla fighters consistently avoided a head-on clash with overwhelming air and ground forces and were not embarrassed to run away and hide when needed.
Finally, the guerilla fighters were more highly motivated than their opponents and willing to sacrifice their lives.
Regular armies stood helpless in the face of guerillas because they failed to formulate an effective combat tactic that would neutralize the “hit and run” advantages of the Vietcong and Mujahideen, and because military units on the ground lacked real-team tactical intelligence that would allow them to take advantage of their superior fire power.
The final straw that led to the militaries’ defeat was the heavy losses they suffered without being able to reach a phase where the end of fighting could be seen on the horizon. This is almost precisely what happened to us in Lebanon.
There’s plenty of arrogance in the common perception around here that the failure in meeting the ground offensive’s objectives was entirely the result of the failures of the political echelon and senior commanders to properly utilize the army.
This argument underestimates the enemy’s capabilities and advantages and assumes that had we taken determined decisions and the logistical operation had worked smoothly, we would have won.
This is not the case, however. In my estimate, the ceasefire prevented an even greater ground offensive fiasco. Even if it’s unpleasant, we must admit the fact that the IDF did not achieve victory not so much because of the failed conduct of its leaders, but rather, because Hizbullah was more effective and determined.
The Shiite organization developed and implemented a combat method that takes maximal advantage of its natural advantages as a popular militia that operates within its natural habitat. Hizbullah also designed its future battlefield through an intimate understanding of IDF vulnerabilities.
The group prepared in a manner that allowed small cells to take cover and than appear at the time of their choosing equipped with anti-tank missiles, which enabled them to hit tanks and homes used by IDF infantrymen as cover.
More significant even was the tactical intelligence information gathered by Hizbullah members before, and particularly through, the fighting.
Their information was of better quality than that possessed by the IDF simply because Hizbullah’s information gathering was undertaken through the use of eyes and binoculars on the ground in proximity to our forces, and not through pilotless drones and other sophisticated means, which failed to identify, in real-time, rocket launchers and small Hizbullah cells moving from one bunker to the next.
Hizbullah made sure each cell of fighters was able to gather intelligence independently, both for the purpose of accurate rocket attacks (by watching Israeli television reports) as well as for the purpose of fighting IDF troops inside villages (by using observers.)
IDF troops, on the other hand, walked around the villages as if they were blind, because the tactical information gathered before the war was not shared. Moreover, while in the villages, intelligence forces did not gather information methodically.
We should also acknowledge the following reality: Hizbullah commanders and fighters were willing to sacrifice their lives in order to complete missions, while IDF commanders and cabinet ministers were virtually panicking every time they received casualty reports and attempted to prevent human losses as if this was the military objective.
A large part of the contradictory, changing orders relayed to troops resulted from this syndrome. At the end, because of the desire to avoid casualties, we suffered even more losses.
We must be merciless in admitting that Hizbullah succeed because it fought more effectively than the IDF in a mountainous area and through a total willingness for sacrifice. When facing those factors, the IDF has no proper combat tactic, just like the Americans and Russians, which would allow it to successfully respond to a super-guerrilla featuring the characteristics and equipment of a modern army.
However, failures are also an opportunity. Deep frustration gives rise to an authentic, powerful demand for fundamental reforms. There’s no point in fixing minor flaws here and there.
What we need is the total enlistment of the State of Israel , both in terms of finances and thought process, so that the IDF quickly develops and implements operation combat methods, unique combat means, and effective tactical intelligence that ensures different results in the next round.