Israel's Sour Victory

The recent cessation of hostilities in the Israel—Hezb'allah '34—day war' has military experts, media personnel, and politicians scrambling for conclusive analyzes.  The early diagnoses lean toward a Hezb'allah victory, with analysts divided over the type of victory, i.e., a political versus a military one.  Few if any are willing to credit Israel with a victory and among the harshest critics are some of Israel's most ardent defenders.

The parade of pessimism has been impressive.  Former House Speaker and possible Republican dark—horse Presidential candidate in 2008, Newt Gingrich, called the recent war's disappointing outcome a defeat not only for Israel but the entire West.  Ralph Peters scored it 'Hezbollah 3, Israel 0' in a recent column.  Ben Shapiro writing for Town Hall, criticized Israel's failure to crush Hezb'allah and its belated acceptance of United Nations' Resolution 1701 'Israel's Biggest Mistake.'  He wrote that Israel 

'has suffered the most ignominious defeat in [its] history. Israel's aura of invincibility has been shattered; its will has been called into question; its citizens are still under constant threat; its enemies have been elevated in the eyes of their radical compatriots. ... Israel had to eliminate Hezbollah's civilian support network in southern Lebanon —— but that was precisely what Israel was unwilling to do. Israel lost because Israel blinded itself to the necessities of war. America must learn from Israel's failure.'

At Real Clear Politics, David Warren worried if Israel would survive the recent setback, writing

'the ceasefire is a catastrophe for Israel  ...And it was Israel's fault. Not for trying to destroy Hezb'allah, but for failing to do so.' 

A symposium at Front Page Magazine titled 'Deadly Errors'  left little doubt that Israel suffered a defeat.  

The pessimism emerged in Israel as well.  Calls for investigations into the conduct of the war  are increasing daily.  Israeli reservist Ron Ben—Yishai accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his left—of—center cabinet of undercutting the IDF.  Dean Godson of Policy Exchange predicts that criticism of Israel's political class will reach a fever—pitch and with good reason:

'Even the original casus belli — the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah — has not yielded their release. And as Israeli reservists return home, expect a rash of horror stories about inadequate equipment and training because of budget cuts in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Nor did the military fully take on board Hezbollah's style of asymmetric warfare that brought to the fore the 'suicide fighter' rather than the 'suicide bomber'. In the first 20 days of war, the Israelis took hardly any prisoners.'

The other side of the coin

In a reversal of the old adage, there is good reason to rain on this parade of pessimism.  For starters, the U.N.—brokered ceasefire places that organization, the Lebanese government, and Hezb'allah in the world's spotlight.  The onus for a successful outcome falls on them. 

Israel now has a unique opportunity to seize the public relations initiative that was lost within the first days of combat.  If the ceasefire fails, it will be a failure of the U.N. and Kofi Annan, the Lebanese government, and ultimately Hezb'allah.  The French already have revealed their cowardly, contemptuous hypocrisy by dramatically reducing their troop commitment to the U.N. forces.  David Ignatius, writing in the Washington Post  asserted that it is Hezb'allah that stands to lose should the ceasefire collapse:

The wild card in the deal is Hezbollah. As the war dragged on, most pundits judged the group's leader, Hasan Nasrallah, the big winner. But that will be true, paradoxically, only if he abides by the deal [Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora made and withdraws his armed fighters from southern Lebanon. If he tries to resume the war or continues to operate as Iran's proxy, he will lose his new halo. U.S. officials believe that Nasrallah may have resisted Iranian pressure to continue the fight when he agreed to Siniora's package. Meanwhile, the Syrians, Nasrallah's other patron, played no role at all in the diplomatic outcome, deepening their isolation.

I've interviewed Nasrallah twice in the past three years, and in both sessions, the key issue we discussed was how Hezbollah's armed might could be successfully absorbed into the fabric of the Lebanese state. Each time, he insisted that Hezbollah would never threaten Lebanon. But of course, that's precisely what Nasrallah did when his forces recklessly seized two Israeli soldiers July 12, triggering the Israeli attacks. If Nasrallah doesn't behave more responsibly and abide by the new U.N. framework, both he and Lebanon are doomed.

Charles Krauthammer has recently moved to a slightly more upbeat assessment, stressing that the current ceasefire puts the onus of responsibility on the U.N. and Lebanese government, both which have a unique opportunity given the damage Israel inflicted on Hezb'allah:

That is why ensuring that Hezbollah is cut down to size by a robust international force with very strict enforcement of its disarmament is so critical. For all its boasts, Hezbollah has suffered grievously militarily, with enormous losses of fighters, materiel and infrastructure. Now is its moment of maximum weakness. That moment will not last long. Resupply and rebuilding have already begun.

Nadav Morag, a former director at the Israeli National Security Council and now professor of political science at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, argues that on balance, Israel won:

Israel has severely battered Hizbullah's military infrastructure, though certainly not put it out of commission. Nevertheless, the organization has lost a significant number of personnel and medium—range rockets. The organization has also lost, assuming that the present UN cease—fire plan is implemented as promised, its forward deployment positions along Israel's border and, indeed, exclusive control over territory south of the Litani River. ...

Hizbullah will discover that it has alienated most of the Lebanese population, including large numbers of Lebanese Shiites, because its aggressive actions produced a harsh Israeli response that has brought the destruction of significant areas and infrastructure in Lebanon, as well as a major loss of life. Ultimately, Hizbullah will come out of this conflict considerably weakened.

Post battlefield assessments find Hezb'allah in particularly bad shape.  At least half of its frontline fighters were either killed or wounded.  According to the AP:

At least 845 Lebanese were killed in the 34—day war: 743 civilians, 34 soldiers and 68 Hezbollah. Israel says it killed about 530 guerrillas. On the Israeli side, 157 were killed — 118 soldiers and 39 civilians, many from the 3,970 Hezbollah rocket strikes. The figures were compiled by The Associated Press, mostly from government officials on both sides.' [Emphasis added]

In addition, the Israeli Air Force and ground forces destroyed some 2,000 Hezb'allah rockets while another 4,000 were expended hitting Israel.  It is important that we do not overstate the Hezb'allah rocket arsenal and its performance.  Overall, it was an abysmal failure.

For starters, Hezb'allah used up 6,000 rockets and managed to kill 39 Israeli civilians (including about 10 Israeli—Arabs) and 12 Israeli reservists in a lucky hit.  That is a ratio of 118 rockets per Israeli killed.  At that rate, the entire Hezb'allah rocket arsenal of 16,000 would have killed only 135 Israelis, not exactly the numbers required to defeat a resilient nation like Israel.  The rockets' impact therefore is largely psychological.

True, Hezb'allah's Russian—made anti—tank missiles killed 50 of the 118 Israeli soldiers that lost their lives in the fighting.  But IDF tactics left much to be desired; armor was sent in advance of infantry, a textbook error that a child with rudimentary knowledge of combined arms' tactics would spot in a New York minute.

Hezb'allah's occasional successes were mostly a result of poor tactics imposed on the IDF by Israel's casualty—sensitive government. For example, an Israeli tank crew member noted

'It's terrible. You do not fight anti—tank teams with tanks. You use infantry supported by artillery and helicopters. Wide valleys without shelter are the wrong place to use tanks.'

No one should denigrate the performance of the Israeli soldier, however.  A blog in the Jerusalem Post by a lone soldier offers some of the most harrowing accounts of combat this side of Erich Marie Remarque.

There is little doubt that Israel's political leaders half—assed this war, to quote Fox News military analyst, Col. David Hunt.  Perhaps the left—of—center Olmert government was not prepared to wage a war of brutal outcomes over a kidnapping incident. If so, it should have settled for a prisoner exchange and been done with it.

Hezb'allah' tipped its hand early, clearing fighting a war of fixed positions, at least along the Lebanese border.  The IDF should have responded with overwhelming, concentrated infantry—led attacks followed by armor in support against the hilltop, border town areas.  It did no such thing, instead choosing to attack in a piecemeal, limited fashion with vulnerable tanks in the lead.  At least the IDF avoided the siren calls for a Blitzkrieg to the Litani River and beyond.

There will be no dramatic photos of IDF flag—raisings in Bint Jbeil or elsewhere, ala the U.S. Marines on Mt. Suribachi. However, the overly—celebratory Hezb'allah terrorists and their supporters should be forewarned that there is no more dangerous military force than one that can regroup, lick its wounds, and reflect upon it mistakes or reasons for suffering a setback. 

In the halcyon days after Germany's defeat in World War I, France made little effort to improve her military despite initial advances in armor and possession of Western Europe's largest army.  Her neighbor across the Rhine however did, and the results were seen and heard in June 1940 on the Champs—Elysées.

Michael Lopez—Calderon's home page is here.

The recent cessation of hostilities in the Israel—Hezb'allah '34—day war' has military experts, media personnel, and politicians scrambling for conclusive analyzes.  The early diagnoses lean toward a Hezb'allah victory, with analysts divided over the type of victory, i.e., a political versus a military one.  Few if any are willing to credit Israel with a victory and among the harshest critics are some of Israel's most ardent defenders.

The parade of pessimism has been impressive.  Former House Speaker and possible Republican dark—horse Presidential candidate in 2008, Newt Gingrich, called the recent war's disappointing outcome a defeat not only for Israel but the entire West.  Ralph Peters scored it 'Hezbollah 3, Israel 0' in a recent column.  Ben Shapiro writing for Town Hall, criticized Israel's failure to crush Hezb'allah and its belated acceptance of United Nations' Resolution 1701 'Israel's Biggest Mistake.'  He wrote that Israel 

'has suffered the most ignominious defeat in [its] history. Israel's aura of invincibility has been shattered; its will has been called into question; its citizens are still under constant threat; its enemies have been elevated in the eyes of their radical compatriots. ... Israel had to eliminate Hezbollah's civilian support network in southern Lebanon —— but that was precisely what Israel was unwilling to do. Israel lost because Israel blinded itself to the necessities of war. America must learn from Israel's failure.'

At Real Clear Politics, David Warren worried if Israel would survive the recent setback, writing

'the ceasefire is a catastrophe for Israel  ...And it was Israel's fault. Not for trying to destroy Hezb'allah, but for failing to do so.' 

A symposium at Front Page Magazine titled 'Deadly Errors'  left little doubt that Israel suffered a defeat.  

The pessimism emerged in Israel as well.  Calls for investigations into the conduct of the war  are increasing daily.  Israeli reservist Ron Ben—Yishai accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his left—of—center cabinet of undercutting the IDF.  Dean Godson of Policy Exchange predicts that criticism of Israel's political class will reach a fever—pitch and with good reason:

'Even the original casus belli — the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah — has not yielded their release. And as Israeli reservists return home, expect a rash of horror stories about inadequate equipment and training because of budget cuts in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Nor did the military fully take on board Hezbollah's style of asymmetric warfare that brought to the fore the 'suicide fighter' rather than the 'suicide bomber'. In the first 20 days of war, the Israelis took hardly any prisoners.'

The other side of the coin

In a reversal of the old adage, there is good reason to rain on this parade of pessimism.  For starters, the U.N.—brokered ceasefire places that organization, the Lebanese government, and Hezb'allah in the world's spotlight.  The onus for a successful outcome falls on them. 

Israel now has a unique opportunity to seize the public relations initiative that was lost within the first days of combat.  If the ceasefire fails, it will be a failure of the U.N. and Kofi Annan, the Lebanese government, and ultimately Hezb'allah.  The French already have revealed their cowardly, contemptuous hypocrisy by dramatically reducing their troop commitment to the U.N. forces.  David Ignatius, writing in the Washington Post  asserted that it is Hezb'allah that stands to lose should the ceasefire collapse:

The wild card in the deal is Hezbollah. As the war dragged on, most pundits judged the group's leader, Hasan Nasrallah, the big winner. But that will be true, paradoxically, only if he abides by the deal [Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora made and withdraws his armed fighters from southern Lebanon. If he tries to resume the war or continues to operate as Iran's proxy, he will lose his new halo. U.S. officials believe that Nasrallah may have resisted Iranian pressure to continue the fight when he agreed to Siniora's package. Meanwhile, the Syrians, Nasrallah's other patron, played no role at all in the diplomatic outcome, deepening their isolation.

I've interviewed Nasrallah twice in the past three years, and in both sessions, the key issue we discussed was how Hezbollah's armed might could be successfully absorbed into the fabric of the Lebanese state. Each time, he insisted that Hezbollah would never threaten Lebanon. But of course, that's precisely what Nasrallah did when his forces recklessly seized two Israeli soldiers July 12, triggering the Israeli attacks. If Nasrallah doesn't behave more responsibly and abide by the new U.N. framework, both he and Lebanon are doomed.

Charles Krauthammer has recently moved to a slightly more upbeat assessment, stressing that the current ceasefire puts the onus of responsibility on the U.N. and Lebanese government, both which have a unique opportunity given the damage Israel inflicted on Hezb'allah:

That is why ensuring that Hezbollah is cut down to size by a robust international force with very strict enforcement of its disarmament is so critical. For all its boasts, Hezbollah has suffered grievously militarily, with enormous losses of fighters, materiel and infrastructure. Now is its moment of maximum weakness. That moment will not last long. Resupply and rebuilding have already begun.

Nadav Morag, a former director at the Israeli National Security Council and now professor of political science at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, argues that on balance, Israel won:

Israel has severely battered Hizbullah's military infrastructure, though certainly not put it out of commission. Nevertheless, the organization has lost a significant number of personnel and medium—range rockets. The organization has also lost, assuming that the present UN cease—fire plan is implemented as promised, its forward deployment positions along Israel's border and, indeed, exclusive control over territory south of the Litani River. ...

Hizbullah will discover that it has alienated most of the Lebanese population, including large numbers of Lebanese Shiites, because its aggressive actions produced a harsh Israeli response that has brought the destruction of significant areas and infrastructure in Lebanon, as well as a major loss of life. Ultimately, Hizbullah will come out of this conflict considerably weakened.

Post battlefield assessments find Hezb'allah in particularly bad shape.  At least half of its frontline fighters were either killed or wounded.  According to the AP:

At least 845 Lebanese were killed in the 34—day war: 743 civilians, 34 soldiers and 68 Hezbollah. Israel says it killed about 530 guerrillas. On the Israeli side, 157 were killed — 118 soldiers and 39 civilians, many from the 3,970 Hezbollah rocket strikes. The figures were compiled by The Associated Press, mostly from government officials on both sides.' [Emphasis added]

In addition, the Israeli Air Force and ground forces destroyed some 2,000 Hezb'allah rockets while another 4,000 were expended hitting Israel.  It is important that we do not overstate the Hezb'allah rocket arsenal and its performance.  Overall, it was an abysmal failure.

For starters, Hezb'allah used up 6,000 rockets and managed to kill 39 Israeli civilians (including about 10 Israeli—Arabs) and 12 Israeli reservists in a lucky hit.  That is a ratio of 118 rockets per Israeli killed.  At that rate, the entire Hezb'allah rocket arsenal of 16,000 would have killed only 135 Israelis, not exactly the numbers required to defeat a resilient nation like Israel.  The rockets' impact therefore is largely psychological.

True, Hezb'allah's Russian—made anti—tank missiles killed 50 of the 118 Israeli soldiers that lost their lives in the fighting.  But IDF tactics left much to be desired; armor was sent in advance of infantry, a textbook error that a child with rudimentary knowledge of combined arms' tactics would spot in a New York minute.

Hezb'allah's occasional successes were mostly a result of poor tactics imposed on the IDF by Israel's casualty—sensitive government. For example, an Israeli tank crew member noted

'It's terrible. You do not fight anti—tank teams with tanks. You use infantry supported by artillery and helicopters. Wide valleys without shelter are the wrong place to use tanks.'

No one should denigrate the performance of the Israeli soldier, however.  A blog in the Jerusalem Post by a lone soldier offers some of the most harrowing accounts of combat this side of Erich Marie Remarque.

There is little doubt that Israel's political leaders half—assed this war, to quote Fox News military analyst, Col. David Hunt.  Perhaps the left—of—center Olmert government was not prepared to wage a war of brutal outcomes over a kidnapping incident. If so, it should have settled for a prisoner exchange and been done with it.

Hezb'allah' tipped its hand early, clearing fighting a war of fixed positions, at least along the Lebanese border.  The IDF should have responded with overwhelming, concentrated infantry—led attacks followed by armor in support against the hilltop, border town areas.  It did no such thing, instead choosing to attack in a piecemeal, limited fashion with vulnerable tanks in the lead.  At least the IDF avoided the siren calls for a Blitzkrieg to the Litani River and beyond.

There will be no dramatic photos of IDF flag—raisings in Bint Jbeil or elsewhere, ala the U.S. Marines on Mt. Suribachi. However, the overly—celebratory Hezb'allah terrorists and their supporters should be forewarned that there is no more dangerous military force than one that can regroup, lick its wounds, and reflect upon it mistakes or reasons for suffering a setback. 

In the halcyon days after Germany's defeat in World War I, France made little effort to improve her military despite initial advances in armor and possession of Western Europe's largest army.  Her neighbor across the Rhine however did, and the results were seen and heard in June 1940 on the Champs—Elysées.

Michael Lopez—Calderon's home page is here.