When War is a Blessing

"Thank God for this war."  That was the sentiment an Israeli LtCol and battalion commander in Lebanon expressed to me recently.  He's right. 

Since the war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 (known in Lebanon as the July War and in Israel as the Second Lebanon War), the Israeli military and government have conducted a serious review of how they were prepared, how they performed, what went right and what went wrong.  Their review has been markedly candid with far more emphasis on correcting problems than attempting to fix blame (unlike in the United States where blame placing is the number one participatory sport of politicians). 

In the process of conducting this review, they found far more that went wrong than went right.  That this war did not turn into a disaster for Israel speaks volumes about the courage and dedication of their ground forces who were neither trained, organized, nor equipped to fight the battles that resulted. 

All through the 1990s the Israeli government and military bought into the argument that technology and air power could win wars and that nasty combat between opposing ground forces might be relegated to the pages of history.  Concurrently, the Israeli population discovered that living in relative peace while experiencing unprecedented prosperity was something that they did not want to surrender to something as nebulous as seemingly non-existent threats to national survival.

The ground forces were primarily functioning as an occupying police force in Gaza and the West Bank, conducting few military operations other than the occasional building take down, "surgical air strike", or sniper operations.  The Israeli Air Force concentrated on precision weapons delivery and long range, standoff employment of those weapons as opposed to integrated operations with the ground forces and conducting such complicated missions as close air support.  In fact, close air support ceased to be a task performed by the IDF and the tactics, techniques, and procedures required to accomplish this complicated mission were lost from Israeli doctrine.

In her 2007 Parameters article, "The 2006 Lebanon War: Lessons Learned," Sarah E. Kreps accurately identified the problems with Israel's strategy before the war.  First was the general acceptance that airpower could be an antiseptic, low-casualty answer for modern warfare; second, the leadership suffered from the classic "fighting the last war" mentality, accepting the lessons from Kosovo, a rare campaign in which airpower was singularly successful; and third, airpower was ultimately counterproductive against an asymmetric adversary such as Hezb'allah, who fired mobile katyusha rockets to inflict civilian casualties and then used media reports of the collateral damage to intensify support for its ideology and recruitment. In such an asymmetric environment, airpower, and perhaps even military force more generally, may be limited in their effectiveness. She correctly suggests that only a comprehensive strategy integrating airpower and military force into a broader political strategy will be successful against this type of adversary.

And now it seems that the IDF has also come to this realization.  The war in Lebanon served as a wake up call to both civilian and military leadership that Israel cannot afford to bear the appearance of losing, much less actually losing, a war to its relentless enemies. 

It seems that for a short period Israel forgot that every war it fights is, or can quickly become, ultimately a war for national survival.  If its enemies were to clearly appear to be winning a war, does anyone doubt that every other country that has dedicated itself to Israel's destruction would not be clamoring for an opportunity to join in that destruction? 

By the standards of the wars of 1967, 1973, and 1982, the war in Lebanon was relatively small and less intense.  But it should serve as a wake up call to both the government and the military.  Given its political realities, its geographic proximity to its numerous enemies, and the stakes involved whenever the country is attacked, Israel cannot afford to miscalculate its security environment or to mischaracterize the nature of war. 

The U.S. Marine Corps, which is approximately the same size as the entire active IDF, has gone through a similar introspection and the Commandant wisely determined that their focus, too, must remain primarily on "being ready when the nation is least ready" and being able to win the nation's battles, regardless of the type of conflict, whether conventional major theater war or hybrid war as we expect to fight for the foreseeable future. 

The IDF has the same responsibility to be prepared to fight regardless of the enemy or the type of war they fight and their civilian leadership has a responsibility to maintain an awareness of the constant threat to their national existence.  Peace for Israel may yet become a reality, but it is a long, arduous path and until that peace is achieved, its government, its military, and its people must be vigilant and prepared for whatever form future threats may take.

Bill Powers is a Research Fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
"Thank God for this war."  That was the sentiment an Israeli LtCol and battalion commander in Lebanon expressed to me recently.  He's right. 

Since the war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 (known in Lebanon as the July War and in Israel as the Second Lebanon War), the Israeli military and government have conducted a serious review of how they were prepared, how they performed, what went right and what went wrong.  Their review has been markedly candid with far more emphasis on correcting problems than attempting to fix blame (unlike in the United States where blame placing is the number one participatory sport of politicians). 

In the process of conducting this review, they found far more that went wrong than went right.  That this war did not turn into a disaster for Israel speaks volumes about the courage and dedication of their ground forces who were neither trained, organized, nor equipped to fight the battles that resulted. 

All through the 1990s the Israeli government and military bought into the argument that technology and air power could win wars and that nasty combat between opposing ground forces might be relegated to the pages of history.  Concurrently, the Israeli population discovered that living in relative peace while experiencing unprecedented prosperity was something that they did not want to surrender to something as nebulous as seemingly non-existent threats to national survival.

The ground forces were primarily functioning as an occupying police force in Gaza and the West Bank, conducting few military operations other than the occasional building take down, "surgical air strike", or sniper operations.  The Israeli Air Force concentrated on precision weapons delivery and long range, standoff employment of those weapons as opposed to integrated operations with the ground forces and conducting such complicated missions as close air support.  In fact, close air support ceased to be a task performed by the IDF and the tactics, techniques, and procedures required to accomplish this complicated mission were lost from Israeli doctrine.

In her 2007 Parameters article, "The 2006 Lebanon War: Lessons Learned," Sarah E. Kreps accurately identified the problems with Israel's strategy before the war.  First was the general acceptance that airpower could be an antiseptic, low-casualty answer for modern warfare; second, the leadership suffered from the classic "fighting the last war" mentality, accepting the lessons from Kosovo, a rare campaign in which airpower was singularly successful; and third, airpower was ultimately counterproductive against an asymmetric adversary such as Hezb'allah, who fired mobile katyusha rockets to inflict civilian casualties and then used media reports of the collateral damage to intensify support for its ideology and recruitment. In such an asymmetric environment, airpower, and perhaps even military force more generally, may be limited in their effectiveness. She correctly suggests that only a comprehensive strategy integrating airpower and military force into a broader political strategy will be successful against this type of adversary.

And now it seems that the IDF has also come to this realization.  The war in Lebanon served as a wake up call to both civilian and military leadership that Israel cannot afford to bear the appearance of losing, much less actually losing, a war to its relentless enemies. 

It seems that for a short period Israel forgot that every war it fights is, or can quickly become, ultimately a war for national survival.  If its enemies were to clearly appear to be winning a war, does anyone doubt that every other country that has dedicated itself to Israel's destruction would not be clamoring for an opportunity to join in that destruction? 

By the standards of the wars of 1967, 1973, and 1982, the war in Lebanon was relatively small and less intense.  But it should serve as a wake up call to both the government and the military.  Given its political realities, its geographic proximity to its numerous enemies, and the stakes involved whenever the country is attacked, Israel cannot afford to miscalculate its security environment or to mischaracterize the nature of war. 

The U.S. Marine Corps, which is approximately the same size as the entire active IDF, has gone through a similar introspection and the Commandant wisely determined that their focus, too, must remain primarily on "being ready when the nation is least ready" and being able to win the nation's battles, regardless of the type of conflict, whether conventional major theater war or hybrid war as we expect to fight for the foreseeable future. 

The IDF has the same responsibility to be prepared to fight regardless of the enemy or the type of war they fight and their civilian leadership has a responsibility to maintain an awareness of the constant threat to their national existence.  Peace for Israel may yet become a reality, but it is a long, arduous path and until that peace is achieved, its government, its military, and its people must be vigilant and prepared for whatever form future threats may take.

Bill Powers is a Research Fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.