Luttwak - Israeli gloom misplaced.

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An excellent column by Edward Luttwak in the new British online paperThe First Post makes a convincing case that the gloomy assessment of Israel's performance against the Hezbos is 'way premature, and probably wrong.

He compares the current situation with the aftermath of the 1973 October War and the supposed shattering of the myth of Israeli invicibility at that time. Egypt crossed the Suez, and Syria swept across the Golan Heights.

In Israel, there was harsh criticism of political and military chiefs alike, who were blamed for the loss of close to 3,000 soldiers in a war that ended without a clear victory. ... It was only later that a sense of proportion was regained, ironically by the Egyptian and Syrian leaders before anyone else.

The situation today, with the Lebanon war just ended, is the same. Future historians will no doubt see things much more clearly, but some gross misperceptions are perfectly obvious even now.

The ultimate outcome was a peace treaty with Egypt, and decades of non—violent standoff with Syria. So the immediate gloomy assessments in 1973 were just wrong.

He criticizes commentators who accept Nasrallah's claim that Hezbo fighters were braver than other Arab fighters

after crossing the Suez Canal, Egyptian infantrymen by the thousand stood their ground unflinchingly against advancing 50—ton Israeli tanks, attacking them successfully with their puny hand—held weapons.

It just isn't true that the Hezbos were more courageous than other Arab armies. In fact, the Hezbos did not fight as effectively as previous enemies.

Israeli casualty figures in this month's war in the Lebanon demonstrate that Hezbollah did not fight as fiercely as the Egyptians in 1973 or the Jordanians in 1967.

But there's a but...

What is perfectly true is that the Israelis lacked a coherent war plan, so that even their most purposeful bombing came off as brutally destructive, while the ground actions were hesitant and inconclusive. There was, of course, a fully developed plan in the contingency folders — a sophisticated blend of swift amphibious, airborne and ground penetrations to reach deep behind the front, before rolling back, so as to destroy Hezbollah positions one by one from the rear, all the way to the Israeli border.

That plan was not implemented because of the lack of casualties among Israeli civilians.

Luttwak argues that in the absence of civilian casualties, there was no political support for a major ground campaign in Lebanon. Hezbollah managed to move around and hide its rockets, but they were not able to inflict major casualties on the Israelis to generate enough support for a larger offensive that would have incurred far more casualties.

This is an interesting take on the war. Estimates of Hezbollah's dead are on the order of 530 (verified by videos, photos and identity papers), and presumably more wounded. These are likely to be underestimates.

From the IDF website:

List of 180 dead Hezbollah terrorists released of an estimated 530 killed since start of fighting

Monday 14/08/2006 08:00

Over the last two days the IDF dropped leaflets over Lebanon containing lists of Hezbollah terrorists killed in fighting with IDF forces. The lists contain the names of 180 terrorists killed and whose identities were verified by IDF forces. (The IDF holds the names of additional Hezbollah terrorists whose deaths also have been confirmed.)

According to IDF estimates, over 530 Hezbollah terrorists have been killed since the start of the fighting.

The IDF has also broadcast the lists of these names to the Lebanese public, intermittently breaking into Hezbollah broadcasts on "Al Manar" television and "Nur" radio station.

Israel's war dead are 157, including more than 100 soldiers.

Israel's sensitivity to casualties is clear enough. In his column Luttwak does not address the larger issue of Iranian control of Hezbollah. In fact, he argues that by rebuilding in Southern Lebanon, the Hezbos are providing hostages for the next conflict, if there is one.

The kicker in all this is Iran. The suicide cultists who run Tehran may be a lot less sane than Egypt's Anwar Sadat was in 1973. That is still the great unknown.

War is not a football game, where the score is obvious right away. The Arab—Iranian press is prone to wild mood swings, celebrating victory before it happens, and raging about defeat the rest of the time. Whether Iran's rulers are capable of seeing reality is hard to tell; in public they don't sound like it.

From an Israeli point of view, however, it may make sense to avoid conflict with Iran for the time being. At some time in the next few years there may be a point of no return; a nuclear Iran may be feel free to meddle as much as it likes, secure in the knowledge that no one will dare retaliate. Tehran is already resupplying Hezbollah with more rockets.

James Lewis  8 20 06

Ed Lasky adds:

The "truce" that was put in place between Hezbollah and Israel has been heavily criticized. However, counter—arguments have also been raised that, at the very least, this period of "rest" might allow Israel to develop and deploy countermeasures to Hezbollah's tactics—particularly their use of Russian made anti—tank missiles.

The Israeli made Merkava tank is recognized as being one of the best tanks in the world, but its reflexive explosive defense system appears to have failed in Lebanon  (the system is composed of packs of explosives placed about the tank, an anti—tank missile hititing the tank causes these explsoive packs to detonate outward, delfecting the force of the anti—tank missile). A new system has been developed which tracks and attacks anti—tank missiles before they hit the tank. These, apparently, are now being placed on tanks in the Israel arsenal and hopefully will provide more force protection when the next round begins between Israel and Hezbollah.

An excellent column by Edward Luttwak in the new British online paperThe First Post makes a convincing case that the gloomy assessment of Israel's performance against the Hezbos is 'way premature, and probably wrong.

He compares the current situation with the aftermath of the 1973 October War and the supposed shattering of the myth of Israeli invicibility at that time. Egypt crossed the Suez, and Syria swept across the Golan Heights.

In Israel, there was harsh criticism of political and military chiefs alike, who were blamed for the loss of close to 3,000 soldiers in a war that ended without a clear victory. ... It was only later that a sense of proportion was regained, ironically by the Egyptian and Syrian leaders before anyone else.

The situation today, with the Lebanon war just ended, is the same. Future historians will no doubt see things much more clearly, but some gross misperceptions are perfectly obvious even now.

The ultimate outcome was a peace treaty with Egypt, and decades of non—violent standoff with Syria. So the immediate gloomy assessments in 1973 were just wrong.

He criticizes commentators who accept Nasrallah's claim that Hezbo fighters were braver than other Arab fighters

after crossing the Suez Canal, Egyptian infantrymen by the thousand stood their ground unflinchingly against advancing 50—ton Israeli tanks, attacking them successfully with their puny hand—held weapons.

It just isn't true that the Hezbos were more courageous than other Arab armies. In fact, the Hezbos did not fight as effectively as previous enemies.

Israeli casualty figures in this month's war in the Lebanon demonstrate that Hezbollah did not fight as fiercely as the Egyptians in 1973 or the Jordanians in 1967.

But there's a but...

What is perfectly true is that the Israelis lacked a coherent war plan, so that even their most purposeful bombing came off as brutally destructive, while the ground actions were hesitant and inconclusive. There was, of course, a fully developed plan in the contingency folders — a sophisticated blend of swift amphibious, airborne and ground penetrations to reach deep behind the front, before rolling back, so as to destroy Hezbollah positions one by one from the rear, all the way to the Israeli border.

That plan was not implemented because of the lack of casualties among Israeli civilians.

Luttwak argues that in the absence of civilian casualties, there was no political support for a major ground campaign in Lebanon. Hezbollah managed to move around and hide its rockets, but they were not able to inflict major casualties on the Israelis to generate enough support for a larger offensive that would have incurred far more casualties.

This is an interesting take on the war. Estimates of Hezbollah's dead are on the order of 530 (verified by videos, photos and identity papers), and presumably more wounded. These are likely to be underestimates.

From the IDF website:

List of 180 dead Hezbollah terrorists released of an estimated 530 killed since start of fighting

Monday 14/08/2006 08:00

Over the last two days the IDF dropped leaflets over Lebanon containing lists of Hezbollah terrorists killed in fighting with IDF forces. The lists contain the names of 180 terrorists killed and whose identities were verified by IDF forces. (The IDF holds the names of additional Hezbollah terrorists whose deaths also have been confirmed.)

According to IDF estimates, over 530 Hezbollah terrorists have been killed since the start of the fighting.

The IDF has also broadcast the lists of these names to the Lebanese public, intermittently breaking into Hezbollah broadcasts on "Al Manar" television and "Nur" radio station.

Israel's war dead are 157, including more than 100 soldiers.

Israel's sensitivity to casualties is clear enough. In his column Luttwak does not address the larger issue of Iranian control of Hezbollah. In fact, he argues that by rebuilding in Southern Lebanon, the Hezbos are providing hostages for the next conflict, if there is one.

The kicker in all this is Iran. The suicide cultists who run Tehran may be a lot less sane than Egypt's Anwar Sadat was in 1973. That is still the great unknown.

War is not a football game, where the score is obvious right away. The Arab—Iranian press is prone to wild mood swings, celebrating victory before it happens, and raging about defeat the rest of the time. Whether Iran's rulers are capable of seeing reality is hard to tell; in public they don't sound like it.

From an Israeli point of view, however, it may make sense to avoid conflict with Iran for the time being. At some time in the next few years there may be a point of no return; a nuclear Iran may be feel free to meddle as much as it likes, secure in the knowledge that no one will dare retaliate. Tehran is already resupplying Hezbollah with more rockets.

James Lewis  8 20 06

Ed Lasky adds:

The "truce" that was put in place between Hezbollah and Israel has been heavily criticized. However, counter—arguments have also been raised that, at the very least, this period of "rest" might allow Israel to develop and deploy countermeasures to Hezbollah's tactics—particularly their use of Russian made anti—tank missiles.

The Israeli made Merkava tank is recognized as being one of the best tanks in the world, but its reflexive explosive defense system appears to have failed in Lebanon  (the system is composed of packs of explosives placed about the tank, an anti—tank missile hititing the tank causes these explsoive packs to detonate outward, delfecting the force of the anti—tank missile). A new system has been developed which tracks and attacks anti—tank missiles before they hit the tank. These, apparently, are now being placed on tanks in the Israel arsenal and hopefully will provide more force protection when the next round begins between Israel and Hezbollah.