Uri Avnery / ICH & Gideon Levy / Ha’aretz – 2006-08-15 03:29:20
August 14, 2006
What Has Happened to the Israeli Army?
Uri Avnery / Information Clearing House
(August 13, 2006) — So what has happened to the Israeli army?
This question is now being raised not only around the world, but also in Israel itself. Clearly, there is a huge gap between the army’s boastful arrogance, on which generations of Israelis have grown up, and the picture presented by this war.
Before the choir of generals utters its expected cries of being stabbed in the back — “The government has shackled our hands! The politicians did not allow the army to win! The political leadership is to blame for everything!” — it is worthwhile to examine this war from a professional military point of view.
(It is, perhaps, appropriate to interject at this point a personal remark. Who am I to speak about strategic matters? What am I, a general? Well ? I was 16 years old when World War II broke out. I decided then to study military theory in order to be able to follow events. I read a few hundred books ? from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz to Liddel-Hart and so on. Later, in the 1948 war, I saw the other side of the medal, as a soldier and squad-leader. I have written two books on the war. That does not make me a great strategist, but it does allow me to voice an informed opinion.)
The facts speak for themselves:
On the 32nd day of the war, Hezbollah is still standing and fighting. That by itself is a stunning feat: a small guerilla organization, with a few thousand fighters, is standing up to one of the strongest armies in the world and has not been broken after a month of “pulverizing.” Since 1948, the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan have repeatedly been beaten in wars that were much shorter.
As I have already said: if a lightweight boxer is fighting a heavyweight champion and is still standing in the 12th round, the victory is his ? whatever the count of points says.
In the test of results ? the only one that counts in war ? the strategic and tactical command of Hezbollah is decidedly better than that of our own army. All along, our army’s strategy has been primitive, brutal, and unsophisticated.
Clearly, Hezbollah has prepared well for this war ? while the Israeli command has prepared for a quite different war.
On the level of individual fighters, the Hezbollah are not inferior to our soldiers, neither in bravery nor in initiative.
The main guilt for the failure belongs with Gen. Dan Halutz. I say “guilt” and not merely “responsibility,” which comes with the job.
He is living proof of the fact that an inflated ego and a brutal attitude are not enough to create a competent chief of staff. The opposite may be true.
Halutz gained fame (or notoriety) when he was asked what he feels when he drops a one-ton bomb on a residential quarter and answered: “a slight bang on the wing.” He added that afterwards he sleeps well at night. (In the same interview, he also called me and my friends “traitors” who should be prosecuted.)
Now it is already clear ? again, in the test of results ? that Dan Halutz is the worst chief of staff in the annals of the Israeli army, a completely incompetent officer for his job.
Recently he has changed his blue air force uniform for the green one of the land army. Too late.
Halutz started this war with the bluster of an air force officer. He believed that it was possible to crush Hezbollah by aerial bombardment, supplemented by artillery shelling from land and sea. He believed that if he destroyed the towns, neighborhoods, roads, and ports of Lebanon, the Lebanese people would rise and compel their government to remove Hezbollah. For a week he killed and devastated, until it became clear to everybody that this method achieves the opposite ? strengthens Hezbollah, weakens its opponents within Lebanon and throughout the Arab world, and destroys the worldwide sympathy Israel enjoyed at the beginning of the war.
When he reached this point, Halutz did not know what to do next. For three weeks he sent his soldiers into Lebanon on senseless and hopeless missions, gaining nothing. Even in the battles that were fought in villages right on the border, no significant victories were achieved. After the fourth week, when he was requested to submit a plan to the government, it was unbelievably primitive.
If the “enemy” had been a regular army, it would have been a bad plan. Just pushing the enemy back is hardly a strategy at all. But when the other side is a guerilla force, this is simply foolish. It may cause the death of many soldiers, for no practical result.
Now he is trying to achieve a token victory, occupying empty space as far from the border as possible, after the UN has already called for an end to the hostilities. (As in almost all previous Israeli wars, this call is being ignored, in the hope of snatching some gains at the last moment.) Behind this line, Hezbollah remains intact in their bunkers.
However, the chief of staff does not act in a vacuum. As commander in chief he has indeed a huge influence, but he is also merely the top of the military pyramid.
This war casts a dark shadow on the whole upper echelon of our army. I assume that there are some talented officers, but the general picture is of a senior officers corps that is mediocre, or worse, gray and unoriginal. Almost all the many officers who have appeared on TV are unimpressive, uninspiring professionals, experts on covering their behinds, repeating empty clichés like parrots.
The ex-generals, who have been crowding out everybody else in the TV and radio studios, have also mostly surprised us with their mediocrity, limited intelligence, and general ignorance. One gets the impression that they have not read books on military history, and fill the void with empty phrases.
More than once it has been said in this column that an army that has been acting for many years as a colonial police force against the Palestinian population ? “terrorists,” women, and children ? and spending its time running after stone-throwing boys, cannot remain an efficient army. The test of results confirms this.
As after every failure of our military, the intelligence community is quick to cover its ass. Their chiefs declare that they knew everything, that they provided the troops with full and accurate information, that they are not to blame if the army did not act on it.
That does not sound reasonable. Judging from the reactions of the commanders in the field, they clearly were completely unaware of the defense system built by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The complex infrastructure of hidden bunkers, stocked with modern equipment and stockpiles of food and weapons, was a complete surprise for the army. It was not ready for these bunkers, including those built two or three kilometers from the border. They are reminiscent of the tunnels in Vietnam.
The intelligence community has also been corrupted by the long occupation of the Palestinian territories. They have gotten used to relying on the thousands of collaborators who have been recruited in the course of 39 years by torture, bribery, and extortion (junkies needing drugs, someone begging to be allowed to visit his dying mother, someone desiring a chunk from the cake of corruption, etc.). Clearly, no collaborators were found among Hezbollah, and without them intelligence is blind.
It is also clear that intelligence, and the army in general, was not ready for the deadly efficiency of Hezbollah’s anti-tank weapons. Hard to believe, but according to official figures, more than 20 tanks were hit.
The Merkava (“carriage”) tank is the pride of the army. Its father, Gen. Israel Tal, a victorious tank general, did not want only to build the world’s most advanced tank, but also a tank that provided its crew with the best possible protection. Now it appears that an anti-tank weapon from the late 1980s that is available in large quantities can disable the tank, killing or grievously wounding the soldiers inside.
The common denominator of all the failures is the disdain for Arabs, a contempt that has dire consequences. It has caused total misunderstanding, a kind of blindness of Hezbollah’s motives, attitudes, standing in Lebanese society, etc.
I am convinced that today’s soldiers are in no way inferior to their predecessors. Their motivation is high, and they have shown great bravery in the evacuation of the wounded under fire. (I very much appreciate that in particular, since my own life was saved by soldiers who risked theirs to get me out under fire when I was wounded.) But the best soldiers cannot succeed when the command is incompetent.
History teaches that defeat can be a great blessing for an army. A victorious army rests on its laurels, it has no motive for self-criticism, it degenerates, its commanders become careless and lose the next war. (See: the Six Day War leading to the Yom Kippur War). A defeated army, on the other side, knows that it must rehabilitate itself. On one condition: that it admits defeat.
After this war, the chief of staff must be dismissed and the senior officer corps overhauled. For that, a minister of defense is needed who is not a marionette of the chief of staff. (But that concerns the political leadership, about whose failures and sins we shall speak another time.)
We, as people of peace, have a great interest in changing the military leadership. First, because it has a huge impact on the forming of policy and, as we just saw, irresponsible commanders can easily drag the government into dangerous adventures. And second, because even after achieving peace we shall need an efficient army ? at least until the wolf lies down with the lamb, as the prophet Isaiah promised. (And not in the Israeli version: “No problem. One only has to bring a new lamb every day.”)
The main lesson of the war, beyond all military analysis, lies in the five words we inscribed on our banner from the very first day: “There is no military solution!”
Even a strong army cannot defeat a guerilla organization, because the guerilla is a political phenomenon. Perhaps the opposite is true: the stronger the army, the better equipped with advanced technology, the smaller are its chances of winning such a confrontation. Our conflict ? in the north, the center, and the south ? is a political conflict, and can only be resolved by political means. The army is the instrument worst suited for that.
The war has proved that Hezbollah is a strong opponent, and any political solution in the north must include it. Since Syria is its strong ally, it must also be included. The settlement must be worthwhile for them too, otherwise it will not last.
The price is the return of the Golan Heights.
What is true in the north is also true in the south. The army will not defeat the Palestinians, because such a victory is altogether impossible. For the good of the army, it must be extricated from the quagmire.
If that now enters the consciousness of the Israeli public, something good may yet have come out of this war.
IDF Causes Serious Head Injury to Israeli Lawyer
International Solidarity Movement
(August 12, 2006) — Israeli Army Causes Serious Head Injury to Israeli Lawyer at Demonstration
Earlier today, August 11, the Israeli Army and Border Police shot an Israeli demonstrator with rubber bullets from close range in the head and neck, causing serious injuries. The man, who is a lawyer, was taken by the army to Tel Hasomer hospital from where he is reported to have suffered brain damage.
In total 9 people were shot with rubber bullets in a non-violent demonstration in Bil’in. Those shot included 2 villagers of Bil’in as well as citizens of Denmark, France, USA, Japan and Israel. Other people from United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark were beaten, struck with rifle butt or injured by sound grenade fragments.
About 200 demonstrators joined the peaceful march from the Bil’in mosque to the Apartheid Wall about 1 km away. The purpose of the march was to demonstrate against the ‘New Style of Killing’ where even children are targetted by Israeli military forces. The marchers carried 5 mock bodies symbolising an entire family killed by Israeli military action.
Before the marchers were able to leave the village soldiers blocked their route, announced the demonstration illegal and then immediately fired sound grenades and rubber bullets from close range. The solders’ commander claimed the demonstration was illegal although an Israeli court has previously confirmed the right of Bil’in villagers to hold demonstrations.
The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is a Palestinian-led non-violent resistance movement committed to ending Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land. We call for full compliance with all relevant UN resolutions and international law.
The Lebanon Conflict
Gideon Levy / Ha’aretz
TEL AVIV (August 13, 2006) — The bad (and predictable) news: Israel is going to come out of this war with the lower hand. The good (and surprising) news: This ringing failure could spell good tidings. If Israel had won the battles in an easy, sweeping victory of the kind Israelis prayed so much for, it would have caused enormous damage to Israel’s security policies.
Another slam-bam win would have brought disaster upon us. Drugged with power, drunk with victory, we would have been tempted to implement our success in other arenas. Dangerous fire would have threatened the entire region and nobody knows what might have resulted.
On the other hand, the failure in this little war might teach us an important lesson for the future, and maybe influence us to change our ways and language, the language we speak to our neighbors with violence and force.
The axiom that “Israel cannot allow itself a defeat on the battlefield” has already been exposed as a nonsensical cliche: Failure might not only help Israel greatly but, as a bonus, it might teach the Americans the important lesson that there is no point in pushing Israel into military adventures.
Since 1948’s war, Israel has only achieved one sweeping military victory on its own, in the Six-Day War. There is no way of imagining an easier and sweeter victory.
Israel’s “deterrent capability” was restored – and in a big way — in a manner that was supposed to guarantee its security for many years. And what happened? Only six years went by and the most difficult war in Israeli history, the Yom Kippur War, took place. Hardly deterrence.
On the contrary, the defeat in 1967 only pushed the Arab armies to try to restore their lost honor and they managed to do so in a very short time. Against an arrogant, complacent Israel enjoying the rotten fruits of that dizzying victory, the Syrian and Egyptian armies chalked up considerable achievements, and Israel understood the limits of its power.
Maybe now, this war will also bring us back down to reality, where military force is only military force, and cannot guarantee everything. After all, we are constantly scoring “victories” and “achievements” against the Palestinians. And what comes of them? Deterrence? Have the Palestinians given up their dreams to be free people in their own country?
The IDF’s failure against Hezbollah is not a fateful defeat. Israel killed and absorbed casualties, but its existence or any part of its territory were not endangered for a moment. Our favorite phrase, “an existential war” is nothing more than another expression of the ridiculous pathos of this war, which from the start was a cursed war of choice.
Hezbollah did not capture territory from Israel and its defeat is tolerable even though it could have easily been avoided if we had not undertaken our foolish Lebanese adventure.
It is not difficult to imagine what would have happened if Hezbollah had been defeated within a few days from the air, as promised from the start by the bragging of the heads of the IDF. The success would have made us insane.
The US would have pushed us into a military clash with Syria and, drunk with victory, we might have been tempted. Iran might have been next. At the same time we would have dealt with the Palestinians: What went so easily in Lebanon, we would have been convinced, would be easily implemented from Jenin to Rafah. The result would have been an attempt to solve the Palestinian problem at its root by pounding, erasing, bombing and shelling.
Maybe all that won’t happen now because we have discovered first-hand that the IDF’s power is much more limited than we thought and were told. Our deterrent capacity might now work in the opposite direction. Israel, hopefully, will think twice before going into another dangerous military adventure. That is comforting news.
On the other hand, it is true that there is the danger the IDF will want to restore its lost honor on the backs of the helpless Palestinians.
It didn’t work in Bint Jbail, so we’ll show them in Nablus.
However, if we internalize the concept whereby what does not work by force will not work with more force, this war could bring us to the negotiating table. Seared by failure, maybe the IDF will be less enthusiastic to rush into battle.
It is possible the political echelon will now understand that the response to the dangers facing Israel is not to be found in using more and more force; that the real response to the legitimate and just demands of the Palestinians is not another dozen Operation Defensive Shields, but in respecting their rights; that the real response to the Syrian threat is returning the Golan to its rightful owners, without delay; and that the response to the Iranian danger is dulling the hatred toward us in the Arab and Muslim world.
If indeed the war ends as it is ending, maybe more Israelis will ask themselves what we are killing and being killed for, what did we pound and get pounded for, and maybe they will understand that it was once again all for naught.
Maybe the achievement of this war will be that the failure will be seared deeply into the consciousness, and Israel will take a new route, less violent and less bullying, because of the failure. In 1967, Ephraim Kishon wrote, “sorry we won.” This time it is almost possible to say, it’s good we did not win.
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