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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Israel knew by July 14 that air power alone would not do the job in Lebanon

The Washington Post had a lengthy piece in yesterday's edition that rings true. The bottom line: By July 14, Israel knew that it would not accomplish its goals in Lebanon with air power alone, yet its 'leadership' refused to send in ground troops until August 11. Here are some excerpts:
On July 14, as Israeli aircraft prepared to bomb south Beirut, the research unit of Israel's military intelligence branch presented a report to senior Israeli officials that questioned the war plan's ability to achieve the government's goals.

The analysis, according to senior Foreign Ministry officials who read it, concluded that the heavy bombing campaign and small ground offensive then underway would show "diminishing returns" within days. It stated that the plan would neither win the release of the two Israeli soldiers in Hezbollah's hands nor reduce the militia's rocket attacks on Israel to fewer than 100 a day.

Those initial conclusions held true when the war ended 31 days later.

"The question we want to know to this day was why the military chose an option that had no exit strategy," said a senior Foreign Ministry official who read the report. "They never had one, as far as we could tell."

An examination of the first days of the war shows that leaders of Israel's newly elected government launched a broad military campaign without a clear strategy for how it was to end. It also reveals that while Israeli military officials anticipated an entrenched guerrilla force, front-line officers were surprised by just how well prepared Hezbollah was.

This account was drawn from interviews with Israeli military commanders, senior political and diplomatic officials and soldiers, and a visit to the site where the war began. Several commissions are investigating how Israel's political and military leadership managed the war, and those conclusions could determine how long Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government remains in office.

Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, the military's chief of strategic planning, declined to comment directly on the research unit's assessment. But he acknowledged that "yes, you are right, that at one point we reached a point of diminishing returns."

"But you never know when that crack will come," he said.


The conventional Israeli military plan for an attack on southern Lebanon is called "Stones of Fire." The doctrine has been revised over the years, but it still relies on a ground invasion force of four army divisions.

Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, Israel's chief of staff, set that plan aside. Instead, Halutz, the first air force general to lead the military, emphasized air power. He hoped aerial assaults would encourage Lebanon's Sunni Muslim and Christian populations to turn against Hezbollah, a radical Shiite movement that has an armed wing and a vast social services network, and that operates as a state within a state.

"We couldn't fight Lebanon as a country," said Nehushtan, the military's head of strategic planning. "The only way to stop them was to make them take the blame for their attacks."

Given the expected rocket reprisals from Hezbollah, some Israeli officials believed a large ground war was inevitable and should begin sooner rather than later. But Nehushtan, then a brigadier general, said "Stones of Fire" had lost its relevance after Syria's military withdrew from Lebanon last year. He said Hezbollah's guerrilla tactics required a different approach.


Avi Dichter, Olmert's public security minister and a member of the war cabinet who also opposed the bombing of southern Beirut, said 10 days after the military intelligence report was filed that "if there are surprises, I think they are local surprises, not strategic ones."

"You can do this in a very short time," Dichter said. "But you are going to kill many more innocent civilians and cause many more casualties among the troops. We have no intention of doing either."

On Aug. 11, Israel finally went beyond the air campaign and pushed thousands of troops across the border as the debate over a U.N.-brokered cease-fire began. The goal of the troops was to destroy Hezbollah's short-range Katyusha rockets that the air force had been unable to knock out.

Just three days later, the troops froze after Olmert's cabinet accepted the cease-fire terms -- a period when 35 soldiers died, nearly a third of all Israeli troops killed in the war. "We realized we had to do this from the ground," Nehushtan said. "And it was left incomplete."
To recap my views of the war, I think that the ground operation started too late and that the air operation could have been much more effective (although probably not to the point of obviating the need for the ground operation) if Israel had worried less about 'civilian casualties' in the homes from which Hezbullah was launching rockets. We can only hope that the IDF has learned these lessons for the future (and that there will be a new government before the next war occurs).

Read the whole thing.


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