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Monday, October 15, 2007

How critical is a study of the Lebanon War?

The New York Times reports this morning on a book to be published next month that claims that Israel's use of air power in the 2006 Lebanon War was of diminishing value as the war went on. In itself, that statement is correct, but the conclusion the author of the book - who was commissioned by the United States Air Force to write it - draws from that statement shows ignorance of the nature of Israel's bombing attacks in Lebanon last summer:
Israel’s error, the study concludes, was insufficient discernment in its airstrikes.

By bombing too many targets of questionable importance for its aims, and not explaining why it bombed what it did, Israel lost the war for public opinion, according to the author of the study, William M. Arkin, an expert in assessing bomb damage. “Israel bombed too much and bombed the wrong targets, falling back upon cookie-cutter conventional targeting in attacking traditional military objects,” Mr. Arkin wrote. “Individual elements of each target group might have been justified, but Israel also undertook an intentionally punishing and destructive air campaign against the people and government of Lebanon.”
That's complete and utter nonsense. If anything, Israel was overly cautious in bombing only Hezbullah targets. Michael Totten visited Lebanon in January. Here are some of his observations:

In Bint Jbail and Maroun al-Ras whole city blocks were pulverized from the air. Some houses and buildings were merely damaged, but many were demolished to their foundations. Nothing remains of whole swaths of these towns but fields of mostly-cleared rubble. Hezbollah controlled Bint Jbail and Maroun al-Ras both during and before the war. Houses were used to stockpile weaponry and were often otherwise turned into military targets.

Ain Ebel, however, was used only as a place to hide and as a place from which Hezbollah could launch rockets at the Israelis. Katyusha launchers weren’t placed inside houses. They were, for the most part, placed next to people’s houses. Most of the property damage, then, was caused by shrapnel rather than by direct air strikes. Israeli targeting in South Lebanon wasn’t random or indiscriminate. It varied considerably from place to place, depending on what Hezbollah was doing in each place.

On the other hand, Arkin gets the ground war part of what happened last summer right:
“Israel did what it was capable of doing because the ground forces weren’t ready to do what people thought they wanted them to do,” he said. “They weren’t trained, equipped or ready.”
Unfortunately, that's true. Last week, I was shown a presentation by a group called Yad Eliezer. Yad Eliezer is an organization that helps out poor people in Israel (if you click the link above, you will also be given an opportunity to support their fine work). Last summer, they told me, the IDF did not even have food for the troops. Yad Eliezer trucked hundreds of meals to starving (literally) IDF soldiers in Northern Israel. Someone messed up royally and still hasn't paid a price for it.

I also thought these comments by Arkin were on point:
In debating proportionate use of force and civilian casualties, Mr. Arkin says it is a mistake to rely too heavily on witnesses “as a means of judging war crimes.”

He said Hezbollah fought effectively. “But when human rights organizations and much of the international community showed up or commented, they seemed to act as if the force Israel was battling was nonexistent,” he wrote. “As for the critique of air power, the connotation was that somehow a full-fledged ground war with the same mission against this same tricky and dug-in force would have been both more successful and less destructive.”

Once a government decides that it is fighting a moral war, “debating the morality of individual strikes is just wrong,” he said. “If you bomb the right target for a specific military purpose, it’s intrinsically legal.”
That some of Arkin's comments are relatively reasonable - except with respect to the air war - is surprising, because as Charles Johnson points out, Arkin has been a severe and often unjustified critic of the US military. Soccer Dad believes that the Times article's title is inaccurate:

I would argue that the review should have been called "Book Faults Some Aspects of Israeli Air War in Lebanon" (emphasis mine.)

I'm wondering how critical Arkin was of Israel. If his columns from last year are any indication, he wasn't critical that Israel struck back against Hezbollah. He wasn't critical of Israel's use of airpower either. (Even Erlanger's review says that.)

Clearly the title of the review wasn't accurate. I suspect that Erlanger's reading of the book wasn't entirely accurate either, unless Arkin changed his views significantly from last year.

Of course, Erlanger - the Times reporter - is not known as a supporter of Israel either.


At 3:01 PM, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

The question as to what Erlanger was emphasizing is quite fair. Arkin's columns from last year seem consistent with what you quoted from Michael Totten.

Thanks for the link!

At 7:57 AM, Blogger iok said...

I am so happy that the state of israel was defeated. Get used to it, you are surrounded and hated (and that goes for Non-arab countries like spain and Italy). Either start behaving ethically and treating life as sacred, or be prepared for a 50 year decline into non-existence. Viva Hezbollah!


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