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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lost opportunity

Tuesday marks the 5th anniversary of the outbreak of a war that few Israelis regard as a victory and many regard as a lost opportunity. The Second Lebanon War, as it is now called, caught Israel unprepared when eight IDF soldiers were killed and two - probably already dead - were kidnapped by Hezbullah along the Lebanese border. Instead of first developing a battle plan, the government immediately launched a war with goals that might not have been unrealistic had the government - then led by Ehud K. Olmert - had the junk to pursue them. During the course of the war, much of which was fought by the IDF with one arm tied behind its back, opportunities to inflict a heavy blow on both Hezbullah and Syria were squandered. Relations with a disappointed Bush administration descended into a funk, and although they recovered somewhat as a result of Israel's ('alleged') destruction of Syria's al-Kibar nuclear reactor a bit more than a year later, they were never the same.

Here's an assessment from JPost's military analyst Yaakov Katz.
While some Israeli politicians and defense officials – particularly those who served in key positions during the conflict in 2006 – argue that the quiet along the border is the result of the war, according to Military Intelligence assessments things are more complicated.

Yes, the war had a major affect on Hezbollah, which lost major infrastructure and hundreds of fighters, but the current quiet along the border is understood to be more the result of the control Iran has over the terrorist organization, as well as of its political metamorphosis.

Since the war, Iran has given Hezbollah between $500 million and $1 billion annually.

The money came with strings attached and Iran has bolstered its presence in Lebanon and installed key officials within the organization’s top hierarchy. This makes it almost impossible for Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah to embark on military adventures that do not fit Tehran’s interests – adventures like the kidnapping of reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser on the border on July 12, 2006.

Another restraining factor is the economy in Lebanon, which comes in third place in the Middle East after Israel and Saudi Arabia, and has seen 7 percent growth in GNP since the war in 2006. If another war breaks out, Hezbollah will likely be blamed, all the more so due to its and its allies current majority in the Lebanese cabinet.

In the five years since the war, Hezbollah has tripled in size, and according to Israeli intelligence today has bases and missile launchers in at least 100 Shi’ite villages scattered throughout southern Lebanon. It has longer-range missiles in the center, mostly in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley, and is also believed to maintain strategic assets in Syria, which according to news reports, might be on their way to Lebanon due to concern that President Bashar Assad’s days are numbered.

Iran wants to retain Hezbollah as a sword over Israel’s head, to deter Israel from attacking its nuclear facilities. There are actually some generals in the IDF who have in recent years argued for preemptive action, or for taking advantage of one of the missile attacks from Lebanon to launch a large-scale offensive with the belief that the stronger Hezbollah grows, the more difficult it will be to defeat.

Israel has also made advances. It has boosted training, increased its development and procurement of new technological capabilities that will provide it with an edge on a future battlefield, and invested heavily in creating target banks that it can immediately attack in the event that war erupts.
All the target banks in the world aren't going to help if the people in charge don't have the intestinal fortitude to follow through on their mission. The Olmert government had target banks as well. During the first days of the war, they hit many of them from the air, including most of Hezbullah's long-range Zelzal missiles. But they tried to fight the entire war from the air, and the only way to do that is to be largely indifferent to the number of civilians casualties. That's something this country does not do well.

The IDF was unprepared. Its supply banks were empty and its troops had spent more time in the previous two years expelling Jews from their homes than they had spent training.

Olmert didn't send in the ground troops because he was tired of fighting wars. He was convinced that there was going to be peace. Before the war, he was pushing the country with something called a convergence plan that would have reproduced the unilateral expulsion of Jews from Gaza in Judea and Samaria. The war spared us that disaster. But Olmert did not want to send IDF ground troops in because he had no strategy for doing so, and because he knew they would just incur casualties. So he didn't send the troops in until a cease fire was approved but with effect 48 hours later. Most of Israel's military casualties in the war occurred in those last 48 hours as IDF troops raced to the Litani River - some 40 kilometers north of the border - so that Olmert could claim victory. So why did he invade Lebanon at all? Because he thought he could get the two kidnapped troops back and because he reacted like an angry child to Hezbullah's breach of the border.

Olmert was also saddled with a 'defense minister' who was not a high-ranking officer in the army, and a chief of staff who was as much of a 'peacenik' as was Olmert.

Time will tell whether Israel is ready for the next war. But we can only hope and pray that the mistakes of Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Amir Comrade Peretz and Dan Halutz will not be repeated.

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