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Second Lebanon War

Recommended Reading


Lessons of the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah War


34 Days: Israel, Hezbollah, and the War in Lebanon

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Who Won the Second Lebanon War of 2006?
Who Won the Second Lebanon War of 2006?
by Robert Werdine
 
On the morning of July 12, 2006, members of the Reserve Battalion of the IDF’s 300 Brigade, 91 Division were en route to a routine border patrol on the Israel-Lebanon border around milepost 105. At about 9:00am, one of their two HUMVEE utility vehicles struck an IED, and a hailstorm of ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles) blanketed both vehicles, killing three and wounding four. Hezbollah militants at once pulled two of the wounded Israeli soldiers from the wrecked vehicles, and made off with them across the border. As a diversion, Hezbollah militants elsewhere then launched a salvo of rockets, mortars, and sniper fire at several Israeli villages and IDF outposts in the vicinity of milepost 105 to sow confusion and cover the kidnapper’s escape. A few Israeli Merkeva tanks sent across the border in pursuit yielded nothing, and one of the tanks hit an IED and was blown to bits, killing the crew. A rescue attempt to retrieve the dead crew encountered a firefight with Hezbollah, killing two IDF, and a stream of airstrikes hitting some 69 bridges in S. Lebanon failed to cut off the kidnappers escape. The Hezbollah cross-border raid/kidnapping was a complete success.[1]

The Israeli campaign in response to the Hezbollah provocation has been much criticized, and rightly so. The war unquestionably exposed failures in planning, intelligence, counterintelligence, command, mobilization, execution, and logistics. The Israelis wished, to the greatest possible extent, to destroy Hezbollah’s infrastructure and weaponry, neutralize them as a military force, and force their removal north of the Litani. They also hoped that a favorable political diminishment of Hezbollah within Lebanon would follow the successful military campaign. On July 24, 2006 the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs enumerated the following goals:

“First, regarding southern Lebanon, Israel wishes to preserve the gains of the current military campaign, whereby Hizbullah has been removed from the border region.

Second, regarding the Hizbullah's long-range missiles which are fired at Israeli civilians from beyond the border zone - unless Hizbullah disarms itself willingly, this threat must be clearly addressed.

Third, the Hizbullah must be prevented from re-arming. This will require close monitoring of the possible routes into Lebanon from Syria or elsewhere.” [2]


To achieve these objectives, the Israelis had a contingency plan consisting of an air assault (code-named ICE BREAKER) to be complemented with a massive ground assault 72 hours later (code named MEY MAROM). Yet the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. General Dan Halutz, eschewed both for an improvised air assault punctuated by pinpointed “surgical” forays at Hezbollah militants along the border. Halutz was repeatedly told by both military and intelligence analysts that such an approach would be wholly inadequate to eject Hezbollah from south Lebanon, but he ignored them.

II) The War: July 12, 2006—August 14, 2006

After a week of air assaults and commando raids that had undoubtedly inflicted much punishment on Hezbollah’s infrastructure and logistics, the decisive victory promised by Halutz was, however, nowhere in sight. Hezbollah was just as firmly entrenched along the border and south of the Litani as they ever were, and rockets were still popping into northern Israel at 100 or more a day. Halutz, realizing that air assault alone was not doing the job, now consented to the ground operation he had previously dismissed as unnecessary. Yet even here he equivocated; instead of the full-scale ground invasion envisaged by MEY MAROM, the IDF would deploy battalion and company size units in “raids.” [3]

On July 19, at the Shaked outpost near the border between Avivim and Maroun al-Ras, the IDF took fire from a Hezbollah detachment of 20 fighters situated on a hillcrest. For 12 hours a brutal firefight raged until the IDF brought up reinforcements, surrounded the position, and killed all 20 militants in place.

Next, the IDF engaged Hezbollah at the stronghold of Maroun al-Ras on July 20, and they were shook by the ferocity of the resistance they encountered. The main roadway junction up to the village was heavily mined, and an IED explosion ignited by the Israelis brought a hailstorm of fire on the Israeli advance guard. The village was mined, booby-trapped, and well fortified. Hezbollah militants made excellent use of direct and indirect small arms and anti-tank fire from concealed positions, and they worked their elaborate tunnel system to maximal effect, hitting the IDF advance guard from multiple emplacements. The Hezbollah defenders’ fire control was excellent and well coordinated.

After some initial missteps in which an infantry platoon from the Maglan brigade found itself temporarily surrounded, a reinforcement of an infantry company and an armored platoon was brought up, and a 5-7 hour firefight ensued in which all of the Hezbollah defenders were killed in place. Later in the day, some 15-30 Hezbollah militants counterattacked an Israeli company deployed in buildings on a hillcrest within the secured perimeter; the company was surprised, and there ensued some brutal hand to hand fighting before a score of the militants were killed, and the rest put to flight. The Israelis lost 8 killed and Hezbollah lost 24, and, though sniping from outside the village continued for some days afterward, the Israelis secured a presence inside the village, if not the entire surrounding area. [4]

On July 26 the IDF advanced on the Hezbollah stronghold of Bint J’Bail for a “raid,” and the Hezbollah defenders there had prepared a warm welcome for them that would even excel the one the IDF received at Maroun al Ras. The town had been the chief rocket-launching area, and had long been a heavily fortified Hezbollah HQ. Hezbollah had reinforced the 60 man garrison in the town to about 100-150, about 40 of which included members of the Unit Nasr from the Special Forces skilled in sabotage and anti-tank defense; all were armed to the teeth. As with Maroun al-Ras but even more so, Bint J’Bail was heavily mined and booby-trapped, and the advance guard of Companies A and C from the 51st Battalion came under withering fire.

Once again, Hezbollah militants made excellent use of direct and indirect small arms and anti-tank fire from concealed positions in the town’s elevated buildings, and 30 of C Company’s troops were hit, including the Deputy commander Major Roi Klein, who was killed. Company C was now in danger of being outflanked and cut to pieces; Company A now moved up to reinforce, and gave cover while Company C evacuated their wounded. The firefight had lasted 5-7 bitter hours, and the IDF lost 8 killed and 27 wounded while inflicting about 20 dead on the defenders, but the IDF had gained a foothold within the town by the end of the day. (On this occasion, the IDF stretcher bearers, who traversed in and out of the killing zone for several hours while the battle raged to tend and evacuate the wounded, showed particular heroism). The next two days would see sporadic fighting in and around the town, with areas see-sawing back and forth, and the IDF did not really secure a presence in the town until August 14, by which time the Israelis had lost 14 killed and 31 wounded, and Hezbollah had lost about 80 men killed. Bint J’Bail was the most fiercely fought battle of the war.

The first part of the battle raged from July 25-July 30. There was a tactical withdrawal of two companies of the Golani from an exposed position in Bint J’Bail on July 25 after a bitter firefight in which some 40 Hezbollah and 8 IDF were killed. There was a Hezbollah counterattack on the 890th Battalion on Hill 850 outside the town on July 28 in which 20 Hezbollah were killed. In another engagement on the 29th, elements of the Golani once again clashed with Hezbollah in which 26 Hezbollah were killed, , and where IDF forces uncovered 5 anti-tank missiles, 30 hand grenades, 41 ammunition clips, 10 battle vests, 20 assault rifles, 15 handguns, 4 shotguns, a mine detector and equipment used to manufacture and detonate explosive devices.

On July 30th the 890th Battalion and elements of the the Golani Brigade withdrew, but reentered four days later on August 3, destroyed a Hezbollah missile launcher, and discovered another cache of assault rifles. On August 5, some 8-10 gunmen were killed, IDF units discovered a cache of Katyusha rocket and Sagger missile stores, and hit another rocket launcher on August 6. On August 8, there was a fierce firefight between units of the Golani and Hezbollah when the IDF commandeered a Hezbollah command post where three IDF, and 15 Hezbollah were killed. A Hezbollah ATGM hit an IDF infantry position, wounding six and damaging a tank. In a firefight on August 9, 2 IDF paratroopers and 20 Hezbollah were killed.[5]

Up until the end of July the IDF made no attempt to occupy territory for more than raiding purposes. By the 1st of August, the IDF now decided to increase the forces on the ground, and by August 11 Operation Change Direction 11 had commenced.

Some 30,000 IDF troops—four divisions—were now deployed in South Lebanon. In the next three days, the Reserve Armored Division was deployed to Marjayoun; the 162 Infantry Division had advanced 6 miles westward from Addaisseh through At Tayyibah to Ghanduriyah and successfully linked with units of the Nahal that had been airlifted there; the 91st Division had advanced 3 miles northwest from Bint JBail to a position between Kafra and Brashit; and the Airborne Reserve Division had advanced 6 miles north through Debel to a position just south of Bayt Lif.

Units of the Nahal Brigade were airlifted into the vicinity of Ghanduriyih on August 12 to secure a link-up with the 162 Division which was advancing westward. The Nahal had scouted the high ground around the Wadi Saluki (i.e., the Saluki Valley), and pronounced it clear of the enemy. However, some 100 Hezbollah fighters armed to the teeth with small arms and ATGM’s had taken up positions beyond the area they scouted. Unbeknownst to them, the 24 tanks and two companies in the advance guard of 401 Brigade were walking into one of the fiercest ambushes of the war.

After a Merkava tank had hit an IED, the 24 tanks on the narrow incline were now plastered with a hail of ATGM fire. In the ensuing firefight, 11 of the 24 tanks were hit with ATGM fire, two of which were destroyed. 8 tankmen were killed, along with four infantry. The 401st could get no air cover for fear of fratricide, but once they brought up their artillery to bear on the attackers, the Hezbollah attackers ceased firing and withdrew, leaving 80 dead behind them. The 162 division continued its advance and linked with the Nahal outside Ganduriyuh.

In Ghanduriyuh, Hezbollah had skillfully prepared a series of defensive positions. However, when IDF units took one position, the defenders would move to the flank of the attackers in an attempt to retake the lost ground instead of withdrawing and regrouping to the previous defensive lines. Once again, Hezbollah defenders had an opportunity to bleed the enemy and conserve their forces for a stronger defense or a concentrated counterattack, and they instead opted for one of their usual pointlessly costly, to-the-last-martyr static defenses. IDF units had a fierce firefight with the town’s defenders, but they cleared it; the IDF lost 12 soldiers killed, and 57 dead Hezbollah were counted within the town. A squad sized counter-attack by Hezbollah on the town’s casbah was a failure. 162 Division was in firm possession of the town at the time of the ceasefire. [6]

The launch of this operation at this time, defied all common sense and logic. UNSC Resolution 1701 had just passed marking the cease-fire to be implemented on the 14th. What could possibly have been accomplished until then?

As Yaakov Katz of the Jerusalem Post wrote:

“Late Friday night, just hours before the resolution [1701] was passed, Armored Brigade 401 began moving its tanks across the Litani - facing fierce Hizbullah resistance - in what has become known as the "Battle of the Saluki." Crossing the Saluki required that the troops and tanks climb a steep hill overlooked by mountains in every direction. Understanding the risk at which he would be putting his tanks, Brig.-Gen. Zur deployed the Nahal Brigade on the outskirts of the villages of Andouriya and Farun to take up positions on the high ground and to provide cover for the armored column moving below.

Under the command of Col. Moti Kidor, then commander of Brigade 401, the Merkava tanks had been waiting for the push to the Litani for close to a week. They had received orders to begin rolling twice. When they began to move, however, they were immediately ordered to stop. But on Friday, August 11, at close to 5 p.m., the orders came again, and by 8 p.m. the tanks began rolling. Hizbullah had meanwhile made its preparations. Kidor's men had been in the field on standby for almost a week and Hizbullah knew that the only passage West was through the Saluki. At least 100 guerrillas took up positions with the most advanced anti-tank missile - the Russian-made Cornet - and waited. By early Sunday morning, just 24 hours before the cease-fire went into effect, Kidor had finally succeeded in crossing the wadi and climbing the hill - albeit after paying a heavy price. Twelve soldiers were killed - eight in tanks and four infantry - and 44 were wounded.

But then came the orders to stop the advance and to begin returning. Kidor and his men were left wondering what they had been sent out to achieve in the first place. Why were they dispatched to cross the Saluki when it was clear that the cease-fire would pass? What did these 33 soldiers die for? The battle of the Saluki is a microcosm of possibly all of the mishaps that occurred during the war. For a week, soldiers were like sitting ducks waiting for orders that were received and twice cancelled, signifying a total lack of clarity and confidence on the part of the diplomatic echelon in general, and particularly its head - Olmert. When the orders finally came, they made no sense. Why push to the Litani hours before the UN was set to approve a cease-fire? What was the point of the brief and very bloody operation, especially considering that two days after crossing the Saluki, they crossed it again - this time heading home?” [7]

The use of tanks on such a narrow incline at Wadi Saluki defies all logic, but, sure enough, the same could be said of the entire operation. No possible excuse existed for the latter part of the operation from August 11-14, and the first part was of doubtful necessity. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Chief of Staff Halutz spun the operation as having weakened Hezbollah and made the passage of Resolution 1701 possible, but this was self-serving cant. The truth is that 24 soldiers died to no purpose or benefit in an operation that should never have been launched. There was no getting around it: the entire ground offensive launched on July 19 and concluded on August 14, had failed to achieve any of the strategic goals that had been set. The war had ended in a stalemate.

III) Israeli Failures

But if victory in this conflict cannot be unambiguously discerned, the question remains: What went wrong?

The entire ground campaign was conducted on the fly with inadequate, ill-equipped formations, senior commanders and brigade commanders who had not trained in maneuvering large mobile formations in years, regulars and reservists who had received little or no training, and soldiers and tank crewmen whose only experience was patrolling the West Bank and Gaza. Matt Matthews, in his study on the 2006 war, correctly points out that the IDF focus on low-intensity, counter-insurgency actions in the territories in the last two decades, had unquestionably reduced their combat proficiency in the conventional sphere. [8]

Yet even these deficiencies could have been compensated for by a sound, straightforward strategy and leadership from the top. And of this there was none to speak of.

There was a strong whiff of Westmorland’s “search and destroy” strategy here in Halutz’s approach, and the weaknesses inherent in it were obvious: instead of being deployed in force at all points along the border and coast of south Lebanon for a full scale ground assault, IDF units were sallying here and there into south Lebanon aimlessly milling about in search of Hezbollah cadres to engage and destroy, without occupying ground, clearing it, and minding each others flanks. That even the lowliest, most incompetent staff officer could have consented to such a strategy and deployment is incredible, and, indeed, Halutz was warned by many that this too would be wholly inadequate for the task. The Halutz strategy most signally violated at least three of the ten recognized axioms of war: Selection and Maintenance of the Aim, Concentration of Force, and Cooperation, and, on some level, it probably violated Security, Administration, and Flexibility as well.

Running tandem with Halutz’s hubris and incompetence, one discerns the trembling, unmasterful hand of Ehud Olmert. They had both set out to destroy Hezbollah’s infrastructure and weaponry, neutralize them as a military force, and force their removal north of the Litani. Yet any plausible attempt to do this was going to be a long, messy affair. The situation was totally unlike 1982 when the PLO militias were scattered in isolated positions throughout the south, and where IDF armored columns sliced through them with ease. Hezbollah had spent six years fortifying virtually every major population center south of the Litani into a major stronghold, each with a sophisticated network of bunkers, minefields, booby-trapped dwellings, arms caches, and anti-tank gun emplacements. Their fighters were well trained in the arts of ambush and defensive concealment, fiercely motivated, and armed to the teeth. There was a rough consensus in military and intelligence circles that this was just not going to get done in several weeks with the strategy in place and the forces that had been allocated.

Yet, dismissing the need for an overwhelming combined arms assault, Halutz first opted for an improvised air assault punctuated with small-bore border forays. Then, when that was found to be inadequate, he deployed company and battalion sized assaults to raid and engage Hezbollah strongholds. Then, when that was found wanting, he poured more forces into the mix piecemeal to utter negligible effect.

War must never be waged on a string of improvised half measures. It must be waged swiftly, decisively, forcefully, and with a strategy apparent to all from the Brigadier down to the buck private. What was needed was a combined-arms operation to hit the enemy where he was weakest, attacking in force all along the border areas at divergent axes, supplemented by sea and airborne assaults, compelling them to scatter their forces, and outflank them from every direction with shock, speed, and surprise, not engage in a series of scattered, costly slugfests to little strategic or even tactical benefit in built up urban areas where the defenders were strongest and had the advantage. Given Hezbollah’s penchant for static defense, this would have been a more than viable strategy. It would have involved a maneuver operation to secure areas where Hezbollah was not in strong possession, and securing the strongholds of the major population centers would have taken at least a month, maybe longer. It would undoubtedly have been a long, bloody affair. If the Israelis were going to achieve the strategic goals they set for themselves, that is, at the very least, what it would have required. If they were unable or unwilling to do this, then they should have opted for a more limited response and more modest goals.

IV) Hezbollah Failures

Yet these Israeli deficiencies, bad as they were, do not in any way vindicate Hezbollah. True, they made excellent use of direct and indirect small arms and anti-tank fire from concealed positions, they worked their elaborate tunnel system effectively, and their small arms fire control was excellent and well coordinated. But they showed no ability to conduct the kind of mobile defense that would have enabled them to fight a long, protracted battle and avoid heavy casualties. The defenders at Shaked post, at Maroun al-Ras, Bint J’Bail, and Ghanduriyih all stood their ground obstinately, made no attempt to withdraw, and were all killed in place. At Aytarum and Markaba Hezbollah defenders again fought in place until killed, and even allowed the IDF units to outflank them and surround them, rendering their positions tactically irrelevant. Even in Ghanduriyih, where the defenders had an escape route, they opted to remain fighting in place until decimated. The defenders here all showed unquestionable courage and self-sacrifice, but to what purpose? At best they harassed the enemy and slowed his advance; they did not repel him.

The platoon sized Hezbollah counterattacks on hill 951 at Maroun al-Ras, and on hill 850 at Bint J’Bail were both made with main and secondary attacks supplemented with ATGM fire, but both were beaten back, albeit after several hours of heavy fighting. Similar squad and platoon-sized counterattacks launched by Hezbollah at Ayta ash-Shab, Muhaybib, Ghanduriyih, Dayr Siryan, and Tayyibah all failed to regain lost ground seized by the attackers.

The Hezbollah defenders, in short, showed they were prepared to extract a steep price for the loss of real estate to their attackers, but once they lost it they allocated no resources and had no plan of action to retake it. Having no defense in depth from which to counter-concentrate and regroup, their cadres simply fought in place until overwhelmed, and their counterattacks floundered and squandered lives to no effect or benefit.

Marksmanship was mediocre. Even in the Saluki Valley, the Hezbollah Anti-Tank Guided Missile operators fired dozens of salvos for every direct hit. (It was estimated that 8% of all Hezbollah ATGM fire hit their targets throughout the war). At Maroun al-Ras the Hezbollah defenders lost 24 killed to 8 IDF; 80 to 14 at Bint J’Bai, 50 to 13 at Ayta ash-Shab, and 80 to 12 at Saluki Valley. These were, simply put, appalling loss exchange ratios, especially given their home court advantages of fortified terrain and defensive concealment.

On the tactical level, they showed absolutely no proficiency for large scale maneuver. None of their counterattacks took place at anything above a platoon level, and though they did show some ability to coordinate these squad and platoon level attacks into main and secondary efforts with supporting indirect fire, none of these local counterattacks succeeded even in their in their modest objectives. Said Stephen Biddle and Jeffrey Freidman of Hezbollah counterattacks:

“Not all of these, however, can be distinguished unambiguously from confused movement toward undetected Israeli positions, ambush attempts, or other actions that may not have involved the intention to regain lost ground. None of these actions, moreover, was at anything larger than platoon scale, and none succeeded in securing its territorial objective. But the engagements noted above were all unambiguous, deliberate attempts to close with Israeli defenders in positions recently taken by the IDF in ways that imply an intent to regain lost ground.” [9]

At Maroun al-Ras and Bint J’Bail Hezbollah militants made excellent use of direct and indirect small arms and anti-tank fire from concealed positions, and they worked their elaborate tunnel system to excellent effect, hitting the IDF advance guard from multiple emplacements, and thoroughly disorienting their attackers. Their fire control was excellent and well coordinated. Yet, instead of adopting a mobile defense that would enable them to inflict punishment on the attackers, withdraw, and regroup to do so again, Hezbollah opted for a largely static defense. Though there were some exceptions, Hezbollah strategy, such as it was, seems to have been seized by a fortress mentality and the firm holding of ground.

The border villages were all fortified, and well stockpiled with supplies and ammo to this effect. What Hezbollah was to do when these village strongholds were surrounded and cut off as they inevitably would be in a full scale Israeli ground assault, was unclear. They did not allocate reserve positions for mobile defense; every man was to fight and die where he stood.

Yet, how does fighting and dying in place play to your advantage when you can conduct a gradual, fighting withdrawal that allows you to both bleed the enemy and fight another day? Also, this tactical approach would have enabled them to regroup and concentrate sizable reserves to launch effective counterattacks on the IDF when their supply lines got too thin from advancing. The narrow, built up urban areas and forested rural terrain of South Lebanon would have been ideal for this approach. As Frederick the Great once said, “He who defends everything, defends nothing.”

Thus, from a command perspective, this was not only unimaginative and tactically pointless, but betrays the brutal, cold-blooded contempt for life that is the chief identifying mark of this terrorist group. Nothing is more contemptible than commanders or higher-ups who hold the lives of their soldiers cheaply. Commanders like Hannibal, Stonewall Jackson, and Rommel, who won battles with their brains instead of the lives of their men, would have shaken their heads at such profligacy. Militarily, Biddle and Friedman note the unwisdom of this unflexible defense:

“If their intent were merely to coerce Israel through the killing of IDF soldiers, they could have done so at much more advantageous loss-exchange ratios (and hence have continued such attrition longer, and killed more Israelis with the forces available to them) if they had not accepted decisive engagement by holding positions for so long, or if they had not attempted counterattacks, or if they had persuaded civilians to remain under lower intensity combat and intermingled their fighters with the population.” [10]

The Hezbollah strategy of holding (and dying) in place and fighting to the last man, resembled nothing so much as what the Japanese did at Iwo Jima, Okinawa and many other Pacific island battles. Yet, instead of maneuvering brigade and division sized mobile units around urban strongpoints such as Maroun al-Ras and Bint J’Bail, surrounding them, and reducing them bit by bit, the IDF, following Halutz’s “raiding” strategy, engaged them frontally with company and battalion sized units that played to the defender’s strengths of urban ambush and defensive concealment, just like the Germans did at Stalingrad. Yet, despite even these advantages, Hezbollah casualties, like those of the Japanese in the Pacific, were often more than several times that of their attackers.

In the Winter War of 1939-1940, when the Russians invaded Finland, they outnumbered the Finns by 3 to 1 (40 to 1 in population). Skillfully exploiting weather and terrain, the Finns conducted a model mobile defense. In the battle of Suomussalmi, an understrength Finnish division under General Hjalmar Siilasvuo surrounded one Russian division and cut another one to pieces. Though the ultimate end result of a conflict between a nation of 170 million and one of 4 million was never in doubt, the Finns, at the end of the 3-month conflict, inflicted about a 10 to 1 kill ratio upon their attackers.

In their study of Hezbollah strategy and tactics, Biddle and Freidman find that Hezbollah adopted a hybrid approach partaking of both conventional and insurgent models, and conclude:

“Hezbollah did some things well, such as its use of cover and concealment, its preparation of fighting positions, its fire discipline and mortar marksmanship, and its coordination of direct fire support. But it also fell far short of contemporary Western standards in controlling large-scale maneuver, integrating movement and indirect fire support, combining multiple combat arms, reacting flexibly to changing conditions, and small-arms marksmanship. Hezbollah appears to have attempted a remarkably conventional system of tactics and theater operational art, but there is a difference between trying and achieving, and in 2006 at least, Hezbollah’s reach in some ways exceeded its grasp.” [11]

Hezbollah does not lack for brave soldiers who fight to the death to defend their homeland, and small unit commanders who show much resourcefulness and ingenuity in urban warfare. But an inflexible, static defense, failure to integrate barrier defenses, failure to maneuver formations above a platoon level, failure at combined arms cooperation, failure to react to changing conditions, and loss-exchange ratios of four or five to one. How does any of this reflect favorably on Hezbollah as a conventional military organization?

V) Conclusions

In such a war as the one fought between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, the use of the term “victory” to describe the outcome of either belligerent is inapt and misleading, for the simple reason that neither side “won.” It was an inconclusive war, cut short by an internationally imposed cease-fire.

If there is a next time, the IDF is unlikely to repeat the mistakes of the previous conflict and underestimate Hezbollah. Armies, especially those in democracies, tend to undergo rigorous self-examination following failures or defeats, like the Union Army did after the opening battles of the Civil War, the Americans did after Kasserine Pass in 1943, and the Israelis did after October 1973. The Winograd Commission put all of the IDF’s failures under a microscope, and diagnosed them rather severely and at length.

Operation Cast Lead certainly indicated the extent to which the lessons of 2006 had been learned and corrected. The strategic confusion and inapt tactics that characterized the 2006 war were nowhere in evidence here; there is simply no comparison between the two. There was a fundamental disconnect between the political strategic goals of the 2006 war, the military strategy to accomplish those goals, and the tactics employed to accomplish the meandering military strategy. In Cast Lead all arms were focused on narrow, achievable military objectives, and carried them out with expert timing, coordination, and execution.

The Israelis have also garnered a stock of on the ground intelligence of their bunker network, minefields and ammo stocks. They have not solved the Katyusha problem, but it seems unlikely that anyone can stop a rocket all the time, as opposed to a short range ballistic missile, any more than one can stop an artillery shell. In any event, while the rockets will wreak terror on Israel’s northern population, they are militarily insignificant. A future war will not be won or lost by Hezbollah’s rockets.

In determining whether either side won a victory in the 2006 war, it is important to distinguish carefully between where one belligerent inflicts a decisive defeat on another on the one hand, and the failure of one belligerent to achieve its strategic goals against another belligerent for reasons unrelated to decisive victory or defeat, on the other. Some called the end result of the war a victory for Hezbollah because they survived. But their ultimate survival, thanks to a half-hearted, confused and scattershot Israeli ground campaign, was never much in danger in the first place. To call this a “victory” is to cheapen the word. A victory is decisive

and conclusive. This was not a victory for Hezbollah; it was a reprieve. The war was indecisive, and was not fought to a conclusion. Israel did not destroy Hezbollah, and Hezbollah did not eject the Israelis from South Lebanon by force; the IDF was still deployed in force south of the Litani at the time of the cease-fire some 30,000-strong.

The IDF, in the course of its meandering and unfocused campaign, hit Hezbollah not where they were weakest, but where they were strongest. Hezbollah were saved first and foremost by an Israeli strategy that was confused, inadequately resourced, and incompetently executed, and lastly by the weight of international pressure to end the conflict and effect an Israeli withdrawal.
* * *

Show Footnotes and Bibliography

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Copyright © 2012 Robert Werdine.

Written by Robert Werdine. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Robert Werdine at:
robert.werdine@gmail.com.

About the author:
Robert Werdine lives in Michigan City, IN, He studied at Indiana University, and is self-employed. He is particularly interested in the War of Spanish succession, the Seven years war, the Napoleonic wars (especially the Peninsular war) WWI, WWII, and the Arab-Israeli Wars.

Published online: 03/17/2012.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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