Thursday, January 18, 2007

Lessons of Past Wars

Dan Halutz, the Israeli army’s chief of staff finally resigned; while his letter made no “explicit acknowledgment of the war's errors”, the “failure to call up the reserves, the delay in launching a ground operation, the poor communications” fell chiefly upon his shoulders. There is now pressure on Olmert and Peretz to go as well, since Halutz “was not the only one responsible for the failures of the war; the government was too”. Halutz may have had his faults, but he was only typical of a limited thinking which is far too commonplace...

The “Reserve Revolution” may yet find a second wind.

Military Intelligence?

In the midst of the rejoicing, there is the danger of throwing away the baby with the bath water. The Israeli failures in the July War were chiefly due to a mode of thinking which was grossly ill-adapted to the conditions of July 2006, but that was mostly due to overall arrogance and complacency, not just on the part of the "fly boys" and the doctrinal dogma that “airpower wins wars, but also the "all-tank fanatics" of the Israeli army.”

When they decided to move ground forces into Lebanon, they suffered from their over-reliance on tanks. In this, they ignored the lessons of Tel Shams, and of the 1982 Lebanon war; in those engagements, Syrian tank hunters proved extremely effective against Israeli armour.

They also ignored progress in missile technology.

All too often, as they learn from the mistakes of the past, military types often forget that wars are not fought by a given doctrine, but by a combination of actions It may be that Clemenceau was right, and there are three kinds of intelligence; “human intelligence, animal intelligence, and military intelligence”, the latter being a real oxymoron.

Indeed, it is a little known fact that the first book on tank warfare was De Gaulle’s “Vers l’Armee de Metier”, published in 1934, and still a great read… Thoroughly ignored in France by a military establishment who was still flush with the victory of the Great War, it had a huge success in Germany, where it was translated, and where new leaders had emerged to replace the discredited, defeated commanders of the past war…

No, the French were not “surrender monkeys”; they just happen to take too many “days off”.

As a result of German success during the “Blitzkrieg”, historians now wrongly cite Guderian’s 1937 book, “Achtung-Panzer!”, as a precursor, and forget that Erwin Rommel’s success owed much to his mastery of infantry tactics, as demonstrated by his 1937 “Infanterie greift an”..

Preparing for the Wrong War?

Things were not so simple back then, and they are even more complex today.

As they prepare for the coming war, the Israeli military may find itself confronted with another type of war… If that happens, they risk applying the lessons of one type of war to a completely different one… With the looming conflict with Iran, the “fly boys” will be much needed, as well as those of the computer geeks who operate those missiles, and the navy, with its Popeye-equipped Dolphins in the Persian Gulf. I understand they already deployed at least 2 of them over there.

On (their) plus side, their enemies make every sign of preparing for the past war as well…

The tactics of the Cedar Revolution worked back then, but they will not work now, especially not when implemented by the local Mullahs, even if Aoun helps, and even if they start blocking roads… And it is unlikely that all those new weapons and restocked missiles will do any good; there is little to “defend” now, much credit was lost, and too many bridges have been burned.

The coming Lebanese war will be very different indeed; it already takes on many forms…

Follow-Up (Jan. 19th, 2007)

There were quite a few comments disputing my observation that this past war was a “victory” for Hezb. My contention is simple; it was a tactical victory for HEzb, but a strategic defeat for Iran, and a disaster for Lebanon.

1- It was a tactical victory for Hezb because as Amir points out again, “guerilla wins if he does not lose; a conventional army loses if it does not win”. Hezb is an Iranian guerrilla outfit with a Lebanese face. In the July war, Israel hit the face, not the minds behind it; wrong target, wrong outcome. In this respect, while Anonymous (17:10) and Amir point out that propaganda won the war, I feel that Propaganda WAS the war.

2- It was a strategic defeat for Iran because it had to mobilize its outfit too soon, before it was ready.

Tactically, the destruction of Lebanon will suit them fine, much like the destruction of Monte Cassino, the “German paratroopers survived the onslaught of Allied air power without a casualty and occupied the ruins”, turning them into a strongpoint. I agree with Amos that tanks destroyed were odler models, but the nature of most the Southern terrain sitll makes a use of combined forces vital. Some newspapers make the point that Hezb lost quite a lot of men, but what does the "body count" mean to those who consider men expandable?

Strategically, Iran’s hand has been forced; it now has to accelerate its nuclear program before this card is completely spent, and its Iraqi card may be spent too… Or it can find a way to compromise with the United States, before economic issues force it hand further.

3- It was a disaster for Lebanon.

We are now a failed state, facing the grim choice, either surrender to Hezb, or to confront them in a civil war is our best outcome. While Hezb has increased its hold over its “human assets” thanks to their increased poverty, it has made the mistake of succumbing to hubris and cornering its enemies…

So I have no doubt that Hezb will lose this one, but his monopoly over the Shiite community will turn any war into genocide. In this regard, I disagree that we are “reasonable human beings” as Ghassan said; much like a Greek tragedy, I fear we’re stuck in this role. Unfortunately, Diane, no one needs to try and destroy Lebanon; we can do it very well on our own...

I will blog later on this later point, as I gather more elements.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't think that the I.D.F faild in this war...mybe it didn't succeed like in 67 but still it is not a "lost"....they lost only in one issue, the propaganda.

hezbolla only succeed to survive, not more than that.
and this is gurilla war, the americans didn't succeed the russian didn't succeed so the israeli also...but hezbolla claim victory from the first day, and the arabs had decided they won in the first day too...no action except of killing nassralla would change something...

Diane Tomlinson said...

Excellent post Jeha! As a professional observer of Amwerica's lack of foreign policy most people in the USA think the war in Lebanon is over because no shells are being lobbed but they fail to see the destruction of the nation of Lebanon from within by forces from without. It could have been worse America could have decided to destroy Lebanon instead of Iraq.

Amos said...

Good post, Jeha, but I wouldn't make too much of the "failure" of the tank in this war. The comparison to Syrian tank-hunters doesn't quite work because Hizbullah deployed most of its anti-tank arsenal against houses in which soldiers had taken shelter (a major intelligence failure responsible for many casualties). The tanks that did suffer damage were almost all old, Merkava IIs, a few were hit by Metis missiles, but the first one, immediately after the abduction of Goldwasser and Regev, was destroyed by a massive mine / IED. There is no way the Merkava IV would have been damaged to the same extent.

Amir in Tel Aviv said...

I agree with anonymous (17:10) that the propaganda won this war (which is a great success). What would be considered an Israeli win? to bulldoze Marun-Al-Ras or Bint-J'beil to the ground? 20 Caterpillar D-9 bulldozers can do it in less than 2 hours.

The future wars that Israel will be engaged in (hopefully not...of course), will be of Terrorism, MEGA-Terrorism, and war of missiles (Iran).
A MEGA-Terror that involves biological / chemical / nuclear materials will change the equation for ever; and I'm sure it's coming.
.

ghassan karam said...

Jeha,
I am not trying to pass myself as a military expert but I do not believe that advocates of airpower; the flyboys; deny the importance of having boots on the ground. Somebody needs to eventually move in and perform mop up operations after the targets have been softened. Let us not forget that Serbia was one by total reliance on air power, Desert Storm was essentially won by air power and even the six day war was won on the first day by airpower. The Israeli summer did not result in an overwhelming Israeli victory and they did not KO HA but to say that they lost the war is a gross exageration. My point is that in an open society someone will have to be held responsible when a plan is not executed properly but I am not sure that the Israeli casualties would have been less had they started a ground war sooner. It is an interesting speculation but we must not present it as fact. Since it was not tried we will never know.

Generals have always tried , all throughout history not to fight the previous war. That will be very difficult to achieve since it is the previus war that has been studied and analysed. When they go to battle they are bound to be guided by their previous experience. The very bright; if they are so bright then why do they join the military?:-); do formulate plans that anticipate developments in armaments and dogma but there aren't that many of them.

The next war will be different since the lessons from the summer adventure showed that once the decision to go to war is made then you have to finish your enemy quickly and hit them with your best shot right from the begining. It will be bloodier and much more destructive.

One final thought about the next Lebanese war. I do not share the view that another war is inevitable. If we live up to our moniker, Homo Sapiens (wise humans), then we should realise the futility of war and proceed to avoid it. Lebanon has no claims on Israel and I believe that there are no Israeli ambitions regarding Lebanon. We can and we must avoid another round of carnage by disarming the illegal HA militia and by adopting policies that will transform this republic of owers into a real secular democracy.Lebanon as we know it will cease to exist if another Lebanese war is to take place.

BTW, I loved the "Glory, What a hell way to die".

Amir in Tel Aviv said...

And a great lesson from the mastermind of guerrilla warfare, Mao Dze Dong: "..When a regular army doesn't win, it losses ; when a guerrilla army doesn't loss, it wins".

Anonymous said...

But if all the respect to hezbolla and the guerrilla war, you can't igonre that the I.D.F was too complacent, and the leadership of the army and the state made a lot of mistakes...

Solomon2 said...

Jeha, suppose you knew in July what you know now. Would you have done anything differently?

ghassan karam said...

Jeha,
If you invoke the Greek Tragedy analogy then I feel compelled to remind you that Greek Tragedies often have a surprise but pleasant endings based on Deus Ex Machina :-) What will bring about that development in Lebanon? I trust that whoever is going to be responsible for getting us out of this morass will call on our most important characteristic as Homo Sapiens.

Jeha said...

Solomon2,
That gives me an idea for another post...

Ghassan,
Unfortunately, too many "Deii ex-machina" are playing in this Levantine farce.

Marwan said...

I should definitely come here more often...

Leafless Eve said...

Nobody wins wars, it's just a matter of who's the biggest looser. I'm sure we will find out in the next few months who will "survive".

Leafless Eve said...

oh, love the Absolut Freedom pic :)

fubar said...

Jeha,

You are wrong in your tank analysis. It was the ignorance and arrogance of the freakin' fly boy and the "air campaign" he sold the politicos. Period.

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/817035.html

Ground commanders have excellent understandings of the capabilities and usefulness of airpower. They have a "real need" to know its capabilities. It can shape the battlefield and save the lives of ground troops. Fly boys rarely have a reciprocal understanding of ground troops.

This huge blunder will not happen again.

Jeha said...

Fubar,

You make a good point. But I think that he was scapegoated; sometimes military types "project" what the politicians really want.

In any case, the new appointment shows that they take Hezb seriously as they prepare for the coming round. In the coming confrontation with Iran, their role appears limited to Lebanon.