Saturday, August 19, 2006

Lessons Too Late for the Learning?

Anthony Cordesman, a noted strategic analyst of the Middle East, has just published a preliminary report on lessons from the Israel-Hezbollah war. The lesson are for both Israel and the US military, especially with respect to its effort in Iraq. Middle East scholar Helana Cobban and others have criticized aspects of the report, but not its main thrust: Israel failed to fully achieve any of its war aims. Per Coredesman, these included
  • destroy Hezbollah's strategic missile capabilities vs. Israel;
  • restore credible deterrence;
  • force Lebanon to be accountable for Hezbollah;
  • permanently cripple Hezbollah as a military organization;
  • force the release of the two captured soldiers.
He does not include the assassination of Hezbollah leadership, a publicly stated goal at the outset, that also was not achieved. Nevertheless, Cordesman found the Israeli army sources were relatively pleased by IDF's performance. They believe they destroyed 80% of Hezbollah's medium and long range rockets and launchers on the first two days of war, and Hezbollah learned that IDF troops would beat it in a direct engagement. They attribute any short comings to the political echelon's dithering.

Nevertheless Cordesman has a telling conclusion: If Hezbollah is crippled as a military force, it will be because of US and French diplomacy in creating an international peacekeeping force and helping the Lebanese Army move south with some effectiveness. It will not be because of IDF military action. Also on the strategic level, Cordesman suggests that much of the bombing campaign was ill-conceived because it underestimated the anger that the disproportional response would create in the Arab world. This anger will strengthen Syria and Iran while weaking moderate regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

With regard to operations, Cordesman fudges on issues like the extent of Israeli intelligence failures, the deliberateness of its attacks on purely civilian targets, the disjointed Israeli decision making, the degree of success in Hezbollah's tactics, its capabilities as a fighting organization and how much Syria and Iran resupplied Hezbollah during the war. And he is plain wrong in his estimates of Israeli equipment destroyed by Hezbollah.

The report is entirely from the Israeli perspective, based on interviews and data he collected in Israel, in a research trip financed by an American Jewish organization. Given this slant, three additional points in the report are interesting:
  • No one in Israel thought the capture of the soldiers was a provocation ordered by Iran to deflect attention from the Iranian nuclear issue -- so much for that Bush theory and Halutz's belief the Hezbollah is a puppet of Iran.
  • His Israeli sources tended to have narrow outlooks and did not understand the sweep of the failures;
  • Strategy and tactics against well armed, urban based subnational groups have to be rethought, especially if "clean out and hold indefinitely" is not an option.
Steve Erlanger in The New York Times reports on an interview several days ago with an unnamed Israel senior officer that repeats the same Israeli claims in Cordesman's report. His source is most likely Halutz or his assistant Kaplinski. The officer's evident failure to have learned anything from the war, coupled with today's IDF commando raid in Lebanon, suggests IDF is keen on starting a second round in the very near future.


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