Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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29 Av 5766 - August 23, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Will Protests Snowball? Will the Government Survive?

by M Plaut

Just a week after the cease-fire, many of the troops are still in Lebanon, and the protests are getting stronger and stronger.

Dozens of reservists fresh from the front lines came to Jerusalem on Monday to express their frustration with the war and the leaders. Some settled down for an extended protest.

There was clearly widespread discontent with the war and the way it was conducted overall, and many smaller complaints about the way it was conducted at the individual level experienced by the reservists.

A petition said to have been signed by hundreds of soldiers, complained, "The `cold feet' of the decision-makers were evident everywhere. . . . The heavy feeling that in the echelons above us there is nothing but under-preparation, insincerity, lack of foresight and inability to make rational decisions, leads to the question: Were we called up for nothing?"

Politicians have been calling for a tough commission that would have broad powers and the ability to make wide ranging recommendations. So far the prime minister and the defense minister have been resisting appointing a fully independent state commission of inquiry. The defense minister quickly appointed a ministry commission composed mainly of his cronies, apparently to try to ward off the formation of a more independent commission, but it has stopped its work already in anticipation of another more powerful committee being appointed.

The guns and rockets have stopped, but none of the issues over which Israel went to war were resolved. The Israeli prisoners taken illegally and without provocation were not returned. Hizbullah is not disarmed. It is not ready to lay down its weapons and there is no other force that can make them do it. The International Force under UN supervision is having trouble getting off the ground. Italy is being asked to lead it, but it does not seem that it will even be fully staffed.

Israel intends to do its best to keep Iran and Syria from rearming Hizbullah, a senior Israeli commander said Friday to the New York Times. International commitments to exclude Hizbullah from southern Lebanon and to disarm it already seem hollow, said the commander.

Nonetheless, serious military analysts, including the commander who spoke with the New York Times, have said that Hizbullah did take a severe beating, and that the threat and the fighting ability of Hizbullah were severely diminished. Sheik Nasrallah remains a military target as the leader of a terrorist group.

The Israeli Army feels it fought well and it believes that the Israelis won every battle with Hizbullah. Even if Hizbullah still talks tough, they believe that it will be loathe to start up another round in the near future.

Some Israeli officials claim that an important achievement is that the Lebanese government took official control of southern Lebanon. They are a country and a government, as opposed to the previous situation when Hizbullah was in charge.

There world does not understand clearly that there is no decisive victory against terrorism since the fighters melt in and out.

Intelligence allowed the Israeli Army to knock out up to 80 percent of Hizbullah's medium- and long-range missile launchers in the first two days of the air war. Israel was also able to destroy smaller launchers within 45 seconds after they were used.

But the war dragged on, the government seemed indecisive and Hizbullah fought well.

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Edward N. Luttwak said that the Arabs claim that the "myth of Israeli invincibility" has been shattered. However exactly the same claim was made after the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Egyptian then crossed the Suez Canal, and the Syrian offensive swept across the Golan Heights. The Israeli air lost fully one-quarter of its combat aircraft to ground fire, and hundreds of Israeli tanks were damaged or destroyed by brave Egyptian infantrymen with hand- carried missiles and rockets. Israeli political and military chiefs were blamed for the loss of 3,000 soldiers in a war that ended without a clear victory.

Prime Minister Golda Meir, defense minister Moshe Dayan, the chief of staff, David Elazar and the chief of military intelligence were all soon replaced.

However, claims Luttwak, both Egypt's president Sadat and Syrian president Assad soberly recognized that their countries had come closer to catastrophic defeat than in 1967, and that it was absolutely imperative to avoid another war. That led to Sadat's peace and Assad's 1974 cease-fire on the Golan Heights, never violated since then.

Israel had been caught by surprise in 1973. The Egyptians had an excellent war plan and fought well. Syrian tanks advanced boldly. Israel seemed on the verge of defeat on both fronts. But as soon as the army was fully mobilized, it turned out that they could stop both the Egyptian and Syrian armies in their tracks, and start their own advance almost immediately. The war ended with Israeli forces 70 miles from Cairo, and less than 20 miles from Damascus.

That was the real military balance of the 1973 war, which was obscured by the tremendous shock of surprise, emotional overreaction, and the plain difficulty of seeing things as they are through the fog of war.

It is the same now, says Luttwak, with Lebanon. Even the heaviest and best-protected of battle tanks are sometimes penetrated by the latest antitank missiles. They are not invulnerable, and they did well in limiting Israeli casualties. The small Katyusha rockets are also just not powerful enough to justify the expenditure of billions of dollars for laser weapon systems the size of football fields.

Many commentators said that Hizbullah fighters fought much more bravely than the regular soldiers of Arab states in previous wars. However in 1973, after crossing the Suez Canal, Egyptian infantrymen by the thousands stood their ground against advancing Israeli battle tanks.

Later, near the Suez Canal, Israel lost more soldiers against the Egyptians in a single day and night than in a month of war in Lebanon.

Even in 1967, the best Israeli troops lost 37 killed in four hours to take Jerusalem's Ammunition Hill. The defending Jordanian infantry kept fighting until the end, even though they were greatly outnumbered and encircled from the start.

Hizbullah certainly did not run away and did hold its ground, but its mediocrity is revealed, says Luttwak, by the casualties it inflicted, which were very few.

When an IDF company in Bint Jbail lost eight men in one night, that number was perceived in Israel — and broadcast around the world — as a disastrous loss. However in the Allied 1943-1945 Italian campaign, though the Germans were clearly on the decline, attacking forces suffered 150 percent casualty rates when a second, third or fourth assault wave was needed to take a small village.

Hizbullah, on the whole, did not fight as fiercely as the Egyptians in 1973 or the Jordanians in 1967, as Israeli casualty figures demonstrate.

Luttwak also claims that there was a fully developed plan to swiftly reach deep behind the front, and then destroy Hizbullah positions one by one from the rear. He says that the plan was not implemented because of the lack of casualties among Israeli civilians. Hizbullah distributed its rockets to village militias that were incapable of launching them effectively. Israel was losing one or two a day, and even after three weeks the total was less than in some suicide bombings.

The planned offensive could have cost the lives of dozens of soldiers, and would have had an expectation of more casualties than Hizbullah was inflicting with its bombardments.

Hassan Nasrallah is not another Yasser Arafat, say Luttwak. Nasrallah has a political constituency in southern Lebanon. Nasrallah has directed Hizbullah to focus on rapid reconstruction, right up to the Israeli border. He cannot start another round of fighting that would quickly destroy everything again. Yet another result of the war is that Nasrallah's power-base in southern Lebanon, having experienced the suffering of war, is a now hostage for Hizbullah's good behavior.


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