What the Hell Happened to the Israeli Army?

On the 32nd day of the war, Hizbullah is still standing and fighting. That by itself is a stunning feat: a small guerilla organization, with a few thousand fighters, is standing up to one of the strongest armies in the world and has not been broken after a month of “pulverizing”. Since 1948, the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan have repeatedly been beaten in wars that were much shorter. � if a light-weight boxer is fighting a heavy-weight champion and is still standing in the 12th round, the victory is his – whatever the count of points says.


Clearly, Hizbullah has prepared well for this war – while the Israeli command has prepared for a quite different war. On the level of individual fighters, the Hizbullah are not inferior to our soldiers, neither in bravery nor in initiative.


This war casts a dark shadow on the whole upper echelon of our army. I assume that there are some talented officers, but the general picture is of a senior officers corps that is mediocre or worse, grey and unoriginal. Almost all the many officers that have appeared on TV are unimpressive, uninspiring professionals, experts on covering their behinds, repeating empty cliches like parrots.


� an army that has been acting for many years as a colonial police force against the Palestinian population – “terrorists”, women and children – and spending its time running after stone-throwing boys, cannot remain an efficient army. The test of results confirms this.


Judging from the reactions of the commanders in the field, they clearly were completely unaware of the defense system built by Hizbullah in South Lebanon. The complex infrastructure of hidden bunkers, stocked with modern equipment and stockpiles of food and weapons was a complete surprise for the army. It was not ready for these bunkers, including those built two or three kilometers from the border. They are reminiscent of the tunnels in Vietnam.


History teaches that defeat can be a great blessing for an army. A victorious army rests on its laurels, it has no motive for self-criticism, it degenerates, its commanders become careless and lose the next war. (see: the Six-day war leading to the Yom Kippur war). A defeated army, on the other side, knows that it must rehabilitate itself. On one condition: that it admits defeat.

The author’s conclusion, that Israel can cut a deal with Syria and Hezbollah is wrong. But the critique of the Israeli military’s performance seems to be accurate, unfortunately.


Incidentally, Hezbollah’s performance, including its use of underground positions, was foretold accurately by H. John Poole in his book Tactics of the Crescent Moon: Militant Muslim Combat Methods, which came out almost two years ago.

UPDATE: Jonathan tells me this author is a notorious Leftist. Not surprising, given some of the stuff in this article. Nonetheless, the criticisms he levels here seem to be legitimate. Also, the idea that the military would have done a bang-up job but the civilians wouldn’t let them does not seem right. We had the same myth about Vietnam. But in both wars it seems that the generals botched their part of the program badly. The Israelis have just handed our common enemies a major victory. There is plenty of well-deserved blame to go around.

16 thoughts on “What the Hell Happened to the Israeli Army?”

  1. Israel spent something like a month committing troops in a piecemeal fashion and not using what the veterans I trust tell me would be the accepted tactics for this sort of situation, and waited until the ceasefire was almost upon them to undergo a more conventional military offensive, when there wasn’t enough time for it to accomplish anything.

    These weren’t the decisions of the privates in the field, or the corporals, or the lieutenants. This was the decision of the cabinet.

    A lot of the “Well, Hezbollah was just too tough” stuff sounds a little like trying to apportion blame where it doesn’t belong.

    It also sounds like it has the makings of self-fulfilling prophecy.

  2. When it comes to this war, I still feel like one of the blind men trying to understand the elephant. But, for what it’s worth, and if you think it was a fiasco, here is another take:

    Analysis: Government and IDF racked by unprecedented leadership crisis by Jonathan Ariel August 9, 2006

    Senior IDF officers have been saying that the PM bears sole responsibility for the current unfavorable military situation, with Hezbollah still holding out after almost a month of fighting.

    According to these officers, Olmert was presented with an assiduously prepared and detailed operational plan for the defeat and destruction of Hezbollah within 10-14 days, which the IDF has been formulating for the past 2-3 years.

    This plan was supposed to have begun with a surprise air onslaught against the Hezbollah high command in Beirut, before they would have had time to relocate to their underground bunkers. This was to have been followed immediately by large scale airborne and seaborne landing operations, in order to get several divisions on the Litani River line, enabling them to outflank Hezbollah’s “Maginot line” in southern Lebanon. This would have surprised Hezbollah, which would have had to come out of its fortifications and confront the IDF in the open, in order to avoid being isolated, hunted down and eventually starved into a humiliating submission.

    This was exactly what the IDF senior command wanted, as Israeli military doctrine, based on the Wehrmacht’s blitzkrieg doctrine, has traditionally been one of rapid mobile warfare, designed to surprise and outflank an enemy.

    According to senior military sources, who have been extensively quoted in both the Hebrew media and online publications with close ties to the country’s defense establishment, Olmert nixed the second half of the plan, and authorized only air strikes on southern Lebanon, not initially on Beirut.

  3. One of the reasons why it’s reasonable to think Olmert and his cabinet made most of the bad decisions is that they are still making bad decisions — e.g., in their handling of the withdrawal from Lebanon. And Olmert announcing during the war that he intended to withdraw Israel from the West Bank no matter what. And Peretz, the defense minister, announcing shortly after the ceasefire agreement that now would be a dandy time to negotiate return of the Golan to Syria. IOW, whatever other problems there are in the Army — and I am sure there are many — the political leadership has shown itself to be grossly inept.

  4. Define modern.

    The US Army against the natives in the 19th Century and the Philippinos in the early 20th. Both with some rather harsh methods which today are such no-no’s.

    The Brits make claim to success in the Malaysian insurgency, but most of the problem was within the ethnic Chinese community who could be readily id’d from the natives whereas the Brits were less successful in dealing with Orangemen and Provisionals in Northern Ireland for whom appearence was not as obvious. On the otherhand, Cromwell pretty well pacified the island for many years. Same unpleasant methods.

    In the end, its not so much the success of the opponent as much as a lack of will and desire to do what has historically worked because it is so ugly.

  5. Even without Jonathan’s insight to his politics, Uri’s criticisms seem spurious. Lots of opinions, too many adjectives and not alot of info.. consistent with a leftist, no?

  6. The military planners could not and would not plan such a disjointed and half-hearted campaign. The entire situation screams “political interference”. Let’s remember that Olmert is an accidental PM, with little or none of the aggressiveness and military savvy of prior Israeli leaders.

    It is also worthwhile to remember that Hez is not some disconnected, independent group of heroic rebels, but are a foreign legion type unit of Iran, trained and suppled by that power through Syria. Their levels of preparation, organization, and tactics are not surprising if one keeps in mind their sponsors, and their sponsors’ friends, like NK, which also has a lot of experience with tunnels and fortified redoubts.

    There is an error in thinking about this situation which I find wide spread. It has two parts.

    First, this episode is treated much too much like a set piece battle from Napoleonic times—the master stategist wins the battle of Fooforah and the other side is forced to capitulate. This expectation is completely unrealistic for any of the various clashes in the continuing war between Islamic forces and Israel, or the conflict between Islamicists and the West in general.

    Just like the relentless search for the magical”peace initiative” that will finally bring an end to all hostilities, the demand that each fight along the way have some sort of climactic wrap up that solves this or that problem is naive and unrealistic. Sometimes a punishing blow is all one can accopmplish.

    And that leads me to the second part of my objection to the way this entire business with Islam is being portrayed. This is not a repeat of the 1930’s buildup to the war in Europe against Germany and Italy.

    In both style, and especially the mentality of the opponent, the more correct analogy is to the 1930’s run up to the war in the Pacific against Japan.

    We may or may not have had the true “Pearl Harbor” on 9-11. If the Islamicists can fashion an even more horrific attack in the future, the national unity that so quickly unraveled after 9-11 might redevelop on a more secure and less politically fragile foundation.

    I would hope then that the efforts of the fifth column of leftists and multiculturalists would finally be seen for what it was and totally rejected, something has has not occurred as yet for a large part of the public.

    Also, as Iraq, Afghan, or this Lebanese incursion demonstrates, we are dealing with an enemy of the fanaticism and suicidal lunacy levels previously found in the islands of the Pacific campaign, where the usual result of our action was almost total destruction of the opposing force, with only a few surviving prisoners.

    It is especially remindful of Okinawa, in which the civilian population was so tragically used and misled by the Japanese, and many thousands became caualties. In their style of fighting, their disregard of civilian status, their willful violations of all the rules of war, their treatment of prisoners, and the utter fanatacism of their approach to any conflict, I think the analogy to the Japanese forces is more applicable.

    I’ve been mulling this over for a few days, and the more I examine it, the more apt it seems to be. I won’t pretend it has some sort of point for point congruence, but the psychological flavor seems right. In many ways, the Japanese martial spirit was religiously based also, and direct service to a god is a powerful motivator.

    It might also be useful to think of the various Moslem states as islands, either worthy of assault, as Iran increasingly seems to be, or better left to whither on the vine, as many Japanese garrisons with no strategic value were.

    My apologies for taking up so much space.

  7. Israel got caught with its pants down before in 1973 following their stunning success in 1967. Most analyst suspect that the failures of 73 stemmed from groupthink that developed within Israeli intelligence and an attitude of general arrogance within the military itself. Israel only has a population of 6 million which makes it the size of a large American city. This makes its organizations more prone to groupthink than larger nation states.

    Having said that. This does appear to be more of a political failure than a military one.

  8. Aough Arabs have fought poorly under the leadership of Arab states in modern times, they have always fought well under conpetent foreign leadership, as the Turks, British, and French demonstrated. Perhaps Hezbollah would better be understood as sepoys of the Persian state.

    In regard to the unifying potential of another “Pearl Harbor” event for America, remember always that much of the intellectual class of 1941 America (which had been pacifict during the 1930s) supported the war wholeheartedly because it was in effect defending the Homeland of Socialism. Communist playright Dalton Trumbo, for example, had written the very moving antiwar novel “Johnny Got His Gun”, but no sooner had Hitler invaded the USSR, Trumbo made it clear that it hadn’t been a protest against all wars. Perfectly fine for American boys to have their limbs blown off if it helped Uncle Joe Stalin. Nobody was more enthusiastic about crushing wildcat strikes during WWII than the Communist shop stewards, and nobody called louder for Smith Act prosecution of Troskyist antiwar protestors than the CPUSA. (Ironically, the same legislation was used to jail Communists during the 1950s.)

    I can’t imagine what it would take today for the leftist intelligentsia to support a war.

  9. I doubt the left will ever support any US military action. They have been a fifth column in all but the case you cite for over a century.

    I only hope for their marginalization, and reduction in numbers, as their true agenda becomes ever more apparent, and their animosity towards our culture becomes more obvious and strident.

    The reason so many leftists support the Islamicists, and oppose any Western action, is because they share the same implacable hatred for a system based on individual rights over collective unity, and capitalism over a command economy.

    The existence of a free mind is always a deadly threat to the collectivist mind, whether that collective is religious or ideological.

    Actually, I don’t see much difference. They are allies because they fit so well together.

  10. Just a couple of quick comments:

    * EVERY “guerilla” movement has been described at one time or another as being composed of almost impossibly tough soldiers, or completely unbeatable no matter what you do.

    * This usually persists right until the point where the whole thing totally collapses.

    * I can name three such movements that have collapsed in recent times: the Punjab separatists in India, the Shining Path guys in Peru, and more recently I have read at strategypage.com that FARC has been contracting a lot recently.

    * It’s amusing that the same people and government members in Lebanon who were begging for a ceasefire for humanitarian reasons this time last week are now ranting nonstop about how badly they defeated Israel. Or would be, if it weren’t likely to lead to more bloodshed.

    * After the eight thousandth time I’ve heard this or another guerilla group described as being basically Sasquatch-with-guns, I’ve become skeptical. Especially when combined with the political difficulties that were linked to above.

  11. I think that Phil Fraering is correct in asserting that most claims of guerilla power are highly exaggerated. Modern guerillas succeed by controlling perception, not physical reality. If guerillas are really powerful and have real public support they can take and hold territory. If not, they usually succeed by using terror attacks against soft targets to create the illusion that they are powerful and everywhere.

    The real problem we face in prosecuting any war is that the Left will instantly oppose it because the view all foreign policy through the prism of our own internal politics. The evaluate military action based on its consequences for their own political power. Since military action seldom, if ever, increases the political power of Leftist internally, they usually oppose it.

  12. Jim Bennett: “I can’t imagine what it would take today for the leftist intelligentsia to support a war.”

    JIM!! C’mon, this is an easy one! What would it take for the leftist intelligentsia to support a war? Somebody would only have to invade Cuba! Viva Fidel!

  13. verytretired, you may be right about the Japan comparison, but you can’t discount the the mullah’s apropriation of Nazi anti-semitism.

    The Nazi’s used anti-semitism effectively to gain sympathizers, helping them control conquered land and slowing the response of adversaries. I think it’s very important to recognize that the islamic extremists are doing the same thing today.

  14. GFK—

    I don’t discount the role of anti-jewish hatred and propaganda. The analogy was to the mentality of the combatants we face, not their specific ideological claims.

    However, it is interesting to note that the mirror image of the Nazi’s “Aryan superman” fantasy was the racial and cultural supremicism of the Japanese. Indeed, that has changed very little over the years, as occasional slips by Japanese officials or businessmen about other racial groups or other “inferior” cultures attest.

    The Nazis and the Japanes militarists were partners in more than just military terms. They shared a sense of racial superiority every bit as virulent as the KKK, each claiming anyone not in their racial/ethnic/cultural group was mongrelized and inferior.

    At any rate, I am happy to state that their are any number of obvious differences and exceptions to this, as in any, broad comparison of disparate trends or social movements. I just think the suicidal zeal of the kamikaze’s, and the total immersion of the Japanese culture in Emperor-worship for centuries, is more in tune with the Islamic cultural framework than Nazism.

    Having that comparison in mind, it is then valid to consider the comparison between the battle styles and outcomes of our experiences with the soldiers of the emperor vis-a-vis the soldiers of Hezbollah, and the Iraqi/Afghan insurgents, as well as these terrorist cells that pop up here and there around the world.

  15. JIM!! C’mon, this is an easy one! What would it take for the leftist intelligentsia to support a war? Somebody would only have to invade Cuba! Viva Fidel!

    Yeah, we just need Hezbollah to attack Havanna. Maybe we could convice hem that Castro is a secret Marrano just pretending to hate the US. Maybe we could discover a new secret appendix to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that lays it all out.

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