Misreading the Second Lebanon War


Vol. 6, No. 16    January 16, 2007

  • Hizballah casualties were not less than 500 and may have reached 700 – a figure greater than all the casualties Hizballah has suffered during the last twenty years. It will take Hizballah at least two years to rebuild its capabilities and to recruit and train new people.
  • Israel also developed a system which made Hizballah’s long-range rocket launchers good for one use only. Within less than five minutes of launch they were destroyed by Israel’s air force, an unprecedented achievement in modern warfare.
  • The determination of Israel’s government to respond and to retaliate is a very important factor in restoring deterrence. Now those around Israel understand that Israel has certain red lines, and that if these lines are crossed, Israel’s retaliation will be intentionally disproportionate. As a small country, we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of reacting proportionally.
  • Middle East leaders understand that Israel is prepared to use military force, and that in the future we are not going to be as tolerant of attempts to act against us.
  • Nasrallah said at the beginning of the war that there would be no international forces and no Lebanese army in south Lebanon. The entry of these forces is, from the Israeli point of view, the greatest success of the war.
  • What is the real mood of the Israeli people after the war? It is that we are not suckers and we are not going to make the same mistake again. We are not going to put ourselves in danger if it is not necessary. We unilaterally retreated from Lebanon and didn’t retaliate for six years, and in the end we found Hizballah in a stronger position to fight against us. When Israel retreated from Gaza what was the result? More Kassam rockets on Sderot and Ashkelon.


Why Hizballah Is Keeping the Cease-Fire

It is not easy to judge the war in Lebanon because it was not between two states. This war was very unique because it involved a guerilla organization that is an extension of two sovereign states: Iran and Syria.

Hizballah is still functioning and was functioning during the entire war. We have identified by name and address 440 members of Hizballah who were killed during the war. From my experience, this figure is between half and two-thirds of the actual casualties, which were not less than 500 and may have reached 700 – a figure greater than all the casualties Hizballah has suffered during the last twenty years. It will take Hizballah at least two years to rebuild its capabilities and to recruit and train new people. This is why Hizballah is keeping the cease-fire.

Hizballah succeeded in launching 4,000 short-range Katyushas into Israel and Israel didn’t stop them. At the same time, Israel hit more than 150 rocket launchers. Almost a third of these, including most of Hizballah’s long-range missiles, were hit in a preventive air strike during the first night. Israel also developed a system which made the long-range rocket launchers good for one use only. Within less than five minutes of launch they were destroyed by Israel’s air force, an unprecedented achievement in modern warfare.

Hizballah also sent three armed aerial drones toward Israel with a payload of 45 kilograms of TNT. One had technical problems and fell into the sea, while the other two were destroyed by Israel’s air force. This was the surprise that Hizballah hoped to use against Tel Aviv, but they didn’t succeed.

From a military point of view, when Israel deployed its ground forces, they fulfilled every mission according to schedule. There is not one example in which Hizballah succeeded in stopping the IDF when it had a clear mission. One of the problems was that in some areas the mission was a bit blurred.

The fact that the war was ended before Israel got back the kidnapped soldiers is a great mistake. I believe that if Israel would have said it was not going to fulfill the cease-fire without the kidnapped soldiers being transferred to the Lebanese government, we might have achieved the return of the soldiers.

 

The Question of Deterrence

Deterrence includes two elements: the first is the determination to use your capability and the second is to have this capability. I think it was very important that Israel made the decision to go to war and sustained the war for more than a month, despite extensive Hizballah rocket attacks across northern Israel.

The determination of Israel’s government to respond and to retaliate is a very important factor in restoring deterrence. Now those around Israel understand that Israel has certain red lines, and that if these lines are crossed by the Syrians, the Palestinians, or the Lebanese, Israel’s retaliation will be intentionally disproportionate. As a small country, we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of reacting proportionally. Israel’s military action sent a very important message to the people around us.

Middle East leaders understand that Israel is prepared to use military force, and that in the future we are not going to be as tolerant of attempts to act against us. We understand that it was a mistake not to respond to Hizballah for six years.

Israel is returning to its previous policy of preemptive action against its enemies when necessary. This determination by the Israeli government is very important and will be part of the new way that Israel will act and react towards any threat in the future.

We believe Hizballah fired some 1,000 anti-tank missiles at Israeli tanks, hitting around 50 tanks and penetrating half of them. In terms of other recent wars, this was not such a great success. Israelis want to believe that our tanks are impenetrable, but such a tank does not exist in physics. While this upsets many Israelis, in terms of warfare, the new missiles were nothing to write home about, and this is before we factor in new defensive systems which have been developed in Israel. Perhaps some leaders in the Middle East will make the mistake of believing that Israel’s military forces do not have the capability to deal with such threats as anti-tank missiles and Katyushas, which would also be a factor affecting deterrence.

When Nasrallah himself said on August 27 that if he knew his July 12 attack would lead to this kind of war, he wouldn’t have ordered the operation, this sums up in one sentence what we can understand from this war. Israel made many mistakes. But in the end, from Hizballah’s point of view, their whole July 12 operation was a mistake.

 

The Political Process

It was understood from the beginning of the fighting that there was a need for a political process as an extension of the military operation. Here, I think that the achievements are more than many Israelis expected. Even after the Lebanese had finally pushed out the Syrians, the international community made no moves to implement the other parts of UN Resolution 1559 that clearly said all the militias in Lebanon should be disarmed and the Lebanese government should take responsibility in south Lebanon. Hizballah leader Nasrallah said at the beginning of the war that there would be no international forces and no Lebanese army in south Lebanon. The entry of these forces is, from the Israeli point of view, the greatest success of the war.

The international community understands that the responsibility for south Lebanon is not in the hands of the Israelis. It is in the hands of the international community and the Lebanese. With more than 50 Islamic states, Israel stands alone at the UN with America and Micronesia. But the UN presence in south Lebanon is not connected only to Israel. This is a chance for Lebanon to again be a sovereign, free country without Hizballah’s state within a state. For the UN, this is an historic opportunity to rebuild its reputation as an organization that now has the tools to implement a UN resolution with ten thousand soldiers from Europe in south Lebanon.

Yet based on our experience, we don’t trust the United Nations. Under its umbrella, Hizballah could do whatever it wanted and the UN stopped Israel from retaliating or preventing Hizballah from acting against us.

This war clearly exposed the relationship between terror organizations and sovereign states in the world. Syria and Iran built up Hizballah. The Iranians invested between one and two billion dollars in the last ten years to finance, train, and arm this organization Some 80 percent of the rockets that hit Israel came from Syria. The most advanced missiles in the Russian arsenal were sent by Syria to Hizballah, after Israel had warned the Russians not to sell them to Syria. Hizballah is not a guerilla organization, it is an extension of Iran and Syria.

 

Iran Lost the War

From the point of view of Iran, this war was a great failure. What was the whole purpose of the $2 billion that Iran invested in Hizballah? It was the matchbox that Iran hoped to ignite to achieve something or to prevent something with regard to Israel in the future. They used it and they achieved nothing. It cannot be used again. We know how to deal with this threat, and next time we will deal with it in a better way. We have to prepare the civil defense systems in the north and use the ground forces in other ways, but if this is the threat, it’s not a strategic threat to Israel. We can cope with it.

The Iranians did not even improve their reputation in this war. What did the Iranians do to help Hizballah, their ally and their extension in south Lebanon? What was Nasrallah saying to himself sitting in a bunker somewhere – maybe under the Iranian embassy? The Iranians were the big losers in this war.

 

Israel Investigates the War

Israel is now investigating the mistakes of the war in Lebanon. We will not let it go without an investigation. Were the mistakes at the political level – we didn’t let the military act? Was it inside the military, which was not determined enough or clear enough about the goals and the missions? The main reason to investigate the war is to understand why we did not use our potential, because we had the potential to do better.

One mission which was not fulfilled was to stop the Katyushas. Some 95 percent of the rockets were launched from an area in south Lebanon bordered by the Litani River on the west and the Nabatiya area in the east. Geography remains the name of the game. When you don’t have control on the ground in the areas which are important to defend yourself, and to prevent the other side from having its capabilities, you’re not in a good position.

 

The Impact of the War on the Palestinians

I expect Hizballah to invest more energy in the Palestinian territories now that it has lost its capability to use its forces in south Lebanon. Hizballah finances Fatah-Tanzim cells in the West Bank, especially in the northern part, in Samaria. They are also very involved in Gaza where they help Hamas very much. In the past they sent some weapons ships to Gaza.

The Iranians may also decide that perhaps they can achieve more by supporting Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Tanzim than they can through another round by Hizballah. We can see the beginning of this in stepped-up efforts to smuggle weapons into Gaza.

What lessons will the Palestinians draw from this war? Hamas and Islamic Jihad will try to strengthen their capabilities in all the areas that seem to be weak points for the Israeli military. For example, they will seek to smuggle in more anti-tank missiles. They also understand that our air force is a main element in our capabilities, and will seek to acquire more anti-aircraft missiles as well.

The Palestinians know that the fact that the Israelis are very bitter about the consequences of the war does not mean that we didn’t succeed. They know that this is an Israeli habit, not to be satisfied with anything. I believe that the leadership of the Palestinians will understand that Israel, after the war, is a state that is not going to give up even one square kilometer if that will harm its security.

What is the real mood of the Israeli people after the war? It is that we are not suckers and we are not going to make the same mistake again. We are not going to put ourselves in danger if it is not necessary. We unilaterally retreated from Lebanon and didn’t retaliate for six years, and in the end we found Hizballah in a stronger position to fight against us. When Israel retreated from Gaza what was the result? More Kassam rockets on Sderot and Ashkelon. We are not going to be the suckers of the Middle East. This is the deepest understanding of most Israelis, and the Palestinians are in a better position to understand this.

There will be a huge gap between the Palestinian extremists who say, “Let’s become stronger, we will show them as Hizballah did. We will be the next Hizballah in Gaza.,” and the deeper understanding of the leadership that Israel is not going to give up, even in minor events.

 

Shi’ites and Sunnis

This the first time in history in which the Shi’ites are becoming a leading force in the Muslim world. Of the 1.2 billion Muslims, only 15 percent are Shi’ites and they live mainly in three countries – Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. From the Sunni point of view, this appears as an arc from Teheran through Baghdad to Beirut. The Sunnis understand better than us what it would mean if the Shi’ites became the leading force in the Middle East, and this upsets many people in the Sunni world.

Another version of the sectarian tension may be seen with the ruling Alawites in Syria. The Alawites today comprise 10 percent of the population. The other 90 percent are Sunni. The Alawites understand that the minute the Sunnis will take control of Syria, within two months the Alawites will become only 5 percent as some will flee for their lives and others will be killed by the Sunnis. The bad blood between the Alawites and the Sunnis in Syria is worse than between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites in Iraq.

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Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, Program Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs, is former commander of the IDF’s National Defense College and the IDF Staff and Command College. He is also the former head of the IDF’s research and assessment division, with special responsibility for preparing the National Intelligence Assessment. In addition, he served as the military secretary of the Minister of Defense. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on September 6, 2006.

About Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror is a former Israeli national security advisor. He formerly served as director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is former commander of the IDF's National Defense College and the IDF Staff and Command College and former head of the IDF's Research and Assessment Division, with special responsibility for preparing the National Intelligence Assessment. In addition, he served as the military secretary of the defense minister.