Raphael D. Marcus, Israel’s Long War with Hezbollah: Military Innovation and Adaptation under Fire. Georgetown University Press, 2018, 320 pp.
Raphael D. Marcus opens this book with a quote from Clausewitz likening battle to a duel. Later he adds another Clausewitzian analogy that equates battle with a wrestling match, meaning that the two opponents may be fully analyzed only in relation to each other. His book does well with regard to the former analogy, less well regarding the latter one.
Marcus is a scholar at Kings College in London, where he received his PhD. He clearly has firsthand knowledge of the IDF and has bolstered that knowledge with extensive interviews with IDF officers. He relies heavily on published interviews with Hizbullah leaders for their positions, while his firsthand information from visits to Lebanon adds an important perspective.
Marcus provides an important history of the Israel-Hizbullah conflict, with much of the information drawn from original sources. He usefully divides that history into four subperiods: 1985-1992, “Routine Security”; 1992-2000, “Deterrence, Guerrilla Warfare, and the Establishment of the ‘Rules of the Game’”; 2000, “The IDF Withdrawal from Lebanon”; and 2000-2017, “The Erosion of Deterrence, the 2006 War, and the Dahiya Doctrine.” While he covers the IDF’s side of the conflict much more extensively than Hizbullah’s side, his tracing of the history of that organization during its war with Israel offers a very helpful summary of the period. As noted, his narrative is punctuated with firsthand accounts gleaned from interviews on both sides of the conflict. Insofar as the book is billed as military history, it delivers, albeit with greater emphasis and detail from the Israeli perspective.
Although the descriptive aspect of the analytical section is likewise well presented, this section is weaker than its historical counterpart. Marcus well delineates the theories and factors involved in innovation and adaptation. He also makes an important contribution with an account of the IDF’s attempts to innovate. Nevertheless, he falls short in his analysis.
Marcus notes that the IDF is an organization well suited to adaptation, and he explains the structural and historical reasons for this. He lauds the IDF’s historical successes and ability to “improvise on the go.” He does not explain, however, why this aspect of the IDF’s organizational culture failed it in its lengthy campaign against Hizbullah.
While making an impressive attempt to track IDF innovation through the period, Marcus is hampered by self-imposed imprecision. It begins with his unwillingness to address the (admittedly difficult) issue of definitions. He correctly points out that the lines between innovation and adaptation are hard to determine, but that should not have deterred him from doing so for the sake of his analysis. Interchangeably using these terms as well as change, improvisation, and reform muddies the already murky waters of a complicated subject. The fact that some of these terms (such as innovation/adaptation on the one hand and improvisation on the other) are often in opposition to each other exacerbates the analytical problem.
Marcus also demonstrates imprecision in his use of the IAF as a model for the IDF. As he points out, the IAF is highly innovative; it does not, however, represent the IDF as a whole. Although Maj. Gen. Yair Golan indeed protested recently that “the message from the top command has increasingly become that the military is the air force,” the ground forces live by different standards and a different organizational culture. In the absence of innovation, they rely on improvisation, much to their overall detriment. Marcus notes the organizational conflict between the air force and the ground forces but fails to emphasize the stark differences in organizational culture and institutional behavior.
Overall, this is a timely and worthwhile book. Despite its analytical shortcomings, it constitute an important historical addition to the literature on the struggle against violent nonstate actors that tend to be highly flexible in their methods, and on the states’ militaries that are attempting to stay ahead of their ever-changing adversaries.