What the Hell Has Happened To The Israeli Army?
Clearing House" -- -- SO WHAT has happened to the Israeli army?
This question is now being raised not only around the world, but
also in Israel itself. Clearly, there is a huge gap between the
army's boastful arrogance, on which generations of Israelis have
grown up, and the picture presented by this war.
Before the choir of generals utters their expected cries of being
stabbed in the back - "The government has shackled our hands! The
politicians did not allow the army to win!
The political leadership is to blame for everything!" - it is
worthwhile to examine this war from a professional military point of
(It is, perhaps, appropriate to interject at this point a personal
remark. Who am I to speak about strategic matters?
What am I, a general? Well - I was 16 years old when World War II
broke out. I decided then to study military theory in order to be
able to follow events. I read a few hundred books - from Sun Tzu to
Clausewitz to Liddel-Hart and on.
Later, in the 1948 war, I saw the other side of the medal, as a
soldier and squad-leader. I have written two books on the war. That
does not make me a great strategist, but it does allow me to voice
an informed opinion.)
The facts speak for themselves:
0 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.
As I have already said: 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.
0 In the test of results - the only one that counts in war
- the strategic and tactical command of Hizbullah is decidedly
better than that of our own army. All along, our army's strategy has
been primitive, brutal and unsophisticated.
0 Clearly, Hizbullah has prepared well for this war - while the
Israeli command has prepared for a quite different war.
0 On the level of individual fighters, the Hizbullah are not
inferior to our soldiers, neither in bravery nor in initiative.
THE MAIN guilt for the failure belongs with General Dan Halutz. I
say "guilt" and not merely "responsibility", which comes with the
He is living proof of the fact that an inflated ego and a brutal
attitude are not enough to create a competent Chief- of-Staff. The
opposite may be true.
Halutz gained fame (or notoriety) when he was asked what he feels
when he drops a one-ton bomb on a residential quarter and answered:
"a slight bang on the wing." He added that afterwards he sleeps well
at night. (In the same interview he also called me and my friends
"traitors" who should be prosecuted.)
Now it is already clear - again, in the test of results - that Dan
Halutz is the worst Chief-of-Staff in the annals of the Israeli
army, a completely incompetent officer for his job.
Recently he has changed his blue Air-Force uniform for the green one
of the land army. Too late.
Halutz started this war with the bluster of an Air-Force officer. He
believed that it was possible to crush Hizbullah by aerial
bombardment, supplemented by artillery shelling from land and sea.
He believed that if he destroyed the towns, neighborhoods, roads and
ports of Lebanon, the Lebanese people would rise and compel their
government to remove Hizbullah. For a week he killed and devastated,
until it became clear to everybody that this method achieves the
opposite - strengthens Hizbullah, weakens its opponents within
Lebanon and throughout the Arab world and destroys the world-wide
sympathy Israel enjoyed at the beginning of the war.
When he reached this point, Halutz did not know what to do next. For
three weeks he sent his soldiers into Lebanon on senseless and
hopeless missions, gaining nothing. Even in the battles that were
fought in villages right on the border, no significant victories
were achieved. After the fourth week, when he was requested to
submit a plan to the government, it was unbelievably primitive.
If the "enemy" had been a regular army, it would have been a bad
plan. Just pushing the enemy back is hardly a strategy at all. But
when the other side is a guerilla force, this is simply foolish. It
may cause the death of many soldiers, for no practical result.
Now he is trying to achieve a token victory, occupying empty space
as far from the border as possible, after the UN has already called
for an end to the hostilities. (As in almost all previous Israeli
wars, this call is being ignored, in the hope of snatching some
gains at the last
moment.) Behind this line, Hizbullah remains intact in their
HOWEVER, THE Chief-of-Staff does not act in a vacuum. As
Commander-in-Chief he has indeed a huge influence, but he is also
merely the top of the military pyramid.
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 clich?s like parrots.
The ex-generals, who have been crowding out everybody else in the TV
and radio studios, have also mostly surprised us with their
mediocrity, limited intelligence and general ignorance. One gets the
impression that they have not read books on military history, and
fill the void with empty phrases.
More than once it has been said in this column that 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.
AS AFTER every failure of our military, the intelligence community
is quick to cover its ass. Their chiefs declare that they knew
everything, that they provided the troops with full and accurate
information, that they are not to blame if the army did not act on
That does not sound reasonable. 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.
The intelligence community has also been corrupted by the long
occupation of the Palestinian territories. They have got used to
relying on the thousands of collaborators that have been recruited
in the course of 39 years by torture, bribery and extortion (junkies
needing drugs, someone begging to be allowed to visit his dying
mother, someone desiring a chunk from the cake of corruption, etc.)
Clearly, no collaborators were found among the Hizbullah, and
without them intelligence is blind.
It is also clear that Intelligence, and the army in general, was not
ready for the deadly efficiency of Hizbullah's anti-tank weapons.
Hard to believe, but according to official figures, more than 20
tanks were hit.
The Merkava ("carriage") tank is the pride of the army. Its father,
General Israel Tal, a victorious tank general, did not want only to
build the world's most advanced tank, but also a tank that provided
its crew with the best possible protection. Now it appears that an
anti-tank weapon from the late 1980s that is available in large
quantities, can disable the tank, killing or grievously wounding the
THE COMMON denominator of all the failures is the disdain for Arabs,
a contempt that has dire consequences. It has caused total
misunderstanding, a kind of blindness of Hizbullah's motives,
attitudes, standing in Lebanese society etc.
I am convinced that today's soldiers are in no way inferior to their
predecessors. Their motivation is high, they have shown great
bravery in the evacuation of the wounded under fire. (I very much
appreciate that in particular, since my own life was saved by
soldiers who risked theirs to get me out under fire when I was
wounded.) But the best soldiers cannot succeed when the command is
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.
After this war, the Chief-of-Staff must be dismissed and the senior
officer corps overhauled. For that, a Minister of Defense is needed
who is not a marionette of the Chief- of-Staff. (But that concerns
the political leadership, about whose failures and sins we shall
speak another time.)
We, as people of peace, have a great interest in changing the
military leadership. First, because it has a huge impact on the
forming of policy and, as we just saw, irresponsible commanders can
easily drag the government into dangerous adventures. And second,
because even after achieving peace we shall need an efficient army -
at least until the wolf lies down with the lamb, as the prophet
Isaiah promised. (And not in the Israeli version: "No problem. One
only has to bring a new lamb every day.")
THE MAIN lesson of the war, beyond all military analysis, lies in
the five words we inscribed on our banner from the very first day:
"There is no military solution!"
Even a strong army cannot defeat a guerilla organization, because
the guerilla is a political phenomenon. Perhaps the opposite is
true: the stronger the army, the better equipped with advanced
technology, the smaller are its chances of winning such a
confrontation. Our conflict - in the North, the Center and the South
- is a political conflict, and can only be resolved by political
means. The army is the instrument worst suited for that.
The war has proved that Hizbullah is a strong opponent, and any
political solution in the North must include it. Since Syria is its
strong ally, it must also be included. The settlement must be
worthwhile for them too, otherwise it will not last.
The price is the return of the Golan Heights.
What is true in the North is also true in the South. The army will
not defeat the Palestinians, because such a victory is altogether
impossible. For the good of the army, it must be extricated from the
If that now enters the consciousness of the Israeli public,
something good may yet have come out of this war.