Tuesday, August 08, 2006

History and the Battle Plan

Napoleon had said that the first casualty of war is your plan of battle. This is all the more true when that plan is itself based on false beliefs maintained and promoted by the establishment as a test of political loyalty in opposition to all available evidence.

For nearly a decade Israel's political and culture establishment invested all its efforts in promoting the Oslo peace plan as the solution to Israel's problems. Under their vision of the future, a Palestinian state would be created side by side with Israel, the neighboring Arab countries would reconcile with Israel, lift their boycotts, end their hatred and a new Middle East would bloom.

As dangerous and destructive as this pied piper's vision was, it penetrated the universities, the Knesset and even the man on the street; but it mostly left the military alone. The IDF after all had no real role in this bright and shiny future. The IDF was therefore able to continue functioning as one of the best militaries in the world and developing the battle plans needed to defend a country whose leaders continued to embark on self-destructive courses of action.

It was the last few years of Sharon's leadership that damaged the IDF. Unlike the Rabin-Peres utopia, Sharon subscribed to a strategic plan that closely involved the IDF. Sharon's belief was that Israel's security could be assured by pulling back from 1967 territories and erecting a wall. The reality is that Sharon's plan was little more than France's Maginot line transplanted to Israel and Israel had disastrously tried to implement static defenses once with the Bar-Lev Line during the Yom Kippur War.

But this did not stop Sharon from shoving that plan down Israel's throat and from dismantling the military in order to ensure its compliance. Sharon removed top commanders, spied on generals, replacing them with political appointees who supported his vision. This transformed the IDF command into something more like an Arab or Russian army whose generals are there because they're loyal to the man at the top, not because of their strategic and military skills. This did not worry Sharon because ultimately in any war he believed that he would be the one running it.

Now Sharon is brain dead and his political successors have no clue how to fight a war. There's an Air Force commander running the IDF in a ground war, which he first tried to fight as an air war with dubious results. The Defense Minister is a former union hack rather than a former general unlike Mofaz. Soldiers are going out underequipped to the front lines while the border guard is over equipped because Sharon's strategic vision focused on defending static borders, whose uselessness the last month of fighting has pretty thoroughly demonstrated.

Incoming soldiers received training on how to expel their fellow citizens from their homes without feeling sorry for them. They were trained to fight terrorists but while the Israeli Army had been regularly warning of a regional war and Hezbollah had been building up its power base, the military had neglected the very real possibility that Israel would be drawn into a regional war.

By retreating to the 67 borders, Israel was also going back in time strategically. By retreating from Gaza, Israel has retreated to before '67 when Jordanian snipers routinely shot away at people walking the streets of Yerushalayim and the days when surrounding Arab countries maintained terrorist camps in their own borders and sent them across into Israel to carry out their attacks. Iran is simply the modern day Egypt and Lebanon the modern day Jordan. Hizbullah is nothing more than another variation of the Fedayeen. Long before the PLO had its own state, courtesy of Peres and Clinton, they were terrorists operating out of Gaza under Egyptian rule and sneaking into pre-67 Israel to carry out their attacks. Sharon made his reputation fighting those terrorists but had forgotten that borders never kept them out, only deterence did.

But how much deterrence did Israel have left after pulling out of Lebanon and Gaza. With Sharon brain dead, there wasn't even an Israeli leader to be afraid of. When the Cedar Revolution happened, it may have harmed Syria but it opened up an opportunity for Iran to turn fight a war with Israel using a country with a weak government that could claim deniability for all of Hizbollah's actions, giving them an open playing field. And so began the game in which Iranian forces operating as Hizbollah bomb Israel and when Israel fights back, wails that the IAF is killing Lebanese children.

Israel has focused on winning the propaganda war but that is a war Israel can never win because most of the world and the media view it as an enemy to their beliefs and ideals; and the war on the ground has suffered. Hizbollah's victory comes not from any actual seizure of territory or winning ground battles but from simply inflicting casualties on Israel, further weakening Israel's image in the middle-east and its deterrence. Arab cartoons now display Israeli soldiers as weak. If not for the unintentional chaos created by the US with the invasion of Iraq and the resulting fragmentation of the Arab world, Israel would be in much bigger trouble than it is now.

As it is if Israel cannot decisively break Hizbollah and remove it from its border, the next stage will be a regional war with several Arab countries, the same war the IDF had been warning Israel will face by 2010. Time is as always running out. The Iranian crisis is melting down and the rest of the Arab world will choose sides. Few Arab countries will have any interest in joining a war against America and Israel, but many of them will rush in to fight a perceptibly weakened Israel as Jordan did in '67 to collect the spoils. Egypt's Mubarak would love to compensate for his American alliance and the pressure on the right from the Muslim Brotherhood. Syria's Assad needs to show he's the man his father was. Iraq's new government needs an outside enemy and a way to lift domestic pressure. These are just some of the countries Israel might well find itself fighting.

Yet meanwhile rather than learning the lessons of its own recent history, Israel's political establishment forgot what happened in 1948 when the Haganah chose to fight Etzel for dominance and destroyed the Altalena, a ship full of crucially needed arms. Similarly Sharon who had been involved in breaking the arms and legs of the Etzel people, whose party he would later join, diverted extensive resources to fighting the settlers and the bogeyman of "right-wing extremists' as a threat. All the intelligence and manpower resources dedicated to this would have been better focused on Israel's own border, than fighting their own brothers.

The suicidal tactic of maintaining static borders and defend rather than attack that led to the Yom Kippur War, also failed to register. Israel is surrounded by enemies who creatively adapt to the situation. They cannot be kept out by static means anymore than you can keep out any intruder who is determined to get in. If you lock the doors and put bars on the windows, he'll come through the roof or the basement or he'll just wait till you step outside or hurl bombs at you from the street. A static defense surrenders the tactical advantage and the battlefield to the enemy. We're seeing the cost of that daily in the streets of Haifa.

An enemy is kept at bay only by deterrence. The very real fear of what will happen to him should he attack. If Israel doesn't recover that deterrence, there will be no Israel left.


Yobeeone said...

It's like a return to Isaiah 6, "Go and tell this people:'Listen well, but you will not understand; look carefully, but you will not comprehend!' Dull the hearts of this people, deafen their ears and blind their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and repent and be healed!"

I said: "Until when, G-d?"

He answered: "Until their cities are desolate of inhabitants, their houses empty of occupants, and their land desolate and deserted!"

Think how many times we've all sat back and asked how can they not see what's happening or not care about what's happening. It's bloody scary, really.

Lemon Lime Moon said...

It might not be popular to say
but ungratefulness allows giving away of land.

Keliata said...

It is very scary. We can only pray that Israel gets it together before it's too late.

Sultan Knish said...

truth often is unpopular

LindaSoG said...

This is an excellent piece, you have really summed things up clearly, there can be no doubt what a slippery slope we are on.

Sultan Knish said...

yes hopefully we can get off it before it's too late

Keliata said...

I thought occurred to me--it's already been about three weeks into the war and Hezbollah continues to fire rockets at Israel.

What would have happened had Israel decided to ignore or downplay the kidnapped soldiers and not gone after Hezbollah aggressively? Hezbollah could have blind-sided Israel and caused so much damage all in one fell swoop.

If Israel yields to international pressure to cease their attacks it would only give Iran, Syria (??Russia) more time to stock pile thousands weapons and distribute them to Hezbollah and Hamas before Israel could regroup.

And somewhere in the back of my mind is the thought that when the Iraq war started the US may have wanted a presence in the Middle East in case Israel needed help.

Sultan Knish said...

indeed, hezbollah was being armed and trained and prepearing to strike and the more time went on, the worse it would be

israel caught hezbollah by surprise with its counter-attack, which is better than had hizbollah commenced an all out barrage say a year from now on israeli cities

Anonymous said...

brilliant article!

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