Saturday, September 02, 2006

Shortcuts to Victory, Shortcuts to Defeat

Shortcut to Victory 1: A coherent battle plan which is flexible enough to be modified in response to enemy actions with specific goals and objectives.

Shortcut to Defeat 1: A purely reactive battlefield presence in which troops are sent rushing off on whatever whim strikes the general staff and are put out into the field with little more to do than try to defend against whatever the enemy does.

If you're wondering which one of these Israel did in Lebanon and you guessed the second one, well you're right. An incoherent battle plan is the quickest way to waste your troops and waste your advantage and walk into a meat grinder. In Lebanon the objectives continually appeared to change, troops were deployed and then redeployed again. This gave the appearance of indecisiveness to the enemy and to our own troops. It's also a likely symptom of too many cooks in the soup with civilian politicians pushing their own plans, replacing generals and undermining any chain of command.

Shortcut to Victory 1: Knowing the enemy, predicting his moves and countering them.

Shortcut to Defeat 1: Ignoring the enemy's plans and focusing only on your own firepower certain you will smash him to pieces.

Again in Lebanon Israel did the latter. The lessons of the original Lebanon campaign, the lessons of Jenin, the lessons of Iraq were ignored. Instead amateur generals deployed assaults believing the enemy could be crushed with firepower alone. Troops, tanks, planes blundered through Lebanon accomplishing something but also wasting lives, time and momentum.

Much as in Vietnam, when America and Israel face guerrillas they respond as western military minds reflexively do with showy displays of firepower. This accomplishes something but it's like trying to kill a fly with a cannon. You might hit him, most likely you won't. Understanding Hizbullah's military doctrine as it was set by Iran's Revolutionary Guard would have been a good deal more useful, and it took large scale casualties and setbacks before the IDF began doing what it does better than any other Western army, engaging in counter-guerrilla warfare.

Shortcut to Victory 1: Attack unexpectedly with overwhelming force.

Shortcut to Defeat 1: Attempt to use your superior surveillance and air power to scout for 'strategic' targets beforehand and carry out selective strikes using troops to 'probe' the enemy.

Again Israel had failed to learn the lessons of the US in the early days of the Iraq campaign, war isn't a sniper hunt. Strike what targets you have right off, terrorists and guerrillas are mobile and can quickly move from one location to another. Most have entire networks of safe houses to fall back on in civilian areas. It's better to overrun the enemy than to try and pick off their bases, especially since using Western air power that way has a high failure rate as witnessed in Bosnia and Iraq. Military planners are enchanted with the satellite and strike capabilities now at their disposal but they are vastly overrated.

While the strategic strikes had their effect, much of the Hizbullah side of the war was being fought from Iran anyway. Committing troops right after air power could have allowed Israel to overrun Hizbullah, instead Israel flushed Hizbullah troops out of their bunkers and gave them time to redeploy and be ready to ambush Israeli troops who tentatively entered Lebanon.

Shortcut to Victory 1: When civilian casualties occur continue fighting as before despite the outcry, leave the military out of it and let your public relations handle the fallout. Civilian casualties are an unfortunate part of wars and an isolated incident is not representative of who is to blame.

Shortcut to Defeat 1: When civilian casualties occur, pull back on the fighting, launch investigations, expend vigorous energies defending yourself thus demonstrating to the enemy that you are vulnerable and will panic when civilian casualties occur giving them an incentive to create scenarios where they will.

Little needs to be said about that since we all know the events after Qana. The reality of war is that collateral damage is a fact of life. No serious war is going to be fought without it. Hezbollah used civilian areas to fire its rockets from. That makes civilian areas into valid targets and Hezbollah responsible for any civilian deaths. End of story. Collateral damage should never interrupt military operations or place soldiers and pilots under any kind of limitations, unless the damage is indeed caused by a grievous errors.

Shortcut to Victory 1: Use air power to prepare the battlefield destroying available targets and serving to support the troops on the ground.

Shortcut to Defeat 1: Trying to win the war with air power without committing your troops.

Whenever I am talking to people and the conversation turns to war, as lately it inevitably does, people regularly have one recommendation. Bomb them all. It's not surprising that they do, to most people particularly of an older generation the transformation of war and the superiority of Western arms comes through air power. They remember the blitz, the bombardment of German cities, the firebombing of Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. In later wars air power is often the flashiest element, jets flying through the sky seem majestically godlike.

The problem is that air power, like most Western military tactics, is most effective against organized militaries and functioning countries. Against terrorists and guerrillas, air power has limited effectiveness. Without an industrial machine to assault, armor to destroy, ground divisions to scatter; air power is mainly useful to destroy what terrorist infrastructure and fortifications do exist, for surveillance and for ground support and evacuations.

Defeating the enemy requires returning to the square root of war, wars are ultimately won by the side that holds on to the territory. The arabs understand this, all too often Israel does not. It doesn't matter which side has the flashiest weapons, has the best kill ratio or looks the best in the press. Those are all means to an end. The end and the only thing that matters is actually holding on to the land. Israel's generals and politicians of an earlier age who had come out of Kibbutzim and Yeshuvim, who had grown up farmers who settled the land patrolling it against Arab bandits understood this. The latter generation taught instead to focus on urban centers as the center of Israel often seem incapable of grasping this, orienting themselves in a post-modern world where diplomacy and intangibles are more important than something as crude as land.

It's precisely that attitude that got us Oslo and Peres' New Middle East and Lebanon and the disasters of the last two decades, because the only thing that truly matters is the land. The leftists and some on the right who assail the settlers for only caring about the land think they are showing off their sophistication when they are only showing off their ignorance. Land is what determines whether a people remain on it or become exiles and refugees as Jews have been throughout most of the last 2000 years. That means buffer zones, it means territories, it means not giving up land without getting something tangible in return, like other land.

Yet Israel is still looking for shortcut solutions, for trading land for intangibles in a market devalued by the stupidity of Prime Minister after Prime Minister. Even when it comes to war, Israel looks to diplomacy and international organizations to do the actual work of holding the land for them and maintaining security. That will of course never work.

Hezbollah because it held on to the land by virtue of Israel leaving. That is why Hezbollah always knew it would win, because they knew Israel would leave surrendering the field to them again. That is why Palestinian terrorists repeatedly trumpet their victories because they are certain that no matter what Israel does as a response to their terrorism, the IDF will leave and let them continue possessing the land. While Israel fights a war of intangibles trying to find some other means than occupying land to insure its security in a modern day version of the alchemist' quest to turn lead into gold, the Arabs stick to what they know. And for once they're right.

Air power won't win wars. It can only soften up the enemy. War and security are gained by boots on the ground. By soldiers and farmers living on the land and protecting it and driving back the enemy and taking his territory. This is not some doctrine, it is the history of human civilization from the very beginning. It's a history Israel needs to return to before it's too late.


Yobeeone said...

I think Israel's biggest weakness, which is helping lead to her destruction, is "fear of world opinion". General's don't decide how the war is fought, world opinion of Israel does. It's insanity.

Sultan Knish said...

yes all too often that's exactly what happens as israel begins running the red queen's race with world opinion and always loses but never learns that it's the race itself that pointless

sharon got it for a while but olmert didn't learn from him

Anonymous said...

Just a couple of things: I really think Israel (at least its government and military officials) need to stop showing empathy for the loss of civilian lives. Yes, it is the compassionate thing to do, and remarkably touching, but even this compassion gets twisted and distorted and turned into an admission of guilt of some sort.

The other thing, perhaps a bit off topic, but since you mentioned Rabbi Kahane--he was an extremely high profile and controversial person--why wasn't any military or government agency protecting him?

It reminds me of the murders of Malcom X and Martin Luther King. Everyone including the FBI knew the danger these men were in, tapped their phones...and yet they were relatively unprotected.

Sultan Knish said...

the reality is that collateral damage is part of war, when both sides follow basic moral values, showing compassion and regret for the loss of civilian life, .e.g. the US civil war or WW1 is the right thing to do

when the enemy you're fighting is utterly amoral and will use your compassion as a weakness and actually plant civilians around targets using them as human shields... well then showing compassion actually kills civilians since it makes them hostages

as to the latter the obvious answer is that the FBI was happy enough to see King, Kahane, etc die and in at least one case might have had a hand in it themselves

Ben-Yehudah said...

B"H Well, there you go again...making sense. I believe that the Israeli gov't finds such thinking to be dangerous. (You already know where my tongue is firmly planted). Wait a minute. Wasn't there a Talking Heads song related to this subject matter?

Sultan Knish said...

ah yes, it's 2 months of house arrest for making sense, six months for pointing out government stupidity and emergency detention for a year for telling them their shoelaces are untied I believe

Lemon Lime Moon said...

Yobeeone: the only fear Israel does not have lately is fear of Hashem.

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