Israel’s Minimalist War

By: Greg C. Reeson

As the Israeli offensive into southern Lebanon unfolded in painstakingly slow fashion, reports of discontent from the troops on the ground made their way into news stories on several of the major cable news networks. The grumblings of the soldiers were reminiscent of the sentiments of U.S. Marines after the Hezbollah bombing of their Beirut barracks in 1983, when one Marine was quoted as saying, “Either turn us loose or send us home.”

Whether it was due to stiff Hezbollah resistance, an aversion to IDF casualties, or uncertainty in a war plan that placed too much emphasis on air power, the Israelis fought a minimalist war that failed to achieve any of the conditions set by Prime Minister Olmert for a cessation of hostilities.

At the beginning of the conflict, Olmert characterized the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers as “an act of war” that would result in a “very painful” response from the IDF. Immediately the Israelis began preparations for what appeared to be a massive, sustained assault into Lebanon with the objective of eliminating Hezbollah’s ability to conduct attacks.

The Israeli Air Force began the systematic targeting of Hezbollah fighting positions, key infrastructure, and re-supply routes, including the Beirut airport and roads connecting Lebanon to Syria. The coast was blockaded by the Israeli Navy and IDF soldiers began to mass on the border, in obvious preparation for the ground assault that would be necessary if Hezbollah was to be destroyed as a military force.

As the air campaign prepared the battlefield, the Israeli government began calling up reserve forces, a move that always causes serious disruptions to Israeli economic activity. Private intelligence organizations debated the exact timing of the assault, but all agreed the full-scale invasion of Lebanon was inevitable if Israel truly wanted to settle the Hezbollah question once and for all.

All indications were that this time the Israelis were serious. Reserves were mobilized, troops were massed at the border, a relentless air campaign was underway, public support for the government was at an all-time high, and Olmert promised to destroy the terrorist organization that called for the destruction of Israel in its charter.

But Olmert’s government did not deliver. The IDF conducted limited raids and border skirmishes while political waffling in Jerusalem relied on the IAF to win the battle with minimal loss of Israeli life. Statements from Israeli officials revealed a divided government that could not decide on the appropriate course of action. Faced with limited time to accomplish its objectives, the Israeli government wasted the precious diplomatic cover provided by the United States.

To destroy Hezbollah, Israel needed to address threats north of the Litani River and in the Bekaa Valley, the base of the group’s power and home to its terrorist training facilities. Confining offensive operations to the south of Lebanon was insufficient to address the threat posed by Nasrallah and his minions.

Not until time ran out, in the form of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 calling for an immediate cease-fire, did Israel launch the long-awaited ground invasion. By waiting until diplomacy forced an end to the fighting, the Israelis failed to accomplish the objectives laid out when the conflict began in mid-July.

The only way the Israelis could have achieved their objective of destroying Hezbollah as a fighting force was to adhere to the concept of total war. Total war means using all of a country’s resources in order to secure victory. Total war means subordinating politics and mobilizing the entire country for the effort. Total war means total victory or total defeat; there are no other options.

Israel has practiced this concept before, with overwhelming victories against Arab forces in 1948, 1967, and 1973. These successful campaigns led to the perception among Israel’s Arab neighbors of an IDF that was unbeatable on the battlefield. This perception influenced Arab-Israeli relations for decades and forced moderate countries in the region to at least tolerate the Jewish State, even if they disapproved of its existence.

After this most recent conflict, though, the reality on the ground has changed. Syria and Iran are boasting of a Hezbollah victory and all of Israel’s neighbors have taken note of the terrorist group’s ability to fight the IDF to a draw.

Air power is okay to shape a battlefield to influence a ground force’s chances of success. But when it comes to fighting an entrenched enemy that is prepared to die where he stands, there is no substitute for putting boots on the ground. And any time a nation is willing to put its soldiers in harm’s way, it must be willing to do so wholeheartedly, without reservation and without limitation.

By fighting a minimalist war, the Israeli government failed for the first time in a battle with an Arab force, resulting in a shift in perception in the region. The myth of invincibility is gone and Israel’s neighbors are emboldened. The question now is whether or not Israel has the will to finish the job if the cease fire fails.

Greg Reeson is a frequent contributor to The Land of the Free and Associated Content. His columns have appeared in several online and print publications, including The New Media Journal, The Veteran’s Voice, The American Daily, GOPUSA and Opinion

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