January 1, 2009

Learning the lessons of Lebanon 2006

(AFP/Jack Guez)

Israel, at least up until now, seems to have learned its lesson since its 2006 failure in Lebanon. At that time, the Israeli armed forces were not properly employed against Hizballah and were never able to stop the terrorist group from firing Iranian and Syrian supplied rockets into northern Israel. Hizballah was able to strike targets in and south of the major city of Haifa. The Israeli air campaign was fairly effective in stopping the longer range Zelzal rockets from being fired, thus protecting Tel Aviv from attack, but the shorter range Fajr rockets continued to rain down on Israel.

By the time the order was given to begin a ground assault into Lebanon, Hizballah had time to reinforce its already prepared positions and slow the Israeli advance. By the time the two sides agreed to a ceasefire, Israel had gained the upper hand in the fight. Unfortunately for the Israelis, Hizballah had been bloodied but not defeated. Merely surviving the battle with the Israel Defense Force constituted a victory for Hizballah. In the aftermath of that conflict, Hizballah emerged as the major power broker in Lebanon. It was a poor showing for the Israeli political leadership and created a political debacle in Lebanon.

Refusing a ceasefire that would only benefit Hamas was a smart thing to do. Continuing to pound Hamas's facilities, weapons caches, smuggling tunnels and leadership while moving troops to the border should send the signal that this is not Lebanon and this is not 2006. Hamas brought this on itself, and Israel will not stop until they achieve their objectives.

Many of the military analysts on the various American news networks criticized Israel's conduct of the campaign in 2006. In response, the Israelis invited several of us to visit Israel and talk to senior Israeli military and civilian leaders about the issue. Although most of them wanted to make the case that Iran is the major threat to Israeli state, they realized that their failure to deal a severe blow to Hizballah was a mistake.

It appears that Israel has taken the criticisms and internal reviews of the action in 2006 to heart. They wisely have accepted the fact that world opinion will not be on their side and have largely ignored it.

IDF Major Avital Leibovitz with the author

The Israel Defense Force has tried to make its case via press releases and has established a channel on the popular site YouTube. This effort is being managed by the IDF Spokesperson Unit headed by Major Avital Leibovitz (photo).

The Israelis must be successful in Gaza to completely expunge the perceptions of their poor performance in Lebanon in 2006. Success at the minimum will be the elimination of Hamas's ability to launch rockets into Israel. If they can crush the Hamas leadership and force them into a surrender, so much the better. Only when Hamas either agrees that Israel has the right to exist or Hamas is destroyed can the peace process restart.