What Went Wrong in Lebanon
Today's Washington Times has a brief summary of the latest Israeli post-mortem on last year's war with Hizballah. The new study, conducted by recently-appointed Defense Minister Ehud Barak, finds the Israeli Army was poorly prepared for conflict with the terrorist organization. Barak's team discovered that after years of concentrating on guerrilla warfare and counter-terrorism operations, Israeli ground forces lacked the training for larger-unit operations, and had developed a "risk adverse" mindset, aimed at minimizing casualties at all costs.
Examining the lessons of the war, colleagues say, Mr. Barak has been disturbed by how far the ground army had regressed since fighting in 1982 against Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization and the Syrian army in Lebanon.
Meeting last week with reservists from an armored brigade, Mr. Barak was told by a tank gunner that his current tour gave him his first look at a tank shell in five years.
"No one will wait five years before the next live-fire exercise," Mr. Barak replied.
Before last summer's war, training had shifted from conventional warfare and the maneuvering of large combat units to small-scale tactics and policing duties.
A lack of training and an aversion to accepting casualties manifested repeatedly last year, Mr. Barak's assessment found.
In at least one instance, a tank battalion was unable to complete its orders to advance at night through difficult terrain because it had inadequate training in nighttime movement.
While the Olmert Report focuses on the military aspects of last year's war, the failure cannot be properly analyzed without considering its political context. We've written extensively on that topic, noting that while Israel had the military forces required to achieve a decisive victory, its leaders lacked the political will to get the job done. Changing political goals--and strategy--morphed into a plan for defeat. At one point, Israeli troops returning from the front launched a public petition drive to continue the war, after Prime Minister Olmert accepted an ill-advised cease-fire. With the mission unfulfilled, they understood that another war in Lebanon was inevitable.
The good news is that the IDF can rectify the training issues identified by Mr. Olmert and his team--assuming the new defense minister moves quickly to address those problems. But changing the mindset described in the report--and summoning the political will to fight a protracted (and likely, bloody) war remains problematic. Olmert remains in office, and there's no sign that he's developed a backbone over the past year. Meanwhile, Israel's enemies grow stronger--and bolder--setting the stage for a new conflict, and likely, on their timetable.
Paul Mirengoff of Powerline notes that the report favors policies that Barak pursued as Prime Minister, including the pull-out from Gaza. While I concur with that criticism, I'm slightly less optimistic about the IDF's ability to change its existing mindset and training policies. The comments of that tank gunner suggest that some of last year's hard lessons have not been fully absorbed. That's a bit bewildering, given the deficiencies in unit-level tactics (and leadership) that were identified last year.
Additionally, it will be interesting to see how much of the recently-announced, $30 billion defense deal with the U.S. will be devoted to training and tactical improvements. While some of that package must be allocated to high-tech weapons (most notably, a rocket defense system), it's also clear that Israel must spend more money on old-fashioned, combined arms training at the battalion and brigade level. The next war with Hizballah will be ultimately won (or lost) by the soldiers of the IDF--assuming that they're properly trained, and the politicians will let them finish the job.