Israel as Goliath: The Giant Falls and Fails by Bill Buppert

“The IDF was not ready for this war.”
–         The Winograd Report
Now that Israel has declared war (again) on Gaza, its last foray in 2006 against Lebanon bears closer examination.
Hezbollah occupied an emerging intermediate spectrum capability between irregular and conventional conflict through careful preparation, intense knowledge of the threat they faced and a careful examination of past behavior to influence stratagems employed to defeat the Israeli enemy. Hezbollah employed a dual strategy to literally rain terror on Israeli settlements proximate to the Lebanese border and draw the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) into a quagmire to establish their stalemate or defeat.
The small number of non-state actors who conducted the fighting numbered at approximately seven thousand against a modern first world army and air force numbering orders of magnitude greater.  Hezbollah sought to own the operational fight and most likely succeeded beyond their wildest expectations. COL John Boyd would contend that the Hezbollah architects of the conflict compromised the enemy’s decision cycle and never let go.
Hezbollah had several advantages:
  •  They owned the defensive turf and made judicious use of years of intense preparation of the killing fields to drive home their advantage.
  •  Conducted a dual-purpose stratagem to terrify Israeli civilians through rocket attacks to draw a response and lure the forces in to isolate them and destroy in detail.
  •  Intense training and a keen doctrinal knowledge of IDF tactical behavior both mounted and dismounted.
  •  Clausewitzian friction would ensure that the un-forecasted benefit to Hezbollah would be the severe doctrinal dissonance and confusion that would cripple the IDF at the operational level.
  •  A very sophisticated information operations campaign to amplify every victory and use every setback as a means to emphasize the underdog position of the victims of the “invasion”.
The IDF had fought a self-identified successful counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign against the Palestinians in the contiguous problem areas to Israel.  Its entire force had fallen to exclusively orienting the forces to irregular warfare efforts while ignoring the full spectrum operations implications of atrophied training in conventional mechanized and armor warfare much less the basic notions of light infantry tactics beyond the practice of call for fire.  This continues to plague most Western armies even after the morbid lessons that the IDF provided for military observers around the world in 2006.

“In fact, Hezbollah inflicted more Israeli casualties per Arab fighter in 2006 than did any of Israel’s state opponents in the 1956, 1967, 1973, or 1982 Arab-Israeli interstate wars. Hezbollah’s skills in conventional war fighting were clearly imperfect in 2006—but they were also well within the observed bounds of other state military actors in the Middle East and elsewhere, and significantly superior to many such states’.” [1]
This from non-state actors, no less, and the implications for future operations by both Israel and Western nations engaging the Arab world may pause and take note.  This especially in light of the fashionable Revolution in Military Affairs the IDF foisted upon itself through the adoption of an Effects Based Operations (EBO) doctrinal shift which proved disastrous not only for its shoddy implementation but the sheer martial poverty of a vision that placed much more emphasis on expectation than tangible delivery of fight power as Van Creveld would advise. “Unfortunately, the new IDF doctrine failed to incorporate a large land maneuver component into its effects-based approach.” [2] The employment of exclusive use of air assets also assured the Israelis of tremendous civilians’ casualties both real and exaggerated which turned into a public relations nightmare for the attackers and an unexpected boon to Hezbollah.
The Israelis deployed an army and air force which entered a quasi-conventional campaign unprepared for that spectrum of conflict blinded by poor intelligence and logistical shortfalls that quickly transmitted a global picture of a once-vaunted and historically feared army reduced to a military shambles barely able to get out of its own way much that of harm.
Hezbollah had not transitioned into a world class fighting organization for its size overnight.  Through decades of careful observation and grooming of cadres and development of operational arts suitable to their notions of combat effectiveness and capability, orchestration of the offensive and defensive parameters were crafted and retooled.  One may suggest that some study was given to the first Battle of Grozny by their Islamic brethren fighting a similar mechanized and armored threat in an urban enclave:
 “ Many outright errors were committed during the hasty preparation of the force as well. For example, the operations plan omitted technical support resources (such as communication equipment) and there was no coordinating agency linked with the president’s administration to resolve political problems. The administration’s information/propaganda machinery also failed to prepare the mass media to report positively on the reasons for the intervention or to illuminate the national interests at stake. Thus, Russia lost the political and information battles in the first days of the conflict. Many of these problems were aggravated by the fact that at the time of the intervention, Russia did not have a national security concept, and only an outdated military doctrine.
In addition, three powerful ministers (Defense, Internal Affairs, and Internal Security) all had troops in the fight but failed to integrate their efforts. As one source noted, “The enormous losses of the early days were caused by the poor level of professionalism of the command/staff element, which underestimated the enemy and was staggeringly negligent in coordinating actions among individual units and subunits as well as among the various types of forces.” [3]
The Russians fought with an old and anachronistic doctrine that did not account for the enemy or terrain and the IDF fought with a doctrine that was untried and found to be severely wanting.  The doctrine made the fatal error of trying to take one operational arm, in this case, air and make it the exclusive vector of success instead of combining and synchronizing the dimensions and operating systems of battle. An over-reliance on “precision munitions” resulted in civilian casualties that simply compounded the military incompetence into a political disaster for Israel worldwide obviating their storied ability to play the underdog in any conflict.
Hezbollah prevailed through both a mostly brilliant operational plan tethered to a strategic vision and quickly adapted to opportunities the martial incompetence of the IDF presented them.  None of the authors cited in this essay find the Hezbollah forces without fault in some ways but the entire short war proved that the Western powers need to stand and take notice of the increasing operational savvy of non-state actors and armies.The recent green-on-blue violence in Afghanistan is yet another variation on the theme of an occupied or aggrieved non-state force grabbing the decision cycle at the operational level and helming it decisively.
The campaign of Hezbollah in 2006 is simply a harbinger of things to come.
[1] Stephen Biddle and Friedman, Jeffrey, “The 2006 Lebanon Campaign and the Future of Warfare: Implications for Army and Defense Policy.” Strategic Studies Institute, 2008.
[2] Matt Matthews, “We Were Caught Unprepared: The 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli War.” The Long War Series Occasional Paper 26, U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute Press Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

[3] Thomas, Timothy. “The Battle of Grozny: Deadly Classroom for Urban Combat.” FMSO. (accessed October 16, 2012).


3 thoughts on “Israel as Goliath: The Giant Falls and Fails by Bill Buppert”

  1. Grozny? What a mess that was. It’s a good example of hubris. The Russians haven’t the media by the balls like Israel does. What other country out there, besides Uncle Sam, gets away with the crimes it does and still gets portrayed as the “victim”?

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