The tme has come for Israel to revise its strategy
"This is the second strategic surprise for Israel since its creation. The first was in October 1973. 12 hours into the war, Israel’s military and political leadership were convinced that the Syrians and the Egyptians would never dare to go on the offensive and if, despite everything they took the risk, the Israeli Army would inflict a stinging defeat. We know the rest of the story. 22 days of bloody fighting, 2,552 dead Israelis, 3,000 wounded. At the last stage of the conflict, Israel was 100 km from Cairo and 40 km from Damascus. Strategic gains led to a peace process with Egypt.
On July 12th, 2006, Hezbollah bombarded frontier communities in northern Israel, attacked a patrol, killed 8 soldiers and kidnapped two others. But the sector had been on alert, precisely for an ambush of this kind. The Israeli government decides to “teach a lesson” to the Shi’ite militia. A few days of bombing and small ground operations would do the trick, thought military chiefs. Hezbollah respond with massive rocket attacks and missiles. The passive Israeli defense was caught by surprise. There is no alert system for Haifa and other communities after a week of fighting. The same disorganization was seen in supply depots for the reserves. The parents of soldiers had to contribute to buy helmets and Kevlar vests. Gaps in tactical intelligence. Hezbollah had built a veritable system of fortifications and Israeli intelligence knew nothing about it. Some Hezbollah bunkers were 30 meters underground, equipped with computers and video systems able to reconnoiter the terrain. The Israeli Air Force was unable to destroy them.
Other surprises. The ultramodern weaponry used by the Shi’ite militia. Anti-tank missiles able to pierce the armor of the Israeli Merkava tanks, considered the most modern in the world. Iranian-made Saggers, Russian Metis and Kornets and American TOWs. Most of the Israeli losses were owing to these missiles.
But there’s even worse. The civilian administration was unable to manange the crisis. Fleeing rocket salvos in northern Israel, hundreds of thousands of Israelis sought refuge in the center of the country with only charity organizations to care for them. Unpreparedness was evident in the military, the government and in all the ministries. This is the result of the Israeli vision of their neighbors and of their own strength. Since 2000, Israel has been implementing a policy founded on the principle that there is no partner for peace and that its military can impose Israeli will on its weak adversaries. The pullout from Lebanon on May 25, 2000, was the first example of this policy of unilateralism. After the collapse of negotiations with Hafez Al-Assad two months earlier, Prime Minister Ehud Barak decided to keep his election promise: he evacuates the security zone that Israel had maintained in Lebanon for eighteen years.
They pulled out without the consent of the Beirut government or Syria, the mentor of Hezbollah. For General Yuri Saguy, who had conducted secret talks with Syria, a peace treaty with Damascus was possible and the unilateral evacuation of Lebanon a mistake. A few months later, after the collapse of the Oslo Accords, Ehud Barak proclaimed that Arafat was not a partner for peace. He successor as Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, convinced that the Palestinian leader was responsible for the Intifada, laid siege to his headquarters in Ramallah and cut him off from the world. The accusation was false. Today, Avi Dicheter, the former head of Shin Beirt admits in a documentary by Dan Setton (May 4th, 2006) that “contrary to what was said, Afafat neither started the Intifada nor controlled its spread.”
This policy led to the unilateral pullout from Gaza in 2005, without direct talks with the Palestinian leadership and coordinated with the construction of the wall cutting off the West Bank, seen by the Palestinians and the Arab world as the outline of Israeli’s future borders.
These new policies were backed by a new military doctrine on low-intensity conflict. A think tank of Reserve generals lodged in an officer training school developed strategic concepts that resulted in transforming the conflict. The most important was to “bore into the minds” of the Palestinians that they would attain nothing through violence. For this, the pressure on the population had to be kept at a maximum, with curfews, lockdowns and an economic blockade.
The other element of this doctrine rests on the notion of a “lever”. According to General Gal Hirsh, one of the theory’s creators, it was necessary to “apply relentless and permanent pressure on the Palestinian Authority to force it to fight terrorism." (…) ("Ha Imout Ha Mugbla" (Limited Conflict), Ministry of Defense, 2004, Tel-Aviv, p. 242.)
Military chiefs and intelligence analysts later came to the concluson that this strategy had no guaranteed results. After more than five years of repression of the Intifada, Palestinian moderates were marginalized and Hamas took over the government.
In Lebanon, Israel attempted to apply the same principles: pressure on the population by striking at its centers of circulation, calls to evacuate Shi’ite neighborhoods and bombardment of infrastructures in order to apply the lever to the Lebanese government. There again, the outcome is negative. Israel had to accept a cessation of hostilities very far removed from its objectives at the outset of operations. No immediate release of the soldiers captured by Hezbollah, no control of the Syrio-Lebanese frontier to prevent rearming of the Shi’ite militia, which has maintained its offensive capacity. The missile ramps are for the most part intact and still menacing. The alternative to this military and political strategy may be found in the proposals of General Yuri Saguy and the sponsors of the Geneva Accords with the Palestinians: direct negotiations with Syria and the Lebanese Government for a peace in good and due form, even at the price of a pullout from Golan. An agreement with Mahmoud Abbas based on exchange of territory for peace. Without this, radical Islam will continue to grow in the region."
[Article available in the Le Monde's archives; published on 17 August]