What the Hell Has Happened to the Army?

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So what has
happened to the Israeli army?

This question
is now being raised not only around the world, but also in Israel
itself. Clearly, there is a huge gap between the army’s boastful
arrogance, on which generations of Israelis have grown up, and the
picture presented by this war.

Before the
choir of generals utters their expected cries of being stabbed in
the back – "The government has shackled our hands! The politicians
did not allow the army to win! The political leadership is to blame
for everything!" – it is worthwhile to examine this war from
a professional military point of view.

(It is, perhaps,
appropriate to interject at this point a personal remark. Who am
I to speak about strategic matters? What am I, a general? Well – I was 16 years old when World War II broke out. I decided then to
study military theory in order to be able to follow events. I read
a few hundred books – from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz to Liddel-Hart
and on. Later, in the 1948 war, I saw the other side of the medal,
as a soldier and squad-leader. I have written two books on the war.
That does not make me a great strategist, but it does allow me to
voice an informed opinion.)

The facts speak
for themselves:

On the 32nd
day of the war, Hizbullah is still standing and fighting. That by
itself is a stunning feat: a small guerilla organization, with a
few thousand fighters, is standing up to one of the strongest armies
in the world and has not been broken after a month of "pulverizing."
Since 1948, the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan have repeatedly
been beaten in wars that were much shorter.

As I have already
said: if a light-weight boxer is fighting a heavy-weight champion
and is still standing in the 12th round, the victory is his – whatever
the count of points says.

In the test
of results – the only one that counts in war – the strategic and
tactical command of Hizbullah is decidedly better than that of our
own army. All along, our army’s strategy has been primitive, brutal
and unsophisticated.

Clearly, Hizbullah
has prepared well for this war – while the Israeli command has prepared
for a quite different war.

On the level
of individual fighters, the Hizbullah are not inferior to our soldiers,
neither in bravery nor in initiative.

The main guilt
for the failure belongs with General Dan Halutz. I say "guilt"
and not merely "responsibility," which comes with the

He is living
proof of the fact that an inflated ego and a brutal attitude are
not enough to create a competent Chief-of-Staff. The opposite may
be true.

Halutz gained
fame (or notoriety) when he was asked what he feels when he drops
a one-ton bomb on a residential quarter and answered: "a slight
bang on the wing." He added that afterwards he sleeps well
at night. (In the same interview he also called me and my friends
"traitors" who should be prosecuted.)

Now it is already
clear – again, in the test of results – that Dan Halutz is the worst
Chief-of-Staff in the annals of the Israeli army, a completely incompetent
officer for his job.

Recently he
has changed his blue Air-Force uniform for the green one of the
land army. Too late.

Halutz started
this war with the bluster of an Air-Force officer. He believed that
it was possible to crush Hizbullah by aerial bombardment, supplemented
by artillery shelling from land and sea. He believed that if he
destroyed the towns, neighborhoods, roads and ports of Lebanon,
the Lebanese people would rise and compel their government to remove
Hizbullah. For a week he killed and devastated, until it became
clear to everybody that this method achieves the opposite – strengthens
Hizbullah, weakens its opponents within Lebanon and throughout the
Arab world and destroys the world-wide sympathy Israel enjoyed at
the beginning of the war.

When he reached
this point, Halutz did not know what to do next. For three weeks
he sent his soldiers into Lebanon on senseless and hopeless missions,
gaining nothing. Even in the battles that were fought in villages
right on the border, no significant victories were achieved. After
the fourth week, when he was requested to submit a plan to the government,
it was unbelievably primitive.

If the "enemy"
had been a regular army, it would have been a bad plan. Just pushing
the enemy back is hardly a strategy at all. But when the other side
is a guerilla force, this is simply foolish. It may cause the death
of many soldiers, for no practical result.

Now he is trying
to achieve a token victory, occupying empty space as far from the
border as possible, after the UN has already called for an end to
the hostilities. (As in almost all previous Israeli wars, this call
is being ignored, in the hope of snatching some gains at the last
moment.) Behind this line, Hizbullah remains intact in their bunkers.

However, the
Chief-of-Staff does not act in a vacuum. As Commander-in-Chief he
has indeed a huge influence, but he is also merely the top of the
military pyramid.

This war casts
a dark shadow on the whole upper echelon of our army. I assume that
there are some talented officers, but the general picture is of
a senior officers corps that is mediocre or worse, grey and unoriginal.
Almost all the many officers that have appeared on TV are unimpressive,
uninspiring professionals, experts on covering their behinds, repeating
empty clichés like parrots.

The ex-generals,
who have been crowding out everybody else in the TV and radio studios,
have also mostly surprised us with their mediocrity, limited intelligence
and general ignorance. One gets the impression that they have not
read books on military history, and fill the void with empty phrases.

More than once
it has been said in this column that an army that has been acting
for many years as a colonial police force against the Palestinian
population – "terrorists," women and children – and spending
its time running after stone-throwing boys, cannot remain an efficient
army. The test of results confirms this.

As after every
failure of our military, the intelligence community is quick to
cover its ass. Their chiefs declare that they knew everything, that
they provided the troops with full and accurate information, that
they are not to blame if the army did not act on it.

That does not
sound reasonable. Judging from the reactions of the commanders in
the field, they clearly were completely unaware of the defense system
built by Hizbullah in South Lebanon. The complex infrastructure
of hidden bunkers, stocked with modern equipment and stockpiles
of food and weapons was a complete surprise for the army. It was
not ready for these bunkers, including those built two or three
kilometers from the border. They are reminiscent of the tunnels
in Vietnam.

The intelligence
community has also been corrupted by the long occupation of the
Palestinian territories. They have got used to relying on the thousands
of collaborators that have been recruited in the course of 39 years
by torture, bribery and extortion (junkies needing drugs, someone
begging to be allowed to visit his dying mother, someone desiring
a chunk from the cake of corruption, etc.). Clearly, no collaborators
were found among the Hizbullah, and without them intelligence is

It is also
clear that Intelligence, and the army in general, was not ready
for the deadly efficiency of Hizbullah’s anti-tank weapons. Hard
to believe, but according to official figures, more than 20 tanks
were hit.

The Merkava
("carriage") tank is the pride of the army. Its father,
General Israel Tal, a victorious tank general, did not want only
to build the world’s most advanced tank, but also a tank that provided
its crew with the best possible protection. Now it appears that
an anti-tank weapon from the late 1980s that is available in large
quantities, can disable the tank, killing or grievously wounding
the soldiers inside.

The common
denominator of all the failures is the disdain for Arabs, a contempt
that has dire consequences. It has caused total misunderstanding,
a kind of blindness of Hizbullah’s motives, attitudes, standing
in Lebanese society etc.

I am convinced
that today’s soldiers are in no way inferior to their predecessors.
Their motivation is high, they have shown great bravery in the evacuation
of the wounded under fire. (I very much appreciate that in particular,
since my own life was saved by soldiers who risked theirs to get
me out under fire when I was wounded.) But the best soldiers cannot
succeed when the command is incompetent.

History teaches
that defeat can be a great blessing for an army. A victorious army
rests on its laurels, it has no motive for self-criticism, it degenerates,
its commanders become careless and lose the next war. (See: the
Six-day war leading to the Yom Kippur war.) A defeated army, on
the other side, knows that it must rehabilitate itself. On one condition:
that it admits defeat.

After this
war, the Chief-of-Staff must be dismissed and the senior officer
corps overhauled. For that, a Minister of Defense is needed who
is not a marionette of the Chief-of-Staff. (But that concerns the
political leadership, about whose failures and sins we shall speak
another time.)

We, as people
of peace, have a great interest in changing the military leadership.
First, because it has a huge impact on the forming of policy and,
as we just saw, irresponsible commanders can easily drag the government
into dangerous adventures. And second, because even after achieving
peace we shall need an efficient army – at least until the wolf
lies down with the lamb, as the prophet Isaiah promised. (And not
in the Israeli version: "No problem. One only has to bring
a new lamb every day.")

The main lesson
of the war, beyond all military analysis, lies in the five words
we inscribed on our banner from the very first day: "There
is no military solution!"

Even a strong
army cannot defeat a guerilla organization, because the guerilla
is a political phenomenon. Perhaps the opposite is true: the stronger
the army, the better equipped with advanced technology, the smaller
are its chances of winning such a confrontation. Our conflict – in the North, the Center and the South – is a political conflict,
and can only be resolved by political means. The army is the instrument
worst suited for that.

The war has
proved that Hizbullah is a strong opponent, and any political solution
in the North must include it. Since Syria is its strong ally, it
must also be included. The settlement must be worthwhile for them
too, otherwise it will not last.

The price is
the return of the Golan Heights.

What is true
in the North is also true in the South. The army will not defeat
the Palestinians, because such a victory is altogether impossible.
For the good of the army, it must be extricated from the quagmire.

If that now
enters the consciousness of the Israeli public, something good may
yet have come out of this war.

14, 2006

Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 he has advocated
the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974,
Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership.
In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after
crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in
the Israeli Parliament (Knesset), and is the founder of Gush Shalom
(Peace Bloc). Visit his

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