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The Lessons of the Second Lebanon War

Five years later.

12:15 PM, Aug 12, 2011 • By LAZAR BERMAN
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In hindsight, the sources of Israel’s frustration in the war seem obvious. After years of fighting Palestinian terrorists, patrolling the territories, and transferring money from defense to domestic ministries, the IDF lost its fighting edge. This was especially true of the reservists, as the government slashed their training budget drastically. The IDF adopted “Kela” in 2003, a multi-year spending plan involving painful cuts. The IDF closed entire units and released 6,000 regular army personnel. Only a month and a half after approving the plan, the government slashed another NIS (New Israeli Shekel) 500 million from the IDF budget, leading to further reductions in reserve call-ups, training, and equipment.

The drop in training was especially severe. By 2006, the IDF training budget was only half of what it had been in 2001. Cuts in reserve training were even more severe, dropping by 70 percent. In fact, in 2003, the reserve training budget temporarily dropped to zero, and training simply did not take place.

The skills of the regular army suffered as well. Instead of adhering to the pre-2000 schedule of deploying for four months, then training as a brigade for four months, units performed yearlong tours in the West Bank and Gaza, rarely training between deployments. The lack of preparation showed itself in the fighting. Combined and joint operations were often ineffective.

Perhaps the most salient example showing the deteriorated state of combined operations was the August 11-13 battle at Wadi Saluki. The commander of the 401st Armored Brigade, Col. Motti Kidor, ordered the 9th Battalion to cross the Saluki River, then spearhead a drive west to the coast. To reach the river, the battalion had to traverse exposed ground dominated by surrounding villages. Battalion commander Lt. Col. Effie Defrin called in an artillery smoke screen to conceal his advance, but the smoke screen, improperly deployed, dissipated after a few minutes. Defrin also expected an engineering battalion to prepare his route, but before the tanks could advance, the engineers were withdrawn without finishing their work.

The route Defrin took cut him off from radio communication with a Nahal infantry brigade tasked with protecting his forces from the overlooking heights. Moreover, the infantrymen seemed not to grasp fully that their mission was to protect the armored advance, which came under withering anti-tank fire from Hezbollah fighters hidden on the ridges above.

Even though Kidor and Nahal commander Mickey Edelstein established headquarters in the same house, their coordination was minimal at best, and as a result, Edelstein did not know the tanks were under attack and out of touch. The Saluki crossing cost 11 dead and 50 wounded. “I never imagined,” said a general at a post-war briefing on the battle, “that the army’s performance was so shoddy.”

Trendy, complicated ideas introduced into the IDF also left their mark on Israel’s 2006 performance. Innovative ideas are exciting to the military, but not all innovation is helpful. In the IDF, Gen. Shimon Naveh, director of the IDF’s Operational Theory Research Institute from 1995-2005, introduced innovative, exciting ideas about Operational Art, and those who refused to buy into them were marginalized. Naveh tried to change the way IDF officers conceived of their operations, applying ideas and terms from literary theory, psychology, and postmodern French philosophy to military art. He assigned his disciples books like A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by the French post-structuralists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Using their theory, Naveh crafted a framework for commanders to make swift decisions in the constantly changing battlefield environment.  "I tried to extricate us from the Western separation between practice and theory,” explains Naveh. “This hero, the commander, the operative person, lives in a permanently coalescing space. He needs a theory in order to think critically about the object of his observation, and the moment he acts, he changes the world, thus obliging him to recast the theory.”

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