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Israeli Defense Forces in 2006 Hezbollah War

Israeli Defense Forces in 2006 Hezbollah War

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Published by Marguerite

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Published by: Marguerite on Aug 18, 2009
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July-August 2009
Matt M. Matthews is currently em- ployed by the Combat Studies Institute (CSI) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.He spent 16 years as a member of the opposing forces battle command training program and served a com- bined total of 12 years in the active  Army, Army Reserve, and Kansas  Army National Guard. Mr. Matthews holds a B.S. from Kansas State University. He is the author of several CSI press publications including,
WeWere Caught Unprepared: The 2006Hezbollah-Israeli War 
and has coau- thored numerous scholarly articles. _____________
PHOTO: Israeli artillery shells explodeover Gaza City during Israeli strikeson 16 January 2009 as seen fromthe Israel-Gaza border. Israel shelledGaza seeking to ratchet up pressureon Hamas to bow to truce effortsgathering pace in Egypt to end thedeadliest assault the Jewish state hasever launched on the enclave. (AFPPhoto, Jack Guez)
Matt M. Matthews
the rst Israeli air strikes against Hamas on 27December 2008, military leaders, analysts, pundits, and the media began to speculate about the ability of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) toconduct a successful campaign in Gaza. A mere two days into the operation,as the Israeli Air Force (IAF) continued to pummel terrorist targets in Gaza,some within the Israeli media were already suggesting that “the army had noappetite for a ground war.”
Such speculation at the onset of Israeli opera
tions against Hamas was undeniably a direct result of the IDF’s uninspiring performance during its 2006 war against Hezbollah.As the campaign progressed, however, it quickly became evident to manythat the IDF Gaza campaign, Operation Cast Lead, would prove decidedlydifferent from the 2006 war against Hezbollah. This time, the Israeli PrimeMinister made no grand announcements of unachievable strategic goals.
As the IAF demolished Hamas leadership, training camps, and weaponryin the early stages of the campaign, there were no bombastic proclamationsthat “[w]e have won the war,” similar to those the chief of the IDF generalstaff made in 2006.
Cultural Change
Indeed, the Israeli ground forces in Gaza seemed to have undergone amajor cultural change toward decisiveness, aggressiveness, commitmentto the mission, and willingness to accept casualties. Commanders led fromthe front, and the IDF seized cell phones from Israeli soldiers and restricted
July-August 2009
the media’s access to the battleeld. In a completereversal from 2006, Israel promptly called the IDFreserves to duty, and they arrived on the battleeldwell trained and well equipped. Unlike 2006, theground campaign shined. “Up to brigade level it wasa showcase, orderly, perfect execution, timely [and]disciplined, [the] reservists as good as regulars,”wrote one Israeli ofcer.
The campaign against Hamas was a dramaticturnaround by the IDF after its faltering perfor 
mance against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. TheIsraeli government’s response to the IDF’s dismal performance during the 2006 Hezbollah-Israeliwar had been swift and revealing. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government quickly formed a com
mittee to investigate problems associated with theconict. The ndings in the resulting WinogradReport severely criticized Olmert, Defense Minister Peretz, and the chief of the IDF general staff.
report also concluded that the IDF had not beenready for war:All in all, the IDF failed, especially becauseof the conduct of the high command andthe ground forces, to provide an effectivemilitary response to the challenge posed toit by the war in Lebanon, and thus failed to provide the political echelon with a militaryachievement that could have served as a basis for political and diplomatic action.Responsibility for this outcome lies mainlywith the IDF, but the mists between themode of action and the goals determined bythe political echelon share responsibility.
Both Peretz and Halutz resigned by the summer of 2007.
According to Russell W. Glenn, “a consider 
able number of Israelis blame the poor performanceduring the 2006 war, in part, on their prime ministeand defense minister lacking requisite militaryexperience.”
Indeed, many Israelis believed that proven combat leaders were required at the helm.Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak soon replacedPeretz. Their differing military experiences couldnot have been greater; Peretz had fullled his mili
tary obligation as a maintenance ofcer in the IDF,and Barak was a decorated combat veteran, who hadalso commanded a tank battalion in the Sinai duringthe 1973 Yom Kippur War, later brigades, and anarmored division. In 1991, he became a lieutenantgeneral, and the 14th chief of the general staff.
Halutz’s replacement, Lieutenant General GabiAshkenazi, was also an IDF combat veteran. Ashke
nazi fought in the Yom Kippur war, participated inthe Entebbe Operation in 1976, and was the former commander of the Golani Brigade and a former IDFdeputy chief of staff. Both Halutz and Ashkenaziwere in the running for the position of chief of thegeneral staff in 2005. When Halutz won the covetedappointment, Ashkenazi abruptly resigned. After two years as a civilian, however, Ashkenazi returnedto active duty, determined, as one IDF ofcial putit, “to pull the IDF out of the muck.”
To his credit, Halutz instituted at least 70 fact-nding teams before his departure. Twenty of theseteams focused directly or indirectly on the generalstaff, while others focused almost exclusively on IDFoperations in the eld. Once in command, Ashkenaziappointed his own team of high-ranking ofcers tostudy the ndings of the Winograd Report and weighit against the IDF’s own internal probe. Accordingto one source, “The IDF has made sure it has all theanswers needed to rebut whatever arguments [a]roseregarding the military, thus attempting to send themessage that the military had already identied allthe major failures during its own probe of the war,implementing the lessons learnt accordingly.”Indeed, in September 2007, Ashkenazi introduced“Teffen 2012,” a ve-year plan to increase theIDF’s warghting ability. One of the major goalsof “Teffen 2012” was to create “a decisive groundmanoeuvre capability based on modern main battletanks (MBTs) and other armored ghting vehicles,attack helicopters, low altitude unmanned aerialvehicles (UAVs) and transport aircraft.” The planalso envisioned advances in the IAF’s “precision-strike capability,” “intelligence superiority throughall means of gathering” and “preparedness and sus
tainability through expanding emergency stocks of munitions.”
Senior ofcers pointed out that someadjustments the IDF made after the 2006 war “werenot short of ‘revolutionary,’ but admitted that themilitary would not be able to objectively assess their efciency until the next large operation.”
Sweeping Transformation
While some of the changes within the IDF weregroundbreaking, most simply involved a return toits venerable military principles. “Training, train
ing, and training—as well as innovative thinking,”
July-August 2009
is how one ofcer described the IDF’s response tothe 2006 conict.
Clearly, Ashkenazi and Barak wasted little time in implementing a sweepingtransformation within the IDF.One of the rst items on the agenda was theincoherent doctrine that several of Halutz’s ownfact-nding teams had already branded as “com
 pletely wrong.” They concluded the doctrine usedduring the 2006 campaign created “confusion interminology and misunderstanding of basic military principles.” The IDF had replaced proven methodswith “an alternative ‘conceptual framework’ for military thinking, replacing traditional notions of ‘objective’ and ‘subjection’ with new concepts like‘campaign rationale’ and ‘conscious-burning’ of theenemy. . . based on this doctrine, the IDF was to relyon precise stand-off re, mostly from the air, usingground maneuvers only as a last resort.”
The “coreof this document is the theory of SOD (SystemicOperational Design)” noted one its creators, retiredIsraeli Brigadier General Shimon Naveh.
The IDF quickly jettisoned SOD elements inits doctrine. Asked what changes the IDF made toits doctrine after 2006, one ofcer replied, “SODcancelled.”
The IDF’s transient embrace of SOD post-mod
ern theories at the expense of traditional principlesof war was, arguably, one of the strangest episodesin the history of military doctrine. Using JohnEllis’ work 
 Against Deconstruction
as a backdropto describe the failings of SOD, Yehuda Wegmanwrites that SOD was “the image of intelligence andcomplexity . . . the use of rhetorical means in order to create the illusion of intelligent analysis at a timewhen there was no such analysis.” Wegman adds,“The rst casualty of the new language was themain principle of war: adhering to the mission.”
New Doctrine
Having abandoned SOD, the IDF went to work on a new doctrine, which it has yet to nalize. As astopgap measure, the Israeli military has apparentlyreturned to the doctrine in place prior to 2006.
Drastic changes within the IDF continued under Ashkenazi and Barak. “There was an almost imme
diate adjustment in training,” one expert in the eldacknowledged. “The IDF started training more on theoffensive and defensive, what we call conventionalwarfare skills.”
Indeed, within the IDF ArmoredCorps, the changes in training were swift. Tank unitsonce again focused on their traditional roles andadvantages, that of “speed and repower.” Israeliarmored brigades trained for months at the IDFGround Forces Training Center in Nagev, Israel. Asan example, Armored Brigade 401, which had lost 8tank crewmen in 2006, conducted a 12-week train
ing exercise in which it trained in urban terrain, butspent most of its time “sharpening the skills neededfor armored combat,” according to the
 Jerusalem Post 
. “Our advantage is our ability to move fastand our repower,” a brigade commander empha
sized. “The tanks are now driving faster and usingsmokescreens—something they didn’t use duringthe war—since we now understand that the threatof anti-tank missiles is 360 degrees.”
At the com
 pany and battalion levels, IDF units also conductedextensive and realistic training in an area meant toreplicate southern Lebanon and Hezbollah tactics.
The IDF reserve forces, particularly tankers andartillerymen, returned to their designated weaponssystems and trained on the basics. More impor 
tantly, the reserve forces started to receive their fullequipment sets. In the immediate aftermath of the2006 war, the IDF procured tens of thousands of  ballistic helmets and vests and night vision goggles,as well as signicant quantities of grenades, smallarms ammunition, and magazines. After years of  performing “other” duties, the reserve soldiersreturned to their equipment to address what oneobserver called “classic warfare needs.”
With a new lengthened training program in place,the reserve armored corps began conducting live-re exercises and participating in full-scale divisionmaneuver training. These exercises included allrequired combat support units. Unlike 2006, whensome reserve ofcers rst met their soldiers onmobilization, these large exercises, the rst in years, brought the organization together. Furthermore, allreserve ofcers selected for command were sent to
 After years of performing “other” duties,…reserve soldiers returned totheir equipment to address…“classic warfare needs.” 

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