By Reuven Pedatzur
The United States' defeat in the Vietnam War started becoming evident when Gen.
William Westmoreland, commander of the U.S. forces in Vietnam, started using body
counts as an alternative to military victories. When he could not point to achievements on
the battlefield, Westmoreland would send a daily report to Washington of the number of
Vietcong soldiers his forces had killed.
In the past few weeks, the "Israeli" Army has also adopted the body count approach.
When the largest and strongest army in the Middle East clashes for more than two weeks
with 50 Hezbollah fighters in Bint Jbail and does not bring them to their knees, the
commanders are left with no choice but to point to the number of dead fighters the enemy
has left behind. It can be assumed that Bint Jbail will turn into a symbol of the second
Lebanon war. For the Hezbollah fighters it will be remembered as their Stalingrad, and
for us it will be a painful reminder of the Israeli Army's defeat.
Ze'ev Schiff wrote in Haaretz on August 11 that we had "gotten a slap." It seems that
"knockout" would be a more appropriate description. This is not a mere military defeat.
This is a strategic failure whose far-reaching implications are still not clear. And like the
boxer who took the blow, we are still lying dazed on the ground, trying to understand
what happened to us. Just like the Six-Day War led to a strategic change in the Middle
East and established "Israel's" status as the regional power, the second Lebanon war may
bring about the opposite. The Israeli Army's failure is eroding our national security's most
important asset - the belligerent image of this country, led by a vast, strong and advanced
army capable of dealing our enemies a decisive blow if they even try to bother us. This
war, it soon transpired, was about "awareness" and "deterrence." We lost the fight for
The concept failed again
It does not matter one bit what the Army's true capability is. There is also no importance
to the assertions that the Israeli Army used merely a small part of its force and that its
arsenal still contains advanced weapons that did not come into play. What really matters
is the image of the Army - and in fact of "Israel" - in the eyes of our adversaries in the
And herein lies the most serious failure of this war. In Damascus, Gaza, Tehran and
Cairo, too, people are looking with amazement at the Israeli Army that could not bring a
tiny guerrilla organization (1,500 fighters according to the military intelligence chief, and
a few thousand according to other sources) to its knees for more than a month, the Army
that was defeated and paid a heavy price in most of its battles in southern Lebanon. And
most serious of all: an Army that has not neutralized Hezbollah's ability to fire rockets
and keep more than 1 million Israeli citizens (settlers) sitting in shelters for more than
four weeks. What happened to this mighty army, which after a month was not able to
advance more than a few kilometers into Lebanon? wonder many of those who are
planning their next wars against "Israel".
"Israel's" deterrent power was based on the recognition by the enemy that it would pay an
extremely heavy price if it attacked "Israel". For example, Syria has not fired hundreds of
missiles at the Israeli homefront - even during times of war - because it fears a harsh
Israeli attack on Damascus and other important Syrian towns. But when more than 3,000
rockets are fired at the Galilee, Haifa and Hadera without "Israel" demanding that
someone pay, "Israel's" deterrence is damaged. At the next opportunity, someone in
Damascus may decide to fire rockets at Tel Aviv to push forward a diplomatic process,
since "Israel" did not only fail to react severely to the rockets fired from Lebanon but also
was forced to agree to a UN arrangement that leaves the rocket stockpile in Hezbollah's
The Agranat Commission gave a negative connotation to the term "concept" in the
context of military intelligence. The commission of inquiry that now hopefully will be set
up will quickly conclude that on the eve of the second Lebanon war, the Israeli Army -
and consequently policy makers - were working with two mistaken concepts. First, over
the past six years, Israelis came to believe a large-scale fight against Hezbollah would not
be necessary: Any military actions in southern Lebanon would be limited and short.
Second, if a war arose against Hezbollah, the Army would dismantle the organization
within a few days, break its command backbone and end the fighting under conditions
favorable to "Israel".
And this is how we entered the war. The army led the prime minister and his cabinet to
believe that the air force would annihilate Hezbollah's fighting capability within several
days and that thereafter a new situation would prevail in Lebanon. On the basis of these
promises, Ehud Olmert set ambitious objectives for the war, which of course were
Just as before the Yom Kippur war, there was a destructive combination of arrogance,
boastfulness, euphoria and contempt for the enemy. The generals were so certain of the
air force's success that they did not prepare an alternative. And when it became clear after
about one week that Hezbollah was not disintegrating and that its ability to fire rockets
had not been significantly thwarted, the Israeli Army found itself in a state of acute
distress and embarrassment. This is the reason for the hesitancy in using force and the
lack of determination in the use of the ground forces.
The commission of inquiry will have to examine how the army entered the war without
formulating alternative operations or plans to end the war. The failure of the government
lies in its adoption of the army's proposal without examining its logic, chances of success
or alternatives. The decision-making process that led to the war once again revealed the
most serious defect in the formation of national security policy. Since the establishment
of the state, no government has had the good sense to set up professional advisory bodies
that could assist it in dealing with Army proposals, or at least to examine them seriously.
As in all the other conflicts, the army and not the government decided what "Israel"
should do in Lebanon. The National Security Council - whose job this is precisely - was
not asked to look over the Army's plans and their implications, nor was it asked to
The missing command
The arrogance and the overconfidence that characterized the top brass left the home front
unprotected. If it was clear that the air force would destroy the rocket launch pads within
a few days, why call on the residents of the north to prepare the air raid shelters and
stockpile food? We know the outcome: More than one million people sat for more than
one month in stinking shelters, some of them without food or minimal conditions.
In this context, the inquiry commission should look into the home front command.
Millions of shekels were invested in this command. A major general, brigadiers general,
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