Sun, Feb 03, 2008 - Page 6 News List

ANALYSIS: Report identifies causes of Israeli failure in Lebanon


The Israeli armed forces, which took the rap in the final report on the failures of the 2006 Lebanon War, need to make big changes ahead of any new conflict, analysts said on Friday.

The Winograd Commission report, published on Wednesday, delivered an unprecedented verdict on the army, saying that daring, determination and initiative were all lacking in its war against the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Since the 34-day war ended in a UN-brokered ceasefire on Aug. 14, 2006, several steps have already been taken to correct perceived military failings.

On a strategic level, the idea that air power alone can vanquish an adversary has been abandoned.

And tactically, the military has greatly boosted inter-service operations and training, which has suffered in recent years because of the focus on the Palestinian intifada.

But military experts -- and the Winograd Commission itself -- said the causes for the state of the Israeli armed forces run deep.

For military historian Martin Van Creveld, it boils down to the fact that "an army that fights against weaker forces itself becomes weaker."

Battling armed Palestinian groups, over whom the Israeli military has overwhelming superiority, requires "prudence, patience and ensuring minimum losses," he said.

But in a full-scale war, "daring is vital, timing is of the essence and losses become secondary" to winning the conflict.

Reservist Colonel Omer Bar-Lev believes the "crisis in the Israeli military's values emanates from society as a whole.

"Israel has become a society of abundance for some and one of poverty for others. When financial success and individualism are the motivating factors, people are no longer willing to sacrifice" these goals, said the former head of the top-secret Sayeret Matkal commando unit.

Bar-Lev attributed a less combative spirit to profound divisions within society following the occupation of Palestinian territory more than 40 years ago in the 1967 Middle East war.

"Nobody wants to die for Hebron or Nablus just so these [West Bank] cities can remain under the power of Israel," he said.

Analyst Ran Edelist said it would seem that Israelis are no longer willing to pay with their own lives to conquer such and such a place in south Lebanon, since they know they would merely pull out again a few days later.

In 2006, "reservists sent into Lebanon did not feel as if they were defending the very existence of Israel and were not willing to sacrifice themselves," he said.

The Winograd report itself said: "An army must aspire to victory and if it turns out from the beginning that such a victory is unattainable it is better to avoid a war."

The government-appointed commission, headed by retired judge Eliyahu Winograd, also blamed failures by the military on "altered values, as well as profound changes within Israeli society, part of which is no longer prepared to accept lengthy wars and their cost in human lives."

But the report underlined that the military should not expect society to change before it corrects its own failings and called for an end to complacency within the armed forces.

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