The Second Lebanese war. Lessons learned that the U.S. Needs to Understand

Hassan Nasrallah Cleric terrorist

In July 2006, Hezbollah militants attacked an Israeli patrol along the northern border with Lebanon destroying two vehicles, killing 5 soldiers and capturing three which they took with them back into Lebanon,  ( the second Lebanon War)starting a war which began as an Israeli retaliatory response and ended up in a full 46 day war. There have been a profusion of studies on the why’s and wherefores with many  lessons learned, some  seemingly contradictory. There is no doubt that the  last majority of the Israeli military professionals viewed it as a lost war..a “bungle” a “resounding failure,” although 15 years later some have come up with a success result…i.e. the fact that the Hezbollah have not ventured to initiate another full scale war…not even when their Gazan brothers were being pounded in the recent Gazan dustup.

Hezbollah send off to the Islamic Valhalla


Actually the Israelis have invaded Lebanon three times, first in 1978, then in the 1982 Lebanese civil war, and finally the 2006 war. Of course during the whole period from 1948 to the present, Lebanon has been at a pseudo state of war with Israel….a war most Lebanese would love to avoid.

I will stick to those aspects of the Israeli misadventure which should be absorbed by the U.S. military—- as it has a slow building crisis of effectiveness and  burgeoning doubt as to its capabilities.There were many points that the Israelis  found to criticize their military but I chose to single out a few that I see as most relevant to the US army. I used many sources..all good ones by people I know  who stick to the facts without the usual ideological and academic  sophistry.  Relating  these lessons to those of Vietnam are from my study over the years and my own observations.

The Lessons

  1. Edward Luttwak  has used the term post-heroic phase of warfare to depict a casualty adverse society. As Americans our enemies have often used the “body bag” rationale to launch wars they cannot possible win ( example Iraq in desert Storm) but inflict ( in their minds) an unacceptable number of casualties, in a mini war of attrition. The idea among many western journalists, who nowadays who often define the parameters of war, is that despite their  leftie- third wordism outlook they assume  that the “brown people” are oblivious to  casualties. This was disproved by the butcher Khomenei’s accepting a truce with Iraq despite their overwhelming advantage in numbers. Public outcry from Iranian  moms and wives was instrumental in this. The massive loss of life from human wave attacks on fortified Iraqi positions was the pivotal point. Examples of how this works abound.   An Israeli attack on the Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil cost the Israelis 8  soldiers killed. This was perceived around the world and in Israel as a catastrophe. The Israelis did not use attack helicopters for fear of losing pilots. Similarly the IAF bombed from high altitudes, every IDF casualty was reported to the Chief of Staff. In one case the an operation was stopped because of one casualty. Sensitivity to casualties on the other side are also critical. 28 Lebanese civilians were killed by an Israeli airstrike on Qana and the IAF immediately suspended air operations for 48 hours during a critical phase of their adnate in to Lebanon. On the other hand the Palestinians were seemingly not susceptible to  casualties,  with the usual Arab bravado making a psychological impact on the journalists….for example during one of the earlier Lebanese wars, a Lebanese woman shouted to a correspondent,” I have lost a son but I have nine more to give.” This makes a newsman’s day.

Lebanese people paid a severe price for allowing the Palestinian and the Hezbollah movement to become domineering powerful state within a state in their nation


2.The cult of technology. This has been a sore thumb since the  Vietnam war in which we fought third world low intensity conflict with  conventional weapons and more importantly, a conventional war outlook in the minds of our military and political leaders. The Israelis pride themselves on their technical capabilities, and rightfully so, but as so many have pointed out, apparently futilely,  the war against the unconventional foes can only be won by occupying the land on which they live with overwhelming force. One of the major mistakes of Vietnam and Iraq…the” graduated response”   and trying to do the impossible on the cheap. Many old military guys will tell you that  especially susceptible to degradation of military readiness by this “cult of gadgets” is intelligence and close combat proficiency. Perhaps more importantly  with all the informational gadgetry and communication  means, IDF commanders in the Lebanese  war were further and further away from the critical points of combat.  Moreover maneuver was replaced by firepower as the final arbiter of victory…another aspect of the body bag syndrome.

James William Gibson wrote an excellent book  entitled The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam.   His premise was that we did not lose the war because of tactical and strategic mistakes or poor military and political leadership ( although there was plenty of that) but rather we were “unrestrained in our faith in technology.” So it is today. The recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia has the techno gurus all aflutter over drone  warfare.

Combat driven by machines.


3.Firepower vs maneuver. The Israelis once masters of maneuver warfare resorted to reliance on firepower to reduce casualties but the major problem was that the Israelis relied on AirPower ” flying artillery” to do the job and they failed. Secondly the Israelis have never invested heavily in a competent artillery component. During the years of occupation duty the armor and artillery units were used as police units in the West Bank– similarly as American artillery, which the Germans in WWII saw as the most effective arm of the American ground forces, were used as convoy protection in Iraq. Most did not even bring their howitzers to Iraq. The IDF artillery fired a massive amount of artillery but it was generally inaccurate and ineffective.  The IDF used more artillery ammunition in 2006 than in the 1973 war against two large conventional armies. Shelling the stone buildings of Lebanese villages created rubble and more excellent defensive positions for the Hezbollah  fighters to use. A prime  historical example of this  being the Battle of Casino in the Italian campaign. The Israelis also bought into the American doctrine  (perhaps unstated) that  you can bomb people into submission. It did not work in WWII and did not work in Vietnam. Nor did it work in Iraq.The pain threshold  of Western nations today is far below that of the third world…in which people have much less to lose.

IAF f-16

4.The Elite Force concept.  Also borrowed from American “defense intellectuals”  was the idea that a small elite force can win wars , it’s an attractive idea because it means reduced conventional forces, it’s economical, and reduces the stress on a society in which males are not eager to  It also is a chimera. The” small smart” units did great things but they failed to win the war. This idea of defused warfare came from -again- American “military intellectuals” as an outgrowth of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), and “effects based operations. ” These widely published theories  like “getting inside the enemies thinking loop,”sound great- and may be-  but to the combat commanders on the ground they mean little. An American example  was publication of the much heralded  FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency. An excellent piece of work- a high quality PHD thesis, but as one division commander told me, combat tactical leaders had no time to read and digest the lessons.  The huge impact of social engineering and  extraneous training and education was a burden most unit commanders could not carry. This was particularly true in the Israeli army of 2006 as I will discuss in the  next section.


5. The “intellectualization” and politicization of the IDF officer corps.   A number of analysts of the 2006 war concluded the professionalism of the IDF officer corps had declined considerably, to the point that many were disgruntled, and the high praise usually given to officers by the public  has drastically declined to the point some called them “hedonists” because their alleged, (untrue)  higher lifestyle. In many cases intense realistic training has given way to discussions of new idea imported from the US. One writer  called it “superficial intellectualization.” According to this writer this clouded the traditional defense doctrine – battlefield decision- making. Israelis were famed in their conventional wars for their mission type conduct of operations called auftragstaktik .  The adoption of American thinking were termed as “pretentious post modern approach to war.”  It reminds me of a number of American officers, usually junior or field grade who have become well known for their PHD writing rather than their military service.  Many of the senior Israeli military leaders had political aspirations and were followers of specific ideological or political parties. Being political rivals they were often loath to work together. With the number of American general officers lining up on one side or the other of the political spectrum, and many on active duty are merely swimming with  the new political tide emanating from Washington, this trend has become real danger to the American republic.  Moreover the decline in effectiveness of the Israeli officer corps is a reminder of American deficiencies in producing  mediocrities to lead ill trained troops into  battle. It makes painful reading but one should read Command Culture by Jorg Muth, Wherein the Israeli combat leaders  were habitually upfront with the troops,   in the 2006 war they were often far behind the troops using sophisticated communication means to stay clued in– but unfortunately they proved inadequate. Jorg Muth in his book pointed out the  studies that indicated most American soldiers  of WWII in the European theatre never saw their commanders and were usually derogatory in their views of them.  In the early years of the Vietnam war in which I served ed , this was not true, but as the war dragged on,  distrust between officers and their men became common. According to the analysts of the Lebanese war, orders were not carried out, and mistrust was pervasive.

General Franz Haider was asked by American military historians to review our FM 100-5. he made several cogent points. The American system is opposite the German mission type orders. It tried to present every possible scenario rather than expect the commander to react as ingrained by his military education. It discouraged improvisation. It underestimated the worth of the warrior spirit and psychological conditioning. It did not stress the importance of will. Finally he wrote,”the qualities of character are more important than those of an intellect.


6.Training the troops and officers.  The vaunted proficiency  of the IDF became severely questioned after the war by the Winograd Commission which examined the issues that hampered the IDF operations. The commission and analysts have found that the training of the regular Israeli soldiers  had been severely  reduced  as well as that of the reserves.  Many training operations had been cancelled and large scale exercises postponed. The fact of the matter was that the Israeli soldier had gone soft after 1973, which to some Israeli leadership meant the end of conventional wars with the Low Intensity Conflict being the wave of the future. Most were involved in policing and  occupation duties in the West Bank. The 2006 war was not a Low intensity conflict.( LIC)war. It was a conventional war being fought primarily in a built up area  against well trained irregular soldiers – and was not winnable by just elite units.   It is a fact that the LIC model has been the subject of US army focus for many years to the detriment of the conventional arms. It has been well established that American training for junior officers and enlisted men in the conventional arms has never been truly first class- especially compared to that of pre-WWII German junior and senior officers. Sometimes it has been shameful.  As related in so many studies of WWII, American eighteen year olds were fed into the German killing machine and dying before their platoon sergeants even knew their names. The corrupt draft system in place during the Vietnam war, and wholly inadequate combat training given the troops resulted  in the same scenario. One Viet Cong document stated that American soldiers were caught in an ambush ambling across a rice paddy like “ducks.”  I could verify this state of training from my own observations. We were not trained adequately for close in combat.  The Chuck Norris’s do not win wars. It is Pvt Smedlap, who would prefer not to be there at all.   Also of mention are the  bloated various headquarters and with too  few out carrying a rifle. The after action reports of the Israelis also noted the rapid growth of headquarters units but without any any appreciable improvement in coordination of the combined arms. In fact it seemed to detract from coordination. Our “green zones”in Iraq  complete with PXs and gyms have been a subject of ridicule for  many outside observers. The inability of the American generals to figure out a way to secure the airport road to Baghdad brought many smirks of contempt from the journalists being told how great things were going.

Uday’s “love Palace ” in the green zone Baghdad



 Hubris .This is not specifically mentioned in the reports I read but it is very apparent. The Israelis had become to believe their own press notices and were dismissive of their Lebanese enemy- mostly based on the less than stalwart example of the Palestinians  and Egyptians in earlier wars. As Moshe  Dayan was said to have exclaimed after the 1973 war-” We taught the Arabs how to fight and they taught  us how to lie.” So it is that the Israeli political and  military leaders  invented all sorts of victory statements after the war to cover their tracks. Today we hear repeated– ad Nauseam– that we ( Americans) have the best trained and equipped army in the world. Our senior leaders tell us that constantly. They say our mission in Afghanistan was accomplished , which only brings the prestige of our military to lower repute and creates  wide-spread  cynicism. The vainglorious statements of well being are not  supported by facts. Analyses and books by people like Martin Van Creveld, Colonel  TN Dupuy, Chester Wilmot give another side to the story. The American soldier has the human attributes to be the best soldier in the  world. No doubt about it… but they have only rarely gotten the leadership -all all levels – that they need. So it is that both the Israeli soldier of 2006, and the American soldier for decades, has gone to war inadequately trained. Perhaps an example and crux of the problem is the recent inane US Army recruiting slogan..”Let the Army join you.” In order to save this democracy our army must be totally counter-cultural, and while fair, just, and compassionate, its must be hard and demanding.


“Kind hearted people might think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat an enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed; war is such a dangerous business that the mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst……it would be futile -even wrong- to try to shut one’e eyes to what war really is from sheer distress at its brutality.” A quote from Clausewitz.  As the Israeli, Ari Shavit, a columnist wrote, for the Israeli leadership, “caution is a recipe for disaster.”


About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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