Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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Five Years After the Israel-Hezbollah War

by Micah Zenko
July 12, 2011

An Israeli artillery unit fires a shell towards Lebanon from its position near the Israeli-Lebanese border August 9, 2006. Israel decided on Wednesday to expand its ground offensive in Lebanon, and Hizbollah's leader vowed to turn southern Lebanon into a graveyard for Israeli troops and to unleash more rockets on the city of Haifa. REUTERS/Yonathan Weitzman

Five years ago today, the thirty-four day Israel-Hezbollah war began when a Hezbollah team crossed into Israel near the the village of Shtula and ambushed Israeli soldiers on patrol, killing three and taking two others back into Lebanon. Israel responded militarily by implementing well-rehearsed contingency plans that targeted bridges and access roads leading from the abuduction site, suspected Hezbollah rocket locations, the Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, and Hezbollah’s Al Manar television station—which was knocked off the air for a full two minutes. 

On the first day of the air strikes, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, predicted to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that “It’ll be over tonight. A few hours. Maybe tomorrow morning.” Thirty-three days later a ceasefire negotiated by the United Nations went into effect. Though civilians (overwhelmingly Lebanese) and combatants on both sides suffered, the Israel-Hezbollah war was essentially a draw, with Hezbollah projecting itself as the winner for standing up to one of the most powerful militaries in the world. Foreign militaries (and insurgents), academics, and historians analyze Israeli military operations very closely for lessons that can be applied in comparable settings. Presented below are the ten best assessments of what happened a half decade ago between Israel and Hezbollah. 

1. Final Report of the Commission to Investigate the Lebanon Campaign in 2006, “Winograd Commission,” January 2008. 

Chaired by former Justice Eliyahu Winograd, this group of experts was appointed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with a wide mandate. A forty-one point unclassified version of its report determined “overall” the war was “a serious missed opportunity,” with “serious failings and shortcomings” at the highest levels of political-military decisionmaking and in the “quality of preparedness, decisionmaking and performance in the IDF high command.” 

2. Benjamin Lambeth, Air Operations in Israel’s War Against Hezbollah: Learning from Lebanon and Getting It Right in Gaza (Washington, D.C.: RAND Corporation, 2011). 

Lambeth’s unmatched analysis revealed the disconnect between the policy goals outlined by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the military missions assigned to Lt. Gen. Halutz, who Lambeth interviewed.  Disconnect between policy goals and military missions: sound familiar? 

3. Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, 34 days: Israel, Hezbollah and the War in Lebanon (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). 

These two well-connected Haaretz correspondents provide the most comprehensive retelling of the war, with special attention paid to the prime minister’s poor strategic judgment and leadership, and internal infighting of Olmert’s cabinet. 

4. Daniel Byman, A High Price: The Triumph and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011). 

In this excellent analytical overview of Israel’s counterterrorism policies since 1948, Byman offers chapters on the “false promise of normalcy” that settled over Lebanon after Israel’s military withdrawal in May 2000. He also examines the IDF’s failure to maintain its armed forces at a high level of readiness and Hezbollah’s exploitation of Israel’s widespread casualty aversion.

5. Matt Mathews, We Were Caught Unprepared: The 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli War, Long War Series Occasional Paper, no. 26 (Ft. Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, 2008). 

Emphasizing the unsurprising nature of the conflict’s outcome, Matthews details the development of the IDF and Hezbollah’s doctrine and planning concepts before July 2006. He also gives a detailed assessment of the failed Israeli ground incursion into southern Lebanon, warning: “While the U.S. Army must be proficient in conducting major combat operations around the world, it is possible that years of irregular operations have chipped away at this capability, not unlike the situation encountered by the IDF.” 

6. William Arkin, Divining Victory: Airpower in the Israel-Hezbollah War (Maxwell, AL: Air University Press, 2007). 

From a brilliant and original airpower thinker, Arkin combines his vast understanding of targeting strategy with on-site inspections in Lebanon, concluding that “Israel bombed too much and bombed the wrong targets, falling back upon cookie cutter conventional targeting in attacking traditional military objects.” 

7. Sarah Kreps, The 2006 Lebanon War: Lessons Learned, Parameters, Spring 2007. 

Kreps criticizes the airpower-centric Israeli strategy in the 2006 war, arguing that only a comprehensive strategy that integrates airpower and military force can be successful against a well-entrenched and dispersed adversary like Hezbollah. 

8. Daniel Byman and Steven Simon, “The No-Win Zone: An After-Action Report from Lebanon,” The National Interest, November/December 2006. 

Byman and Simon assess the winners and losers of the Israel-Lebanon war, and draw some preliminary lessons—especially the need for a consistent and credible information strategy—from a conflict that no side could view as an unequivocal success. 

9. UN Security Council Resolution 1701 

This August 2006 UN Security Council Resolution calls for “the immediate cessation by [Hezbollah] of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations” in Lebanon, as well as the expanded presence of  15,000 UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeepers. (3PA Extra Credit: The UN secretary general’s most recent report on implementation of resolution 1701.) 

10. Daniel Kurtzer, A Third Lebanon War, Council on Foreign Relations, July 2010.  

Kurtzer’s Contingency Planning Memo discusses the most plausible scenarios and associated warning signs of a “Third Lebanon War,” its implications for the United States, and U.S. policy options to reduce the likelihood of renewed Israel-Hezbollah conflict and mitigate the consequences should it occur.

Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by Kevin Benson

    Micah, I am not sure this war was not another example of a failure to ask what next, much like I faced in the march up to Baghdad. Such was the reliance on air alone no one, at least as far as I’ve found, asked “what if the rockets keep coming?” There is also more than apears as you look more closely at the fighting power of the IDF infantry. It seemed from where I sat that the IDF either lost ability to or forgot how to close with and destroy a determined enemy. Hezbollah, an army that fought using guerilla tactics, did not flee when Israeli tanks arrived. They stood and fought. When a nation’s infantry cannot close the last 100 meters and kill a determined foe a country is in trouble.

  • Posted by Kevin Benson

    sorry about the spelling in my comment. Mom was correct, I should have taken typing.

  • Posted by Dr.Harold Goldmeier

    Israel recognized it’s lack of preparedness for war with Hezbollah; how she underestimated Hezbollah’s will, training, might, and arsenal; and only much later did Israel realize the disconnect between her military and political objectives. Israeli government officials fell as were many officers, because of the rather chaotic way it fought the aggression from the other side. Israel had a knee-jerk reaction to the cross border kidnappings and murders of her soldiers by terrorists wearing U.N. uniforms who furtively slinked in from Lebanon.Israel has an aversion to casualties as one of the analyses says and paid dearly for her response. I would like to point out three lessons from the war: first, U.N. Peace keepers (and Lebanese border patrol forces) merely stepped aside when the terrorists of Hezbollah went across the border; so much for international guarantees of Israel’s border security and safety. Second, Israel limpidly and without hesitation made individuals responsible for the conduct and outcomes of the war suffer the consequences. Who in Hezbollah’s administration suffered for starting the war? Even her leaders were shocked at the extent of Israel’s anger and military response, and as Sheik Nasrallha admittedly did not anticipate Israel’s powerful response. Finally, there were no winners or losers in this war. Israel wrought
    devastation to southern Lebanon, and the Paris of the Middle East suffered enormous economic loss and human suffering. Israel’s losses in life and limb to her soldiers, and to civilians hurt by Hezbollah rockets targeting civilian centers was devastating. One side note. When IDF men and women went north with little preparation and fewer supplies, because of the last minute decision to go to war (they had little more time for this war than the Yom Kippur War both the result of lousy intelligence), men, women, and children, lined the roads to the north handing the soldiers, food and water, warm clothing, took letters from them to send home to their mothers and families, and more. It was a sight to behold, and people of the north still talk about it today with pride and some amazement.
    Dr. Harold Goldmeier Chicago, Ill. hgoldmeier@aol.com Dr. Goldmeier was a Chicago Public School teacher, a Research and Teaching Fellow at Harvard University earning a Doctorate in Education, and taught as an Assistant Professor at Tufts Medical School. He worked in government for three Governors, the U. S. Surgeon General, and in children and youth advocacy for nearly two decades. He recently sold his business after nearly three decades. He has been married more than forty years with children living in America and Israel, and a son who recently served with the Israel Defense Forces. He has published more than two-dozen articles in professional journals and popular magazines and newspapers.
    Dr. Goldmeier is currently a writer, consultant to government agencies, and to small businesses on economic growth and marketing. His most recent articles appeared in The Jewish Press on terrorism, and in Haaretz of Israel and he writes a guest post for LifeinIsrael.blogspot.com., Open.Salon.com., and more.

  • Posted by Nobody Home

    Israel is entitled to fight and declare WAR on terrorism and Terrorist along International community cost what it cost.

    Israel is part of International community and International community is part of Israel.

    S.P.Q.R. REMIND Israel that International community is putting Financial and military effort in order to fight Hydra (terrorism)

    Israel is now commanded from International community to open an Official war front against those nation who committed crimes against Humainity in The name of an Unexisting god called Allah.

    Tom Cruise is Better then Mohammed

  • Posted by Javed Mir

    Mr. Nobody’s derogatory remarks against Allah and the prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) have not served any good purpose neither for the Jews nor for those who do not believe in the prophethood of Mohammed (PBUH). More than one billions Muslims all over the world, believe in Allah and the prophet Mohammed (PBUH). This sacrilege has deeply hurt the religious sensitivities of the muslims.

    Surprisingly that kind of remarks have been allowed to appear on the website of Foreign Affairs which has international readership.

    However we expect that Palestinian dispute is settled equitably. The Obama
    administration is already working in that direction. Let us divert all our energies to end this war so that permanent peace is achieved in the Middle East.

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