Israeli analysts prepare next war against Lebanon

In the latest issue of its quarterly journal, Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) carries two (or three) articles debating in some depth whether– in the event of a new war against Lebanon that one writer describes as “inevitable”, Israel should actively target institutions and facilities of the Lebanese state, or just “restrict” itself to targeting Hizbullah.
The plainest case for targeting Lebanese national institutions directly is argued in The Third Lebanon War: Target Lebanon (PDF), by Maj.-Gen. (Retd) Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser to PMs Sharon and Olmert and before that head of the IDF’s planning and operations branches.
A more nuanced view– but one that concludes that launching a large-scale, and possibly also lengthy, ground operation in Lebanon is “inevitable”– is argfued by Yossi Kuperwasser in The Next War with Hizbollah: Should Lebanon be the Target? (PDF). Kuperwasser is a former head of the IDF’s intelligence research division.
Now, I understand that it’s the job of planners within the active-duty military to “plan for the worst.” But it’s fairly depressing that a publication that aims at a broad portion of the international political elite should give so much space to people making arguments completely based on the premise that Israel “has no alternative” but to go to war against Lebanon (or Hizbullah) sometime in the (possibly near) future. In addition to those two technical-military articles, the issue also contains one by Israeli exerts arguing– especially in light of Israel’s experiences during the 33-day war of 2006– that Israel should spearhead an attempt to get the laws of war changed to be more in its favor. (Surprise, surprise.)
Nowhere in this journal is there any hint that actually, within the context of a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace settlement, there is a strong scenario whereby Israel might never “need” to go to war against Hizbullah or Lebanon ever again. (Ah, but if there’s not a salutary little war from time to time, how on earth can all the Israeli military companies that these men doubtless consult profitably with, ever keep their sales and profit figures up?)
Actually, the arguments both men make are really weak. They exhibit strategic short-sightedness, tactical idiocy, and severe historical airbrushing (mendacity.) Perhaps that’s because they’re writing here for an “international”, English-language audience that they expect– based on the rock-star welcome they get in most US think-tanks– will ignore the facts and just lap up every word that they write?
Strategic shortsightedness: Neither Eiland nor Kuperwasser can provide a convincing answer to the question, “Yes, but then what?” regarding all their arguments about how (not whether) to fight another war against Lebanon.
In his piece, Eiland makes a couple of arguments. He notes that Hizbullah has become stronger within the Lebanese state than it was at the time of the 33-day war. (Note, though, that he completely fails to explain that it was precisely the ferocity of the assaults Israel made on Lebanon during that war that spurred, that outcome…) So he concludes from that that, to fatally weaken Hizbullah it will be necessary to damage the Lebanese state a lot, too.
He also argues from the “precedent” of the massive, destructive campaign Sharon waged against the PA in June 2002. He writes that there, the real target was Hamas, but Hamas had won a lot of support from the PA, which had strong political support from the west.
“The US sanctioned an Israeli operation against Hamas,” he writes,

    but had a hard time accepting the operation as Israel planned it – an operation against the Palestinian Authority.
    The US at first demanded that Israel leave all West Bank cities (area A) within forty-eight hours. Notable Israeli steadfastness maintained that this time it was impossible to return to the familiar rules of the game whereby only the terrorists are targeted, and the sponsors (the Palestinian Authority) remain immune. Israel’s firmness, which stemmed from a lack of other options, was successful. Israel had to concede on one matter only, stopping the siege of the muq’ata in Ramallah, home to Arafat at the time. On the other hand, the new policy (Israeli control over all Palestinian areas) was well received and commended by the international community.

So, he writes, it would probably be similar with an attack on Lebanon. The “west” might complain a bit at first… but “Israeli firmness” in pursuing its own goals would win the day and even become “well received and commended” by the international community.
His conclusion:

    There is one way to prevent the Third Lebanon War and win it if it does break out (and thereby prevent the Fourth Lebanon War): to make it clear to Lebanon’s allies and through them to the Lebanese government and people that the next war will be between Israel and Lebanon and not between Israel and Hizbollah. Such a war will lead to the elimination of the Lebanese military, the destruction of the national infrastructure, and intense suffering among the population. There will be no recurrence of the situation where Beirut residents (not including the Dahiya quarter) go to the beach and cafes while Haifa residents sit in bomb shelters.
    Serious damage to the Republic of Lebanon, the destruction of homes and infrastructure, and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people are consequences that can influence Hizbollah’s behavior more than anything else…

Yes, Gen. Eiland, but then what??
So Israel succeeds in completely or substantially destroying the entire physical infrastructure of the state of Lebanon… (Assuming that the post-2008 model “international community” allows it to do this, which I actually doubt.)
And then what?
Israel has a failed state on its northern border and substantial portions of the international community up in arms… And that’s going to “solve” your Hizbullah problem, how?
I believe that Gen. Eiland is urging coordinated use of air and ground force attacks against Lebanon. In which case we could assume that the ground troops might be in control of substntial chunks of Lebanese territory.
Which takes us Back to the Future! Israeli troops bogged down in Lebanon, for 22 long years after 1978, 18 years after 1982.
The very conditions that created and incubated Hizbullah in the first place.
Why should anyone buy your crazy, inhumane, and go-nowhere arguments?
And then there’s Gen. Kuperwasser, who is much more explicit about the need for the “large scale ground operation” in Lebanon, even if he questions whether all the facilities of the Lebanese state as such should be targeted along the way.
Here’s what he writes about the ground op that he argues for:

    If there is another round between Israel and Hizbollah, Israel will not be able to make do with standoff counter attacks on Lebanese targets, and will probably have to launch a large scale ground operation. While Hizbollah will be able to exact a not inconsiderable cost from Israel for such an operation, the IDF has the ability to take control of the organization’s operational territories in southern Lebanon, including north of the Litani River, and if necessary, also in Beirut and the Bek’a valley. Such an operation, together with inflicting damage on infrastructures that serve Hizbollah, is the only one that will stop the firing, create a new reality in the field, and enable examination of the possibility of establishing a different arrangement with regard to relations between Israel and Lebanon in general and the Shiite community in particular.

So, you “stop the firing” of Hizbullah’s rockets onto northern Israel. Okay. And you “create a new reality in the field”… which is one in which Israel is left in control of very large chunks of Lebanese territory…
And then what?
(See my note about the IDF’s post-1978 and post-1982 occupations of south Lebanon, above.)
All Kuperwasser tells us about the political-strategic goal to be sought through this operation is “examination of the possibility of establishing a different arrangement with regard to relations between Israel and Lebanon in general and the Shiite community in particular.” Whatever that means. May 17 agreement, anyone?
These guys are strategic-thinking kindergartners, honestly.
Regarding their tactical skills, they don’t seem much better, either. Eiland writes,

    There is one way to prevent the Third Lebanon War and win it if it does break out (and thereby prevent the Fourth Lebanon War): to make it clear to Lebanon’s allies and through them to the Lebanese government and people that the next war will be between Israel and Lebanon and not between Israel and Hizbollah.

Yeah, well. The military planning required to prevent a war (through deterrence) is quite different from that required to fight one. Actually, Eiland doesn’t seem terribly interested in trying to prevent the next “Lebanese War,” at all. Only, perhaps, the one after that. (See note on the Israeli military industries, above.)
And then, from Kuperwasser we have this truly hilarious and ahistorical explanation of how “the next war” against Lebanon that he favors could actually work out, politically, to help realize the fuzzily defined political-strategic endpoint that he seeks:

    the Israeli goal might be to weaken Hizbollah and strengthen the moderate parties in Lebanon, while damaging the organization’s ability to rehabilitate itself and continue controlling southern Lebanon and presenting itself as the defender of Lebanon, similar to Israel’s strategic objectives in the Second Lebanon War (even if they were not explicitly defined as such). Other objectives in this context could be strengthening moderate elements in the regional system and increasing Israeli deterrence, in part to increase the chances of achieving a favorable peace treaty with Syria and to weaken the extremist elements in the Palestinian system.

Note how he’s effortlessly adopted the misleading and content-free US label of “moderate” to describe what are, actually, pro-US forces within Lebanon. But then see how he is advocating an almost exact replay of what the Israeli leadership attempted to do in 2006: Namely, to attack Lebanon’s civilian state facilities with the aim of turning as many Lebanese as possible against Hizbullah… while “strengthening” Israel’s general deterrent p;ower throughout the region.
It backfired badly in 2006, didn’t it?
Why on earth should anyone assume it might work better next time?
And this brings me to the whole question of these two mens’ extreme historical airbrushing (mendacity).
Actually, from Willem Buiter, I just learned a new word that’s very handy in this context: Publikumsbeschimpfung, which means insulting the intelligence of your audience.
Both Eiland and Kuperwasser insult our intelligence primarily through their reliance on a crucial but completely false assumption about the 33-day war, namely that Israel did not, actually, target any non-military facilities pertaining to the Lebanese state during that war, and, by clear implication, that that very ‘restrained’ approach to warfighting helped deny Israel the victory it could otherwise have won. But just look at the record of that war, including both the roster of the sites that Israel attacked during it– road systems, bridges, civilian factories, a power station– and the extremely bellicose statements from military and political leaders spelling out that “Once it is inside Lebanon, everything is legitimate“, “we will turn Lebanon’s clock back 20 years,” etc.
So Eiland and Kuerwasser are asking us to forget all that… Asking us to forget, too, that Israel’s use of massive overkill tactics against Lebanon backfired badly in [’06, and that after 33 days of assaults they were still unable to impose their will on the Lebanese people or their political system.
This, though the war occurred less than 30 months ago.
Publikumsbeschimpfung, indeed. (Taking the public for chimps, perhaps?)
At one level, I suppose we could read these two guys’ fevered and ill-informed writings as further evidence– if evidence still be needed– of the sterility of what passes for Israeli strategic “thinking” in the present era. After all the INSS, formerly the Jaffee Center, is not chopped liver. It’s the flagship of Israeli strategic-affairs think-tanks.
The problem for these guys, and for all their counterparts in the military-industrial complex throughout the western world is that the world has changed a lot in the past 15 years. Foreign wars have become just about unwinnable. Israel’s performance in Lebanon in 2006 is Example A in that regard. They had overwhelming superiority over Hizbullah at every single step on “the escalation ladder.” But still, they were unable to achieve their strategic goals!
So if foreign wars are unwinnable, then people– taxpayers, conscripts’ families, and others– might soon start to ask, “Why wage them? And why invest such a lot of our country’s treasure in the military industries that help us prepare for them?”
But if that were to happen, what on earth would happen to the military industries and their hordes of nicely paid consultants??
A problem, I think, not just for Israel but also for the US, Britain, and the rest of NATO…
But here’s the good news: There are many, many better ways to resolve conflicts and address fears of insecurity than through war.,

16 thoughts on “Israeli analysts prepare next war against Lebanon

  1. mike

    Excellent post. But I didn’t really understand this part:
    “Nowhere in this journal is there any hint that actually, within the context of a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace settlement, there is a strong scenario whereby Israel might never “need” to go to war against Hizbullah or Lebanon ever again.”
    There is already a formally declared war between Israel and Lebanon, one that was declared by the Lebanese in 1948, and therefore a “need” for Israeli to continue to fight it. As you note at the end of the post, there are better ways to solve problems than through war, but apparently the Lebanese are not aware of that. If they don’t want to continue to fight their war against Israel then why don’t they declare peace, and recognize Israel? As Egypt and Jordan did. That would solve the problem, and allow both nations to live their lives in peace. But as long as Lebanese insists on maintaining a (illegal) state of war against Israel, then naturally the Israelis are going to continue to wage war. They’d be crazy not to. But it’s not their choice. They didn’t start the war, and they’re not the ones refusing to recognize Lebanon. Time the Lebanese began accepting some responsibility for their decades of war and hatred, and learn that as long as you make war your people will continue to suffer.

  2. JohnH

    You can’t help but think that Israeli strategic thinking froze in about 1981, when Sharon became Defense Minister, then invaded and occupied southern Lebanon. Despite the failure of that adventure, the military strategists sound gung-ho to repeat it.
    Only this time around Hezbollah has rockets that destroy Israeli tanks. Perhaps they have rockets that can reach Israel’s oil storage depots at Eilat and Ashkelon, and–who knows–maybe even Dimona.
    Yes, the military strategists need to ask ‘what then?’ What if Hezbollah successfully defends itself again and inflicts serious damage on Israel? After not winning in the first or the second invasion, will a new generation of strategists finally emerge to inform the Israeli military industrial complex that it is no longer 1981?

  3. Scott H.

    Thanks very much for flagging these articles for our attention Helena.
    Publikumsbeschimpfung indeed.
    Amazing too; as I was blogging here at the time, it was point blank obvious what Israel’s strategy in 2006 was — to try to hit all Lebanese hard, on the twisted logic that such pain would force them to turn against their Shia neighbors. It backfired severely and obviously….
    For those who only watched Faux News at the time, the ignorance might be “understandable.”
    That this catastrophic blunder is now consciously erased by Israel’s presume top strategists is profoundly disturbing. Thank you Helena for the reminders.

  4. Jack

    Mike – you expect Lebanon to just declare peace and recognize Israel? Aside from the little territorial issues, there is the matter of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who must be allowed to return. Do you really think Israel is ready for that?

  5. John R

    The war machine in Isreal like all war machines keeps the fear real and alive because:
    “War is peace” .. Orwell
    and both sides will keep this reality alive as they fail to recipricate the fundamental needs of each other.. stopping settlements, the return of post 1967 lands… and the most elusive.. right of existance.
    Isreal is a democracy and is in a much better place to meet a high level of “comand and control” over the the extremes at it’s fringes.
    What command and control can the a failed state, or can the “Representatives of the Palestinians” provide? So far, Settle with one representative today, and the extremes will produce another refusing to recognize the last.
    Remember.. Love is Hate.. Orwell, and both sides are Guilty of that too.
    We need new peridigm for the new century, and the new battlefield realities may bring them.

  6. Eurosabra

    In Israel, the vexed post-2000 relationship with Lebanon and the common public discourse stems mainly from the fact that the Israeli public sees the repeated kidnappings and negotiated return-of-corpses deals as mini-genocides enacting in microcosm the Iranian-Hezbollah goal of eradicating Israel, a goal and a process which has met with the total indifference of the Lebanese government and civil society, whose actual territorial differences with Israel are pretty minimal, compared to those with Syria over the Golan, for example. There has been no useful official contact since 1983, no negotiations, just a government reception for Samir Kuntar and signs reading “We are all Hezbollah” carried by the European Islamo-National-Socialist Left in London, Brussels, Paris, Geneva and Edinburgh.
    This in an Israel where people KNOW the extent of the damage visited upon Lebanon in their name but noted that from 2000-2006 activity on the border was more-or-less initiated by Hezbollah, itself trying to play the game of “escalation dominance” in order to become the biggest political player on the Lebanese stage. In 1968-69 transport and infrastructure targets featured strongly in Israeli retaliatory strikes, to a muted response, precisely because Israel was seen as destroying mere property in response to terror that took lives, so that is not the innovation here as much as the idea that a broad-based Lebanese attack will be met with an unrestricted Israeli one. In fact is is Hezbollah’s expansion to a regular battlefield force that prevents Israel from having the option of small, local responses, Special Forces and community-based-policing approaches (which might have worked at a certain time had the SLA not been so brutal) or Israeli policy since 1978 so quixotic.
    More fallout from the attempt to remake Lebanon, yes, but so far 2006 has merely weakened Israel and make war inevitable and any concessions on Shebaa merely likely to bring it faster.

  7. Alex

    I was sort of surprised that there was no Israeli response on this thread before Eurosabra at 13.30. I had begun to think that Helena was right, and that no Israeli or pro-Israeli dared reply (so unusual as to be unknown). But no, Eurosabra comes back with the accusation of “mini-genocide”.
    I like that term “mini-genocide”. It means that a hundred or more Israeli civilians dead in 2006 are genocide, but ten times that among Lebanese civilians are not. (you are free, by the way, to correct my figures, which I haven’t checked).
    I don’t think I have seen anything which speaks louder of Israeli obsessions than that.

  8. JohnH

    It is sad indeed that Israelis frame each of the attacks as mini-genocides and understand most of the cross border attacks as initiated by Hezbollah. Of course, they ignore the long history of provocation by the IDF (Avi Shlaim documents this quite well).
    But why is it that Israel’s adversaries must always be the ones to come hat in hand to beg peace? Why is it that there is never a partner for peace on the other side, when in fact there is? Why is it that the “only thing that Arabs understand is force,” when that’s clearly not true. Why was Israel more than happy to sit behind Bush’s farcical masquerade of “we don’t negotiate with terrorists?” Most of these positions are nothing more than rationalizations, designed to avoid doing hard, constructive negotiating that might require having to give something up (land, water) in return for peace.
    Now Israelis seem to see no alternative to war. But this attitude has remained largely constant for 60 years (with Rabin’s brief interlude). At some point you would think that Israelis would realize that the current approach is not working. In fact, it is making them ever more insecure, the risks to Israel becoming ever greater from better, cheaper rockets around them.
    Israelis seem to be frozen in 20th century attitudes, paralyzed in their inability to reach out, fascinated by the Greek tragedy that is unfolding before their eyes, one that sooner or later will engulf them as it has their neihbors for the past 60 years.

  9. buffer Zone

    i wonder what’s the minimum buffer zone of security needed by the state of israel?
    what about one thousand kilometers, two thousand perhaps?
    with nothing but sand and rocks, no people, no plants, no animals: this would be ok? this way they’d feel safer??

  10. Eurosabra

    There is no Israeli response because this is a forum totally inimical to any statement of the Israeli case. The fact is that post-2000 violence has been marked by Hezb’s attempt to punish Israel in order to dominate the Lebanese political scene, and worries over Israeli escalation dominance strike me as quaint when voiced by those who praise Hezbollah’s “daring” and “audacity.” The fact is that the Israeli strategic calculus is stuck between various totally unsatisfactory models, such as retaliatory destruction of property (1969), Litani (1974-78), “Big Pines” (1982), the Security Zone (’85-2000), withdrawal, etc. I would think that some would be proud and happy at presenting Israel with an insoluble existential strategic threat, except that it risks the destruction of Lebanon as well. The result is that a different series of experts are cycling among different variations of the previously unsatisfactory options. Again, this in a context where most Israelis are aware of the past history and unlikely to support large-scale ground operations by the IDF in Lebanon.
    Intent matters a bit in the meaning people ascribe to events, which is why cross-border raids over a relatively peaceful Blue Line are read by Israelis as a “forever war” waged by essentially inhuman Mujahadin while “accidents” such as Qana ’96 and ’06 are excusable errors of self-defense. Khalidi’s _War on Lebanon_ was read carefully in Israel, so I’m sure there are TONS of people who read the Lebanese mini-genocide account of Israel’s rather careful bombing of bunker-honeycombed Bint Jbeil. The fact is that both sides are caught in a perfect stimulus-response loop and Hezbollah has convinced the Israeli public, or at least Israeli strategic thinkers, that it is possibly not deterrable by normal military means and not approachable through normal forms of statecraft, and it is a much bigger problem for Lebanon than for Israel that Hezbollah has been so very, very convincing.

  11. JohnH

    Eurosabra–could you give some reasons why Israeli strategic thinkers are convinced that Hezbollah is “not approachable through normal forms of statecraft?” I am not aware of any particular Israeli efforts to engage Hezbollah, only efforts to bully, stonewall and undermine. It would greatly help Israel’s image in the world to show that they are genuinely prepared to be flexible and open to peace. If I have missed something, which I doubt, I would love to be convinced that there is another side to Israeli foreign policy besides intransigeant militarism.

  12. Eurosabra

    The “prisoner” (i.e. corpse for terrorist) exchanges have pretty much convinced Israelis that Hezbollah believes The Only Good Israeli is a Dead Israeli. Samir Kuntar’s reception convinced them that LEBANESE believe The Only Good Israeli Toddler is a Dead One.
    No substantial issues can be discussed with people who murder their prisoners, mutilate the cadavers, and then conceal the deaths in the hope of raising the price of the exchange. More captured Lebanese have been returned alive from Israel in the past 25 years than Israelis from Lebanon. Fact. You can talk to Kuntar or Obeid about that, probably.

  13. JohnH

    “No substantial issues can be discussed with people who murder their prisoners…” Bizarre rationalizations, simply bizarre, particularly in light of Sabra, Shatila, and the wanton destruction and killing of the 2006 attack. It’s clear to me that Israeli officialdom will do anything to avoid having to give something up in return for peace. Sadly, this stonewalling will work until one day it doesn’t. Prospects for Israel’s long time survival are pretty dim.

  14. Eurosabra

    Sabra and Chatila were done by Lebanese Christian Arabs, to Palestinian Muslim and Christian Arabs and Lebanese Muslim Arabs. There may have been a few of Lebanon’s other minorities in the mix, Armenian, Druze, but a review of the standard documentation points to it as an event of the LEBANESE civil war, in the context of an aggressive drive by the Kata’eb and Israel to solidify Kata’eb control of Lebanon. Israelis can acknowledge the cursed inheritance of their government’s overreaching and still insist that Hebollah’s and Iran’s long-term goals and methods are intolerable, untenable and immoral. Moreover, since the UN has certified withdrawal and Sheba’a is a Syrian issue, it seems that your dogma about Israel “giving up” for peace means the Right of Return and the end of Israeli statehood. The actual issues outstanding between the Lebanese and Israeli STATES are minimal–but those issues are not on the table, and the only UN-and-German-mediated Israel-Hezbollah contacts are limited, and, indeed characterized by stonewalling.
    Two modern, pluralistic Mediterranean littoral states with democratic systems of government and developed civil societies are set on a collision course for destruction. Implementation of UN 1701 would be a good start.

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