Friday, August 18, 2006

August 18, 2006 cease-fire day 5

August 18, 2006 Cease-fire Day 5

A report today by Ze’ev Shiff in Haaretz is worth reading. In it he underscores the fact that most of those injured and killed died at the hands of Hezbollah fighters armed with anti-tank weapons fired at tanks, and other armor. The much improved sagar missile, I don't recall if it's lazar or wire guided, was capable of penetrating the thick Merkava-4 tank's armor.

The missile reportedly has two parts, the first pierces the armor, the second goes in through the hole caused by the first, and explodes another warhead. Some military analysts have suggested the use of tanks was a mistake. Shiff recalls that during the Yom Kippur war Israel lost 150 tanks to anti-tank missiles. Israel has no defense against these missiles. If our offence is built on the use of tanks, which it is, and we have no way to defend them, then the strategy is flawed. One ex-general on a TV talk show suggested that tanks not be used, but other weapons that could have the same firepower, in conjunction with ground troops, and not be such an easy target.

Israel did learn some lessons during the war. Soldiers hiding out in captured apartments in Lebanon were also sitting ducks for these anti-tank rockets. Israel had adopted this policy in the various incursions into Gaza and the West Bank. After the first few days Israeli troops were given orders not to take shelter in apartments, but rather in open fields. This improvement saved lives.

Some are boisterous in their insistence that Israel should have launched a massive invasion at the very beginning of the conflict. Most analysts now say that Halutz sold a plan to Olmert that assured him of a successful air campaign that would end in a week. Halutz made a mistake. Olmert bought into it. Peretz went along. However, with a massive air campaign in progress, one doesn't put in ground troops who might be victims of friendly fire. Secondly, if I was Olmert and I could accomplish my goals without risking Israeli lives, I'd take the option, too. Thirdly, if Israel was ill-prepared to fight in Lebanon, since the reserves were out of shape, had poor weapons, and little supplies (there were many reports by soldiers to their families that they went into battle with a bar of halva since no food nor water was available) you can imagine what would have happened if 30,000 or 50,000 men had to face these hardships.

The troops went in, bravely, in spite of all of the 'fashlot' (foul-ups). They had high morale, they did their best. One commentator said that the government deserved the people behind it, but the people deserved a better government. However, given this lack of preparedness, poor strategy, and weapons unsuited for the battle, it was lucky for Israel that the massive invasion so many now think was the solution to the problem, didn't happen. More tanks and armored personnel carriers would have been lost, more men would have died, or been maimed, or injured. Until Israel can figure out what weapons are needed to win in Lebanon, the best plan is to say you won and go home. That's what they did.

Who is to blame for all this stuff? Ex-General Yosi Peled served as an on-air commentator during the war on a variety of TV stations. For a few years Peled was commander of the Northern Front during the previous war in Lebanon, while Israel occupied the 25-mile security belt there. After he retired in about 1997, he received a six page memo from someone outlining a scenario of Hezbollah missiles raining down on Israel. The scenario that came to life in 2006 was already predicted in detail in this memo. Peled said he forwarded the memo to then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he passed it on to the necessary people, including then Chief of Staff Yitzchak Mordecai. Nothing was ever done to implement any defenses against the Hezbollah attacks outlined in this report. Peled reiterated that the Hezbollah missile threat wasn't unknown, that the plan of Hezbollah to turn S. Lebanon into a mini-Iran was well known. What he didn't understand, he said, was why, with the military knowing all of this, nothing was ever done? Other critics have said the same things, and asked the same questions.

One radio talk-show host on yet another talk show, questioned yet another military analyst. "But you can't blame Olmert and Peretz," the talk-show host said. "They've only been in office 30-days."

"Ah," said the analyst, "but Olmert has been serving in Israeli governments for thirty-years. He was involved in many meetings. Many committees. He didn't come out of Georgia as a peanut farmer. This guy was an insider. He knew, or should have known, what Hezbollah was capable of."

These issues will all come out in a vaadat hakirah, a committee of inquiry, which will call witnesses, take testimony and draw conclusions on who did what, when and why.

An ex-Lt. Colonel, who dealt with the South Lebanese for years while Israel occupied that security belt, said he still had many contacts in South Lebanon. Most of the people were farmers, only interested in getting back to their crops, their grapes, their tobacco. The people he said he spoke with were aghast at Israel's military response in this war. Previously, Israel would send in troops, fight battles, seize territory, and usually withdraw. The farmers would leave their homes until the fighting died down, and then return to their lives. This time, the ex-Lt. Colonel said, they can't do that. Their homes are gone. Their lives are in disarray. They are frantic, and angry. He said that they are also angry at Nasrallah for their destroyed homes. The analyst said these people told him they didn't want to be pawns in a political campaign. They were not interested in Nasrallah dragging them into another conflict.

This was a positive development. It was, according to this ex-officer, an unexpected benefit from the failed air campaign. The destruction brought upon the Lebanese people seemed to have sobered them up, shaken them from their revelry that Nasrallah can bring back their Arab pride and honor. They were more interested in working their lands, and bringing in their crops than making Nasrallah king of the Arabs.

The US seemed to finally be getting smart, however. Most analysts on the Israeli TV talk shows thought that only a massive ground campaign could ultimately succeed against Hezbollah; or a clever propaganda campaign. Hezbollah was promising to rebuild Lebanon, albeit with Iranian money. The US woke up to the fact that America has as much money as the Iranians. Money buys friends. If the US started rebuilding homes in Lebanon, competing with Iran on the ground as a friend, not as a policeman, perhaps the public opinion could be swayed.

One analyst said that for years the Israelis ignored the Shiite population and cultivated ties with the Christians. Perhaps, they speculated, it's time to also start a fruitful dialogue with the Shiites, a dialogue that comes with financial benefits, a new or refurbished home, paved streets, medical clinics. If each bomb costs as much as five homes, maybe entire neighborhoods built with US aid would be better than that many bombs?

The UNIFIL force will be slow in coming, underpowered when they arrived, and unwilling, according to their own admission, to confront Hezbollah. That, as everyone knows, means that another conflict is on the horizon. Maybe more money, from the USA, the EU, money that is not controlled by Hezbollah, but is in competition with them, is the next battlefront with Hezbollah and their sponsor Iran.

My closing comment is that my son serves in a tank unit. I hope the army draws the proper conclusions and figures out a way to protect him as best they can. And soon.