Restraint is not always a virtue

From YNet:

The army was aware from the onset of last summer’s war in Lebanon that a military operation against Hizbullah would not secure the release of two soldiers kidnapped in a cross-border attack, a senior general said Wednesday, contradicting past claims by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Northern Command chief Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, who was the head of the Operations Directorate during the war, said that the army presented the government with a plan to weaken Hizbullah and never suggested that the soldiers could be freed…

Eizenkot also revealed that the army’s plan outlined a 6-day operation aimed at destroying Hizbullah’s posts in south Lebanon and partially damaging Lebanon’s infrastructure to pressure the Lebanese government to deploy the army in the south.

Such a limited operation would not have been capable of rescuing the hostages, who were likely out of southern Lebanon within a few hours of their kidnapping.

The plan to weaken Hizbullah by pressuring Lebanon was particularly ill-conceived. Although I am obviously speaking from hindsight, it seems to me that the relative weakness of the Lebanese government in relation to Hizbullah and Syria should have been understood, as well as the significant amount of sympathy for Hizbullah in the Lebanese army (some 30% of which is Shiite). I also think that the disastrous consequences for Israel’s public relations from attacking Lebanese infrastructure should have been foreseen.

The alternatives would have been to do little or nothing after the initial pursuit, or to have gone full-bore after Hizbullah, with intent to damage the organization as severely as possible. This would have been a much larger operation than the one that took place, and would have risked confrontation with Syria. And of course there is never a guarantee that hostages can be freed safely.

However (and now I am really speaking from hindsight), this is exactly what should have been done. By failing to act more aggressively, Israel allowed herself to go from the frying pan into the fire. In my estimation Syria and Hizbullah are preparing to attack Israel in the near future. # Hizbullah has fully resupplied. But in contrast to the situation last summer their position has improved:

  • They may have the advantage of a suprise attack.
  • Syria’s missile and other forces have been considerably beefed up in the period since the war.
  • Hamas will be able to open a much more significant southern front than before.
  • The increased UN presence in and around Lebanon will make it harder for Israel to respond.
  • The outcome of the last war has given Israel’s enemies a psychological advantage.

Of course, the IDF has learned a few things as well. For its part, the political leadership needs to build up home front defenses, make sure that the army is fully supplied for the serious and extensive conflict that is expected, and understand that restraint is not always a virtue.

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