The Dahiya Strategy and Gaza: Unlessons of the Second Lebanon War
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Zionism & Israel Center http://zionism-israel.comIf fighting is renewed in earnest along Israel's southern or northern fronts, Israel would face guerrilla enemies armed with rockets to be used against civilian targets and anti-tank rockets, and protected by concrete underground bunkers. A controversy has arisen as to how to deal with these threats.
The controversy is not a matter of right or left politics, but an issue to be resolved by analysis and operations research. What applies to Lebanon, applies in large measure to Gaza as well. Any operation against Hezbollah or Hamas will evoke extensive rocket attacks such as those we experienced in the Second Lebanon War and on a smaller scale, those we are experiencing today in Gaza. The measures of the IDF in both cases have proven to be ineffective. Therefore, the IDF has sought a strategy that would end the rocket attacks in the briefest time possible, because of the tremendous pressure they produce from the civilian population.
The strategy it proposes is disastrous. It will not stop the rocket attacks and it will help the enemy achieve its goals. The real problem facing Israel is not an objective external military threat, but an internal psychological one, that must be met by psychological and political means.
One of the strategies promoted by former Chief of Staff Dan Halutz in the Second Lebanon War was massive bombing of Lebanese infrastructure and civilian areas. Wiser heads prevailed in the government, and "only" limited objectives were bombed. This "limited" bombing produced over a thousand casualties. Though many were Hezbollah
terroristsmilitants, many were also women and children. Bridges and oil depots and roads were bombed, producing a huge pollution problem and bringing the wrath of the world down on Israel. The strategy was of negative value. It united the Arab countries, as well as the Lebanese against us, though some had been at least understanding at the start of the war. It made it difficult for the US to continue to support Israel throughout the war. Had Israel been even slightly more aggressive, it is probable that we would have faced a UN Security Council imposed cease fire in the first days of the war. Considering the results of the war, perhaps that would not have been such a bad thing.
The bombing was intended to weaken the Lebanese resolve and hasten a political resolution led by the Lebanese government, but it had no such effect. Hezbollah had veto power over the negotiating process from beginning to end. When Israel bombed Lebanon, Lebanese complained about Israel, not about the Lebanese government or the Hezbollah. The Lebanese government and its members publicly reiterated their support of the Hezbollah on numerous occasions.
The most intensive bombing, and therefore the biggest failure, was in the Dahiya neighborhood of Beirut, which includes the headquarters of the Hezbollah. Israel Defense Secretary Amir Peretz declared that Hassan Nasrallah will remember the name of Amir Peretz. That it is so. Nasrallah remembers Peretz, and every time he remembers Peretz, he has a good laugh. The IAF pounded large parts of the Dahiya neighborhood to rubble with no positive strategic result whatever.
Hezbollah is an evil, murderous, racist, fanatic, reactionary, genocidal
terroristmilitant gang. There was no moral issue here. If possible, they should be annihilated. They have no more moral claim to exist than the Nazis, and neither do those who shelter them. But there is an issue of intelligent and adaptive behavior. The bombing strategy was expensive and didn't accomplish anything except to make heroes of the Hezbollah in Lebanon and to ignite a torrent of anti-"Zionist" and anti-Semitic propaganda around the world. There cannot be any argument about that. Mr. Nasrallah and the Hezbollah are stronger than ever, both inside Lebanon and in terms of its potential to harm Israel.
Some relevant lessons of the Second Lebanon war, and of many other wars including World War II, the Vietnam war, the war of attrition between Israel and Egypt and our wars with the Palestinians, are:
* Strategic bombing or bombing of civilian centers alone can never bring about surrender of the enemy or weakening of enemy morale. Hitler found that out when he could not bomb England into submission, and the British learned it when they could not bomb Germany into submission. Only use of nuclear weapons had a real effect in Japan.
* Bombing has almost no effect in a guerrilla war. As Moshe Dayan observed regarding Vietnam, the guerrillas are safe in bunkers while the bombs fall above. Bombing of infrastructure has little effect, because guerrilla armies do not require much conventional infrastructure.
* The ability of the enemy to absorb casualties is almost infinite; our tolerance of casualties is close to zero.
* Bombing did not stop the outpouring of rockets and neither did ground operations prevent them entirely - not in Lebanon and not in Gaza.
According to the doctrine of "What doesn't work with force, will work with even more force," some IDF brass (see here, here and here ) are proposing a bigger and better version of the same strategy, or perhaps they already adopted it.
This dangerous idea and disastrous strategy, called the "Dahiya Doctrine," has evoked only minimal objections. Nearly everyone seems to agree that what failed disastrously in the last war should be done on a much bigger scale in the next war. Presumably, it must result in a super disaster. The advocates envision large scale bombing of Lebanon that would "force" the Lebanese to put a stop to the rocket attacks on Israel. A dissenting minority opinion is offered by Brig. Gen (Ret) Yossi Kupperwasser. What is true for Lebanon, is true for Gaza. In Lebanon, the issue is mostly theoretical as long as UNIFIL is in place. In Gaza, it may be a matter of days or weeks before a strategic decision must be taken.
The rationale of the "Dahiya Doctrine" is that the Lebanese government is now one and the same as the Hezbollah, and therefore bears responsibility for the actions of the Hezbollah. However, in reality, this argument has no relevance or bearing on the issue. The Security Council of the United Nations and in particular the United States will not be convinced that it is legitimate to bomb Lebanese civilians, especially not under the new U.S. administration. The war would be stopped by an imposed cease fire, and the enemy would remain intact and declare "victory" once again.
From the practical point of view, nothing changed since the Second Lebanese War. No Lebanese government had or has the physical ability to control the Hezbollah. If they did, they would have disarmed the group. Therefore, their responsibility or non-responsibility of the Lebanese government is an academic issue at best.
In Gaza and in Lebanon, the decisions for war and peace are made in Tehran and Damascus, and therefore the number of Lebanese or Palestinian casualties has no bearing on the decisions. Without the approval of the Iranian and Syrian masters, no rockets would be fired. The rockets would not stop until the Mullahs in Tehran and the rulers of Damascus agree to stop them. They are willing to fight Israel (and by proxy, the United States) until the last Palestinian or Lebanese is dead. Since the Hezbollah and Hamas would be largely entrenched in bunkers, Israel could level all of southern Lebanon and still expect rockets to fall on the Galilee, from hardened bases in the midst of Shi'a areas north of the Litani river.
The Dahiya Doctrine is therefore worthless as an actual military strategy. As a publicly made threat it only serves to make Israel look monstrous. If Israel really intends to bomb Lebanese targets, it could make its intention known quietly to the Lebanese government through the usual channels. So what is the purpose of these warnings other than to exhibit the self importance of generals?
The Dahiya Doctrine is a declaration of strategic and tactical bankruptcy. In any war with Hezbollah and to a lesser extent Hamas, Israel faces a number of threats for which it has not found solutions:
* Rockets of varying range that can be launched from mobile platforms or remote-launched from hardened silos.
* Anti-tank rockets.
* Huge explosive charges that can blow up tanks from below, used very effectively in Gaza.
* An enemy that has implanted itself in civilian population and has no concern for civilian casualties.
* An enemy that is dug in in underground bunkers. These fortifications are very advanced in Lebanon, and are apparently located beneath population centers.
* A home population that has become totally undisciplined and has no tolerance for casualties.
* A basically hostile international environment.
Most of the above threats remain without solutions, in part because nobody sought solutions, in part because the solutions are not ready yet, partly because international political considerations prevent a solution, and partly because there might not be any solutions.
For the enemy, casualties are a strategic asset, as they are used to put pressure on Israel and delegitimize it, which is the strategic objective of the enemy. For Israel, our casualties, however light, are an increasingly a limiting liability with overwhelming force. Two people were lightly injured in rocket barrages in the Negev in the last few days, causing a huge swelling of political pressure, in part artificially generated, to stop the rockets at any cost. Two Israelis with nose bleeds after a rocket attack have a greater demoralizing effect on Israelis than a hundred dead Palestinians have in Palestinian society.
The absence of resolution causes erratic solutions. The government flip-flops between ill considered and pointless military adventures and shameful capitulation. Because of PR gimmicks and political pressure, the Israeli government made a disastrous and humiliating deal to swap Lebanese prisoners for the bodies of two soldiers, giving Hezbollah a huge and bloodless victory. Now there is pressure to make an even more one-sided and dangerous deal for the return of captive Gilad Shalit. A deal that must ultimately result in the kidnapping of many more soldiers. It is absurd that the military planning for a Gaza operation, which would necessarily involve numerous Israeli dead and wounded, takes into account the captivity of one lone soldier as a serious strategic consideration. None of this has any objective basis - it is all psychological and irrational.
The "Dahiya Doctrine" proposes a huge and barbarous Israeli reaction to what is objectively a fairly minimal enemy threat. Of course, that is exactly what the enemy wants to accomplish.
Objectively, the simplest problem to solve is that of the home population. During the Second Lebanon war, the Hezbollah rockets killed about 50 Israelis. The attempts to stop the rockets by military force and to recover two captive soldiers killed an additional 100 Israelis approximately. The arithmetic has obvious implications. Objective observers pointed out that Israeli civilian casualties were relatively low because of a relatively good civil defense infrastructure. By Middle Eastern standards our provision of shelters and warning are excellent. By Israeli standards we know they are poor. A relatively small investment in shelters and reorganization of civil defense in the north and near Gaza would yield a great dividend in saved lives, but it is not being done. The cabinet vetoed Defense Minister Ehud Barak's request for more shelters in the Western Negev. The vote was not based on objective criteria. Ehud Barak is from the wrong political party and elections are only a few months away. Politically, it is much better to withhold the funds, since as defense minister, Barak will be blamed for the resulting casualties, whereas if the shelters were built, the Labor party and Barak would gain support at the expense of the Kadima party. So you see, it really doesn't pay to build shelters.
Israel's biggest asset in previous wars, especially the Israel War of Independence was a population that was fairly inured to casualties. Unlike the Palestinian Arabs, Israelis did not run away and did not panic. The British guns of the Jordan Legion pounded Jerusalem and the Egyptian air force dropped bombs on Tel Aviv with impunity in the first days of the war, yet there was no real pressure either to end the war by capitulation or to replace the government with one that would "do something" about the threat. Noncombatants were routinely evacuated for long periods from threatened areas.
The same was true during the years preceding the Six Day War, when Syrian artillery terrorized Israeli Kibbutzim and towns along the northern border. There wasn't really a great and constant outcry in any of these cases by politicians calling for surrender or by politicians calling for aggressive action. The same was true again during Desert Storm, when an uncomplaining population suffered the inconvenience and danger of Iraqi Scud missiles which could not be stopped by the Likud government.
The Hezbollah and the Hamas can pose an existential threat to Israel only if we let them do so. Objectively, their ability to inflict casualties is small. If we are serious about beating the terrorists, Israeli society has to prepare a resolute population and give the home population confidence in the measures taken to protect it. Tactical solutions to the threats posted by the enemy are important too, but without an orderly and determined population and a united political leadership, tactical solutions will never be enough, as there will always be some casualties. That, and not barbarous and impractical plans for mass bombings ought to be the focus of Israeli strategy.
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