Sunday, August 13, 2006
Lessons from the War..
LESSONS SO FAR- HARD TRUTHS TO LEARN FROM ISRAEL'S WAR ON HEZBOLLAH August 13, 2006 -- ISRAEL'S war against the Middle East's first true terrorist army provides tough military and strategic lessons - old, new, and all too often disheartening. Israel's been winning on the ground. And still losing the war. This bitter conflict - in which most casualties on both sides of the border are civilians - raises troubling questions, too. Some are identical to those confronting us in Iraq. Many have troubling answers. Others have no real answers at all. The elementary fact - which far too many in the West deny - is that our civilization has been forced into a defensive war to the death with fanatical strains of Islam - both Shi'a and Sunni. We may be on the offensive militarily, but we did not start this war - and it's all one war, from 9/11's Ground Zero, through Lebanon and Iraq, and on to Afghanistan. Until that ugly fact gains wide acceptance, we'll continue to make little decisive progress. American or Israeli, our troops are trying. But the truth is that we're really just holding the line. We have not yet begun to fight. And many among us still dream of avoiding this war altogether. It can't be done. Because our enemies - Hezbollah, al Qaeda, Islamist militias, regimes in Iran, Syria and elsewhere - are determined to confront us. We're going to learn the hard way. But we're going to learn. Meanwhile, here's what the latest battlefield has to say to us: Lesson 1: You can win every tactical engagement and still lose at the strategic level. Israel's fought well. But its forces did a polite minuet, while its enemy's danced madly in the streets. The Israeli Defense Forces have done what their government asked of them. But the Olmert government asked them to do the wrong things - and to do too little for too long. On the ground, in the air and at sea, the IDF or our own forces can't be beaten. But without sound strategic planning, our tactical wins will not add up to victory. We have to re-learn this lesson again and again: Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq - and now Lebanon. Lesson 2: The global media can overturn the verdict of the battlefield. Too many politicians and generals still don't get it. This new truth about war slapped us in the face during the First Battle of Fallujah. Now, facing a hostile global media, the Israelis are learning it. Lesson 3: If you start off on the wrong foot in war, you may never recover your balance. This old rule never changes. The Israeli government dreamed of fighting a short, clean war on the cheap. Now they're playing incremental catch-up. It's a formula for stalemate, if not defeat. If you must go to war, go with everything you've got. From Day One. In war, the only bargain at any price is victory. Lesson 4: Technology alone can't win 21st-century wars. You've heard it before and, sadly, you'll hear it again. These asymmetrical, brutal human conflicts require flesh-and-blood solutions - boots on the ground, not just airpower. Lesson 5: Never underestimate your enemy. Another timeless rule. The Israelis did it in 1973, and now they've done it again. They undervalued Hezbollah's preparedness for a serious war, its armaments, its training - and its tenacity. And we ourselves did it after Baghdad fell. This is one of the worst mistakes any government and military can make. Lesson 6: In war, take the pain up front, and the overall suffering will be far less. A policy of casualty aversion - in Israel or in the United States - results in more casualties in the end. Because the IDF wasn't permitted to wage a serious war from the first day (and it remains severely restricted even now), the rockets continued to rain down on Israel - while Hezbollah won the propaganda war. Lesson 7: Terrorism is no longer a limited, diffuse, disorganized threat. Hezbollah has an army, if of a new and innovative kind. Iran and Syria supply, support and succor it. It has strategic depth and startling resilience. With Hezbollah on point, Shi'a terror is now better-prepared to wage post-modern war than Sunni organizations such as al Qaeda. We're witnessing the rise of trans-national terrorist armies. There are many more lessons, especially down at the soldier level. But let's turn to two critical questions: Can a military that relies heavily on reserve call-ups win this new kind of war? For Israel, it's an existential question. My own conclusion is that the IDF, as currently structured, is living on borrowed time. Having seen our own forces operating in Iraq and the IDF at work along the Lebanese border, my frank assessment is that Israel's brave reserve brigades would crumble in fights such as those in Fallujah or Ramadi. This isn't the West Bank anymore. This is war to the death. The IDF must stop looking backward toward its proud heritage and look honestly at the future of war. Can we win "Eastern" wars with Western values? I doubt it. This question is going to eat at our consciences for years to come - even as we learn to do what must be done. Despite media lies about Israeli "atrocities," the IDF has been doing all it can to spare civilians. For example, the Israelis repeatedly risked commando teams deep in hostile territory to take out Hezbollah command-and-control cells - instead of just leveling the crowded apartment buildings where the terrorists were hiding. But, ultimately, all of the special operations in the world will fall far short of delivering decisive, crushing victories. We are going to have to learn to fight by the enemy's rules. And we aren't going to like it. The wars of the future will be won by those with the greater strength of will. And boundless determination is one weapon that Islamist extremists unquestionably possess. Do we? Ralph Peters' new book is "Never Quit The Fight."