It’s been about a year since the beginning of the war between Israel and Hezbollah in south Lebanon, and there’s little doubt that Israel failed badly in that war. Israel’s objectives were to obtain the release of soldiers being held captive, to crush Hezbollah in south Lebanon, and to ensure that Israeli cities and towns could no longer be attacked by rocket fire from Lebanon.
A year later, the soldiers (if alive) are still prisoners. Hezbollah was never crushed, and by all accounts is just about fully reconstituted. And the insertion of U.N. and Lebanese forces in the south — the grand “concession” Israel won during the war — apparently has only served to force Hezbollah to move its rockets a little bit north.
Recently, Ehud Barak, a former army chief of staff and perhaps Israel’s most celebrated soldier took over as Defense Minister. He promptly undertook a study of why Israel’s military did not perform better last year. He found two major causes. First, the army was under-prepared for war because its focus had shifted to, in essence, police work and counter-terrorism. Second, the military was far more averse to accepting casualties than in previous wars.
The first explanation may be a bit self-serving because it militates in favor of policies favored by Barak, such as withdrawing from Gaza. Nonetheless, there’s no reason to doubt his conclusion that the army was, indeed, not well prepare for conventional war. Presumably, this will change, and it certainly better since another war with Hezbollah seems quite likely.
The second explanation — aversion to accepting casualties — may be harder to reverse because it probably stems from understandable changes in the nature of Israeli society as the country has “matured.”
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