Thursday, December 21, 2006

Back to the Scene of the Crime

Uri Avnery,

When the Israeli government decided, in the space of a few hours, to start
the Second Lebanon War, it did not have any plan.

When the chief-of-staff urged the Cabinet to start the war, he did not submit
any plan. This was disclosed this week by a military investigation committee.
That is shocking.

A plan is not an optional extra, something nice you can do without. A war
without a plan is like a human body without a spinal column. Would anyone think
of building a house without a plan? To put up a bridge? To produce a car? To
hold a conference? After all, unlike a house, a bridge, a car or a conference, a
war is supposed to kill people. Its very essence is killing and destroying.

Almost in every case, to initiate a war is a crime. To start such a war
without a plan and proper preparation is totally irresponsible — heaping crime
upon crime.

When a state starts a war, the sequence is — in simplistic terms — as

(1) The government adopts a clear political aim.

(2) The government deliberates whether this aim can be achieved by war —
after it comes to the conclusion that it cannot be achieved by other means.

From this point on, the emphasis moves from the political to the military
leadership. Its duty is:

(3) To draw up a strategic plan for attaining the aim decided upon by the

(4) To translate the strategic plan into a tactical plan. Among others: To
decide what forces are needed, which forces will be employed, what is the target
of each force and within which time it must achieve it, as well as to foresee
possible moves by the other side.

(5) To prepare the forces for their tasks, in accordance with their training
and equipment.

A wise government will also think about the situation it would like to have
after the war, and will instruct the military to take this into consideration
while planning its operations.

Now it appears that nothing of this sort happened. There was no clearly
defined war aim, there was no political or military plan, there were no clear
objectives for the troops and they were not prepared for the tasks they were
given. Without a central plan, nothing of these was even possible.

A war without a plan is no war at all, but an adventure. A government that
starts a war without a plan is no government at all, but a bunch of politicians.
A general staff that goes to war without a plan is no general staff at all, but
a group of generals.

The way events developed, according to the inquiry committees, was like this:
The government decided on the war in a hurry, within a few hours, without
defining any aim.

In the following days, several war aims were thrown around. They followed
each other in quick succession and contradicted each other in many ways. That by
itself is a recipe for disaster: Every aim demands its own methods and means,
which may be quite different from those demanded by another.

Among the aims that were announced: The release of the two captured soldiers,
the destruction of Hezbollah, the elimination of the arsenal of missiles in
South Lebanon, the pushing of Hezbollah away from the border, and more. Beyond
that there was a general desire to have a Lebanese government that was
completely subservient to American and Israeli interests.

If competent army officers had been instructed to draw up a plan for each of
these aims, they would soon have arrived at the conclusion that all of them were
unattainable by military means.

The idea that the two prisoners could be liberated by war is manifestly
ridiculous. Like going after a mosquito with a sledgehammer. The proper means is
diplomacy. Perhaps somebody would have suggested capturing some Hezbollah
commanders in order to facilitate an exchange of prisoners. Anything — except a

The destruction of Hezbollah by a necessarily limited war was impossible, as
should have been clear from the beginning. This is a guerilla force that is part
of a political movement which is deeply rooted in Lebanese reality (as can be
seen these days on any television screen). No guerilla movement can be destroyed
by a regular army, and certainly not in one single stroke and within days or

The elimination of the missile arsenal? If the army command had sat down to
elaborate a military plan, they would have realized that aerial bombardment can
achieve this only in part. A complete destruction would have demanded the
occupation of all of South Lebanon, well beyond the Litani River. During that
time, a large part of Israel would have been exposed to the missiles, without
the population being prepared for it. If that conclusion had been presented to
the government, would it have taken the decision it took?

The pushing of Hezbollah from the border by a few kilometers north is not a
proper war aim. Starting a war for that purpose, leading to the killing of
masses of people and destroying whole neighborhoods and villages, would have
meant frivolity where serious deliberation was required. But the government did
not have to go into such deliberations. Since it did not define any clear aim,
it did not demand nor receive any military plan.

If the recklessness of the political leadership was scandalous, the
recklessness of the military leadership was doubly so.

The army command went to war without any clearly defined aim and without any
plan. There were some plans that had been prepared and exercised beforehand,
without any specific political aim in mind, but they were ignored and abandoned
as the war started. After all, who needs a plan? Since when do Israelis plan?
Israelis improvise, and are proud of it.

So they improvised. The chief-of-staff, an air force general, decided that it
was sufficient to bomb: If enough civilians were killed and enough houses, roads
and bridges destroyed, the Lebanese people would go down on its knees and do
whatever the Israeli government commanded.

When this failed (as should have been foreseen) and most Lebanese of all
communities rallied behind Hezbollah, the C-o-C realized that there was no
avoiding ground operations. Since there was no plan, he did without. Troops were
sent into Lebanon in a haphazard way, without clear objectives, without
timetables. The same locations were occupied time and again. The end result: The
forces bit off small pieces of land on the edges of Hezbollah territory, without
any real achievement, but with heavy losses.

It cannot be said that the war aims were not attained. Simply, there was no
war aim. The worst part was not the lack of a plan. The worst part was that the
generals did not even notice its absence.

A military leader needs intuition. Certainly. But intuition grows from by
experience — his own experience, the experience of his army and the accumulated
experience of centuries of warfare.

For example: If they had read the books of Basil Liddell Hart, perhaps the
most authoritative military commentator of the last century, they would have
learned that the battle of David and Goliath was not a confrontation between a
boy with a primitive sling and a heavily armed and protected giant, as it is
usually presented, but quite on the contrary, a battle between a sophisticated
fighter with a modern weapon that could kill from a distance and a cumbersome
combatant equipped with obsolescent arms.

Now we have several military inquiry committees, appointed by the
chief-of-staff himself (about 40 of them!), and they, one after another, confirm
our criticism almost word for word. Not only confirm, but add a wealth of
details that paint an even darker picture.

It is a picture of utter confusion: Improvised operations, an anarchic
command structure, misunderstanding of orders, orders that were issued,
cancelled and issued again, general staff officers giving orders directly to
subordinate commanders bypassing the chain of command.

An army that was once one of the best in the world, an object of study for
officers in many countries, has become an inefficient and incompetent body. The
committees do not answer a basic question: How did this happen?

Next June, the occupation of the Palestinian territories will reach its 40th
anniversary. There is no precedent for such a long military occupation regime. A
military occupation is by its very nature a short-term instrument. In the course
of a war, the army conquers enemy territory, administers it until the end of the
war, when its fate is decided by a peace agreement.

No army is happy with the role of an occupying force, knowing that this
destroys it, corrupts it from inside, damages it physically and mentally,
diverts it from its most important function and imposes on it methods that have
nothing to do with its real mission — to defend the state in war.

With us, the occupation became, almost from the beginning, a political
instrument for the attainment of objectives that are foreign to the function of
“Defense Forces”. In theory, it is a military regime, but in practice it is a
colonial subjugation, in which the Israeli army mainly fulfills the shameful
task of an oppressive police force.

An army whose job is to uphold the occupation — “targeted killings” (approved
this week by the Supreme Court in a shameful decision), demolition of homes,
mistreating helpless civilians, hunting stone-throwing children, humiliating
people at innumerable roadblocks and the hundred and one other daily doings of
an occupation army — has shown that it is not fit for real war, even against a
small guerilla force.

The corruption of the Israeli Army and the rot that has set in, exposed in
all their ugliness by the investigations of the war, are a danger for the State
of Israel.

No comments: