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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/16/15

The War of Fools

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The third person in the fateful trio, the Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, was supposed to make up for the military deficiencies of his two civilian superiors. He was a professional soldier, an officer in good standing. But, alas, he was an Air force general, a former combat pilot, who had never handled ground troops.

In Israel, all previous Chiefs of Staff had come from the land forces, had been experienced infantry or tank commanders. The appointment of Halutz to this post was highly unusual. Bad tongues insinuated that the former Defense Minister, a person of Jewish-Iranian origin, had preferred Halutz because his father was also an immigrant from Iran.

Be that as it may, the Chief of Staff, less than a year in office, had no qualifications for leading a force on the ground.

It thus happened that the three leaders of Lebanon War II were new in office, quite inexperienced in directing a ground war. Two of the three had no experience whatsoever in military matters.

The Chief of Staff had another misfortune. It appeared later that a few hours after the decision to go to war, and before the first shot was fired, he had instructed his broker to sell his shares. In the TV story he argued that he had meant to give the instruction some days earlier, when no one dreamed of a war, and that for some technical reason there had been a delay. But like Peretz' photo with the capped binoculars, Halutz' affair with the shares cast a shadow over both.

Olmert, of course, has in the meantime been convicted of taking bribes and diverse other crimes and sentenced to prison, pending appeal.

LEBANON WAR II was preceded 24 years earlier by Lebanon War I, which was led by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon under the auspices of Menachem Begin.

At the time, the purpose was to destroy the Palestinian bases in South Lebanon. There was a definite war aim, a clear operational plan and efficient, military and political leadership. It ended, of course, in disaster, when the Sabra-Shatila massacre shocked the world.

In the wake of the atrocity, a Commission of Inquiry was set up and Sharon was dismissed from the Ministry of Defense (but not from the government). Military commanders were punished.

In spite of this, in Israel the campaign was considered a brilliant military achievement. Only a few realized that it was a military shambles: on the eastern front, opposite Syria, no Israeli unit reached its prescribed objective, while on the western front the Israeli troops reached Beirut only after the prescribed time, and only by breaking the UN-imposed cease-fire. (It was then that I met Yasser Arafat in the besieged western part of the city.)

Lebanon I had one unforeseen and, lasting effect. The Palestinian troops were indeed removed from the country and relocated in Tunis (where Arafat continued to conduct the fight until the Oslo agreement), but instead of the Palestinian threat another, much worse threat grew in Lebanon. The Shiite population, until then an ally of Israel, became a deadly and very efficient enemy. Hezbollah ("Party of Allah") grew into a potent political and military force, which eventually led to Lebanon War II.

YET LEBANON War I was a strategic masterpiece compared to Lebanon War II.

In Lebanon II there was no operational plan at all. Nor was there a clear war aim -- a requisite for any successful military operation.

The war started with a massive bombardment of civilian as well as military targets, power stations, roads and villages, the fulfillment of an Air Force general's dream. Decisions were taken and revoked, operations started and cancelled. Targets were bombed and destroyed without any purpose, except to terrorize the civilian population and "burn into their consciousness" the lesson that it was not worthwhile to provoke Israel.

Hezbollah reacted by terrorizing Israeli towns and villages with missiles. On both sides, casualties and destruction mounted. South and Central Lebanon suffered, of course, the most.

When Hezbollah did not capitulate, pressure in Israel mounted for a ground attack. It led next to nowhere. After the UN decreed a cease-fire, the Israeli leadership decided to make a last effort and launched a ground attack after the deadline. Thirty-four Israeli soldiers were killed for nothing.

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