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Israel, Hezbollah and the Lessons for the U.S. Military

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I can still hear my favorite war college professor explaining for the simple minded, me among them: "Choose the time and place carefully, use overwhelming force, don't underestimate the enemy, expect the unexpected, make attainable and quantifiable goals, and when you reach them successfully, get home."

Israel might get an "F" in his course. But the lessons leading to my professor's simple calculus of war developed over time from studying many successful and unsuccessful military actions.

In December, 1862, a vastly superior Union Army force moved south through Virginia, while General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederacy's Army of Northern Virginia, maneuvered to attain favorable locations and geography for a fight.

Historian Robert Kirk wrote, "Lee neither flew ingloriously nor gave battle on his enemy's chosen ground." Lee worked to attain favorable ground and timing to his advantage.

At Fredericksburg, Lee seized the high ground and a strong defensive position. When Lee surveyed his forces and the terrain for the last time just before the Union onslaught, his artillery commander, Colonel Porter Alexander, who had his cannons in position to cover every inch of the attacker's field, said, "General, a chicken could not live on that field when we open on it."

The Union army attacked Lee and his Confederates repeatedly; resulting in unimaginable carnage to the Yankees. Lee won; the Union lost.

In July 1863, at Gettysburg, the Union Army managed to return the favor to Lee. After blundering into an engagement on July 1, Lee faced the Union Army which seized the high ground. Having failed to choose both the timing and terrain of this crucial battle, Lee failed to see the important advantages the Union troops had arrayed against him.

But Union Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock of the Union saw his advantages as soon as he surveyed the battlefield. "I think this is the strongest position by nature on which to fight a battle that I ever saw," Hancock said.

It is not clear that Israel and the vaunted Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) correctly chose the timing of their latest fight with Hezbollah and their incursion into Lebanon. The terrain was ordained well in advance, the region offering few alternatives for appropriate military confrontation. In Israel's case: you fight the enemy where you find him.

So Israel's remaining "special" advantage had to be time - and of course Israel's decades long advantage: air power.

Both timing and air power seem to have failed Israel, this time.

"This is a war not of our choosing," said Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to Washington.

When Hezbollah kidnapped Israeli soldiers and Israel responded with force called "disproportionate" by many, even Hezbollah was surprised by the reaction.

Mahmoud Komati, a senior Hezbollah official said, "we didn't even expect this response" from Israel.

Perhaps both sides blundered into war. The timing didn't seem right; and the goals are still uncertain to many observers.

But Israeli war planners had an ace up their sleeve: overwhelming air power. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) commanders certainly promised a quick, overwhelming "shock and awe" type of attack upon key Hezbollah targets. Perhaps they have achieved that, at least in the minds of Israel's citizens, where 70% of the population supports the current war effort.

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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