Win That War!

The justified concern that after suppressing the rockets, IDF forces will be exposed to Hezbollah guerrilla attacks cannot justify leaving the civilian population of northern Israel to the mercy of the Hezbollah rockets.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on August 8, 2006.)

With the war against Hezbollah entering its fifth week, Israeli casualties mounting, over a million Israelis cowering in shelters and northern Israel being bombed and burned to the ground by daily salvos of Hezbollah rockets, it is high time to examine the strategy and tactics that the government has adopted for waging a war so crucial to Israel’s future. We have so far not attained the declared goals of the government – dismantling Hezbollah’s military capability and forcing it out of southern Lebanon – nor does the government’s strategy seem at the moment to be leading us to these goals. Obviously, some changes need to be made.

The initial thought that aerial bombardment of Lebanon would lead the Lebanese government, headed by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, to order the Lebanese army south and force Hezbollah to evacuate the area, evidently failed to account for the flimsy basis of the Lebanese government and the true balance of forces in Lebanon at this time. On the other hand, the destruction of Lebanese infrastructure, and the repeated aerial raids on Beirut seem to have increasingly mobilized support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, even from quarters that were initially less than sympathetic to this Shi’ite militia. There seems little sense in continuing these bombardments.

As should have been clear from the beginning, the concept that air power could suppress the launching of rockets by Hezbollah against Israel was quickly shown to be unrealistic. Despite the Israel Air Force’s success in locating and destroying some of the heavier long-range rockets and their launchers, rockets keep hitting Israel day after day.

The Defense Minister’s idea of having the IDF establish a 3-4 kilometer strip along Israel’s northern border, although surely well-intentioned, has almost no effect on Hezbollah’s ability to launch rockets against Israel.

Although we have declared the Hezbollah stronghold of Bint Jbail as having great symbolic importance, and IDF units have fought there heroically against Hezbollah’s fortified positions, the effect of this battle on the continued rocketing of Israel is not noticeable.

By now it should be recognized by all that the absolute first priority of the IDF must be the suppression of the rocket attacks against Israel. That is not only of ultimate importance for the over one million Israelis who live in the north, but that, and nothing else, will determine the outcome of this war. Should it turn out that the IDF is unable to accomplish this task, Hezbollah will be seen by one and all as the victor in this war. There is no need to expound on the long-term consequences of such an outcome for Israel and the Middle East. The idea that Hezbollah has, nevertheless, been taught a lesson this time and will in the future be deterred from provoking Israel – and that therefore an important goal of this war has already been attained – does not take into account Hezbollah’s calculation regarding future Israeli governments’ readiness to open all-out war after the experience of this one.

More than three quarters of the rockets coming down daily on Israel are relatively short-range (20-35 kilometers), and therefore light and mobile. Probably more than 90 percent of the Hezbollah arsenal is made up of these short-range rockets. They are extremely difficult to detect from the air and can be eliminated only from the ground. The IDF has to move quickly into southern Lebanon and put these rockets out of range of Israel. The IAF can be trusted to take care of the longer-range rockets.

Considering the IDF’s superiority in numbers and equipment over the few thousand Hezbollah fighters in south Lebanon, this is a mission that can and should be accomplished. The justified concern that after accomplishing this mission and having suppressed the rocketing of Israel, IDF forces will be exposed to Hezbollah guerrilla attacks, cannot justify leaving the civilian population of northern Israel to the mercy of the Hezbollah rockets.

Those who are counting on the UN Security Council putting an end to our present travail are chasing the rainbow. No foreign troops are going to confront Hezbollah. Only the IDF can do that, and only the IDF should do that. It is the only way to win this war.

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