Lebanon War II – Questions and Answers

Many questions are being asked regarding the manner in which the second Lebanon war was waged. Some have suggested setting up a judicial commission of inquiry to establish all the facts.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on August 22, 2006.)

Many questions are being asked regarding the manner in which the second Lebanon war was waged. Some have suggested setting up a judicial commission of inquiry to establish all the facts. However, although a commission of inquiry may be required to put to rest lingering doubts and provide an authoritative judgment as to just what went wrong and who was delinquent in the performance of his duties, just about everything that needs to be known is actually already well known. Here are the most important questions and their relevant answers.

Question: What was the root cause of this war?

Answer: The May 2000 decision by Prime Minister Ehud Barak to unilaterally evacuate Israel Defense Forces troops from the southern Lebanon security zone and abandon Israel’s allies, the South Lebanon Army.

Hezbollah had been engaging in belligerent activity against the IDF and the SLA, occasionally launching Katyusha rockets against Israeli towns and villages, since the mid-eighties, but had not been allowed to establish itself near the Israeli border and was continually kept preoccupied with defending itself from attacks by IDF and SLA forces. Immediately after the withdrawal, Hezbollah took up positions across from Israeli towns and villages, fortified its bases in southern Lebanon, and began stockpiling large quantities of rockets, occasionally engaging in provocative acts against Israel. In this threatening activity, it was completely unhindered by Israel.

Question: Were the Israeli authorities aware of the vast arsenal of rockets Hezbollah was amassing in Lebanon?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Why did Israeli governments not take preemptive action against Hezbollah during the interim years?

Answer: As for Barak, who only a few months after the withdrawal was faced by Hezbollah kidnapping three Israeli soldiers, he was not about to take action that would demonstrate that the unilateral withdrawal had been a mistake. The governments headed by Ariel Sharon were initially preoccupied by the intifada, and were then obsessed with the unilateral withdrawal from Gush Katif for the past three years, to the exclusion of everything else. On taking office, the government of Ehud Olmert, although almost immediately faced by a Hezbollah provocation, lived under the illusion that unilateral withdrawals were the key to Israel’s future security and well-being, and concentrated on preparing further unilateral withdrawals, now renamed “realignment.”

The IDF was similarly instructed to prepare to execute the next withdrawals.

Question: Why was the IDF not successful in this war?

Answer: The government did not instruct the IDF to make the immediate removal of the rocket threat against northern Israel its first priority, and hoped that aerial bombardment would result in a painless victory. A large ground offensive was delayed until it was too late.

Question: Could victory have been achieved only by the use of air power?

Answer: No. The small, mobile 20-35-kilometer-range rockets are too hard to detect from the air. Their launching sites can be put out of range of northern Israel only by means of a ground offensive. As long as Hezbollah launched massive rocket attacks against Israel on a daily basis, it was perceived as being undefeated – and, in effect, victorious.

Question: Would a large ground offensive by the IDF have suppressed the rocket fire against northern Israel?

Answer: Yes. Regardless of whatever deficiencies were exposed during the war, the IDF’s superiority in numbers and equipment was sufficient for the task.

Question: Was the fact that the IDF was commanded by an air force general a handicap?

Answer: Under the circumstances, considering that this war should have been fought primarily on the ground, it probably would have been better to have as chief of staff a general who came from the ground forces. The ousting of Lieutenant General Moshe Ayalon by Sharon, and the appointment of Dan Halutz in his stead, was the direct result of Sharon’s obsession with the Gaza disengagement.

There is one question that remains unanswered and will probably not be resolved even by a judicial commission of inquiry: How did a team of snake-oil salesmen and public relations gurus succeed in selling so many Israelis the illusion that unilateral withdrawals are the solution to Israel’s problems and that a brand new party, Kadima, dedicated to this primitive concept, should lead Israel in future years; that a politician, Ehud Olmert, who only a year ago had announced that “we are tired of fighting and tired of defeating our enemies” should now lead the nation?

This is a problem for sociologists and historians.

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