Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Discipline and Punish

By Le Moineau
First Draft
15 Aug 2006
Article 53

To follow General George C Marshall’s advice, this is a time to look forward and move on towards our next objective—peace[1]. It is imperative, however, that if we are to learn lessons from this war, we at least get its basic timeline right.

The US media is notorious for its rather short and selective memory especially when it comes to Israel and its actions. This problem is exacerbated when US pundits have increasingly claimed that Israel launched its war in Lebanon as a result of Hizballah abducting troops and shooting missiles at Israel. While Hizballah did capture two Israeli soldiers on 12 July in return for several of its own following a number abortive attempts, Hizballah sent missiles across the border only after Israel had bombed Lebanon on July 13.

In an otherwise sober article analyzing the ‘extraordinary’ end of the war, analyst George Friedman of Stratfor also slips into this falsehood, claiming that ‘The opening of the war was not marked by the capture of two Israeli soldiers. Rather, it was the persistent and intense bombardment of Israel with missiles…’[2]

The second part of that statement is obviously incorrect.

All we have to do is check news reports—and even Stratfor’s own Situation Reports of the first week of the war—to realize that Hizballah started shelling northern Israel only after Israel had bombed the south, Beirut and its airport, civilian infrastructure, Lebanese army facilities, and had imposed a land, air and sea blockade on Lebanon. [3] Let us review the events of the first two days.

Wednesday, July 12. A few hours following the capture of the soldiers, Israel launched air strikes against Palestinian guerilla camps in southern Lebanon. While the Lebanese government distanced itself from Hizballah’s unilateral action, which its leader said was intended for a prisoner exchange, the Israeli government considered it an ‘act of war’. The Israeli defense minister, Amir Peretz, authorized attacks on Hizballah targets and civilian infrastructure in Lebanon, while the chief of staff, Dan Halutz, threatened to ‘send Lebanon back 20 years’.

Thursday, July 13. The actual military escalation began around 6 am when Israeli jets and helicopters pounded the mostly Shiite Dahiya residential neighborhood, Beirut’s international airport, Almanar television headquarters, several roads and bridges, fuel depots, plus Hizballah and military targets. France and Russia immediately decried Israel’s ‘disproportionate’ response, while Mr Bush asked Israel not to weaken Mr Siniora’s government while maintaining its right to self defense. He then laid blame on Iran, Syria and Hizballah for ‘abducting the soldiers’—but not on shelling Israel. Because at that point Hizballah had not: its first missiles reached northern Israel later that day.

Without doubt, Hizballah sent missiles into Israel only after the IAF bombed Lebanon, and likewise Hizballah targeted Haifa only after Israel bombed Dahiya, in a clear and consistent tit-for-tat pattern that was to be repeated throughout the conflict. Even the intensity of Hizballah’s barrages was in proportion to Israel’s previous raid: a case in point is the last salvo of the war.

In similar mirroring fashion, Hizballah ceased their missile launching during the 48-hour lull that Dr Rice called for following her second visit to Mr Olmert on July 30—and the Israeli attack on civilians in Qana—and resumed it only after the IAF continued its air raids. In one of his speeches, Mr Nasrallah made this tactic perfectly clear, reaffirming that Hizballah’s struggle is a ‘reactionary’ one—read: retaliatory—that responds directly and singularly to every Israeli provocation.

Away from the battlefield, the only way we could test this consistency was to watch Hizballah’s reaction on television screens and from news reports following any Israeli attack. From the start, Hizballah persisted in its retaliatory stance, keeping tempo with each Israeli provocation almost didactically but at its own time and choosing. Missing this pattern, and falsely reporting the direct cause of the war, is a serious contextual error.

As Mr Friedman argues, the war between Hizballah and Israel brought about several strategic and historical shifts in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, representing ‘a geopolitical earthquake’. Changing the order of response is another important contribution that cannot be overlooked. For the first time, Israel lost the higher ground of claiming it had been retaliating.

This is not trivial. It signals a key outcome from what marked Hizballah’s success in this war: discipline and control. Throughout the war Hizballah maintained field discipline, command, and control , which were also the main targets of Israeli aerial bombardment. In pursuing an air campaign, Israel had hoped to disperse and isolate Hizballah’s forces in order to weaken them. Apparently Hizballah had done its homework and read the Israeli handbook—in Hebrew[4]—and was well-prepared for such a predictable approach[5]. Indeed, the failure to disrupt Hizballah’s field communications and authority arguably delayed Israeli ground operations and later led to their relative ineffectiveness. Similarly, the timing, size, and targets of Hizballah’s missile attacks also reflected an intelligent and centralized power structure that was responding in-kind and that remained intact to the last minute of the war.

That is why claiming that Israel bombed Lebanon in reaction to Hizballah rockets is patently false. It misses the whole point of Israel’s stunning failure to achieve any of its military goals, including the return of its soldiers. Had Israel stopped its raids, Hizballah would have most certainly stopped its barrages. Had it accepted a prisoner swap, as it seems to have now, we could have avoided this senseless war. The Israeli leadership failed to understand or chose to ignore Hizballah’s signals. It is our responsibility not to do so if we wish to end the cycle of violence.

[1] As quoted by Tom Callahan, ‘George C. Marshall and the Marshall Plan: A Model of Transformational Diplomacy’, 2 June 2005,

[2] George Friedman, ‘Cease-Fire: Shaking Core Beliefs in the Middle East,’

[3] Stratfor Situation Reports, July 2006,

[4] Amiram Barkat, ‘Hezbollah border-line fighters mastered Hebrew’, Haaretz, 15 August 2006,

[5] George Friedman, ‘Cease-Fire: Shaking Core Beliefs in the Middle East’,

Copyright © 2006 Le Moineau


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