Monday, April 06, 2009

What lessons does the Israel-Hezbollah war hold for the United States?

According to the Washington Post the U.S. Army is looking at the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah to determine how the United States should focus its own armed forces:

Since then, the Defense Department has dispatched as many as a dozen teams to interview Israeli officers who fought against Hezbollah. The Army and Marine Corps have sponsored a series of multimillion-dollar war games to test how U.S. forces might fare against a similar foe. "I've organized five major games in the last two years, and all of them have focused on Hezbollah," said Frank Hoffman, a research fellow at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico.

A big reason that the 34-day war is drawing such fevered attention is that it highlights a rift among military leaders: Some want to change the U.S. military so that it is better prepared for wars like the ones it is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others worry that such a shift would leave the United States vulnerable to a more conventional foe.

I thought that the American experiences in Iraq have taught the importance of counter-insurgency operations. But are these two approaches mutually exclusive?

Interestingly, the article doesn't mention anything about the role of the media in the war. Nor does it mention if the American military has contacted Gen. Yaacov Amidror, (.pdf) who seems to take a contrary position to the assumptions mentioned in the report.

The adoption of two erroneous assumptions – that terror is more determined and
resilient than the democratic state and that victory is always a matter of the mind and
not a product of coercive physical measures – has induced many to believe that there is
no military method to cope with terror in order to vanquish it. These kinds of assertions
have become more common in much of the discourse concerning Israel’s war with
Hizbullah in 2006 and the war of the U.S.-led coalition against insurgent forces in Iraq.
History – even the history of the State of Israel – proves that this contention is seriously

As Daniel Pipes explains:
Victory over insurgencies is possible, Amidror argues, but they do not come easily. Unlike the emphasis on size of forces and arsenals in traditional wars, he postulates four conditions of a mostly political nature required to defeat insurgencies. Two of them concern the state, where the national leadership must:

* Understand and accept the political and public relations challenge involved in battling insurgents.
* Appreciate the vital role of intelligence, invest in it, and require the military to use it effectively.

Another two conditions concern counterterrorist operations, which must:

* Isolate terrorists from the non-terrorist civilian population.
* Control and isolate the territories where terrorists live and fight.

If these guidelines are successfully followed, the result will not be a signing ceremony and a victory parade but something more subtle – what Amidror calls "sufficient victory" but I would call "sufficient control." By this, he means a result "that does not produce many years of tranquility, but rather achieves only a ‘repressed quiet,' requiring the investment of continuous effort to preserve it."

Politically this can be difficult. So the question remains if Western powers have the capacity to maintain a military force sufficient to control an insurgency indefinitely. But declaring a war over after a month clearly will leave the conventional force "defeated." Clearly, even according to Gen. Amidror, perceptions are important.

If they are, the Post's story unfortunately reinforces a rather inaccurate perception.
Another question is whether the U.S. military is taking the proper lessons from the Israel-Hezbollah war. Its studies have focused almost exclusively on the battle in southern Lebanon and ignored Hezbollah's ongoing role in Lebanese society as a political party and humanitarian aid group. After the battle, Hezbollah forces moved in quickly with aid and reconstruction assistance.

But as Barry Rubin points out, portraying Hezbollah as a benign political party only tells part of the story:

Yes, Hizballah is a political party but that’s where the similarity to the Labour or Conservative parties ends. The name gives it way. At least historically, the Labour party is supposed to represent workers; the Conservative party those who are either better-off or favor the historical status quo more. But Hizballah means, in Arabic, literally, the Party of God. That’s who they represent, or think they do, and their purported constituent is a bit harder to please than the trade unions and the local gentry or greengrocers.
And the Hizballah parliamentary delegation is called the Loyalty to the Resistance group. Resistance has become the codeword for the Iran-Syria-Hizballah-Hamas-Iraqi insurgent (a nice word for terrorist) bloc which seeks to promote Islamist revolution throughout the Middle East. What are they resisting? Peace and moderation. Who are they resisting? America, Israel and the West. How are they resisting? Assassinations, car-bombs, kidnappings, and suicide attacks are high on the list of favored tactics.
Of course, Hizballah like other revolutionary Islamists has social welfare programs. But the purpose of these is to build its mass base so it can seize power, and then to do all the things it wants to do .

Again, perceptions are important. Hezbollah's roles can't be ignored, but neither should they be whitewashed, which is what the reporter seems to be doing.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

1 comment:

  1. I think the most important lesson of the Lebanon War of 2006, like that of Operation Cast Lead, is the one Douglas MacArthur pointed out back in 1951. In war there is no substitute for victory. Crush the enemy. Do not kick the can down the road a little way and imagine that you can handle the problem later, or that it will disappear if ignored. Later might mean a worse strategic and diplomatic situation for you. That's what happened to the USA with letting Saddam off the hook in 1991.