JERUSALEM – In the coming days, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his government ministers will attempt to persuade Israeli voters and the international community that Israel achieved its political and military objectives during its campaign in Lebanon.
Olmert will likely claim Hezbollah’s capabilities have been minimized; a strong, armed force will soon be deployed in south Lebanon capable of contending with Hezbollah; and that the political momentum for a new Middle East settlement is now on Israel’s side.
In actuality, these claims couldn’t be further from the truth. Israel lost the war in Lebanon on all fronts. This is so largely because Olmert refused to allow the Israeli Defense Forces to do its job.
Days after Hezbollah provoked Israel last month by firing rockets into Jewish towns and by ambushing an Israeli military patrol unit killing 8 soldiers and kidnapping two others, the IDF presented Olmert with several battle plans it says could have devastated Hezbollah within an estimated three weeks.
The plans, drawn up and improved upon over the course of several years, called for an immediate air campaign against Hezbollah strongholds in south Beirut; aerial bombardment of key sections of the Lebanese-Syria border to ensure the kidnapped soldiers were not transported out of the country and to halt Syrian re-supply of arms to Hezbollah; and the deployment of up to 40,000 ground troops to advance immediately to the Latani River – taking up the swath of territory from which most Hezbollah rockets are fired – and from there work their way back to the Israeli border while surrounding and then cleaning out Hezbollah strongholds under heavy aerial cover.
To the dismay of military officials here, Olmert did not approve the plan. He initially allowed only a limited air campaign that focused on some high-profile Hezbollah targets, the Beirut airport and roads that led from Beirut into Syria. But the main smuggling routes between Syria and Lebanon, sites very well known to Israeli intelligence, were essentially off limits to the Israeli Air Force because Olmert didn’t want his army operating too close to Syria for fear it would bring Damascus into the conflict.
IDF suffers from lack of troops in Lebanon, insufficient air coverage
When Hezbollah met Israel’s air campaign with massive rocket attacks against northern Israeli communities, the IDF again presented Olmert with a plan for a large ground deployment to the Latani River. The Israeli Prime Minister – under heavy pressure to step up operations in response to Hezbollah rocket fire – approved only a smaller ground offensive of up to 8,000 soldiers who were not allowed to advance to the Latani.
The IDF was directed to clean out Hezbollah’s bases within about three miles of the Israeli border. Small forces, though, did advance further while isolated special operations were carried out deep inside Lebanon.
Afraid of being accused of using excessive force and firing indiscriminately into population centers – charges leveled at the Jewish state anyway – Olmert limited the IAF to strategic bombings only. The air force was not allowed to clear the way for ground troops to enter.
And so the IDF – with a force one fourth the size it asked for – engaged in heated, often face-to-face combat over the course of weeks with a well-trained, well-armed Hezbollah militia that had planned with Iran for up to six years for this battle.
Israeli soldiers found themselves up against Hezbollah gunmen who fought in civilian clothing and hid behind local civilian populations. Well-orchestrated Hezbollah ambushes took tolls on troop battalions. Iranian-supplied advanced anti-tank missiles proved extremely effective against Israeli combat vehicles.
The IDF suffered in very specific ways on the battlefield because of a lack of enough ground troops.
One example was a battle that began July 25. The Israeli army attempted to strangle Bint Jbail, a town of about 30,000 commonly called the “Hezbollah capital” of south Lebanon. Because there were not enough troops to completely surround the strategic village, Bint Jbail’s northern entrance was not sealed off, and, according to army sources, hundreds of Hezbollah fighters were able to infiltrate and join with the already 150 or so gunmen inside. The IDF had to contend with a larger Hezbollah contingent as a result. Nine soldiers were lost in heavy fighting the next day. Another 14 soldiers were killed at Bint Jbail the next two weeks.
On several occasions the past few weeks, while heavy diplomacy looked to be gaining momentum, such as during Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visits here, the IDF was actually asked by the political echelon to halt most operations and troop advances for up to 36 hours while negotiations ran their course.
Military leaders now charge that some troop battalions, instructed to hold positions outside villages but not to advance, actually became sitting ducks for Hezbollah anti-tank fire, which killed at least 35 Israeli soldiers. After the diplomacy failed, soldiers were ordered to carry on. This piece of information will likely be brought to light by commissions of inquiry already initiated into the performance of the IDF and the culpability of Israel’s political leadership.
Hezbollah showed other impressive gains. In what Israel admitted was a major blow to its navy, Hezbollah during the initial fighting hit an Israeli naval ship with an Iranian Silkworm C-802 radar-guided anti-ship cruise missile, killing four soldiers and damaging the warship. It was the first time the missile had been introduced into the battle with Israel. Military officials here said the Israeli ship’s radar system was not calibrated to detect the Silkworm, which is equipped with an advanced anti-tracking system.
Olmert turns down ‘necessary’ military ops
WorldNetDaily was made aware by senior military officials of several meetings in which IDF officials petitioned Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz for a larger ground force and for more heavy aerial cover, or at least for ground troops already in Lebanon to be authorized to reach the Latani River in hopes of cleaning out the villages nearby such as Tyre, from which many rockets are launched into Israel.
The petitions came more frequently as Hezbollah rockets landed further and further south inside Israel.
Tens of thousands of troops were put on standby in northern Israel, but were not allowed to enter Lebanon.
The smaller IDF numbers on the ground in Lebanon carried on, eventually with instructions to create a buffer zone of about 3 miles within which the Hezbollah infrastructure would be entirely wiped out. The zone would do little to stop rocket fire into northern Israel, since most rockets were fired from positions deeper inside south Lebanon.
Officials say the IAF was still restrained from targeting key positions close to the Syrian border in the Bekaa Valley from which intelligence officials say Hezbollah received regular shipments of rockets and other heavy weaponry originating in Iran and transported via Syria. Israel bombed roads in the area a few kilometers from Syria, but many weapons smuggling routes at the border remained intact.
While Syria placed its military on high alert, Olmert told reporters several times Israel had no intention of bringing Damascus into the war.
Last weekend, after Hezbollah rockets killed a record 15 civilians in one day, Olmert’s cabinet finally gave the green light for an enormous IDF ground invasion and for an advance to the Latani River.
Many military officials here told me they were elated the IDF would at last be given the freedom to do what it had wanted to do nearly one month ago.
The cabinet, though, left the timing of the new operation to Olmert, who held the advance back until Thursday morning. By Thursday evening, the IDF, which charged ahead from four main fronts, reached the Latani River and even beyond in full force and prepared for an intense battle to overtake the areas used by Hezbollah to fire rockets. The IDF estimated it would need another four to six weeks to successfully wipe out the Hezbollah infrastructure in the areas.
But a day later a cease-fire resolution was adapted. The U.S., perhaps wanting to cut its losses after Israel’s month-long poor performance, supported a cessation of military activities in Lebanon.
Hezbollah remains intact, Israel’s enemies emboldened
The IDF continued its advance until this morning, beginning to clear out some villages. But not nearly enough gains were made, as was amply demonstrated yesterday when Hezbollah fired over 240 rockets – its largest one-day volley yet – into northern Israel, killing one civilian and wounding at least 26 others.
Now the cease-fire is being implemented. Perhaps it will hold, perhaps it won’t. Either way, Hezbollah has won the war. It put up an incredible fight against IDF forces paralyzed by Israel’s leadership. The terror group maintains a good deal of its infrastructure in south Lebanon and still has the ability to fire hundreds of rockets per day into Israel.
Even if Israel restarts its larger offensive, Hezbollah still can regain the initiative by carrying out larger escalations, such as firing its long-range Zelzal rockets into Tel Aviv.
Hezbollah is ecstatic about the deployment of “15,000 soldiers” from the Lebanese Army to replace Israeli troops in south Lebanon. The Lebanese Army doesn’t have 15,000 standing troops. Aside from a small air force pool, the Army doesn’t have a reserve unit from which it can call up large numbers.
The plan, according to Lebanese officials, is to recall Lebanese soldiers who served during the past 5 years, which means many out-of-shape, unprepared ex-soldiers will be charged with protecting the Israeli border. Take into account the sectarian divisions of the split Shiite-Sunni Lebanese Army – with many soldiers sympathetic to Hezbollah’s cause – and you have a force that will, at best, do little to contend with Hezbollah, and at worst prompt an internal civil war. Not to mention, the Lebanese Army is poorly armed and ill-equipped.
The cease-fire call for the establishment of a backed-up United Nations force in south Lebanon is also taken as a victory for Hezbollah. The terror group does not believe any international force will be willing to die to defend Israel’s borders or that it will have the ability to block the group’s re-supply routes between Syria and Lebanon. Hezbollah knows that if the IDF couldn’t defeat it, European forces, led by countries opposed to Israel’s Lebanon campaign, will be no match.
For Israel, an international force on its borders will impede the ability of the IDF to operate with freedom during any future conflict with Hezbollah.
The Jewish state’s credibility took a massive toll when Olmert agreed to the current cease-fire calling for negotiations at a later date for the two soldiers Hezbollah kidnapped. Olmert had repeatedly vowed the war would only stop after Hezbollah returned the abducted Israeli troops, and now the prime minister is ending the war without even vague promises of the soldiers’ assured safety or indications they are alive. Hezbollah sees this as a victory.
The cease-fire places the Shebba Farms, territory held by Israel but claimed by Hezbollah, up for future negotiations, granting Hezbollah the ability to claim its fighting brought international legitimacy to its territorial demands.
The cease-fire doesn’t place an immediate arms embargo on Hezbollah, but only calls for future talks on stopping weapons transfers to the terror group. This leaves Syria and Iran free to rearm and regroup Hezbollah.
The two state sponsors of Hezbollah, Syria and Iran learned during the last month that they can orchestrate a proxy war against America’s Middle East ally at no cost to their regimes. They engineered a tough fight against Israeli forces and came out on top. They will be emboldened to continue their war against Israel and U.S. troops in Iraq at a fevered pitch. Iran smells Western weakness and will forge ahead with its nuclear ambitions.
And terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza are foaming at the mouth. Today, Abu Aziz, second-in-command of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group, told WorldNetDaily that Hezbollah’s victory leads him to believe the end of Israel is in sight. He said he realizes now is the time to “attack Israel from all directions.”
And so the enemies of the U.S. and Israel are poised for another war. They smell victory, and why shouldn’t they? The last month demonstrated that with weak Israeli leadership in place, the Jewish state can be defeated.