January 08, 2008

"Look, Hezbollah are Lebanese patriots"

Holy cow, we know you all want to talk about last night's national championship game, but everyone who reads this blog needs to read Matt Matthews's interview with retired Israeli general Shimon Naveh on the 2006 Israel-Hizbollah war. Not only does Naveh display a more nuanced view of Hizbollah than is normally seen or heard south of the Blue Line, but he also has a withering critique of the IDF's officer corps. Some choice excerpts:

"Look, Hezbollah are Lebanese patriots. I don’t know if you are aware of it. There are many tensions within the theory. They are Shi’a but they are Lebanese patriots. They pursue their own political and military agenda and yet they are Lebanese patriots. In fact, their entire fight against the Israelis very much served several purposes. One was regaining Lebanese sovereignty over the south, but the other one was to really boost up this duality between being a social-political entity and a militant entity."

"First of all, I cannot get into Halutz’s mind; it’s too tough. ... He’s an idiot. In this sense he’s an idiot, as I said in the interview. He’s really a fool; he’s a clown."

"I know one brigade commander who I think should be executed for cowardice. First of all, remember, there was no coherence in what he was doing. He was told to move troops in, then pull out, move in and then pull out. Sometimes plans would change five times a day. Yet when he gave this command to a specific guy whom I referred to – the commander of 7th Tank Brigade – he was given the mission to go in and he was afraid, simply afraid. He used this as excuse."

"Basically I think that the IDF was totally unprepared for this kind of operation, both conceptually, operationally and tactically – mainly conceptually and practically. The point is that the IDF fell in love with what it was doing with the Palestinians. In fact, it became addictive. When you fight a war against a rival who’s by all means inferior to you, you may lose a guy here or there, but you’re in total control. It’s nice. You can pretend that you fight the war and yet it’s not really a dangerous war. This kind of thing served as an instrument corrupting the IDF."

Andrew Exum has an analysis up on Harvard's Middle East Strategy blog on what lessons U.S. policy-makers and military professionals can draw from the 2006 war which builds off the Naveh interview:

Some will say the lesson in Israel’s 2006 war is that the U.S. military can go "soft" by spending too much time on counterinsurgency in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, forgetting the kind of combined arms skills that come in handy in major combat operations. This would seem to be the opinion of the current Commandant of the Marine Corps, among others. Counterinsurgency theorists would say this is ridiculous. John Nagl describes counterinsurgency as "graduate-level warfare," and it follows that just as a PhD candidate in mathematics would not forget how to solve basic algebra equations, it is unlikely a junior officer in the U.S. Army will necessarily forget basic infantry battle drills while sipping tea with sheiks in Anbar Province. (And besides, until the U.S. military truly learns counterinsurgency, it is unlikely to "overlearn" counterinsurgency.)

It is true, though, that much of the blame for the IDF's poor performance in the 2006 war must fall upon the IDF's officer corps (and Israeli politicians for slashing the IDF's training budget). Complacency is the enemy of any good military, and it certainly seems as if the IDF grew too accustomed to the kind of missions they performed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories after the 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon. In the same way, the U.S. military officer corps in Iraq and Afghanistan is perhaps the most combat-proven officer corps in our nation's history. But operational commanders must work hard to ensure that the overall culture within the officer corps is not overrun by complacency. This is their job, as officers, commanders, and custodians of the nation's military.

If you do not read anything else today, though, read the Naveh interview. Looking forward to the comments on this one!