Small Wars Journal

CSI Interview: BG (Ret.) Shimon Naveh

Interview with Brigadier General (Ret.) Shimon Naveh by Matt Matthews of the US Army Combat Studies Institute

From the abstract:

As part of his research for a Global War on Terrorism Occasional Paper on the so-called Second Lebanon War of 2006 -- a 34-day conflict fought principally between Israel and the paramilitary forces of Hezbollah -- historian Matt Matthews of Fort Leavenworth's Combat Studies Institute interviewed Brigadier General (Ret.) Shimon Naveh, the founder and former head of the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) Operational Theory Research Institute (OTRI).

Naveh is the man most associated, often controversially so, with what has been described as a major intellectual transformation of the IDF in terms of how it thinks about, prepares for and ultimately wages war. "I read a comment made by an analyst that it was very hard to learn," said Naveh, who also holds a PhD in war studies from King's College, London. "You know," he added, "wars are very hard to fight and yet we go and fight them. If indeed this is crucial and important, it is not an option. We should go and do it.... All you need is some intellectual stamina, some energy. If you're serious about your profession, then you'll go through it."

Indeed, Naveh singles out the IDF Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, for significant criticism for his alleged lack of understanding of the doctrine he signed which, as Naveh contends, contributed mightily to what is widely considered a defeat of the IDF by Hezbollah, as did a similar ignorance among the vast majority of the IDF General Staff. One of the leaders actually removed from his position, though, as a result of the defeat -- the Division 91 commander, Brigadier General Gal Hirsch, also a former OTRI student -- was singled out for praise from Naveh as "the most creative thinker, the most subversive thinker and the victim of this entire affair." More broadly, Naveh discusses the "asymmetric dual" that was the Second Lebanon War from both the Israeli and Hezbollah perspectives, explaining why he feels the IDF was "totally unprepared for this kind of operation"; why its post-2000 intifada struggles against the Palestinians had the effect of "corrupting" the force; and why only understanding, embracing and then executing what he calls the "operational art" of war can prevent an army from becoming harmfully "addicted to the present fight." Herein, too, he says, lies a warning for the US military that finds itself at present waging a primarily counterinsurgency fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the time of the interview, in fact, Naveh was at Fort Leavenworth in his capacity as a part-time consultant to the US Army's School of Advanced Military Studies.

An excerpt from the Q&A:

Matthews: Now this trap you're talking about, the way I understand this is that Hezbollah basically set up a situation where you could either come at them with an effects-based campaign with air, but they'll continue to fire the rockets, or you could do a land campaign and take your casualties. Is that your understanding of that?

Naveh: Talking about Hezbollah is a different issue, and I've been studying them very carefully.

I've been doing some reading and experimenting with ideas. Hezbollah, over the seven months that preceded this event, made several attempts to ambush an Israeli patrol and kidnap some soldiers. This had to do with the fact that Hezbollah went two times through, I would say, a kind of shock. The first time was when the Israelis withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. All of a sudden they got victory, they won the war, they won the campaign, but this implied that they may need to reframe their entire concepts, ideas and modes of behavior because their old way of thinking, learning, living and operating was very much embedded in the fight against the Israelis, in forcing the Israelis out of southern Lebanon. Once this occurred, all of a sudden the entire world fell upon them because this implied that they may need to change their rationale, their raison d'íªtre.

The second time was when the Syrians withdrew. When the Syrians were forced to withdraw from Lebanon by the new dynamics taking place inside Lebanon, Hezbollah went through their second shock. Their whole existence very much depended on this symbiosis.

It's not an alliance, a formal alliance; it's a very unique kind of infraction between a state that is intervening in its neighbor's state -- I mean, taking over -- and a group of Lebanese patriots. 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. They're not compatible within sovereign states.

As long as the Syrians remained in Lebanon, Hezbollah, after the withdrawal of Israel, realized that they couldn't maintain this duality. This duality is an anomaly in terms of statecraft. Now once the Syrians pulled out, they could feel that the world was falling upon them because the justification or the conditions that allowed them to maintain this duality were removed. So this is, by the way, the mere logic, the rationale behind their operation against Israel. They don't want to destroy Israel, they know they cannot destroy Israel, and people are often much taken by the rhetoric. "Liberating Jerusalem" -- well, this is nonsense. Their whole idea is to continue this fight against Israel deliberately in order to enable themselves to maintain this duality within the Lebanese state, which enables them to maintain their own sovereignty within the Lebanese state of the south, to pursue other avenues of political and strategic potential, etc. So when they initiated it, they had a pretty good operational concept, which basically argued that if the Israelis would dare to come by ground, they know how they'd do it. They come from the south...