Small Wars Journal

Beyond the Basics

Thu, 04/28/2011 - 6:10pm
Beyond the Basics:

Looking Beyond the Conventional Wisdom Surrounding the IDF Campaigns against Hizbullah and Hamas

by Lazar Berman

Download the Full Article: Beyond the Basics

The United States military devotes great resources and attention to understanding the Israeli campaigns against Hizbullah (2006) and Hamas (2008-9). The Pentagon has sent at least twelve teams to interview Israeli officers who fought in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. "I've organized five major games in the last two years," notes Frank Hoffman of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, "and all of them have focused on Hizbullah." Only months after the end of Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, the US Army Combined Arms Center's Combat Studies Institute (CSI) at Fort Leavenworth published "Back to Basics: A Study of the Second Lebanon War and Operation CAST LEAD", an attempt to document the changes in the IDF over the two conflicts.

The conventional wisdom, especially in the US military, is that the IDF erred in several key areas during the Second Lebanon War. The IDF ceased training for high-intensity warfare. Perhaps more damagingly, the wisdom holds, the IDF adopted a new doctrine based on Effects-Based Operations (EBO), a doctrine that led IDF generals to abandon ground maneuver, and to believe they could defeat Hizbullah from the air. After the war, according to this approach, the IDF simply returned to previous understandings and doctrine, as shown in Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9.

Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom that has coalesced in America around the recent IDF operations, based largely on "Back to Basics" and other CSI studies, comes from a superficial understanding of the IDF and of its performance during the two conflicts. These accounts inaccurately portray the IDF in 2006, and miss the nuanced but profound change it went through after the war in Lebanon. The IDF that went to war in 2006 was heavily influenced by societal pressure against accepting casualties and by a prevalent low-intensity conflict (LIC) mindset. Caught without a fully developed doctrine, its performance, while not uniformly bad, was often muddled and indecisive. The experience of the war in Lebanon led to new IDF concepts of maneuver and victory, on display in Cast Lead. The dominant narrative in America attributes the products of the societal and LIC pressures to a doctrine never adopted by the IDF, and fails to recognize the new IDF concepts. Left uncorrected, this narrative puts the United States defense community at risk of learning the wrong lessons from Israel's recent campaigns.

Download the Full Article: Beyond the Basics

Lazar Berman is the Program Manager for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He received an MA in Security Studies from Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service, with a concentration in Military Operations. Lazar served in the Israel Defense Force as an infantry officer in the Gaza area. He also commanded a platoon in the Bedouin Scout Battalion. His work has appeared in Small Wars Journal, Huffington Post, and the reading list for the US Army COIN course in Taji, Iraq.

The author would like to thank Gen. Itai Brun, Dr. Eitan Shamir, and the staff at the Dado Center for Interdisciplinary Military Studies for their support and insight while researching this issue.

About the Author(s)


anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 05/05/2011 - 1:05pm

"Back to Basics" would be a comfortable and natural thing for US military folks to do, since it strokes the egos of generals to know they are not obsolescent. But while the Israelis should be thanked for warning us against getting too comfortable, I can't see this as altruistic since at this juncture the political events in the Middle East argue that Israel needs to be closely welded at the hip to the US. I don't want to sound like a cynic, but the timing makes me a little skeptical that there is much more to be garnered, just a strong desire not to be ignored. The interplay of friendly armies is in its own way just as interesting as the clash of opposing ones.

Uri Fields (not verified)

Fri, 04/29/2011 - 11:57am

Impressive review of both Israeli central player opinions and US academic debate.

Basically your conclusion, if i got it right, is that US strategists shouldn't stick too much to one notion, theory or approach, but rather study the nuanced turn-of-events of Israel's conflicts, thus developing more case-specific integrated approaches, using aspects that are relevant in their theaters?

I would completely agree with such a conclusion, as learning minutiae always gives a more insightful understanding of things, but that is a universal verity that doesn't need that much proof. Having said that, I think your research and summary is an excellent example of doing just that work and wrapping it in comprehensible packets for the american strategist to take in.

Another final reservation I have, comes more from my history studies. I guess, I find that there were so many chaotic factors in those two conflicts that it's hard to draw overly deterministic lessons. That is to say, that had the government been more decisive in it's directives in 2006, or had the international pressure been slightly different - as you accurately said - the military lessons would have been significantly altered. PR, diplomacy, organizational structure of government and coalition - are becoming as decisive a factor in reaching "victory" or "hachra'a" as the military plans and implementation.

The IDF's operation plan against the Lebanese missile threat has involved a ground invasion as early as 2003, proving it had realized the importance of a ground maneuver as an integral part of the response. Thus, all this jazz about Dan Halutz thinking the campaign can be won from the air seems to me more of a media spin, based on some out-of-context-quotes than anything substantial.

I guess what I'm saying, is that I 2008 looked different than 2006 mostly because it was planned and orchestrated. Which is always a more effective way of doing things. Some problems were exposed due to the 2006 shakedown and were ameliorated, but mostly on the tactical, logistical and everyday plains. I think that on the strategic level, the professionals in the IDF who are in charge of their respective fields by large had and have realistic plans that make the most of existing resources. The major win-or-lose problems, usually, lie elsewhere.

Didn't expect this to come out this long,
and, I'm definitely not as sharp on the sources as you are at this point. So, these are just impressions to be taken with a grain of salt.