Ten years after the Second Lebanon War, and
eight years after these statements were written, revisiting this damning
629-page report teaches us above all that this little-quoted insight
may have been at the crux of the failure. The fact that it wasn't
obvious to the Israeli leadership about a decade ago was probably at the
root of the many failures of the Second Lebanon War. It is also the key
to understanding the chain of events that led up to what many still
refer to as the "great missed opportunity," while others refer to it as a
For the sake of historical accuracy, it is
important to note that the first to identify this basic deficiency
within the leadership in those days -- the absence of a clear desire for
a decisive victory -- was Brig. Gen. (ret.) Aharon Levran, a
high-ranking Military Intelligence officer in his past. Levran, who
compiled countless research reports on military and security topics, was
able to accurately identify immediately after the war the shortfalls in
the IDF's operational capabilities as well as in the government's
conduct. But what struck him most was this particular deficiency.
Today, still, 10 years on, Levran points to
then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's address in New York about a year prior
to the war as a warning sign that foreshadowed the calamity ahead.
"Olmert," Levran recalls, "declared then that 'we are tired of fighting,
tired of winning and tired of defeating our enemies.' Olmert also
confessed in those days to his friend Daniel Abrams, as they stood in
front of the ancient walls of Old City Jerusalem, that he was not
willing to sacrifice his children's lives to defend [those walls]."
Levran had doubts from the get go regarding
such a prime minister's ability to lead, not to mention aspire to
victory. He notes that the "spirit of 'we are tired of fighting and
defeating our enemies' permeated the ranks of the military as well, and
manifested itself in the vagueness of the orders and guidelines."
Initially, Levran was considered an extremist
in his views. But the members of the Winograd Commission, who
deliberated for a long time, also came away with the impression that the
"IDF conducted itself in this war in a way that indicated that the fear
of casualties was the key factor driving operational considerations."
The committee noted that the "determination to
complete the mission and fight to the death to achieve it" was the
military objective that was most eroded.
Just recently, former Deputy IDF Chief of
Staff Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, who served in that post during the
Second Lebanon War, conceded that "the interesting questions are, 'Why
did this happen to us?' and, 'Could this happen to us again tomorrow
morning?'" He was referring to the IDF's less than stellar performance
during the war.
A third of the residents left
A reminder: The Second Lebanon War lasted 34
days. It began with a cross-border abduction orchestrated by Hezbollah.
Two IDF soldiers were snatched and three were killed. The incident
sparked a massive Israeli air campaign, followed by a hesitant ground
operation dogged by weeks of uncertainty and severe internal strife --
whether or not to strike, to what extent, how deep, etc.
During the course of the war, 89,000 reserves
soldiers were called up. But at no point were there more than 10,000
troops on Lebanese soil. The trauma of the First Lebanon War hovered in
the background -- the protracted involvement and, finally, the hasty
withdrawal in 2000, which Hezbollah interpreted as running away in
Hezbollah started firing projectiles at the
Israeli homefront at the very start of the war. The Galilee region was
targeted, as was Haifa, with longer-range rockets. This fire killed 44
civilians and 12 soldiers, and an additional 2,000 civilians were
wounded. About a third of the residents of northern Israel fled their
homes and took refuge in the center and south. Property damage was
In the ground actions within Lebanon, 107 soldiers were killed and another 628 were wounded.
Despite quite a few displays of heroism, it
quickly became clear that the IDF ground forces were ill-prepared for
combat. The years of ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, chiefly the
Second Intifada, had eroded the military's readiness to confront an
enemy like Hezbollah. Despite the IDF's unsatisfactory performance,
according to the post-war investigations, Israel killed more than 1,500
Hezbollah fighters, destroyed combat-supporting civilian infrastructure
across Lebanon and dealt crippling blows to the Lebanese cities. Entire
quarters were demolished. Roads and bridges sustained extensive damage.
Refineries and airports were bombed. The economic damage was estimated
by Lebanon to be $100 billion. The fighting resulted in the deaths of
hundreds of Lebanese civilians and thousands sustained injuries.
In hindsight, 10 years later, the public now
judges the war mainly based on its two chief results: the relative calm,
unprecedented in length (it must be said), that the war achieved along
the Lebanese border, and Hezbollah's equally unprecedented rearming and
strength building. Today, Hezbollah has some 130,000 launchers covering
almost all of Israel.
Today, the public discourse focuses mainly on
the question of deterrence, the IDF's capabilities then and now, the
government's conduct and the role played by external players like Syria,
Lebanon and Iran in influencing Hezbollah's future plans.
The big mistake
Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, who served as the head
of the National Security Council in the years leading up to the war and
resigned six months before it began, feels that the ongoing debate over
the gains and losses of the war has run its course. "The main question
is whether we've learned what we needed to learn in order to handle the
third Lebanon war better than we did the second," he says.
Eiland believes that "astoundingly, the biggest mistake of the Second Lebanon War isn't even mentioned in the Winograd report."
In his view, the biggest mistake was the
strategic assumption in Israel that Hezbollah was the chief enemy. "For
too many weeks, the Lebanese government, the Lebanese army and the
Lebanese infrastructure were off limits," he recalls. "The result was
that the world didn't care too much about the fighting. The battle
continued for 34 days and as far as the world was concerned, it could
have gone on for 34 more. The fact that Israel and Hezbollah were
killing one another didn't raise any special concerns. If Lebanon, as a
state, were to take a hit sooner, or take a wider hit, the war would
have been much shorter.
"Today everyone agrees that a shorter war is
in Israel's best interests, but what if the third Lebanon war breaks out
tomorrow?" Eiland wonders. "Will it be short?
"Ostensibly, we have gotten better. We learned
from our mistakes, improved our attack and defense capabilities, but
there is a thing called 'relative power,' and when I posit the IDF
against Hezbollah, we may have improved, but in terms of overall
military ability, Hezbollah has improved more. They have far more
missiles than they had then, with far longer range. They can easily
strike any point in the country. Their warheads are larger. Their
camouflage in the field is constructed better, and the accuracy of their
missiles has improved," he explains.
"A precision missile can strike your most
vulnerable assets -- be it an airport or a hospital or a port or a power
station," he continues. "The State of Israel is a small country with a
handful of national assets whose location is well known. The outcome of
such a strike can be very bad."
"If the third Lebanon war lasts 34 days like
the Second Lebanon War did," Eiland concludes, "the result will be
several times worse because no matter how many Hezbollah operatives we
kill in comparison to Second Lebanon, the damage on our side will be
greater, and we will not be able to call it a success."
Eiland says that the solution lies with the
Lebanese government: "Hezbollah enjoys full sponsorship from the state,
and if Israel refrains from dealing a painful enough response to the
state sponsor, the failure will repeat itself. The obvious conclusion,
at least to me, is that if the third Lebanon war breaks out tomorrow, it
has to bring about a war between the State of Israel and the state of
Lebanon, not under wraps, but in a declared, formal manner."
"Because the State of Israel will have trouble
destroying more than 100,000 rockets, but it can, in a matter of days,
inflict intolerable damage on the state of Lebanon, and that is our big
advantage. No one in the world wants to see destruction in Lebanon. Not
the Lebanese people themselves, who are a hedonistic people unlike the
residents of Gaza; and not Hezbollah, not Syria, and certainly not Iran.
Even the Saudis will be upset after having invested an enormous fortune
into Lebanese infrastructure. The Americans and the French, who, among
others, built the Lebanese army, will get riled up too. If all these
countries believe that Lebanon is facing terrible destruction, and if
the next war begins with a critical blow to the Lebanese national
infrastructure and the Lebanese military, the world will cry out for a
cease-fire after three days, not 34.
"In this way, we can spare the tough losses
from our homefront, which, today, with all of our advanced defense
systems, is still vulnerable to Hezbollah's burgeoning threat."
Q: But ultimately, the Lebanese infrastructure did sustain a debilitating blow in the Second Lebanon War.
"Too little, too late. The blow should have come at the start, and it should have been much more painful."
Eiland reveals that he said these very things
to Olmert when he served as the head of the National Security Council,
during the then-prime minister's visit to the U.S. "I asked Olmert to
raise the topic of Hezbollah in this kind of direction and in this
particular angle in his meeting with the American president, but there
were other issues that Olmert thought were more pressing."
Eiland also thinks that the Winograd
Commission fell into a trap of details. "It went into tactical
resolutions, but never raised its gaze to the strategic level and failed
to ask the fundamental questions about the assumptions held by the
'No legitimacy for a pre-emptive strike'
Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, the head of the
Institute for National Security Studies and the man who served as the
head of Military Intelligence during the Second Lebanon War, agrees with
Eiland's perspective. Yadlin, too, thinks that "Lebanon was not made to
pay the price it should have been made to pay."
"The State of Israel succumbed to
international pressure and refrained from hitting Lebanon hard enough.
The chief of staff and I recommended it, but the political echelon,
headed by Olmert, decided against it," he says.
Yadlin stresses that one of the ways to ensure
a shorter war next time is "to inflict more damage on the
combat-supporting national Lebanese infrastructure, like electricity
grids and transportation. Anyone who listened to my successor at
Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevy, and heard him talk about
how Lebanon will pay a heavy price if Hezbollah attacks us, realizes
that this insight has been incorporated into our thinking."
Yadlin defines the outcome of the war as a
missed opportunity "because we could have achieved the same results in a
shorter time and at a lower cost, and also because Hezbollah has given
itself the freedom to continue growing stronger after the war -- we
didn't generate the legitimacy to stop it.
Yadlin thinks, however, that as long as
Hezbollah maintains the calm, and as long as the citizens of Israel
aren't in immediate danger, it would be wisest not to initiate a
conflict. "Today, there is no legitimacy for a pre-emptive strike," he
says. "A pre-emptive strike like in the  Six-Day War should only
be considered when a conflict is clearly inevitable. A pre-emptive
strike like in the  Suez Crisis would have no legitimacy in the
"Despite everything," Yadlin clarifies, "our
achievement was the establishment of strong deterrence -- we distanced
Hezbollah from the frontline and ensured peace in the [Israeli] north
with UNIFIL and the Lebanese army in the south [of Lebanon]. Today the
deterrence is so powerful that Hezbollah, which would have taken every
opportunity to abduct and target soldiers before the war, or fire
Katyusha rockets, has shown restraint and refrained from retaliating for
serious attacks it attributes to Israel. For example, the strikes that
no one claims responsibility for, like the assassination of [Hezbollah
military commander] Imad Mughniyeh."
Yadlin notes that "one of the reasons for the
calm in the north is Iran. The Iranians didn't like what happened in
2006. Iran viewed Hezbollah, as it still does today, as a tool for
deterrence and possible retaliation for a potential Israeli strike in
Iran. That is why Hezbollah was essentially reprimanded [by Iran] at the
beginning of the 2006 war. There is no doubt that the calm that has
been maintained since has to do with the fact that Iran warned Hezbollah
not to repeat that mistake. It is also safe to assume that Hezbollah,
which has been mired in fighting deep in Syria for the last five years,
would prefer not to fight on an additional front."
Yadlin believes that the IDF and Israel are
currently far better prepared for a third Lebanon war, if and when it
erupts, than they were for the second, in terms of training, planning
'A juvenile mistake'
Israel Prize laureate Yehezkel Dror, a former
professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
was a member of the Winograd Commission, says that "one of the single
best decisions made by former prime minister Olmert during the war was,
in fact, not to extensively strike civilian infrastructure in Lebanon,
the way the IDF chief of staff and others recommended.
"It would have made sense to target civilian
infrastructure if the owners of the infrastructure, the Lebanese
government, had any authority over Hezbollah. That was not the case at
the time. Olmert instructed everyone to stop talking about it, and
rightfully so. Incidentally, that is how he safeguarded our
international support," he adds.
However, Dror describes Israel's reliance on
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 -- the cease-fire agreement that
listed the conditions each side vowed to uphold -- as a "juvenile
"It really didn't justify more Israeli
victims," he says, with 10 years of hindsight. "The notion that a
resolution with no military force to back it up would compel Syria and
Iran and others to stop supplying Hezbollah with weapons is laughable.
Sorry, it should make us cry. And it is delusional. Relying on words and
formulations was naive. It was a blindness to suddenly trust in
Security Council resolutions. The fact is that Hezbollah made a laughing
stock out of this resolution. They have weapons and missiles like sand
on a beach, and then-prime minister Olmert and his foreign minister,
Tzipi Livni, are to blame for this naive approach.
"The only thing gained from the Second Lebanon
War," Professor Dror claims, "is the full hotels [in northern Israel].
We achieved a tactical deterrence that could have equally been achieved
in the first five days of the war, without victims, without exposing the
homefront. It should have ended there. Our biggest defeat was showing
the other side -- and ultimately Hamas -- that it is possible to target
the Israeli homefront and get away with it without any real
consequences. The Hezbollah command echelon, not to mention its
leadership, escaped unscathed. Consequences are measured by the death
and destruction of the command echelons. It is impossible to eradicate a
movement like Hezbollah. What can be done is leave it with heavy
losses. That is why the war should have ended after five days, and that
would have been a good outcome, without the homefront being exposed. Or
alternately, we should have gone in with a few divisions and reached
critical mass. Neither of these things were done. It fell between the
cracks somewhere in the middle. That is why I view the Second Lebanon
War as being somewhere between a resounding failure and a terrible
Q: The leadership of that time often touts the now decade-long calm as an unprecedented achievement.
"The calm is tactical. There is no calm in the
declarations being made against Israel, and certainly not in the
rearming. There is calm because Hezbollah is busy in Syria, and there is
calm because Iran, which controls Hezbollah, isn't interested in a
flare up. There is also calm because they know that next time Israel
will respond with more force. The calm is local and tactical. It is not
Q: Is Israel right not to launch a pre-emptive
strike on the massive weapons stores that currently pose a direct
threat to the Israeli homefront?
"I subscribe to the notion that weapons arsenals are not a good reason to go to war."
Dror defines the continued activity of
then-Defense Minister Amir Peretz (a defense minister who didn't
understand the first thing about defense) in politics as nothing less
than an outrage. He laments the fact that Olmert was not punished for
his faulty conduct during the war but was removed from office for
entirely different reasons (for which he is now serving time in prison).
Only then-IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (ret.) Dan Halutz "who didn't
behave appropriately" paid the price that his offense warranted, he
Dror recalls how "people in positions of
power, especially in local government, fled to central Israel. They got
in their cars and ran away. Including mayors. I will not line them up in
front of a firing squad, but they should have been punished, and they
weren't. What they did was a betrayal of their duties during wartime."
Q: How imminent is a third Lebanon war and, as far as you know, have the conclusions outlined in your report been internalized?
"It is hard to assess the strategic picture as
long as the Syrian situation and the Russian involvement there remains
unclear. That is why we need to prepare for a host of possible
eventualities. In the event of another war, we need to employ critical
mass -- either do a little to teach a lesson or a lot to utterly
destroy. In the next war, we need to prepare for cyberattacks as well.
The homefront also needs to brace for Hezbollah's current arsenal."
Q: Is the homefront ready for the next war?
"I follow the State Comptroller's reports on the matter very closely, and I am not happy."
Dror believes, however, that the "political
and military leadership today are far better than the leadership that
led Israel in 2006 into the Second Lebanon War." In saying this, he
stresses, "I am not taking any kind of stand in favor or against any
particular policy. The current prime minister is much better than the
one who was in power in then, and both of the last two defense
ministers, [Moshe] Ya'alon and [Avigdor] Lieberman, are better than
Peretz. The post of IDF chief of staff is also manned by someone who is
far better suited for the job."
Define 300 points
Former minister Dan Meridor, who has been
involved in a range of Israeli defense questions throughout his public
service, offers the Israeli public and its decision makers a different
take on the Second Lebanon War, and the third Lebanon war as well for
that matter, should it transpire.
"Before the war, I said to many people, and
they will all attest to this, that Israel cannot defeat an organization
like Hezbollah. I said it based on my close familiarity with their
capabilities and ours. Why do I bring it up now? Because it applies to
our future as well. The threat of 100,000 Hezbollah rockets represents a
shift in the war paradigm," Meridor says.
"We confronted and emerged victorious over the
old threat of the Arab armies. The Egyptians have maintained peace with
us for 40 years. Jordan is at peace with us. The Syrian military is in
shambles. The balance of power is one of mutual homefront damage. We,
like the U.S., are a state facing an organization. A state facing a
non-state actor. This is a new era, and the equation has changed. The
U.S. has invested and continues to invest millions in fighting al-Qaida
and the Islamic State group, and Israel is dealing not with a formal
military or state actors but rather organizations like Hezbollah and
Hamas. In this kind of fighting there is no 'wham, bam, thank you
"The era of the 1967 Six-Day War is over. We
learned that in Lebanon and in Gaza. The U.S. learned it in other places
in the world. Defending borders is important, but it doesn't prevent
the war from reaching the homefront."
Q: So how do we deal with this changing equation?
"Today, warfare is built on intelligence and
pinpoint action, like the assassination of [Osama] bin Laden. We don't
necessarily need to know where Hezbollah is keeping all of its 100,000
rockets. But we do have to define the 300 points that will completely
devastate Hezbollah if we strike them."
Meridor asserts that we didn't win but also
didn't lose the Second Lebanon War. He believes that stopping short of
deploying massive ground forces in Lebanon was not a mistake. "The
infantry failed, and in my opinion, could not have possibly succeeded in
stopping the rocket fire. A short, but powerful blow could have
sufficed. The longer we continued, the more we understood the
limitations of our power in the face of a non-state terrorist
organization like Hezbollah. We set two objectives. The first was to
achieve calm along the border -- that was achieved. The second was to
prevent Hezbollah from rebuilding its arsenal, and in that we failed. A
mutual threat emerged, and the mutual deterrence is still working."
According to Meridor, "the existence of
Hezbollah represents the erosion of nationalism and the rise of religion
-- a huge historical shift that I call 'the return of God.' Hezbollah
has grown strong not just because of what we did or didn't do, but also
thanks to Iran. Because of our explicit or implied threat to strike Iran
over the years, Iran has established a deterrent force along our
northern border. On the other hand, our conduct during the Second
Lebanon War, with all the failures pointed out by the Winograd
Commission, jolted Hezbollah. [Hezbollah chief Hassan] Nasrallah once
said that if he had known that Israel would respond the way it did, he
would never have abducted and attacked those soldiers. They assumed that
we would respond rationally. That was his mistake."
Q: What about the future?
"We need to prepare a defense response. That
runs counter to the natural Israeli inclination, but there is nothing we
can do. Defense alone will not cut it, but without defense we can't
confront Hezbollah's rocket and missile threat, which has grown
immensely. In recent years, Israel has built quite an impressive defense
system, but it is not absolute, and it requires constant improvement
"We need to continue making every effort to
prevent the next war. We need to prevent the other side from obtaining
superior weapons, and in particular we need to understand this is not
another war between armies in the sense of conquering land. The
homefront is not in many respects the frontline. Both ours and theirs.
It's terrible, but it is the reality. If we find ourselves embroiled in
another war there, I oppose long-term seizure of territory, as opposed
to localized commando raids and strikes, where it will hurt the other
'Another war is inevitable'
Maj. Gen. Eyal Ben Reuven, who commanded over
the northern front during the Second Lebanon War, surmises that the next
war with Hezbollah is inevitable.
Ben Reuven was responsible for orchestrating
the final 60 hours of the Second Lebanon War. He says that Hezbollah may
be embroiled in fighting in Syria at the moment, but it is constantly
preparing for a confrontation with Israel. "The lesson I learned for the
future is that it is imperative to use force as quickly as possible,
not gradually, in order to minimize or eliminate the threat of fire on
the Israeli homefront as much as possible."
Ben Reuven confesses that "we failed in the
Second Lebanon War, which lasted 34 days, and we failed again in
Operation Protective Edge, which lasted 51 days, mainly because of the
"Everything possible should be done to prevent
another war, but after it erupts, we need to do everything possible to
win it quickly," he argues.
He recalls how "Meir Dagan told me after the
war that two or three days after it broke out, he spoke to Olmert and
begged him to use all the available force in order to win, but Olmert
had an IDF chief who wanted more and more airstrikes, and Olmert was
tempted to agree. When we finally launched a significant ground
operation, toward the end of the war, it was after endless
postponements, which had a dramatically adverse impact. I remember the
GOC Northern Command Udi Adam going mad with every deferment, yelling at
us, 'Get me the prime minister.' Then, on Friday, we launched the
ground assault, when it was already obvious that we were headed for a
cease-fire. That is how the war ended, but it is not how a war should