Why then, wasn’t this type of raid Israel’s initial response to the
soldiers’ capture, rather than the leveling of southern Lebanon and the
killing of hundreds of innocent civilians?
Clearly, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert is using the recent commando
raid as a desperate attempt to salvage something from his disastrous
offensive into Lebanon. Unfortunately, the unsuccessful raid, coupled
with the reluctance of European nations to send their forces into
southern Lebanon as peacekeepers, threatens to collapse the fragile
Israel suffers from the cult of the offensive, which also afflicts
the U.S. military. Believing that grabbing the initiative and taking the
fight to the enemy wins wars, both of these militaries have stumbled
into the tar pit of fighting wars that only guerrillas could love.
Both Israel and the U.S. militaries should have known the potency of
defensive guerrilla warfare tactics from their prior experiences in
Lebanon and Vietnam. But both were arrogant in thinking that their
forces should not “slum” by training to fight against such ragtag
enemies—even though it was fairly clear that politicians with no
military training would be oblivious to the internal contradictions of
counterinsurgency warfare and would once again order them to undertake
The esteemed Israeli military has always been expected to wipe the
floor with its Arab enemies. Yet the only way Israel could have won the
fight in Lebanon was to completely exterminate Hezbollah, something that
was unlikely to happen, given the Israeli army’s reluctance to have
another quagmire on the ground—as it did during its 18-year occupation
of Lebanon from 1982 to 2000. This occupation was Israel’s Vietnam, and
Israelis, much like Americans, have become casualty averse.
Instead, to reduce casualties in the current conflict, the Israeli
military decided to degrade Hezbollah’s strength using only air power
and a minimal army presence on the ground. But, just like the American
experience in Iraq, to fight guerillas, one needs sufficient forces on
the ground that can be more selective than air firepower in
distinguishing between insurgents and civilians.
In counterinsurgency warfare, killing large numbers of civilians
turns the all-important popular opinion in the target country away from
the occupiers toward the guerillas. But both the Israeli and U.S.
militaries have used massive firepower because it holds down their
casualties and thus maintains support longer at home for the foreign
So adventure-seeking government officials are caught in the
unenviable trade-off of alienating the target country’s population or
their own at home, the two key groups to win support from during a
Although foreign policy elites detest casualty aversion in
democracies, it is actually a good thing—or would be if overly
adventurous political officials would see this inherent, abysmal
trade-off in fighting against guerillas and avoid it.
Guerilla tactics are the most successful type of warfare in human
history, and the aforementioned contradiction is one of the reasons why.
The other is that the guerillas are on the defensive and are usually
fighting on their own terrain, which they know far better than the
occupying power. They also have a better intelligence network on their
home soil than does the occupier, who probably has a deficiency in
speakers of the native language. Such has been the case in both Lebanon
In the future, both Israeli and U.S. politicians should worry about
defending their own countries rather than going on foreign adventures
that make the security of their citizens at home ever more tenuous.
Just as Americans have been made less secure by all the new jihadists
created around the world by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, citizens of
northern Israel faced the needless threat of destruction by Hezbollah
rockets that their own government helped generate.
Instead of conducting belated raids to salvage
something—anything—from their calamitous Lebanon offensive and rekindle
the fighting, the Israeli government should let sleeping dogs lie and
learn something from its defeat in Lebanon.
Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute,
Director of the Institute’s
Center on Peace &
Liberty, and author of the books
The Empire Has No Clothes, and
Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.