Haaretz publishes an eye-opening inside account of the General Staff deliberations that went into the planning and execution of the IDF strategy during the Lebanon war. It shows a curiously tentative and hesitant set of senior commanders who propose ideas only to see them dismissed by chief of staff Halutz; after which the same commanders abandon their original ideas and embrace Halutz’s prescriptions. It shows the army is disarray and dysfunction.
This passage struck me as prophetically ironic in light of the symbolic defeats that the IDF suffered in the village of Bint Jbail:
…On July 16, Bint Jbail is raised for the first time as a target for a possible IDF operation. Major General Benny Gantz, head of the ground forces, makes the recommendation to the chief of staff. “Hassan Nasrallah’s victory speech [in May 2000 after the IDF’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon] was made in Bint Jbail. We must dismantle that place, it is a Shi’ite place – and they must be driven to the North. I would even consider a limited ground operation in this area, which can be held.”
Lest anyone still believe the IDF’s then defense of its gruesome tactics in Lebanon, in which it claimed it was only targeting military locations and not civilian, note Gantz’s pointed reference to “dismantling” the village and displacing its civilian residents. He wants to do this not because Bint Jbail is a military target, but because Nasrallah has made the village a symbol of Hezbollah resistance to Israel.
I also note the chilling final sentence: “I would even consider a limited ground operation in this area, which can be held.” The IDF, of course, lost 8 soldiers in Bint Jbail in a single day and never completely took control of it. As a result, the status of the town has risen to legendary proportions in the eyes of Hezbollah and its supporters. So in effect, the IDF created a myth on behalf of Hezbollah and only burnished it further in its attempt to “teach Hezbollah a lesson” there. A case of MAJOR hubris.
During a later period of the war, after major Israeli losses occurred there, the General Staff has this colloquy:
Kaplinsky: “Regarding Bint Jbail, I agree with Udi [Adam] on one thing. There is no tactical military significance to conquering Bint Jbail [but] there is another sort of significance … that of symbolism and what we are doing, we are doing for those who are going to tell the story tomorrow.”
Adam does not agree: “We do not need a heroic battle in order to conquer that crap-hole [Bint Jbail].”
Halutz decides on a renewed operation against Bint Jbail and tells Adam: “On point of principle, I tell you this: You say there is no story. Well, I think there is one – and it is not on their side, it’s on our side.”
It’s ironic that the IDF command here confuses its strategic objectives with pure symbolism. Instead of winning a war it tries to deliver a symbolic blow to Hezbollah in attacking Bint Jbail. In the end, it lost the war AND created a strong symbol on behalf of its enemy.
There is further irony in the fact that only Uzi Adam, the commander responsible for actually fighting the war, understands the fatal mistake his comrades have made in focussing their energy on Bint Jbail. And the concluding irony is that Adam was the officer removed from command and blamed by Halutz for the failure of the latter’s war. In this nuthouse, Adam was the relatively sane one.
Haaretz closes its account with more prophetic, and ironic words from Amos Yadlin, chief of military intelligence. Here he speaks of Hezbollah’s rockets which are raining down on northern Israel:
On the matter of the Katyushas, we must show that it is possible to defeat this thing, otherwise it will follow us for years. Apparently this can only be done on the ground … Come on, our fathers beat all the Arab states in six days and we are not able to go in with two divisions and finish off [the area] south of the Litani?”
What does this tell you about the comparative worth of this generation of IDF officers vs. Yitzchak Rabin and his commanders during the Six Day War??