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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Israel - slow recovery from Lebanon II?

Israel is supposed to be learning the lessons of the Second Lebanese War. The diplomatic lesson is "don't go to war if Ehud Olmert is Prime Minister and Amir Peretz is Dedense Minister." The biggest overal lesson is taken from the Talmud "Say little and do much," and in practical tems, "Don't boast that you won the war before you started." A major military lesson is "don't bomb airports above ground if the enemy is in bunkers below ground." Other lessons include, "When you go to war, it is best to mobilize reserves at the start, rather than after you lost," "Praying is not a good substitute for air-raid shelters," "Don't announce location of troops on the radio," Don't retreat from a position for no good reason," and "Don't launch a major attack when you are about to withdraw."  It is not clear that all these lessons have been learned. Alarmingly, a year after the war, we are learning that Israel is only now begining to restock its war reserves. Military exercises being held this week will, as usual, not use live fire or full mobility.
According to a less than brilliant UPI story by Joshua Brilliant,  Israel "intends"  to spend some $62.5 billion in the coming five years to cope with an array of enemies from Palestinian militants to Iranians. Actually it is not clear that this money is actually going to be allocated by anyone, or whether it will come at the expense of other parts of the military budget or be taken from urgent needs like subsidizing Yeshiva students. Israel decided that the Middle East is becoming more menacing. To which we can only say, "You don't say."

For years Israel (or actually, some guys in the government) believed the main threat to its existence was in Iran, which has been developing a nuclear capability and the missiles to deliver nuclear bombs. It coped with the Palestinian intifada that experts consider a "low-intensity conflict." For some reason, threats from Hizbullah were ignored. Israel has peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, but both countries could be taken over by extremists, and Egypt has a formidable army. The majority of Jordanians are Palestinian Arabs who don't have much use for the peace treaty.
Actually it is probably true that the main threat is Iran, but that doesn't mean it is the only threat, and it should not have been a cause for complacency. Czechoslovakia, after all, had only one major military threat: Nazi Germany. Likewise, it did not take a geopolitical genius to see the connection between Iran and Hezbollah.

UPI tells us (we knew) that Israel cut its defense budget. It closed combat divisions and air force squadrons, and dismissed career army men. What UPI doesn't mention, is that Israel moved army bases to the West Bank and converted them from training areas into stockades meant to protect settlements. It cut down its stockpiles, as UPI tells us. UP doesn't meantion that Israel also destroyed the Israel defense industry and came to rely on cheaper (free actually) US armaments, the availability of which depends on political whims of Washington. US arms, it seems, are not always the best quality or the most suitable for the Israeli theater. Humvees are fine for carrying troops on exercises in the United States, but as both US and Israel discovered, they are vulnerable to IEDs planted by guerillas. So now Israel will have to spend money converting old tanks to troop carriers and building its own troop carriers that actually protect troops. US manufactured cluster bombs have a habit of not exploding and not killing the bad guys, and then exploding later and killing little kids. Israel opted for those over a superior product made by its own defense industries because they were free. We saved money. The result was ineffective firepower, and the usual condemnations from John Dugard and the rest of the anti-Israel chorus.
UPI also doesn't mention the logistics disaster. Warehouses were discovered to be empty of essential equipment at the beginning of the war, because apparently nobody had been tracking inventory depletion. And UPI doesn't tell us that much of the army resources that remained after the budget cuts were devoted to guarding settlements.
According to the UPI article, the Second Lebanon War caught Israel by surprise. Since we started the war, it is absolutely amazing that we were caught by surprise.

Now, according to UPI military sources say Syria and Iran are helping Hamas build an army in the Gaza Strip and that "many tens of tons" of TNT have been smuggled into Gaza since June. You  don't say! Presumably, Israel must wait until the Hamas actually have an army before we can act against Hamas. Maybe we should wait until the Hamas get an A-bomb or two from Iran. 

Israel supposely decided to allocate 8 percent of its gross national product to defense. That is 6 percent more than in other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, noted Professor Manuel Trachtenberg, head of the National Economic Council at the Prime Minister's Office. On the other hand, Germany and France do not have the Hamas on their southern border, Hezbollah on their northern border and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatening to wipe them off the map. That might make a difference. They also have a great defense umbrella provided by the United States, and they are also disastrously complacent in view of the rising Russian aggressiveness.
One of the greatest deficiencies discovered in the last war was the deplorable level of training in the reserve units. According to the UPI article, about half the units had undergone retraining by the beginning of last summer -- clearly not enough. It seems that nobody felt there was any real urgency to the matter.
Reading on in this UPI story, we learn that  the new plan still requires Israeli Cabinet approval. The budget also requires Knesset approval of course. So it is just a proposal of Defense Minister Ehud Barak apparently, and not an actual program. Barak has been very successful in projecting an image of competence, but it is not clear to what extent this has translated into reality. He smiles too much, and is a bit too plump. A defense minister should have that lean and hungry look. The cabinet will want to spend money on other things, like Yeshiva students. We seem to need a lot of those. There is a great distance between announcements of this sort and actual implementation. To be sure, we have seen a lot of announcements.  Apparently, nobody in Israel learned the greatest lesson of the Lebanon war, which is, don't announce what you are going to do, just do it. "Say little, and do much."

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