The Washington Post is reporting what so many news outlets in Israel are reporting (JPost, Haaretz, etc.), regarding the absolute debacle over the last several weeks:
JERUSALEM, Aug. 18 — Sgt. Lior Rahamin’s Israeli reserve unit had not trained in two years. When its members were called up for the Lebanon war, they didn’t have straps for their guns, spare ammunition, flak jackets or more than one good radio. There were other shortages: Twice their operations were canceled because they had no water to take; once they went two days without food.
“Hezbollah didn’t surprise us. We were surprised by the Israel Defense Forces,” said Rahamin, 30, a paratrooper who was wounded fighting in Lebanon in 1997 and who volunteered to go with his unit again. The next time they call, he said, “we will not show up.”
[ … ]
“If we would have gone in with more foot soldiers, we would have done more,” said Avi Hubara, 40, a schoolteacher and reservist who volunteered to go to Lebanon to fight. “But the politicians were scared to make decisions. It was a failure. We got people killed. There was lots of friendly fire. We did not hurt the capability of the Hezbollah. We did not return the kidnapped soldiers. We did not win.”
[ … ]
“We were getting ready to board the bus in Lebanon with faces painted for combat, but they called us back,” said Sgt. Yuval Drori, 30, a reservist who works at a software company. “Another time we were at the border, with bullets in the chambers, but they canceled again. The mission changed every 30 minutes. There was a great sense of a big mess.”
“In the last six years, there hadn’t been any preparation” for putting soldiers into combat, said a retired major general, Shaul Givoli, director of the Council for Peace and Security near Tel Aviv. “Even the rations had expired.”
I think that there are some lessons to be learned, but some lessons to reject as well. In fact, it may be as important to reject the wrong ones as to learn from the right ones.
There is almost an orgy of international praise for Hezbollah’s military capability right now. I think it is important to get this right. Hezbollah has a few thousand men, some bunkers, and several thousand rockets. They don’t even come close to a major military power. Their having survived the recent conflict should be attributed to the facts that they were deeply dug in and knew how to disappear amongst the population. They did prove two things though: they are on a war-footing, and they are willing to perish for their beliefs.
In my post “Israeli Army in Disarray During War,” I cited a news report that:
Israel’s largest paper, Yediot Ahronot, quoted one soldier as saying thirsty troops threw chlorine tablets into filthy water in sheep and cow troughs. Another said his unit took canteens from dead guerrillas.
This is very telling. I get word from my son in the Marines frequently concerning his training, what he is going through at the time, and how he feels. It doesn’t bother me that the Israeli army was without food for a while. I should not go too far with the details of my son’s training (this is considered a “no-no”). But it is customary to go several days without sleep or food. They must be capable of doing this while waging war and making battlefield decisions, since at times they will be doing exactly that while their lives are on the line.
And it may seem strange to lay hold of something as simple as water as a touchstone for the condition of the Israeli army, but I think it makes perfect sense. An army that is without water is in serious … serious … trouble. While I am certain that his superiors do an adequate job of training my son concerning the dangers of dehydration and overheating, I regularly (via phone) give my son a “safety brief” concerning these matters.
You must remember the facts concerning water and body heat. The body can discharge heat in several ways: convection cooling, radiation cooling, conductive cooling and evaporative cooling. Of these, evaporative cooling is the most significant. When you sweat, the idea is that the water is then able to evaporate, taking with it the heat necessary to change phases (this is called the latent heat of vaporization). This change of phase takes with it from the body just under 1000 BTUs/lbm of water, and without it a man on the battlefield is in danger of not only heat exhaustion, but heat stroke and even death. I regularly lecture my son on ensuring that his “camelback” is full of water, and that he hydrates regularly.
Regarding heat stroke, if the core body temperature increases to around 105 degrees F and stays for any length of time, the proteins in the brain begin to change form, and permanent brain damage occurs. Of course, exhaustion, fatigue, medical problems and brain damage are not good things on the battlefield. Finally, in conditions of dehydration, the blood thickens and less of it is sent to the brain. This causes a loss of mental and cognitive capabilities. Again, not a good thing on the battlefield.
The lack of basic provisions such as water (the most basic of all) shows that Israel was not — and is not — on a war footing.
What is not the case is that Hezbollah’s ranks are filled with supermen. Again, this is not a lesson to be taken from this conflict. Israel can get itself on a war footing again, but it will require re-arming, re-training, re-tooling the command and control, ensuring that there is a clear line of authority all the way up the ranks, and most of all, preparing mentally for the fact that Israel is at war. This war will not abate for some time into the foreseeable future. Israel has a smart army and one of the best and most seasoned air forces in the world. This standoff is not the end. It is only the beginning. I have no doubt that Israel will do what is necessary to win.
But it will not be helpful to learn the wrong lessons. The wrong lesson is that Hezbollah is a powerful army. No, it is a band of thugs, several thousand strong, dug into holes in the ground. The right lesson is that the IDF was unprepared.
Let’s hope that they learn the lesson well.
Just as I finished this post, I read a piece by Douglas Farah concerning the Islamic strategy in Europe. His final quote is telling, not just for Europe, but for Israel too:
We do not have a plan. They do. History shows that those that plan, anticipate and have a coherent strategy usually win. We are not winning.
If Mark Steyn is correct, it won’t matter for Europe anyway since Europe is self-destructing.
In Iraq there are gains. The recent Israel-Hezbollah conflict was a standoff and a debacle for Israel. The war on terror in the U.S. has suffered from courtroom setbacks. We have failed to stop Iran from regional hegemony, and the Shia world is riding high in their collective defiance of Israel, proposed U.N. sanctions, and the U.S. in Iraq. The Iraq-Iran borders are leaking, and Iranian influence in Iraq is burdensome.
Faster … please?