Who won last summer’s Lebanon war, Israel or Hizballah? A year after combat ceased that question remains hotly controverted. If nothing else, the continuing debate is testimony to the ambiguous nature of the outcome between one of the world’s most powerful armies and the rag-tag Islamic militia that it faced.
Since neither side suffered a knock-out blow, what indicators, short of total defeat and surrender, can be employed to evaluate the conflict? Because Hizballah was fighting a rocket war, firing a variety of projectiles into Israel’s north, one key question that must be posed is: how effective was Hizballah’s rocket campaign, and how effective was Israel’s response?
One exceedingly well-researched answer comes from Uzi Rubin, who served as the first director of Israel’s Missile Defense Organization in the 1990’s, where he managed development of the Arrow missile-defense system.
The picture that emerges from Rubin’s analysis is of an Islamic militia force that was astonishingly well prepared for the conflict, and which had thought carefully about matching means and ends. Even if Hizballah’s head, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, had misjudged the scope and scale of Israel’s response to the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, Hizballah’s basic approach was vindicated by the course of the fighting.
“[I]t can now be seen,” writes Rubin, that Hizballah had “devised a two-pronged strategy to overturn Israel’s predominance in terms of manpower, machinery, and technology.” In the first prong, “massive rocket fire was used against Israel’s homeland in order to provoke Israel into launching a ground offensive.” In the second prong, “well-entrenched defense in depth was employed in order to defeat the ground offensive.”
In other words, Hizballah, “aimed to bait Israel into entering its carefully laid trap with rocket fire.” The key for Israel would have been successfully suppressing the rocket fire that for 33 days rained destruction on its north, thereby avoiding having to pay the “butcher’s bill” for an incursion on the ground.
But even as the Israeli air force succeeded in destroying most if not all of Hizballah’s longer-range missiles, it was unable to deal with the short-range ones. On the final day of the war, to demonstrate that it had preserved quite a few arrows in its quiver, and that its lines of communication had survived Israel’s best destructive efforts, Hizballah launched a coordinated salvo, hurling a record 232 rockets over the Lebanese border at one time.
What can be learned from the war? Israel’s adversaries are certainly studying it carefully. Rubin notes that the outcome
may well prompt the Palestinian factions to intensify their already ongoing rocket attacks against southern Israel, both in terms of quality and quantity. Hamas in Gaza is already stocking up on longer-range rockets, and may well adapt the Hizballah’s two-pronged strategy. Syria, a patron of the Hizballah with its own vast stockpile of rockets and ballistic missiles, might be tempted to devise a doctrine of attrition by rocket and missile fire instead of a full-scale, 1973-style invasion, to gain back the Golan Heights.
Israel has been studying the conflict, too. The most obvious lesson, as Rubin writes, is that “[a]s long as simple, unsophisticated, cheaply produced rockets cannot be overcome, they are now and will remain in the future a veritable strategic threat to Israel’s national security.”
What is to be done to counter this strategic threat? Click here to learn about MTHEL. It is not a silver bullet, but one vital component of a successful Israeli response.