"An organized mess" Posted by: mcq
on Tuesday, August 08, 2006
I was reading the latest Ralph Peters column from the Israeli/Lebanon border. A couple of things he notes caught my eye. The first concerns the title of the post. As Peters stood there talking with an IDF infantry brigade staff he asked the operations officer how it was going:
Asked how the fighting was going, an operations officer said, "It's going pretty well. It's an organized mess."
You couldn't get a better description of warfare.
Agreed. I've heard it described as many things, but "organized mess" is as good as any. It is orchestrated chaos if it is done correctly.
The amazing thing about the IDF, in comparison to our military, is its informality. As Peters notes, it's a "first name" army. That's because the bulk of it is made up of reserve forces and they live mostly in a civilian world. In that regard they're much like our own reserve forces who also are also much less formal (they know when to "play the game" when necessary around the "AC" types) but they're still pros.
Anyway, per Peters, the IDF is kicking some serious Hezbollah rear end. But he notes that Hezbollah isn't some rabble with weapons. They've evolved quite a bit since the last time the IDF played tag with them:
The really bad news is that Hezbollah isn't a ragtag outfit anymore, but a postmodern military, cellular, dispersed and better equipped than the Iranian army - since the newest and best equipment goes straight from Tehran to the terrorists. This is a new kind of war.
Hezbollah has a sophisticated communictions network, night vision capability, GPS, and the ability to manage the battlefield much more capably than they have in the past. They can disperse when an overwhelming threat materializes and mass when a target of opportunity presents itself.
That makes the type of warfare waged different than in the past. "Lightning strikes" is not in current IDF vocabulary.
Faced with well-prepared strongholds and pre-set ambushes, the Israeli approach has been to avoid massed rushes of armor that would allow Hezbollah to fire volleys of anti-tank guided missiles and claim dramatic kills. Instead, infantry and engineers, supported by artillery, tanks and air power, clear the way, then cordon off the villages, penetrating them with raiding forces as necessary.
This is the "American way" of warfare, or has been since WWII. Movement to contact and when taken under fire, go to ground, pin the enemy and then call in the world. That's a type of warfare which is designed to save your soldier's lives, but it is slow, slow, slow. And a priority for Israel is preserving its soldier's lives as much as possible. Proportionally, given Israel's small population, their losses in this battle equal our losses in 3 years in Iraq.
And obviously this isn't an armored warfare situation since there isn't an armored threat, but there is apparently a very large anti-tank threat. So leading with tanks, in this battle, would simply not be healthy for tanks. Therefore,the battle they must fight is tough, time consuming and grinding warfare.
There's one problem with tough, time consuming and grinding warfare in this sort of context:
The IDF must be in a position of unchallenged strength when the clock runs out. And after the Olmert government's slow start, the army's playing catch-up on the ground.
When I was a kid there was a game show called "Beat the Clock" where contestants had to complete a stunt within the time alloted or they lost. That is precisely the position in which the IDF and Israel find themselves. As Peters points out, they definitely got a slow start and, given the nature of the battle, haven't been able to increase the tempo of the battle, so they remain in a vulnerable situation at the moment, as cease fire proposals fly around.
One would have to believe one of the reasons Olmert and Israel are in no hurry to end the hostilities is because Israel can't afford to end them with any hint that Hezbollah has been successful. If Hezbollah remains in control of any portion of southern Lebanon when the clock runs out, Hezbollah will claim victory. In this sort of warfare, Israel can't afford the perception of weakness that would bring.
So as the diplomacy grinds on, so does the war where the only acceptable end-state for the IDF and Israel is total control of southern Lebanon when the time runs out.
I think that there is a real chance that Israel is actually on-plan. By starting slow, Israel avoided the pre-planned ambushes, as you noted. But it may also be that Israel (inadvertently?) avoided the diplomatic ambushes as well. There have typically been two politically imposed end conditions to Israeli action: too much success and too much imperfection. By not advancing quickly, and with the rockets and casualties still mounting, Israel has avoided the "too much success" imposed diplomatic solution. The Hizb’allah appear to be trying the "too much imperfection" route now, such as the staged Qana photos and the constant drumbeat of repetitions of claims of many children being killed combined with claims of few Hizb’allah fighters being killed. So while I doubt it was deliberate, Israel’s slow start could have worked to Israel’s advantage, as might the fact-checking of the blogs, and the combination could ensure Israel has a chance to really pummel Hizb’allah.