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Looking at Lessons from the 2006 Lebanon War

RAND’s Russell Glenn wrote a study last year on the lessons from Israel’s war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. Regrettably, the study is not publicly releasable. I recently interviewed Glenn, a retired U.S. Army officer whose area of expertise is urban combat and counterinsurgency, on the insights he gleaned from studying the 2006 Lebanon war.

What do you view as the most important lessons for future warfare to come out of the 2006 Lebanon War?

One of the most important is that in our doctrine and training realm we must understand that we’re looking at foes outside the state structure and that these non-state actors now have access to previously unavailable military technologies because of the financing and technological assistance they get from some states. It’s also clear that various groups such as the Chechens, insurgent groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hezbollah and Hamas, are exchanging expertise. It’s important for us to study these conflicts because adversaries are adapting differently and more quickly than previously was the case.

Hezbollah was different than most non-state actors in that they were better financed, better trained, they had better plans and they were more disciplined than what you would normally find. They were also fortunate in that they knew exactly where they would fight, on their own ground and the terrain favored them tactically in that it was very canalized. They also knew the IDF’s capabilities. Don’t take away from Hezbollah as far as their military capabilities, but at the same time, just as we didn’t want to make the Russians ten-feet tall during the Cold War, there is no reason to make Hezbollah out to be ten-feet tall because they happened to be successful over a 60 day period.

One of the biggest lessons of the Lebanon war is that it’s not a military conflict alone and that true long term solutions to these things may not rely primarily on military capability.

Why did the 2006 Lebanon war set off such alarm bells in U.S. defense policy circles?

There’s always an audience of some size that will cry wolf and the sky is falling after a conflict as it allows them to publish books and reports. The majority of individuals did what any professional would do and looked at the Lebanon war, as we have with other conflicts, such as the Russians in Chechnya or more recently the Russians in Georgia, and asked the right questions. They saw what the Israelis did and they understood that, while the IDF is not exactly like the U.S. military, there are some commonalities, and therefore if there were some red flags then we should examine them.

There were two immediate concerns. The first was that perhaps because of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that we were becoming particularly adept at stability ops but less so in offense and defense, or conventional operations. The second was that our jargon and doctrine is becoming too rife with unnecessarily complex concepts and terminology that don’t add to the debate and understanding but rather hinder clarity and are unnecessary.

Is the U.S. military at risk of repeating the IDF’s errors and focusing too much on stability operations at the expense of conventional combat skills?

The timing of the Lebanon war was good in that it forced us to step back and ask questions about whether we’ve become too focused on stability operations in doctrine and training. But I don’t think it should cause us to alter our basic direction. We’ve made huge steps forward in building a force that is not only capable in the conventional realm but also has expertise in stability operations.

There is a commonality in what a military unit must prepare for across the spectrum of conflict such as basic weapons proficiency, basic leadership, discipline, proper respect for noncombatants. If you look at what’s demanded regardless of the conflict there is a vast core of capabilities that need to be maintained. You can maintain proficiency in those common areas and then address those areas needed for a specific mission. Right now we focus at the NTC, JRTC and Twenty Nine Palms on stability operations. We are very good at small unit tactics and urban operations. We are more capable in areas we didn’t address earlier, such as negotiations, running checkpoints that don’t alienate the local population, conducting house searches that don’t’ rely on the traditional tactic of throwing a grenade through the window and spraying the room.

Admittedly, we are not quite as proficient in tank gunnery skills and the ability to mass fires. But we have simulations, we still train that in the schools, we maintain the base level of skills that we can bring up to a higher level of proficiency if needed. We would be overstating the problem if we thought we were not proficient in conducting offensive and defensive operations. We design our training to maintain an acceptable level of proficiency and we can increase the tempo in those areas we might be deficient. Plus, our ability to take lessons learned from the field, both at the unit levels and combat training centers, is better than it’s ever been.

What is it about the new concepts and terminology that was of concern?

When I interviewed Israelis, one thing that repeatedly came up was their concern that the writings and proposed doctrine put out by some Israeli think tanks and individuals that were fairly influential in the IDF, had introduced what they called an “intellectual virus” into military thinking. Instead of sticking with old terms that were familiar or new terms that were straightforward, there were many IDF leaders who felt the new terms were unnecessarily obtuse. [Brigadier General (Ret.) Shimon Naveh, former head of the IDF Operational Theory Research Institute] took a good part of the blame for that. He was amongst those that some thought had muddled the clarity of military thinking.

There are those in the U.S. that believe we’ve done the same thing. I’m not a big fan of new terminology for old forms of conflict. The term “hybrid warfare” has the benefit of perhaps making people think how the threat the Israelis faced in 2006 was different than a conventional threat or irregular warfare threat. Truth of the matter is that I don’t see a significant difference in the way Hezbollah fought that should generate terminology such as “fourth generation” warfare or other terms. The same variables and characteristics can be found in that war that have existed in wars thought history. If it’s a new term that stimulates thought without muddying the waters then great. Is hybrid warfare one of those? Perhaps, but there are others who write and simply put a new label on an old package and if you simply read your history you’d see there is nothing new there.

Was that what was behind Joint Forces Commander Marine Corps General James Mattis’ recent criticism of the Air Force’s use of the “Effects Based Operations” phrase?

I think Mattis pushing EBO off to the side is a good move not only because of what it does in and of itself but also because it signals to the community at large that we’re not going to keep piling on with new concepts just because somebody comes up with a new idea or a new term. EBO is a perfect example in that there was nothing new there if you actually looked at the substance of it. You could look at it in terms of mass and maneuver or whatever terms already existed and you would fully understand the point they were getting at.

The result of EBO is you had these extraordinary diagrams and extraordinary plans that looked at trying to cause certain effects. That sort of reasoning, understanding primary and secondary and third order effects is fine, but you don’t need to make it more complex than it really is. It’s a very straightforward concept, basically you do certain things during an operation and you want to achieve certain objectives and you bring your capabilities to bear and you need to be mindful of the effects, positive or negative, and be flexible enough to change your plans. You could go back to 1982 and 1986 AirLand Battle doctrine and you’re seeing the exact same things in Army doctrine then and military history earlier.

Do you agree with those who argue that Hezbollah’s prolific use of anti-tank guided missiles may be a battlefield “game changer” by increasing light infantry lethality versus heavy armor?

No I don’t. If you go back and look at the 1973 war, the Israelis were taken by surprise and felt they didn’t perform as well as they should have. One area in particular was they felt they were not as prepared to deal with anti-tank guided missiles as they should have been. The 1967 war largely featured tank-on-tank engagements. In 1973, there was a lot more Israeli tank against Egyptian and Syrian fired ATGMs; there were stories of Israeli tanks strung with the guiding wires from anti-tank missiles that had passed over them. Everybody thought that it was a sea-change in warfare and that ATGMs would now dominate the battlefield, but that has not been proven out in subsequent wars.

It was errors of leadership at the tactical level more than any weapons system. The Israelis launched predictable attacks along the same route over repeated days, allowing Hezbollah to establish complex ambushes against both tanks and dismounted infantry. Commanders at the brigade level did not go forward into Lebanon and rather stayed back at their headquarters. Information was coming into their headquarters via computer screens and other feeds and they felt that if they left their headquarters they would lose touch with that information.

The Israelis ran into problems because they did not come up with a training plan that allowed them to maintain proficiencies outside the day-to-day demands of the intifada, which to some extent explains why leaders did not perform as well as they might have. The Israelis identified that leaders who were promoted over the years were those that were very good at battling the intifada, but they failed to train them and inculcate them and their subordinates in what was required to lead units, particularly at higher echelons, in other combat environments.

What adjustments has the IDF made since the 2006 war?

There was an almost immediate adjustment in training. The IDF started training more on offensive and defensive, what we call conventional warfare skills. The IDF ground forces chief, at a conference in Israel in September 2008, sponsored by the Israeli armored corps association, stated that he was pretty happy with the quantity of training in that realm but not yet convinced that the quality was what it had to be.

They have also made adjustments in the relationship between Israeli air forces and ground forces. There was a trend before the Lebanon war where the Israel air force did not want to commit fixed wing aircraft to supporting ground forces because they felt they had other strategic demands they needed to focus on. Since the war, at least the right words have been spoken on better cooperation with the Israeli army on the ground and providing close air support.

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