IDF officer's book examines Israeli failure in South Lebanon
Five and a half years after the Israel Defense Forces withdrawal from
Lebanon, it seems that the 18-year war has been all but forgotten. The IDF's
departure in May 2000 also ended discussion of the endless chain of
casualties, whose pictures accompanied newspaper headlines throughout most
of the 1990s.
The 1982 entry into Lebanon has been studied and documented in detail, but
nobody has devoted attention to the IDF's long-ensuing activity in the
security zone or to the determined decision by former prime minister Ehud
Barak, who managed to impose the pullout on the army's top brass despite
objections and bleak predictions.
However, the first book on the subject by an IDF insider, Brigadier General
Moshe Tamir, head of the Central Command headquarters, was published
Tamir, one of the IDF's outstanding field commanders in the past decade, was
in Lebanon throughout most of the conflict; from a deputy company commander
in Golani in 1985 up to sector brigade commander on the northern border at
the time of the pullout. He later commanded the Golani Brigade at the height
of fighting in the territories.
His book, "Milhama Lelo Ot" (published by the IDF's Maarachot), is the first
attempt to analyze the army's functioning in this campaign. In fascinating
prose and with impressive honesty, Tamir depicts the evolution of the
fighting, from the first encounters with an unknown Shi'ite enemy,
Hezbollah, through Operation Accountability in July 1993 and Operation
Grapes of Wrath in April 1996, the death of his friend and commander,
Brig.-Gen. Erez Gerstein, to the withdrawal.
He writes that the book's idea came in the winter of 2001, while on his way
to a ceremony for naming the road to Metula after Gerstein. He grew worried
that "the discomfort the army felt about the results of the war and the deep
wounds it opened in Israeli society had accelerated the speedy process of
repression that had already begun."
Tamir's outspokenness had already made his military promotion less than
smooth. The book does not depart from that, but the style is more measured
than usual. The soldiers and junior officers who fought in Lebanon come off
as a vigorous bunch, ponderous and dedicated; the army in whose ranks they
fought, much less so.
The IDF in Lebanon, according to Tamir, was often a heavy army, slow to
grasp what was happening in the war, opting time and again for misguided
tactics in contending with Hezbollah. Fear of casualties was paralyzing.
"Public pressure against staying in Lebanon influenced the army, and
trickled all the way down to the lowest ranks," he writes, deepening the
phenomenon of holding fighting units to lower standards. "That phenomenon
was devastating in my eyes. When each incident is examined separately, it is
hard to recognize the extent of the problem. Stopping a mission for fear of
an entanglement involving casualties sometimes appears the right thing to
do. In the long run, lack of determination and a crumbling of values are
received loud and clear by the enemy."
Tamir describes several years in which the top brass recoiled from taking
any initiative, even on a tactical level, for fear of casualties and
repercussions on the home front. The junior officers were rendered
completely impotent. The lack of initiative was fully exploited by
Hezbollah, costing the IDF more casualties.
The criticism notwithstanding, Tamir points to a decidedly positive change
under Amnon Shahak as chief of staff and Amiram Levin as GOC Northern
Command. The IDF began treating Hezbollah as a guerrilla organization, and
the campaign in Lebanon as an outright war, instead of viewing it as an
annoying routine task.
Ultimately, he writes, the war was "a systemic failure, which brought the
IDF to a hasty unilateral withdrawal without reaching any security or
political agreement with Lebanon." The IDF waged a war of attrition, and was
forced to defend the northern border without being given free range. And the
fiercer the fighting against Hezbollah became, the stronger that