For Israel, lessons learned from 2006, but old pitfalls

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This time, Israeli military commanders are leading from the front, not trying to direct the infantry from television screens. This time, the military has clear plans, in stages, drawn up with a year's preparation. This time there is no illusion about winning a war only from the air. This time, the military chief of staff has kept his silence in public, all cellphones have been confiscated from Israeli soldiers and the international press has been kept out of the battlefield.

In these and many other ways, Israel is applying the lessons it learned from its failed 2006 war against Hezbollah in northern Lebanon to its current war against Hamas in Gaza. But Israel's failure in Lebanon also stemmed from a political and diplomatic inability to decide on clear objectives for the outcome of the war, and here the lessons of Lebanon have been not so well applied, according to senior Israeli military officials and political analysts.

And then there are the sudden events that can throw off so many careful calculations and come to symbolize the horrors of war — like the deaths of civilians from Israeli munitions in Qana, Lebanon, both in 1996 and 2006, and the reports on Tuesday evening of more than 30 civilians, including children, killed as they tried to shelter in a United Nations school in northern Gaza. While accounts of exactly what happened were unclear on Tuesday night, with Israeli officials suggesting that the school was used to fire mortars and that there may have been a secondary explosion, the deaths will inevitably turn stomachs all over the world and increase pressure on Israel for an early cease-fire.

"Everyone is very conscious of doing things differently from 2006," said Mark Heller, director of research at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, citing the postwar investigations carried out by the military itself and by the Winograd Commission, which harshly criticized both the political and military leaders of the time for poor preparation and performance.

After the war against Hezbollah, both the chief of staff, General Dan Halutz, a former air force commander, and the defense minister, Amir Peretz, a former labor union leader, resigned. Their replacements — General Gabi Ashkenazi, an infantryman, and Ehud Barak, a former chief of staff and combat hero — have done much to improve the Israeli military and restore public confidence in its skills.

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