Missile knock out fails to win war for Israel

Sunday Times:

HUNDREDS of feet below ground in the command bunker of the Israeli air force in Tel Aviv, a crowd of officers gathered to monitor the first day of the war against Hezbollah. It was July 12 and air force jets were about to attack Hezbollah’s military nerve centre in southern Beirut.

Among the officers smoking tensely as they waited for news, was Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, 58, a daring fighter pilot in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war who had become chief of staff a year earlier and now faced the biggest test of his career.

Over the Mediterranean, west of Beirut, the elite F-15I squadron made its final preparations to strike with precision guided weapons against Hezbollah’s Iranian-made long-range Zelzal rockets, aimed at Tel Aviv.

Just before midnight, the order “Fire!” — given by the squadron leader — could be heard in the Tel Aviv bunker. Within moments the first Hezbollah missile and launcher were blown up. Thirty-nine tense minutes later the squadron leader’s voice was heard again: “Fifty-four launchers have been destroyed. Returning to base.”

Halutz smiled with relief and called Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, who was enjoying a cigar as he waited by a secure red phone at his residence in Jerusalem.

“All the long-range rockets have been destroyed,” Halutz announced proudly. After a short pause, he added four words that have since haunted him: “We’ve won the war.”

Even as Halutz was declaring victory, 12 Israeli soldiers from the Maglan reconnaissance unit were already running into an ambush just over the border inside Lebanon near the village of Maroun a-Ras.

“We didn’t know what hit us,” said one of the soldiers, who asked to be named only as Gad. “In seconds we had two dead.”

With several others wounded and retreating under heavy fire the Maglans, one of the finest units in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), were astonished by the firepower and perseverance of Hezbollah.

“Evidently they had never heard that an Arab soldier is supposed to run away after a short engagement with the Israelis,” said Gad.

“We expected a tent and three Kalashnikovs — that was the intelligence we were given. Instead, we found a hydraulic steel door leading to a well-equipped network of tunnels.”

As daylight broke the Maglans found themselves under fire from all sides by Hezbollah forces who knew every inch of the terrain and exploited their knowledge to the full.

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There is more.

One of the problems for the Israelis is they failed to use a combined arms approach in their attacks on southern Lebanon. They used air power to attack "strategic" targets such as the missile launchers, but did not use effectively to support ground assualt. Typically the ground units would come under attack and the air power would be brought in to bail them out in much the same way the US used air support in Vietnam.

But, a combined arms approach would use the air attacks at the same time the infantry and armor attacked. This would have made it more difficult for Heballah to set up and fire its anti tank weapons against the assualting troops. Another mistake the Israelis made was taking cover in houses which came under fire from the anti tank weapons. A dispersed infrantry with fighting holes would have been much more difficult for the Hezzies to attack.

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