Small Wars Journal

The 2006 Lebanon War: A Short History Part II

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 5:30am


II. The War: July 2006 to August 2006

Phase 1:  The Air War

On the evening of 12 July 2006, IAF fighters, in the largest military operation against Lebanon since 1982, delivered an Israeli version of “shock and awe” to Lebanon.  The skies of Lebanon filled with the hum and whine of jets, drones, and helicopters, as the Israelis exacted their revenge.  Cities across Lebanon shook and rattled while bombs and rockets slammed into their targets, lighting the night sky with explosions, tracer fire, and the deep fluorescent glow of flares.  Off the coast, Israeli warships cutoff shipping routes into Lebanese harbors and lobbed shells at Hizbullah targets along the coastal highways.  Smoke and ash wafted across Beirut’s skyline; its citizens fleeing or huddled in shelters.  Just days before the attack, the people of Lebanon basked in the Mediterranean sun, watching World Cup Soccer and anticipating the height of tourist season.  This sense of jubilation and excitement quickly gave way to a deep sense of dread as war returned.     

The initial air raids focused on Hizbullah command, control, and communication centers and Lebanese critical infrastructure.  Israeli fighters cratered the runways of Beirut International Airport and set its fuel depots ablaze.  While the airport burned, Hizbullah’s base of operations in the Shia-dominated neighborhood of Dahiya in Beirut came under attack from aircraft and warships anchored off the coast.  The strikes leveled Hizbullah military and political offices, filling the dense neighborhoods of Dahiya with debris.  South of Beirut, across the sandy banks of the Litani River, the IAF hammered Hizbullah positions and dual-use infrastructure, including the two main bridges that link south and north Lebanon.  Civilians fleeing the furious Israeli bombardment became trapped in massive traffic jams that choked the southern roadways.  Along the border, Israeli shelling and helicopter gunships raked Hizbullah border posts, while IAF fighters and drones located and destroyed many of Hizbullah’s medium and long-range missile launchers.  However, the majority of the smaller, more mobile launchers, which would harass Israel throughout the war, escaped destruction.  Israeli military planners were, nevertheless, thrilled with the results of the bombing runs.  In a call to Prime Minister Olmert, in the early hours of the campaign, General Halutz boasted, “all the long-range rockets have been destroyed.”  “We’ve won the war,” he boldly declared.

With bombs falling on Beirut and its citizens fleeing northwards, with Hizbullah fighters massing on the Israeli border, and with Israeli artillery shells pounding southern Lebanon, pressure began to mount on Hizbullah for provoking the aerial onslaught, just as Israel had hoped.  Governments across the Middle East, most notably Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, blasted the organization for what they considered “unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible acts” that precipitated the war.  To fend off the rising political pressure, Hizbullah took to the airways.  Hassan Nasrallah, in an early morning televised speech before the Lebanese people, declared that his organization would retaliate with an open war against Israel.  To highlight his organization’s ability and willingness to counter the Israeli onslaught, he revealed shocking news.  As Nasrrallah spoke, Hizbullah anti-shipping missiles streamed out across the Mediterranean.  Traveling just feet above the warm water, the missiles locked in on and struck the INS Spear—an Israeli destroyer—that was patrolling the coast of Beirut.  The warship, unaware of Hizbullah’s anti-shipping missile capabilities, sustained two strikes from Chinese-made C-802 missiles, setting the ship ablaze and tearing a large gash in its hull.  As his speech unfolded, Nasrallah called for the citizens of Beirut to look to the sea, where the burning Israel vessel glimmered against the waters.[1]

While Nasrallah condemned Israel and sought to rally Lebanon behind Hizbullah, his fighters fulfilled his pledge to expand the war.  Hidden beneath orange groves, olive trees, and the homes of supporters, Hizbullah rocket teams unleashed a relentless wave of attacks onto northern Israel.  For the first time, Hizbullah rockets penetrated deep within Israel.  Ten long-range rockets slammed into the vibrant city port city of Haifa, killing eight people and wounding 20, including a group of rail maintenance workers who had just arrived for their morning shift.  Despite the IAF’s initial successes in destroying dozens of medium and long-range Hizbullah rocket launchers, it was incapable of fully halting the barrage.  IAF fighters prowling the Lebanese skies simply could not locate all of the rocket teams, who could assemble, fire, and disperse too quickly for the Israelis to locate.  

As Hizbullah rockets continued to rain on Israel, General Halutz’s plan to defeat Hizbullah through airpower began to flounder.  But he remained optimistic about the progress of the air war, especially after the successes in eliminating a large portion of Hizbullah’s medium and long range launchers in the opening days of the campaign.  In discussions with his senior staff, General Halutz provided his assessment of the current situation and the way forward.  “What is now left," he said, "are the ruins of Beirut.  And now, we will all focus, the entire Israel Defense Forces, on the hunt for the Katyushas.  If the weather will be good tomorrow, the entire force is pouncing on southern Lebanon.  There will be a shadow [because of the number of aircraft] over Lebanon."[2]  In accordance with Halutz’s vision, the IAF swarmed suspected Hizbullah positions in Lebanon, pounding suspected rocket sites.[3]

As the IAF tried in vain to halt the rocket attacks, Israeli intelligence analysts began providing the General Staff with concerning news.  The campaign, the analysts reported, would not take 35 days, as originally planned; instead, the IDF would need at least 100 days to remove the rocket threat from Israel’s borders—time Israel may not have, given the rising international pressure and continued instability in the disputed territories.[4]  Making matters worse, public opinion in Israel was beginning to sour regarding the war’s progress, generating strong political pressure on Israeli military and political leaders to eliminate the rocket menace.[5]  Determined to respond to these concerns, the General Staff opted to increase the intensity of air operations by expanding the bombing campaign to target even more of Lebanon’s critical infrastructure—including power plants and the key bridges and roadways along the Lebanon-Syria border.

The scale of the Israeli response to their cross border raid shocked Hizbullah and took a large toll on the Lebanese civilian population.  But Hizbullah had prepared for this war; and less than a week into the conflict, Hizbullah began seeing its political strategy bear fruit in Lebanon and, unexpectedly, across the greater Middle East.  IAF strikes against Hizbullah infrastructure were causing collateral damage in densely populated areas, as Hizbullah intended when they embedded themselves among civilians.  Over 310 Lebanese civilians were dead after the first week of fighting and hospitals throughout southern Lebanon flooded with causalities.  Many others remained buried in rubble of their homes.  The dead, civilian and militant alike, often remained where they fell.[6]  After weeks of fighting, starving dogs began to feed on the newly departed.  These scenes of carnage reinforced Hizbullah’s political power by rallying civilian support behind them, as the Lebanese sought protection from Israel and aid for their battered communities.  “Let [the Israelis] suffer as we are suffering,” fumed one resident of Tyre—a Hizbullah stronghold that withstood over thirty airstrikes during the war.[7]

 Additional support came from across the Middle East.  Al-Manar, Hizbullah’s satellite television network, broadcasted 24/7 coverage of the war; other Arab media outlets did the same.  Coverage of the war inundated the world with Hizbullah propaganda that featured ghastly images of bombed apartment complexes and maimed civilians—all depicted as the consequences of blind Israeli aggression.  Al-Manar and other outlets depicted Hizbullah fighters as the brave sentinels protecting Lebanon from the Israeli horde that spilled across their borders and airspace.[8]  These sensational images rallied feverous support for Hizbullah from across the Middle East and beyond.  In response to this propaganda campaign, the IAF turned al-Manar’s Beirut headquarters into a smoking pile of rubble.  Despite Israel’s hopes of isolating Hizbullah politically, the organization’s popularity, bolstered by its highly effective propaganda tactics, was actually increasing the longer the war lasted. 

It took less than a week of fighting for Israel to realize General Halutz’s air campaign was failing to achieve its objectives.  He, nevertheless, remained opposed to a sending in a large ground contingent.  But opposition within the General Staff, including from General Nehushtan, helped pressure him to change his mind.  General Nehustan and others realized the bombing was not destroying Hizbullah’s military capabilities, nor could it fully stop the rocket attacks.  To rescue its war effort, the Israelis needed to change tactics.  Reluctantly, Israeli policymakers and military leaders prepared for a ground component to the operation.  Ground forces were better suited for rooting out the elusive rocket teams that were effectively eluding the IAF.  These forces, however, were not to be used in a large-scale invasion, rather they were to conduct battalion to brigade sized raids across the border to strike certain targets that airpower alone could not destroy.

One target the Israelis had in mind was the southern Lebanese town of Bint J’Beil—a major Hizbullah base of operations in southern Lebanon.  Located three kilometers inside Lebanon, Bint J’Beil is home to an estimated 40,000 residents, many of whom were devout Hizbullah supporters.  The town was also the site of a famous 2000 speech by Hassan Nasrallah, during which he claimed that Israel was “as weak as a spider web” and that its withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 proved that the Lebanese should not fear it.  General Halutz ordered ground forces to raid the town to remove the Hizbullah threat and gain a symbolically important victory by conquering the ground on which Nasrallah boldly insulted the strength of Israel.  

While the General Staff planned for the opening of the ground war, Prime Minister Olmert began to realize this war could “last a very long time."  This realization may have been why Olmert began to scale back his original objectives.  Instead of destroying and dismantling Hizbullah’s military capabilities, while eroding its public support, Israel now began to consider shifting its goal to the creation of a two-kilometer buffer zone that Israel would enforce until a sizable multinational peacekeeping arrived.  

Even though the Israelis began planning to expand the war with a ground invasion, they lacked the available resources to do so right away.  In the hours following the 12 July raid, Israel delayed the mobilization of its reserves, believing air power could achieve their desired ends.  Because of this decision, only five regular army brigades were ready for combat in Lebanon, two of which were deployed further south near the West Bank and Gaza.  With only five combat ready brigades and the reserves still mustering, the IDF had to enter southern Lebanon undermanned.  What is more, Israeli scouts and Special Forces, already covertly deployed to southern Lebanon to prepare and survey the battlefield, had become bogged down in heavier than expected combat with Hizbullah militants controlling the ridges that overlook northern Israel.  The IDF had a tremendous challenge ahead of it: take southern Lebanon with limited troops and dislodge a well-prepared enemy. 

Phase 2:  Limited Ground Raids

  On 17 July 2006, thousands of IDF ground forces, led by Special Forces groups, opened a 60-kilometer front in southern Lebanon, stretching from the Mediterranean coast to the Lebanese border town of Maroun al-Ras.  Under the cover of darkness and air and artillery fire, 300 Israeli soldiers, supported by 12 Merkhava tanks, crossed into Lebanon and ascended to the hilltop town of Maroon al-Ras on route to Bint J’Beil.  Seizing Maroun al-Ras and its surrounding heights would provide the IDF with secure lines of communication to sustain a large raid into Bint J’Beil and its surrounding hills and villages.  Control of the Maroun al-Ras area would also deny Hizbullah tactically important high ground and disrupt rocket teams operating in the area. 

Early into the crossing, the advancing Israeli commandos became entangled in heavy fighting along the freshly plowed hilltops that concealed Hizbullah bunkers.  Hizbullah fighters, maneuvering in the dark and through their tunnels, began encircling the commandos, forcing the vanguard of the Israeli invasion to slow its advance to await reinforcements.[9]  Tanks and engineering vehicles brought from the rear to prevent the encirclement struggled to engage the Hizbullah fighters as they encountered roads lined with anti-tank mines and IEDs that shredded the tracks of the Israeli tanks, clogging the avenues of approach into Maroun al-Ras. 

Under orders to attack the Israelis on contact, the Hizbullah fighters vigorously resisted the Israeli incursions.  The determination and strength of Hizbullah fighters stunned Israel, which, despite its continuous bombardment of Hizbullah positions and lines of communications, had not broken the fighters’ capability or will to resist.  Israeli soldiers were also unprepared for the size and strength of the defense.  As one Israel soldier lamented, his unit entered Maroun al-Raas expecting to confront an enemy armed with “a tent and three Kalashnikovs”; instead, they encountered a highly prepared and motivated enemy dug into a “well-equipped network of tunnels.”[10]  Often, the Israelis did not even know where the enemy bunkers were, until they were right on top of them, leading to dozens of fierce close quarters firefights. 

While Israel consolidated its control over Maroun al-Ras and its surrounding hills, the IDF prepared to press its advance further north to Bint J’beil.  Slowly, under the cover of air and artillery fire, the Israelis tightened the noose around the shell-shocked village.  From the southeast, the Golani Brigades seized tactically important hills that overlook the Hizbullah base of operations, while paratroopers secured the hills in southwest.  Directly south of the town, Brigade 7 of the Armored Corps set-up over-watch positions.  From their hilltop redoubts, Israel launched probing attacks into the town to test its defenses.  The defenders responded ferociously, pushing back the initial attempts to enter the town.  Attempts to penetrate the town defenses with armored vehicles also failed, as two Merkhava IV tanks struck large IEDs, disabling the two vehicles.

  Around 5:00 a.m. on 26 July, the soldiers of Alpha and Charlie Company of the 51st Battalion of the Golani Brigades, many of whom had little to no sleep over the previous three days of combat, entered the town on its northeastern outskirts.  The exhausted Israeli infantrymen advanced down the town’s maze like roads towards the center market, where a company-sized force of Hizbullah fighters lurked amid the shadows.  The town was eerily quiet during the advance, as Hizbullah waited for its enemies to enter deeper into its defenses.  The few remaining townspeople, meanwhile, hid in their basements and local shelters.  Most people, however, had left the town in the hours leading up to the operations after Israeli radio messages and leaflets warned them to evacuate.   

The steady push into the town finally came to a halt near the center market when a lone fighter emerged from the shadows, drawing Israeli fire.  The sharp crack of the Israeli M-4 assault rifles broke the morning silence.  Chaos quickly ensued; nearly 100 Hizbullah fighters converged on the fighting via rooftops and alleyways.  Finding the Israelis exposed in the streets below, the militants unleashed streams of automatic weapons fire down on the soldiers of Charlie Company.    Thirty soldiers—nearly a third of the company—were struck by enemy fire, including the deputy battalion commander of the 51st Battalion of the Golani Brigade, Major Roi Klein, who sacrificed himself to save his men by diving on a grenade.  On a parallel street, soldiers from Alpha Company responded by setting up a base of fire to cover their comrades as they withdrew.  For hours, the fight raged.   

As news of the engagement and rising causalities trickled from the town, the Israelis ordered in additional infantry companies to reinforce the stalled advance.  Nearby Blackhawk helicopters also arrived to evacuate the wounded and provide additional firepower from their door guns.  But the Israelis were wary of using helicopters against Hizbullah.  Pre-war estimates had led the Israelis to believe that Hizbullah had acquired advanced shoulder fired surface to air missiles, like the SA-18—a Russian-made missile that could bring down Israeli transports and gunships.[11]

Heavy close quarters fighting between the Golani brigades and the militants raged for two more days.  On 28 July, Israeli paratroopers reinforced the assault and the Israelis blasted the entire central market district—scenes of the most intense fighting—with mortars and artillery, rendering the district a hellish landscape of twisted steel and pulverized concrete.[12]  With the added strength provided by the reinforcements, the Israelis slowly pushed the militants from the town by 28 July. 

 Even though they lost 26 men and control of the town, the militants had accomplished their primary objective: stall the Israeli advance and make them pay a heavy cost for their gains.[13]  Ten Israeli soldiers died in the battle, including a senior officer, dozens more were wounded, and one Merkhava main battle tank and an armored personnel carrier (APC) were destroyed.[14]  An unknown number of militants also died in the fighting.  Yet, for Hizbullah, causalities had little influence on public support for or against their organization.  For Israel, on the other hand, causalities had a major effect on public support for the war.  As Israeli causalities rose following the ground invasion, Israeli public support for the invasion plummeted.  This deep fear of causalities also undermined military operations.  According to one IDF general, “every casualty was reported to the Chief of Staff, and there was a case in which an entire battle was stopped because of one casualty.”[15]

Hizbullah surprised Israel with the intensity of its resistance at Bint J’beil.  A central reason for Israel’s inability to anticipate the strength of Hizbullah’s defense was poor intelligence on the organization and the terrain in southern Lebanon.  These failures resulted in three problems for Israel before and during the battle.  First, the slow predictable approach to the town on 24 July aided Hizbullah with determining the Israelis’ direction of travel and intentions, enabling them to set ambush points and IEDs along the route.  Better intelligence on Hizbullah and its area of operations would have allowed the Israelis to advance more rapidly.  Instead, commanders moved slowly to contact without knowledge of what was ahead of them.  Second, Israeli intelligence underestimated the quality and numbers of militants in the town.  One IDF commander later claimed he and his troops were shocked that there were large numbers of militants in the town, especially ones proficient in tactical maneuver under fire.  Finally, the IDF had little knowledge of Hizbullah’s more advanced weaponry, including the Russian made AT-14 (Kornet) and RPG-29.  These advanced weapons were capable of defeating any Israeli armored vehicle, including the Merkhava.[16]

While fighting raged in the towns and hills of southern Lebanon, Hizbullah launched an all-out assault on Israeli civilian and military communications networks.  Hizbullah hackers shut down Israeli phone systems, electric grids, and IT systems periodically throughout the war.  At the same time, they hacked into phone lines and eavesdropped on Israeli conversations, including those of Israeli soldiers, who, in many instances, gave away important tactical information on phone calls home.  The hackers even cracked encrypted Israeli military communications, providing the militants with information on Israeli movements and intentions.[17]  Through electronic warfare, Hizbullah made life even more difficult in northern Israel and, at the same time, gained valuable, tactical intelligence on its enemies.       

 For nearly two weeks, Israeli reservists had been mustering and massing on the Lebanese borders, preparing to reinforce their comrades who were fighting and dying in Lebanon.  The roads and farm fields of northern Israel choked with tanks, soldiers, and supplies.  Olmert and Peretz hoped to use these forces to establish a buffer zone that would prevent Hizbullah from firing rockets into Israel or mounting cross border raids.  Israel, however, was unable to create this zone through the current approach of air strikes and limited battalion to brigade sized raids.  But pressure was beginning to build within the General Staff to increase the size and scope of the ground assault.  While General Halutz remained committed to the current course of action, General Nehustan voiced his protest directly to him, arguing, “Without a major ground campaign, the IDF could not stop the Katyusha rockets.”  Genaral Halutz shared Nehustan’s frustrations, but he remained committed to the air war back by limited ground raids.  The Israeli Cabinet did not agree with General Halutz’s optimistic views on the air war.  To achieve some semblance of victory, Israeli political leaders, on 5 August, decided to expand the ground war in hopes of pushing Hizbullah back from the northern Israeli border.  To achieve their scaled down objectives, Israel had to move quickly, for international and domestic pressure was rapidly mounting; the prospect of ceasefire grew more and more likely with each passing day.

Phase 3:  The Litani Offensive

To remove Hizbullah from its borders, Israel reinforced its ground offensive in Lebanon with an additional 20,000 reservists from three recently mobilized reserve divisions, bringing the total number of Israeli soldiers in the assault to around 30,000.  On 11 August, Israel launched the Litani offensive.  The offensive consisted of three main fronts.  On the west, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, an Israeli armored division advanced north along the coast towards the town of Al Mansouri.  In the center, an Israeli airborne division drove north toward the towns of Debel and Qana.  Also on the center, Armored Division 91 pushed northwest towards Wadi al-Saluki and Ghandouriyeh, which the Israelis had previously seized in an unopposed airdrop by the Nahal Brigade.  From Shebba Farms, a Reserve Armored Division struck northwards to Mareyoun.  The offensive was Israel’s last chance to free its northern border of Hizbullah before the impending ceasefire came into effect.  It would be a bloody affair, and Israel was pulling no punches, placing the lives of the Lebanese civilians in even greater peril.  In leaflets dropped by fighter planes across southern Lebanon, Israel warned, “Any vehicle of any kind traveling south of the Litani River will be bombarded, on suspicion of transporting rockets, military equipment, and terrorists.  Anyone who travels in any vehicle is placing his life in danger.”[18]

As the Litani Offensive grinded northwards through battered towns, olive groves, and tobacco fields, the Israelis confronted stiff resistance and difficult terrain.  Many of the roads that led north had been cratered by air and artillery strikes and were littered with wrecked vehicles.  Nevertheless, the IDF pressed on, saturating enemy positions with shelling that nearly flattened entire villages.[19]

Amid the fighting, IDF units continued having trouble in coordinating the complex assaults and countering Hizbullah ATGMs.  Coordination problems were especially prevalent among reservists, who demonstrated poor proficiency in combined arms tactics.  For example, units reported difficulties coordinating artillery fire and air support with their movements—a problem that likely resulted from the fact most soldiers and officers had little training for large combined arms battles.  Logistical problems also hampered progress, as the IDF had difficulties gathering food and water to sustain their soldiers inside Lebanon, forcing many to forage supplies from civilians.  One Israeli soldier complained how his unit “went as long as two-and-a-half days with daily rations of a can of tuna, a can of corn and a couple of pieces of bread—to share between four soldiers.”  Due a lack of rations, the same soldier noted how “25 soldiers collapsed from dehydration and had to be evacuated.”

During the offensive, Hizbullah ATGMs continued to harass Israeli tanks.  On the advance to Wadi Saluki, two squads of Israeli Merkhava IV MBTs from Armored Brigade 401 assaulted a Hizbullah controlled hilltop.  During the fighting, Hizbullah fighters fired swarms of ATGMs at the advancing Israelis, disabling eleven tanks and killing eight infantrymen.  Elsewhere, militants used ATGMs and IEDs with similar accuracy and destroyed several buildings with Israeli soldiers inside, four tanks, an armored bulldozer, and even an IDF CH-53 helicopter.  These tank killer teams would often fire a dozen or more missiles at time to overwhelm their intended target and defeat its reactive armor plating.[20]

The inability of the Israelis to take southern Lebanon rapidly, as they had done in the 1980s, further solidified the will of Hizbullah and its supporters to resist.  One fighter joyfully praised his comrades’ resistance, marveling how Hizbullah “made it impossible for the Israelis to reach the Litani River.  “In the past,” he noted, “[Israel] could occupy the whole South in five or six days.  Now it’s been twenty-three days and they haven’t taken a single village.”[21]

Hizbullah countered the Litani Offensive by increasing the intensity of its rocket barrages, firing an estimated 250 rockets into Israel in one day.[22]  Even with 30,000 IDF soldiers operating across southern Lebanon, Hizbullah remained intact and continued attacking northern Israel.  To avoid detection, fighters moved in small groups at night on all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes, often dressed as civilians.[23]  The air campaign, while expansive, failed to destroy enough rocket systems to blunt the barrages.  Ground troops, which Olmert hoped would end the rocket attacks, could not accomplish the mission either.  Hizbullah was too entrenched in southern Lebanon and the offensive was unable to dislodge them without a protracted ground war.  Israel did not have the political willpower to sustain an operation of this scale and duration.  Public support for the war was already plummeting within Israel and international pressure continued to mount until, on the morning of 14 August, the U.N. brokered ceasefire came into effect.  The war was over. 

III. Aftermath

The 2006 Lebanon War was costly for Israel and Lebanon.  The Lebanese had not experienced destruction on this level since their civil war.  An estimated 1,191 Lebanese civilians died and thousands more were wounded or displaced.  The war also destroyed over 643 kilometers of Lebanese roads and 350 schools, while severely damaging an estimated 900 commercial structures.  For Israel, the costs were lower: the rocket attacks killed 43 Israeli civilians and wounded 690 others.  The war also temporarily displaced an estimated 500,000 Israelis from their homes in northern Israel.  Economically, Lebanon lost an estimated $12 billon; Israel lost $4.8 billon.[24]

119 Israeli soldiers, sailors, and airmen died in the war.  Two years later, during the summer of 2008, the number rose to 121, after Hizbullah returned the bodies of SSGs Goldwasser and Regev, the two soldiers kidnapped during the 12 July 2006 raid that sparked the war.  Calculating the number of Hizbullah fighters killed in the war is difficult, given the questionable reliability of Hizbullah and Israeli reporting on the figure.  Most estimates put the figure around 500—a significant amount of losses for 30 days of combat. 

Despite its high casualties, Hizbullah’s performance in the war exceeded expectations.  While fighting against a technologically superior foe, Hizbullah maintained a strong defense that slowed and bloodied the Israeli advance.  At the same time, they were able to maintain a steady stream of rocket fire into northern Israel that provoked the Israelis into retaliatory strikes that often produced civilian causalities that Hizbullah exploited to their political advantage.  The rocket campaign also eroded Israeli support for the war by making life difficult for the citizens of northern Israel.  Hassan Nasrallah, during a rally in Beirut a month after the war, praised this organization’s military performance, arguing that Hizbullah had “done away with the invincible army…and the invincible state.”[25]  The next task, Narallah declared, was rebuilding and strengthening the Lebanese state.  Bolstered by international donations and Iranian funds, Hizbullah took the lead in rebuilding efforts, surpassing the central government’s own reconstruction efforts, further improving the organization’s political power in relation to its opponents within Lebanon.[26]   

While Hizbullah was celebrating its military and political victory, Israel was in a state of shock.  How could the most modern military in the Middle East, which had defeated the combined power of the Arab world on several occasions, struggle to combat a group of militants?  To help answer this question, the Israeli government set-up the Winograd Commission, headed by the Eliyahu Winograd, a well-known former Israelis Supreme Court Justice.  The Commission concluded that in the lead-up to the war, “the Prime Minister made up his mind hastily” and the Chief of Staff responded to the taking of Israeli hostages “impulsively.”  The report added that poor leadership, coupled with an unprepared military, created a flawed strategy for destroying or marginalizing Hizbullah.  The Commission added that the war was a missed opportunity to deal a devastating blow to an enemy of Israel.  

Although it failed to achieve its major objectives, Israel did achieve some valuable strategic gains.  The terms of the ceasefire, as stated in UN Resolution 1701, expanded the UN presence in southern Lebanon and deployed fifteen thousand soldiers from the Lebanese Army to secure the border.[27]  As result of this deployment and, perhaps, reluctance by Hizbullah to incite another war, the Israeli northern border has enjoyed a state of peace since 2006.  Hizbullah, however, has not disarmed and, in fact, it has restocked its arsenals with aid from Iran and Syria.[28]  The Lebanese government agreed not to search for Hizbullah weapons caches, nor would they confiscate weapons, unless displayed in public.[29]  The organization has also rebuilt a large portion of its infrastructure in southern Lebanon, despite the presence of UN and Lebanese observers.

Since the disaster of 2006, the Israel military has implemented a series of reforms designed to remedy the problems it experienced in the war.  To counter Hizbullah’s rocket threat, the Israeli military developed the Magic Wand and Iron Dome missile defense systems.  These state of the art systems were deployed to defend against short and medium range missiles, including Katyusha rockets.  For long-range missiles, Israel continues to rely on the existing Arrow missile defense systems.  The IDF is also enhancing its combat training for regular and reservist units.  According to a recent IDF report:

The number of training drills conducted in the IDF doubled in 2007.  In the IDF Ground Forces the number rose 80% this year, due to a strong emphasis placed on improving combat readiness and training for military forces.  In addition, the number of reserve battalion exercises in the Army Headquarters training center increased by 50%, and a number of specific reserve brigade drills increased four-fold.  At least 80% of reserve battalions belonging to the Northern Command underwent at least one exercise drill since the last war.  More than 20% of these battalions have undergone at least two training drills.

Israel appears to have learned from their costly experience in Lebanon by deploying new technologies and enhancing the readiness and training for both regular and reserve units. 

The outcome of this war has important implications for regional politics.  In Lebanon, Hizbullah and its Iranian sponsors became stronger in the aftermath of the war.  Although the UN ceasefire sought to disarm Hizbullah, the organization has not complied, nor does it appear they will.  Hassan Nasrallah has stated that Hizbullah will retain its arms for defending Lebanon from future Israel attacks—a task, he claims, the Lebanese military is incapable of performing.  The Lebanese Government, moreover, is now too weak to deal with Hizbullah.  This weakness was demonstrated in May 2008, when the Lebanese Government was humiliated in the streets of Beirut in firefights with Hizbullah over government attempts to shut down the organization’s telecommunications network.  Hizbullah’s performance during and after the 2006 Lebanon War appears to have cemented the organization as a permanent fixture in Lebanese politics—a reality that may destabilize the delicate balance of political power in Lebanon between Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Christians, and Druze.  

According to Middle East expert Vali Nasr, Hizbullah’s strategic victory in 2006 propelled the organization and Iran into the roles of “regional power brokers and custodians for the Palestinian cause.”[30]  Shias are now increasingly shaping the political landscape of the Middle East:  Iran’s power and influence increases as it develops nuclear weapon; Iraq is now dominated by Shia political and militant groups, many of which of have strong ties to Tehran; and Hizbullah remains a major power in  Lebanon. 

Israel’s poor pre-war preparations and overly ambitious objectives led to its strategic defeat in the 2006 Lebanon War.  Hizbullah, although unprepared for the scale of the Israeli response, fought tenaciously, suffering high causalities against a technologically superior foe.  But despite their heavy causalities, Hizbullah managed to use the war to improve its political power and influence in Lebanon—the opposite outcome Israelis had hoped for when they went to war.  Israeli Intelligence Chief Meir Degan characterized the war as a national catastrophe for Israel.[31]  Yet Israel’s defeat was not total.  Since 2006, Hizbullah has been relatively quiet, suggesting the 2006 War acted as a deterrent for future Hizbullah incursions into Israel.  Nasrallah even admitted that if he had known the consequences of 12 July raid, he would not have ordered it.  Moreover, the Israeli military has used the lessons learned from this war to improve its military readiness for future wars against more sophisticated enemies.  If Hizbullah and Israel go to war again, the outcome may be quite different from the battles of 2006.  As Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, warned, in September 2010, “Hizbullah will not surprise us again.”[32]

[1] Augustus Richard Norton, Hezbollah: A Short History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), 136. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] William M. Arkin, “Divine Victory for Whom? Airpower in the 2006 Israel-Hizbullah War,” Strategic

Studies Quarterly 1, no. 2 (Winter 2007), 103.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Daniel Byman, A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 256.

[6] Nicholas Blanford, Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah’s Thirty Year Struggle with Israel, (New York: Random House, 2011), 385.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Thanassis Cambanis, A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War with Israel (New York: Free Press, 2010), 67.

[9] Blanford, Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah’s Thirty Year Struggle with Israel, 390.

[10] Matt M. Matthews, We Were Caught Unprepared: The 2006 Hizbullah-Israeli War, (Fort Leavenworth: U.S. Army Combined Arms Center Combat Studies Institute Press, 2007). 

 [11]Blanford, Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah’s Thirty Year Struggle with Israel, 392.

[12] Cambanis, A Privilege to Die, 21.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.  

[15] Byman, A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism, 256.

[16]  Mikhail Barabanov, "Russian Anti-Armour Weapons and Israeli Tanks in Lebanon," Moscow Defence Brief (2007).

[17] Ibid.

[18] Cambanis, A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War with Israel, 88.

[19] The International Crisis Group, “Hizbollah and the Lebanese Crisis,” The International Crisis Group

Middle East Report, no. 69 (October 2007), 7.

[20] Blanford, Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah’s Thirty Year Struggle with Israel, 394-395.

[21] Cambanis, A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War with Israel, 96.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Blanford, Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah’s Thirty Year Struggle with Israel, 394.

[24] The International Crisis Group, “Hizbollah and the Lebanese Crisis,” 1. 

[25] Ibid., 8.

[26] David Lesch, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 430.

[27] Evan Montgomery and Stacie L. Pettyjohn, “Democratization, Instability, and War: Israel's 2006 Conflicts with Hamas and Hizbullah,” Security Studies 19, no. 3 (2010), 551.

[28] Amir Kulick, “The Next War with Hizbollah,” Strategic Assessment 10, no. 3 (December 2007).

[29] The International Crisis Group, “Hizbollah and the Lebanese Crisis,” 6. 

[30] Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007),  256.

[31] Matthews, We Were Caught Unprepared, 2.

[32] Blanford, Warriors of God, 417. 


About the Author(s)

Andrew Chadwick is an Army ROTC cadet at the University of Maryland in College Park, where he also studies Military History.  In May 2013, CDT Chadwick will commission as an officer in the Army Reserves. Cadet Chadwick holds an MA in International Security from the University of Denver and a BA in Political Science from the University of Saint Mary.  CDT Chadwick previously served two years in the Maryland Army National Guard as a Combat Engineer. 


Move Forward

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 8:01pm

<blockquote>Traveling just feet above the warm water, the missiles locked in on and struck the INS Spear—an Israeli destroyer—that was patrolling the coast of Beirut. The warship, unaware of Hizbullah’s anti-shipping missile capabilities, sustained two strikes from Chinese-made C-802 missiles, setting the ship ablaze and tearing a large gash in its hull. </blockquote>

Nice job. Near the bottom of your part 1, SWJ has a link to a RAND study that I found exceptional. However, the part I've read up until now lacks the excellent ground details you provided. I look forward to a part 3 that describes your lessons from 2006. Hopefully they will include:

1) Ending the common myth that ground infantry can be in the reserves and be just as effective, responding just as fast as active infantry. Three divisions and 30,000 reservists mobilized just a week after the first attack, yet did not help substantially, did not train for weeks, and did not deploy for additional weeks as US troops would require. In contrast, the RAND article mentioned that many IAF pilots were reservists and were quite effective. Half the 119 initially cited as killed were reservists.

2) Your quote above mentioned that two missiles struck the Hanit while the RAND study cited just one struck the ship operating just 8 miles off the coast. As you mention, they were unaware of the C-802 presence. However, RAND also mentioned that a watch officer had shut off some systems without telling the Captain. The RAND study said the second missile overflew the Hanit and struck a civil freighter 35 miles off the coast. Your linked article said it was a Cambodian ship. I would make the dangerous but not unreasonable assumption that corvette systems were turned on after the first strike which may have prevented the second hit. The small ship also did not sink.

3) The Israelis had trouble resupplying their troops in Lebanon, ultimately trying some C-130 and helicopter airdrops at low altitude. Imagine the problems in fielding an overly heavy armored brigade combat team with three battalions of more thirsty US Abrams and GCVs that also must deploy to any conflict instead of being only a few miles away ala Israel.

4) The combined employment of 40-70 aircraft over Lebanon at any given time included 20 UAS able to feed video directly into cockpits of helicopters AND fighters. As a result, many medium range missiles were found and struck within about a minute of sighting. Half or more of the long-range missiles were largely struck on night one because Israeli intelligence knew where they were. Could a similar assumption be made in Iran?

5) 24,000 air-delivered munitions were employed in 34 days, with 36% (7732)being precision guided. Since many were 500-2000 lb bombs, it casts the proper light on the relative weakness of 1500 Chinese long range TBM and cruise missiles to disable multiple US and allied systems and facilities. The Israelis also employed 173,000 artillery shells and MLRS rockets which further pales the Chinese capabilities to reach and disrupt Taiwan and elsewhere.

6) The RAND study correctly applauded the ability of the IAF to synchronize extensive airpower to destroy early targets such as long range missiles (with just a 1300 lb warhead) and Hezbollah C2 nodes and Nasrallah's residence. In just 34 minutes after midnight on July 13th, the IAF used 40 aircraft to strike 93 assigned targets. Nevertheless, the IAF could not find or stop supplies of smaller rockets that continued to strike northern Israel the whole 34 days.

7) One reason those rockets could not be found is they were underground. If you have 6 years to prepare tunnels and bunkers you will be a tough nut to crack...hence the parallel problem of the US crossing the DMZ along North/South Korea. If you can strike the invader with ground and air forces BEFORE they dig in, your joint force is more effective.

8) If Israelis had employed smoke and artillery more effectively, the laser-guided ATGM and RPG-29 would have been far less deadly. An active defense capability that Israel already has and is improving would also help...instead of just insisting on more armor that complicates deployment and fuel logistics.

9) Most fighters and attack helicopters flew high enough to make SA-18 MANPADs and air defense guns irrelevant. Lift helicopters often flew low for MEDEVAC and despite heavy fire, most survived. A CH-53D was downed by a laser-guided weapon after dropping off troops killing four to include a female sergeant major...the same number killed on the Israeli corvette. Before we spend excessively citing naval threats should we constrast how many could be killed on a full CH-47F, MV-22, or future CH-53K or even an armored personnel carrier carrying a 9-13 man squad vs this Israeli corvette?


Wed, 09/12/2012 - 8:31pm

In reply to by Mark Pyruz

I did some digging about the cruise missile. Reports conflicted on whether it was Chinese made or an Iranian variant. I am guessing, however, it was probably an Iranian modified version, based on some of the newer reports about the war.

Mark Pyruz

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 11:43am

Was the AShM that knocked out the Israeli corvette of Chinese manufacture? Or was it an Iranian manufactured variant known as the Noor AShM?

It should be pointed out that the Lebanese (Hezbollah) employed the tactical use of rocket artillery in a campaign intended to undermine the economy of northern Israel, with the political consequence of eroding public support for Israel's war. Unlike the element of Israel's air war on Lebanon which had similar goals against the Lebanese and failed, the Lebanese rocket artillery campaign, while comparatively small in intensity, succeeded in sapping the will of a less hardy and less determined population. This is an important lesson from the war, applicable to a future war directed not just at Lebanon, but also at the Islamic Republic of Iran.