A classical response option for a country faced with an externally inspired Low Intensity Conflict (that can drag on for decades) is to conventionalise the conflict. In so doing, its strategic objective is to impose such heavy and deterrent costs on the perpetrators /external sponsors of the Low Intensity Conflict that they are forced to call it off or scale it down drastically. To that extent (from the purely military stand point) the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in Jul-Aug 2006 can be examined as a Case Study of conventionalising a Low Intensity Conflict.
It would, therefore, be highly instructive to analyse this campaign in great detail for lessons suitable to our context. The first and foremost issue is one of a cost-benefit analysis. Has this military escalation by Israel served to deter further continuation of Low Intensity Conflict by the Hezbollah? That is the core issue for analysis. Martin Van Creveld, writing in the Royal United Services Journal (Oct 2006 issue) seems to suggest that despite the initial outcry and criticism in Israel itself (as well as abroad) this campaign has (so far) been remarkably successful in imposing peace on the Hezbollah.1
The Hezbollah was taken by surprise by the strength, ferocity and violence of the Israeli reaction. In 33 days of intense combat, Israel reacted violently to the capture of two of its soldiers by the following energetic counter measures:
- The Israeli Air Force launched 15,500 sorties, struck 7,000 targets in Lebanon, destroyed 126 long range Rocket Launchers and a great deal of the Hezbollah infrastructure and Lebanese road network and bridges serving the southern districts
- The Israeli Artillery fired over 100,000 artillery shells into the Hezbollah positions
- Israel mobilised and launched upto three Armoured/Mechanised divisions into Southern Lebanon and kept up the pressure for one month. Reportedly 500 Hezbollah fighters and 900 Lebanese civilians were killed in the fighting
- In the bargain, Israel accepted the price of a barrage of some 4000 free rockets fired into its towns and cities (it lost some 199 soldiers and some 54 civilians killed, besides hundreds more wounded)2
Martin Van Crevald makes a telling point. “Bluster as he may, Nasrullah (leader of the Hezbollah) has good reason to think twice before engaging in another adventure of the same kind”. 3He adds, “Nasrullah said that while Hezbollah is rebuilding its strength it is in no hurry to pit strength against Israel.” 4 Meanwhile the cease-fire has now held for over five months. In such a struggle, avers Martin, the side with the strongest will wins.5
The cumulative stunning impact of the colossal throw weight of the ordinance and the shock of massed air, artillery and ground assault may not have generated awe. However, it certainly seems to have succeeded in imposing peace and quiet on that low intensity conflict battlefield. To that extent, the cost benefit analysis may well centre on how long this peace with the Hezbollah will endure. This article, therefore, will steer clear of any value judgments and focus entirely on the military aspects of this conflict. The key area of analysis would be:
- Efficacy of a conventional response to a prolonged Low Intensity/Sub Conventional Conflict
- Analysis of weapons performance (especially the Russian Kornet E and Matis M Missiles against Israeli Armour)
- Analysis of Tactics and Techniques
- Analysis of Operational Art (to include escalation control and dominance).
- Training and Logistical Aspects
It is noteworthy that for a long time Israel had been wargaming precisely such a scenario where the Hezbollah would seek to capture some of its soldiers (as hostages to swap for thousands of their detainees in Israeli prisons). Alon Ben David (writing in the 23 Aug, 06 issue of the Janes Defense Weekly) had noted that one such wargame was conducted in Jun 2006 (just a month before actual operations). In this a three phase, high tempo response had been worked out as under:
- Air Offensive. A week long stand off air and artillery assault to destroy key command and control nodes and Hezbollah rockets and military infrastructure
- Ground Offensive. A major ground offensive by three divisions to mop up in the wake of the air attacks and advance up to the South Bank of the Letani river to sanitise the area. This was envisaged to take upto four weeks
- Planned Withdrawal. A methodical and phased extrication of forces spread over one to two weeks6
However, once the actual provocation came in the form of a Hezbollah ambush of an Israeli patrol on 12 Jul 06, the Israeli response seemed to be hamstrung by an uncharacteristic political over caution and unfolded in a staggered and incremental manner. Thus the Air Offensive continued for two weeks. Tremendous initial success was gained in neutralising a large number of Hezbollah long range rockets and known/suspected command and control nodes. However, thereafter the air offensive petered out due to lack of identifiable/engageable targets.
The ground offensive came in driblets. Initially raids were launched by the Special Forces. When these failed to subdue the rain of short range Katyusha Rockets, two Israeli brigades were launched. The Hezbollah was able to focus all its resources against these thrusts and they became mired in hard fighting. As almost a hundred Katyusha rockets a day continued to rain down on the Israeli cities, the long awaited major ground offensive of some seven brigades (three divisions) was launched on the 29th day of the war, just four days before the cease-fire came. Was it a case of too little too late?”
The end state that would become the basis of conflict termination had somehow gotten fixated on stopping the Hezbollah’s rain of 100 to 200 Katyusha rockets per day. These are small tube launchers, very easy to hide and difficult to locate from the air. Yet used against civilian targets, their psychological impact was tremendous. One million Israelis were forced to live in shelters and a further 250,000 migrated to Southern Israel. Some 53 Israeli civilians were killed, while thousands more were wounded.7