Dr Marwan Asmar
The writer is director of research and analysis at Writelabs, an
Israel's last war on Lebanon is changing public perception about the
Zionist state that hitherto existed, as an entity living by the sword
and achieving regional dominance and compliance because of its military
status as a mini-superpower that dictated its will on the rest of the
people's and states of the Middle East.
When it started its self-declared war on Lebanon on 12th July, Israel
thought it could "teach Hizbollah a lesson it will never forgot" and do
so in a very short time. Ten days latter it was ready to call it a day
being stopped only by the United States which was fighting its own war
on what it called global terrorism. America hoped by prolonging the war,
Israel could crush Hizbollah once-and-for-all.
However, the war went on for 34 days with Israel only too glad to accept
the United Nations resolution which called for ceasefire. The resolution
also, was the subject of much haggling between the United States and
France, and whose only continuation caused more death and destruction in
Lebanon and added to the fear of Israelis who endured daily rockets on
their northern towns, cities, villages and settlements.
It was clear from day one of the Israeli aerial bombardment the Jewish
state wanted to flatten Hizbollah from the air causing much damaged to
south Beirut, southern Lebanon and some areas of the Bekaa Valley.
But it was also clear such strategy was failing. Hizbollah maintained
its fighting capability even 34 days after the war, and as recognized by
international experts and Israelis themselves who thought the
organization had the stamina and military fire-power with considerable
stocks of armory and weapons.
The only thing Israel succeeded in was bombing Lebanese cities, its
roads, bridges, petrol stations, power stations and its buildings and
flat apartments many of whom were razed to the ground and many made
derelict. By the first 10 days 2000 tons on Lebanon 2000 bombs were
dropped on Lebanon. Another figure was given on the 17th day of the war
with some saying 6,330 tons of tnt being dropped on the country.
Totally unexpected however, was the stiff resistance put up by Hizbollah,
a non-state actor that found itself fighting a power that unleashed all
of its military power on an adjacent sovereign state, Lebanon, and which
had no part in the developing conflict and took the brunt of the
As Israel started its war, it imposed a land, air and sea blockade and
this remained for the duration of the war and beyond�a incursion of
international law but little was done about this as the United Nations
were haggling about what to do about the stopping of the war on Lebanon.
Israel had once again reinforced the prevailing stereotype that
developed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s which saw Lebanon as its
traditional backyard it could invade, butcher and terrorize at will.
Lebanon was Israel's punching bag to be used and abused.
But not so this time! Very quickly, the war on Hizbollah proved no easy
feat and a strategic miscalculation that lead to dire consequences. By
opening a second front on Hizbollah, as Israel is already fighting the
Palestinians in Gaza and some areas of the West Bank, it was committing
itself to a protracted strategy it was not sure it could sustain for a
long time nor win. That was the serious miscalculation of over-rating
its own military capability and under-playing the military capability of
its opponent. Indeed its own people shortly after the war criticized the
Israeli military machine for being far too lax and confident about its
Up till then Israel had been used to quick fixes and short-term
conflicts as in the 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1983 wars which lasted for
short periods of time. The wars were sharp and shrill with Israel
building a reputation for itself as a tough military machine, despite
the fact that it nearly lost the 1973 war and had not been for the
American military airlift it would have had a tough time in beating its
opponent, Egypt, and may have lost the war all together.
And thus flexing its muscles generally became its modus operandi. Their
top-notch American military weapons coupled with their own burgeoning
indigenous military industry allowed Israeli military planners to stress
on developing, innovating and adapting the weapons they already and had
virtually assured them of a large degree of military successes. As a
result they had been gearing their soldiers, planes, tanks and artillery
into an offence strategy of maximum response, based on achieving
objectives as quickly as possible.
This is what they had been thinking about when they decided to attack
Hizbollah through a maximum bombardment strategy. For them it was one
more war of "going in, fleshing out the target, and leaving." But many
experts saw such a strategy of massive and violent series of attacks
from the air bombing as disproportionate. The bombing was not at
specified targets and objects as was claimed by Israel but more like
target bombing on a mass scale of south Beirut and the rest of the areas
in southern Lebanon.
Such destruction negated the view of smart bombs and precision bombings
that was said to characterize modern wars. This conflict was as
destructive as any other, sending home the message there is no neat,
specific, controlled wars. Like all wars, the last war was very
destructive, destroying chunks of infrastructure and creating streams of
people scurrying for their lives, killing of civilians, injuries and the
displacement of people. Thousands of foreigners, either staying in
Lebanon or are on holiday there were quickly evacuated by French,
British, Italian and American navy ships.
They were leaving behind their compatriots, the ordinary people of
Lebanon, who were making their way up from the south of the country that
started soon after the bombings of such towns as Sidon, Tyre, Sour,
Nabatiyah, Qana, Maraj Ayoun and Baalbek from the west. From television
pictures and reporting it looked like a conflagration of bombing on a
helpless country and its people.
In the first week and according to United Nations figures, up to 500,000
started fleeing their homes and moving upwards to safety, moving in
stages and staying in different towns in a bid to reach the capital. The
figure increased to 1 million at the end of the war most of whom came to
camp in Beirut's Sanayeh park and schools and convents, at relatives or
and in rented flats for those who can afford it.
The aerial bombardment strategy had not flattened Hizbollah. Ten days
into the war Israeli Prime Minister came on television saying his
country's airforce destroyed 50 percent of Hizbollah's capability but
this was to prove a false and untrue statement and part of a public
relations campaign to boost the morale of its soldiers and calm the
fears of its people in the north who were being showered with Hizbollah
rockets on a daily basis.
But it was also clear Israel's bombardment strategy was not working in
destroying Hizbollah and that's why they embarked on a land-war strategy
to try to push Hizbollah north of the Litani River around 20 kilometers
from the Lebanese-Israeli border. This very soon became its new
strategy, many would say a climb-down on its original objectives to free
two of its soldiers kidnapped by Hizbollah and to crush the
The ensuing battles were proving very tough for the Israelis, toughness
that was to continue till the end of the war. Despite their weapons,
tanks, armory and men, starting with few thousands and ending with more
than 35,000 soldiers at the end of the war, the Israeli army was stuck
in around two to three kilometers inside Lebanese territory and unable
to move forward because of the stiff resistance and the fierceness of
the battles taking place and concentrated in town-lets just inside the
The year 2006 was not 1978 when Israel first invaded Lebanon nor 1982
when its army led by Ariel Sharon established a self-declared buffer
zone, occupying the south of the country for the next 18 years and only
leaving after a series of bloody noses from the same Hizbollah that it
was now fighting. This time there is a strong resistance, it has further
built up its military capabilities in the south, is seen as a
disciplined fighting force with perception, tactics, the armory and the
manpower to deal inflicting blow-after-blow on the enemy.
Israeli troops were not going to rail-road in to the Litani River and
beyond because of the new political, military and strategic situation
that did not exist before, namely Hizbollah's political and military
steadfastness and regional relations, prominently with Iran and Syria.
The south was now controlled by Hizbollah with the presence in strategic
areas located along the border with Israel, and in the center of the
south. Its fighters new their country well and they were ready for a
Even in the land-war, Israel's military downplayed its card. From they
start, they were stuck in a military quagmire just few kilometers inside
the Lebanese border hampered in little market and hill-top towns like
Maaroon Al Raas, Bint Jbail, Itaroon, Ita Al Shaab, Kufr Kella, Sirafa,
Al Nabatiya and Al Khayam. These became the resistance front-lines. It
was here that Israeli soldiers and their military hardware were taken a
battering with deaths and casualties mounting and Mirkeva tanks
destroyed. The Israeli advance was being blocked as if Hizbollah
fighters were telling them to "move at your own peril if you can."
Some of these towns were viciously and totally destroyed by Israeli
warplanes and tanks when Zionist soldiers were unable to conquer them
and move forward. The steadfastness in these towns was showing these
were new times and new battles that came to last from four or five days
till 10 and 20 days. Now, it was the Israeli bravado that was being
tested and losing out.
In Maroon Al Raas, on the edge of the border, the battle for the town
lasted for four days. After heavy fighting the Israelis said they took
the hill town, then they lost it, then they took it again, but in the
end they were seen withdrawing back to their side of the border, which
they denied, euphemistically, calling the pull-back as tactical
redeployment. They were regrouping evidently to fight elsewhere and try
their luck elsewhere.
Unable to occupy Maroon Raas, they concentrated on Bint Jbail. After
much fighting that lasted for seven tough days, the Israeli elite units
gave up, withdrawing under heavy fire. By their own admission Israeli
soldiers had to carry their dead and injured under heavy fire and had to
use their tanks to ferry them back to helicopters to be buried and
treated in Israel.
Through media reports Israeli soldiers latter described the battles of
Bint Jbail as "hell on earth" and the fact that the resistance fighters
were professional and used clever tactics to fight, certainly much
better than anything they have been used to with the Palestinians in
Gaza and the West Bank. But what they failed to say that there, the
Palestinians are under occupation and stripped of any meaningful armory
whereas in Lebanon, they are an invading force in an unchartered
territory and terrain.
Ita Al Shaab, just inside the Lebanese side of the border, was another
hill-top town where fighting was intense and carried on effectively till
the end of the war. Ita Shaab can be seen as the place were the conflict
started for it was here that the two Israeli soldiers were abducted. But
like Bint Jbail, it too put up stiff resistance, and fighting continued
for most of the war. Ita Al Shaab will definitely go down in the history
The whole of the south was up-in-arms during the war, experiencing
mini-revolutions while the world watched. Marj Ayoun, Nabatiyah, Kufr
Kala Al Taybeh and Jabal Al Tufah were among the many areas that were
targeted but areas where resistance was tough. Although Israel played
the sectarian card unwilling to touch Christian areas in a bid to divide
and rule, towns like Marj Ayoun were not spared the bombings and in turn
But Israeli anger was shown time and especially when they were not able
to control these places and move forward as specified in the land war
strategy they put forward. And as their soldiers were forced back and
withdrawal the different Lebanese town-lets were subjected to massive
bombardment. Bint Jbail was bombed for two hours continuously beyond
recognition, displaying the sheer callousness of the Israelis and their
wanton destruction of their military machine.
Angry and disturbed with their inability to control and occupy Israeli
soldiers nevertheless wanted to send a message to the people of these
border towns and villages that they will not be safe if they harbored
Hizbollah fighters, but most of the civilians had left by then, and the
only people around were the fighters, who would leave once the fighting
It was houses, buildings and amenities that were being destroyed and
these were the sole property of civilians and used by ordinary people
who streamed back to pick up the pieces and put their lives together
once the war was over.
Estimated damage of Lebanese infrastructure was put at $2 billion and as
the war ended, it became easy to see why through more television
satellites which had been transmitting the war live. Despite Israel's
insistence that the war was against Hizbollah, this was no limited war,
it was a war for the uprooting of whole areas, with towns and cities
taken apart, buildings demolished and flats, homes and houses unfit to
live in, debris was everywhere.
But Israel was paying for its misdeeds as well. This time, and to the
surprise of everyone, the ordinary people of Lebanon, people of the
region and their governments, to the international community and
Israelis themselves, the war was proving tough with well thought out
strategies, tactics, and military perspectives never before thought and
From day one, Hizbollah leaders said "we are ready for war", their
unexpected armories in Katyasha weapons, their method of attack, their
tactics and their professionalism was vouched for not only by experts,
military leaders, and foreign leaders but by Israeli soldiers in the
field who said that they had not expected to find such levels of
Lebanese cities were being bombed�up to 2000 tons of bombs were dropped
on them in the first week, and 3000 air raids, euphemistically called
sorties, over 1500 targets including the land war. But all these hadn't
prevented Hizbollah from reaching Israel.
The war had very quickly introduced new military equations and doctrines
which Israel had not seen nor prepared for. The element of surprise was
in the hands of the resistance.
Israeli politicians and military strategists had not believed it at
first and sought to play down its intensity. What was becoming
increasingly clear was Israel for the first time in its history was
becoming vulnerable to missiles from the sky. This was a first time
occasion sustained on a daily basis over a period of 34 days not stop.
Whereas it military doctrine and strategy in the past decades centered
on "strategic depth" using the geographical areas of the West Bank,
Golan Heights and even Gaza as areas for its security, Israel's war on
Lebanese territory, was proving such military concept as outdated,
racist because of its occupation and colonial connotations and not
useful as a first line of defense.
And strategic depth is neither morally nor ethically right in this
context because it continued to harp on the necessity of occupation,
linkage and dependency.
Strategic depth was proving useless in this war for the whole of the
Israeli north was becoming hostage to a barrage of rockets fired from
different areas of the south of Lebanon. The intensity was so strong,
unexpected and with a strong element of surprise that some suggested
that headlines should go like this: "Israel under attack".
For the first time Israeli cities towns, villages and settlements became
under attacks from the air and the daily barrage of rockets was between
80, 100, 150, 160, 180, 220 and even 300.
By the 12th day into the war Israel's Defence Minister Amir Paretz
reported that 2200 rockets landed on Israel's north including Nahariya,
Natanya, Haifa, Tiberias, Nazareth, Safad, Aflouh, Bissan and Maarj Ibn
Amer (both considered to be in the strategic depth of the 1948 Arab
areas of Israel).
By the end of 34 days, around 4000 rockets had landed on Israel, a first
time record, in the 57-year Arab-Israeli conflict. Many Israeli
settlements were hit for the first time including Kufr Youfal, Maeim
Barouch, Al Muglah, Carmiel and Kirayat Shamona. Up to 1000 rockets
landed on this settlement which lead to many of the settlers streaming
out of their houses which in the end was abandoned by virtually
everyone, a first time development in Israel's history.
The war was costing Israel $200 million daily, but its leaders, or those
that are in the White House were determined it should go on. And
unfettered by the cost which is no doubt to be siphoned off from
American tax payers money, the war battered the Israeli economy for a
whole month as 2 million people were told to stay indoors.
Experts said that up to half a million Israelis where in the direct
range of incoming missiles. However the most important commercial center
to be hit on a daily basis was Haifa, Israel's second largest city after
Tel Aviv. With a population of 270,000, the city is home to Israel's
petro-chemical industry with a major oil refinery there.
The city went into a virtual standstill as its population kept going in
and out of bunkers as sirens went off through out the days in the city
with people having very little appetite for work. One Israeli, Moshe,
was reported by a BBC website to have gone in and out of his bunker 17
times in one day because of sirens. Because of this reports that many of
the factories in Haifa ceased to function was widely believed simply
because there was no available manpower as it was suggested more than
8000 Israelis left their homes and moved further down south.
Israel and Israelis would best remember this war for its psychology
which started from day 2 when Hizbollah rockets had maimed the military
boat that missiled the Hizbollah headquarters in the southern district
of Beirut. That boat was seen by satellite pictures as quietly being
toed to Israel.
The fact that no more was said about it, the incident that sparked off
the 1 month war suggests that Israeli planners were still fathoming what
had happened. But this was only the beginning of the psychological
shocks for the second was the Israeli strikes on Israel's strategic
While Haifa was always the common denominator to be reached, Hizbollah
hit the town of Afoulah, 10 kilometers south of Haifa through its Khibar
1 rocket which had a 100 kilograms of tnt warhead which suggested more
devastation on Israelis who had always thought they are tucked away from
troubles in the Middle East.
Indeed Hizbollah's Secretary General Sheikh Hassan NasserAllah said we
are now at a point of striking beyond Haifa, and everyone was waiting
for missile strikes on Tel Aviv and stayed watching the television sets.
This did not happen, but Hizbollah was trying to create the impression
that they will, and they are on the verge of doing so. They were trying
to create parallelism, and a strategic equality with Israel, conveying
the message "if you continue to hit our cities, towns and villages we
will hit yours."
But it was a controlled parallelism confined to the almost exclusive use
of katyusha rockets rather than other Hizbollah long-term missiles which
experts argued they possessed and were willing to use. There was an
element of calculation in how much would be used and which targets would
And there was a lot of psychology in Hizbollah actions. The barrage of
rockets made sure of that. The furthest the rockets reached were near
Bissan and Marj Bin Aamer, near Jenin in the north of the West Bank and
those settlements in the Jordan Valley showing that it was now incoming
rockets that were reaching Israeli depth and that Israel is no longer
capable of protecting itself.
The last war has in advertently established new parameters. While Israel
may still be the strong man in the region, the issue is now for how
long? Israel's military showmanship has been badly dented by a non-state
actor like Hizbollah, and if this is presently the case, many are
arguing that imagine what the scenario would like like if a
fully-fledged state in the region armed to its teeth decide take on
Israel, after all, this is what happened previously in 1967 and more
importantly in 1973.
It is this that should now occupy the mind of Israeli politicians and
military strategists. They started a war of their own choosing, but such
a conflict opened up a can of worms for them, issues related to state
power, militarization and distinct brands of nationalisms which some
regional states may well consider of ways of contemplating.
And Israelis are already angry with the outcome of the war, calling it a
major unnecessary failure, but Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
struck back telling the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee
how could this be considered a failure be if half of Lebanon is
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