Military analyst Anthony Cordesman rips the strategy so far by Israel--and the U.S.:
Most modern combat...will be wars against enemies that use terrorism, insurgency, and asymmetric tactics and fight at the political and ideological level. Winning will require victory at that political and ideological level, and in the tactics of shaping the psychological, perceptual, and media dimensions of the conflict.
Defeating the enemy will not be more important than winning the support, or at least tolerance, of the population. Local, regional, and global perceptions of the conflict will be as important in sustaining a war, and in terminating conflict on favorable and lasting terms, as the number of enemies captured and killed.
Israel has so far failed to understand this in Lebanon as the US to some extent failed to understand it in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. This is all too natural in wartime, and Israel - unlike the US with the exception of the attacks on 9/11 -- is under direct attack. “Understandable,” however, is not “excusable” in modern war. Carelessly seeking immediate tactical advantage at the cost of major strategic risks and penalties is stupid and dangerous. Creating more enemies than you kill is self defeating; making it politically and ideologically impossible to end a war and so is spreading new levels of anger and hatred to other countries and/or factions....
Modern war is going to be war fought by both state and non-state actors that seek to compensate for US, Israeli, and other countries' conventional military superiority by using populations and civil facilities as a shield, and constantly finding and exploiting new ways to use civilian casualties and collateral damage as ideological, political, psychological, and media weapons. It is also a duel that favors the enemy actor. It is easier and cheaper to disperse, shelter, hide, and collocate, and then exaggerate and lie if civilian casualties and collateral damage occur.
The officer or official who responds by accusing such enemies of being cowards or endangering their own people is simply stupid, incompetent, and obsolete. Quite aside from the fact that the US and UK found no problem in using the same tactics against Nazi Germany, and democratic resistance fighters have used them in many wars, such talk is based on the fundamental strategic and tactical fallacy that wars have rules based on the past. Enemies always seek to fight on advantageous terms and modern enemies will seek to fight below our level of conventional military advantage at the tactical level and above it at the ideological level.
It is equally stupid, incompetent, and obsolete to simply call such enemies “terrorists” and talk about “democracy.” This may work within the confines of Israel or the Beltway, but wars are being fought for the minds and perceptions of very different people with very different values. Ethnic identity; perceiving such tactics as authorized by God or as the only workable route to liberation and “freedom fighting;” putting faith and culture first are military realities that no amount of prattle about universal Western values is going to defeat.
It may simply be too late for Israel to react in this war. It entered it based on deeply flawed grand strategic and tactical principles, and seems to have fought the ideological and political dimension on the basis of the perceptions of Israelis and Americans. The IAF and IDF have so far been clumsy in both air and artillery operations, and sought tactical advantage at serious risk of excessive civilian casualties and collateral damage. Military cultures do not change in mid-operation and the incredibly clumsy IDF and Israeli government response to Qana is a case in point. Israel will, however, have to learn in the future if it does not want to take a largely passive region and turn it into an active enemy.
The question for the US is will it learn in time to win in Iraq and Afghanistan, and seek the new military reality it faces in shaping its force transformation. One critical case will be the battle of Baghdad, where any major American mistake could alienate large numbers of Sunnis - or more seriously - turn a large number of Shi'ites against the US. Baghdad is a political struggle for stability and security; not a counterinsurgency campaign...
More broadly, however, the Bush Administration and US military need to drastically reshape their priorities and methods to deal with suspected terrorists and detainees.
(Cordesman's analysis arrived via email, and it's not online yet that I've seen.)
Israel's response, says Greg Djejerian, was more an "ill-advised temper tantrum than a serious military operation." That's a notch more condescending than I'd put it. But it gets the general dynamics right: Israel, I suspect did act out more out of emotion than reason. Israel certainly had a right to respond. The question--that I think we know now the answer to--is whether it was wise to respond with such an overwhelming air campaign.*
* I think one of the underappreciated dynamics that's driven Israel's strategy so far has been the degree to which Israel was traumatized by its 20-year grinding ground-war in Lebanon.
The air war, I suspect, was basically an attempt at a cheap solution: This time, the thinking went, our soldiers won't get stuck in the mud. We'll take down Hezbollah via the air. It was such a perfect solution--we can take down Hezbollah without the kind of messy ground-war that so traumatized us-- that what was tossed aside was the overwhelming evidence that fighting guerrillas via the air almost never works.