Monday, August 28, 2006

From the Sunday London Times

Excerpt from The Sunday Times article of August 27, 2006 that is making waves.

Humbling of the supertroops shatters Israeli army morale

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.”

“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.”

The commander of the IDF’s northern sector, Lieutenant-General Udi Adam, could barely believe that some of his best soldiers had been so swiftly trapped; neither could the chief of staff.

“What’s wrong with the Maglans?” Halutz demanded to know. “They are surrounded,” Adam replied quietly. “I must send in more forces.”

As the war unfolded his optimism was brought crashing down to earth — and with it the invincible reputation of the Israeli armed forces.

In five weeks, their critics charge, they displayed tactical incompetence and strategic short-sightedness. Their much-vaunted intelligence was found wanting.

Their political leadership was shown to vacillate. Their commanders proved fractious. In many cases the training of their men was poor and their equipment inadequate. Despite many individual acts of bravery, some of the men of the IDF were pushed to the point of mutiny.

Critics of Halutz, a former air force commander, believe he should have sent in overwhelming forces on the ground to drive Hezbollah back from border areas where they remained active right up to the end of the 34-day conflict.

“The air force can only assist ground forces; it can never win a war — any war,” said one veteran Israeli officer last week.

Another critical factor under consideration was that Hezbollah seemed so much better prepared. They launched nearly 200 rockets a day at Israel. They used advanced anti-tank missiles with lethal professionalism and stunned their opponents with their coolness under pressure and their willingness to “martyr” themselves in battle.

“They monitored our secure radio communications in the most professional way,” one Israeli officer admitted. “When we lose a man, the fighting unit immediately gives the location and the number back to headquarters. What Hezbollah did was to monitor our radio and immediately send it to their Al-Manar TV, which broadcast it almost live, long before the official Israeli radio.”

Hezbollah appears to have divided a three mile-wide strip along the Israeli-Lebanese border into numerous “killing boxes”. Each box was protected in classic guerrilla fashion with booby-traps, land mines, and even CCTV cameras to watch every step of the advancing Israeli army.

“Our brass stupidly fell into the Hezbollah traps,” said Raphael, an infantry battalion reserve major. “The generals wanted us to attack as many villages as possible for no obvious reason. This was exactly what Hezbollah wanted us to do — they wanted to bog us down in as many small battles as possible and bleed us this way.”

The casualties from Russian-made anti-tank missiles have caused particular concern. An Israeli-invented radar defence shield codenamed Flying Jacket and costing £200,000 was installed on only four tanks. None of them was struck by anti-tank missiles.

While the regular army was reasonably well equipped, the reservists were not. “We arrived at our depots only to find that our combat gear had been opened and equipment given to regular soldiers,” revealed Moshe, a fighter in the Alexandroni brigade. “The equipment was, of course, never returned.”

The Alexandroni fought in the west, near the Mediterranean, and did well initially. But logistics were appalling. “We had no fresh water as it was too dangerous to ship it to us,” Moshe added. “I’m ashamed to admit we had to drink water from the canteens of dead Hezbollah, and break into local shops for food.”

“Conquer Bint Jbail,” Halutz told Adam, the northern sector commander. Adam is said to have replied: “Hold on, Halutz. Do you know what that means? Do you realise that the casbah [old quarter] of Bint Jbail alone contains more than 5,000 houses? And you want me to send in one battalion?” Adam nevertheless did as he was told and sent the 51st battalion of the Golani brigade to fight a heroic but hopeless, battle.

Brig Gen Gal Hirsch, the commander of the 91 Galilee division, announced: “We control Bint-Jbail.” The next day more Israeli soldiers died as they, too, were ensnared in Hezbollah’s trap.

Oded blamed the Palestinian intifada for his unit’s insufficient training. “For the last six years we were engaged in stupid policing missions in the West Bank,”
he said. “Checkpoints, hunting stone-throwing Palestinian children, that kind of stuff. The result was that we were not ready to confront real fighters like Hezbollah.” [this is BS]

On the day the chaos in Bint Jbail reached its peak, Amir Peretz, the new and inexperienced defence minister, flew to the northern border to meet reservists about to go into action.

Aviv Wasserman, a reserve major with the 300 brigade who is about to study for a doctorate at the London School of Economics, asked Peretz not to throw them into “unnecessary adventures”.

Lieutenant Adam Kima, of the combat engineering battalion, was in even more rebellious mood after being asked to take his men and clear the road leading to Bint Jbeil from the west. Studying the plan, Kima rejected the idea — 10 Israeli soldiers had already died there “We were foolishly told it was all right — there are no Hezbollah forces ahead of us,” said Corporal Nimrod Diskin, one of Kima’s soldiers. “We didn’t have the equipment to clear this road. We were not ready for the mission.”

When the brigade commander realised that Kima and his soldiers would not carry out their orders, he called the military police. The men were sentenced to 14 days in jail, although they were released a few days later.
The soldiers, most of them fathers of small children, believe Kima saved their lives.

“I noticed behaviour I’d never heard of in the Israeli army,” Kima said last week on Israeli television. “In my training I got used to the idea that the commander shouts ‘Advance!’ and is the first to face the enemy.
Here my battalion commander was in the back of the group and the brigade commander didn’t even cross the border into Lebanon.”

As the fighting dragged on, some veteran officers lost patience with what they saw as the inexperience of the chief of staff and defence minister. “What are you doing in Lebanon, for God’s sake?’ the former defence minister, General Shaul Mofaz, asked Olmert. “Why did you go into Bint Jbeil? It was a trap set by Hezbollah.”

Olmert appeared to lose confidence and began to issue conflicting orders. “Our mission changed twice, three times, every day,” complained one soldier.

Many Israelis can forget and forgive many things, but not the perceived defeat of an army that commanded worldwide respect but suddenly no longer strikes so much fear into its enemies.

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