War Without A Plan
By Uri Avnery
20 December, 2006
the Israeli government decided, in the space of a few hours, to start
the Second Lebanon War, it did not have any plan.
When the Chief-of-Staff urged
the cabinet to start the war, he did not submit any plan.
This was disclosed this week
by a military investigation committee.
That is shocking.
A plan is not an optional
extra, something nice you can do without. A war without a plan is like
a human body without a spinal column. Would anyone think of building
a house without a plan? To put up a bridge? To produce a car? To hold
a conference? After all, unlike a house, a bridge, a car or a conference,
a war is supposed to kill people. Its very essence is killing and destroying.
Almost in every case, to
initiate a war is a crime. To start such a war without a plan and proper
preparation is totally irresponsible - heaping crime upon crime.
* * *
WHEN A STATE starts a war,
the sequence is - in simplistic terms - as follows:
(1) The government adopts
a clear political aim.
(2) The government deliberates
whether this aim can be achieved by war - after it comes to the conclusion
that it cannot be achieved by other means.
From this point on, the emphasis
moves from the political to the military leadership. Its duty is:
(3) To draw up a strategic
plan for attaining the aim decided upon by the government.
(4) To translate the strategic
plan into a tactical plan. Among others: to decide what forces are needed,
which forces will be employed, what is the target of each force and
within which time it must achieve it, as well as to foresee possible
moves by the other side.
(5) To prepare the forces
for their tasks, in accordance with their training and equipment.
A wise government will also
think about the situation it would like to have after the war, and will
instruct the military to take this into consideration while planning
Now it appears that nothing
of this sort happened. There was no clearly defined war aim, there was
no political or military plan, there were no clear objectives for the
troops and they were not prepared for the tasks they were given. Without
a central plan, nothing of these was even possible.
A war without a plan is no
war at all, but an adventure. A government that starts a war without
a plan is no government at all, but a bunch of politicians. A General
Staff that goes to war without a plan is no General Staff at all, but
a group of generals.
* * *
THE WAY events developed,
according to the inquiry committees, was like this: the government decided
on the war in a hurry, within a few hours, without defining any aim.
In the following days, several
war aims were thrown around. They followed each other in quick succession
and contradicted each other in many ways. That by itself is a recipe
for disaster: every aim demands its own methods and means, which may
be quite different from those demanded by another.
Among the aims that were
announced: the release of the two captured soldiers, the destruction
of Hizbullah, the elimination of the arsenal of missiles in South Lebanon,
the pushing of Hizbullah away from the border, and more. Beyond that
there was a general desire to have a Lebanese government that was completely
subservient to American and Israeli interests.
If competent army officers
had been instructed to draw up a plan for each of these aims, they would
soon have arrived at the conclusion that all of them were unattainable
by military means, certainly not under the circumstances.
The idea that the two prisoners
could be liberated by war is manifestly ridiculous. Like going after
a mosquito with a sledgehammer. The proper means is diplomacy. Perhaps
somebody would have suggested capturing some Hizbullah commanders in
order to facilitate an exchange of prisoners. Anything - except a war.
The destruction of Hizbullah
by a necessarily limited war was impossible, as should have been clear
from the beginning. This is a guerilla force that is part of a political
movement which is deeply rooted in Lebanese reality (as can be seen
these days on any television screen). No guerilla movement can be destroyed
by a regular army, and certainly not in one single stroke and within
days or weeks.
The elimination of the missile
arsenal? If the army command had sat down to elaborate a military plan,
they would have realized that aerial bombardment can achieve this only
in part. A complete destruction would have demanded the occupation of
all of South Lebanon, well beyond the Litani River. During that time,
a large part of Israel would have been exposed to the missiles, without
the population being prepared for it. If that conclusion had been presented
to the government, would it have taken the decision it took?
The pushing of Hizbullah
from the border by a few kilometers north is not a proper war aim. Starting
a war for that purpose, leading to the killing of masses of people and
destroying whole neighborhoods and villages, would have meant frivolity
where serious deliberation was required .
But the government did not
have to go into such deliberations. Since It did not define any clear
aim, it did not demand nor receive any military plan.
* * *
IF THE recklessness of the
political leadership was scandalous, the recklessness of the military
leadership was doubly so.
The army command went to
war without any clearly defined aim and without any plan. There were
some plans that had been prepared and exercised beforehand, without
any specific political aim in mind, but they were ignored and abandoned
as the war started. After all, who needs a plan? Since when do Israelis
plan? Israelis improvise, and are proud of it.
So they improvised. The Chief-of-Staff,
an Air Force general, decided that it was sufficient to bomb: if enough
civilians were killed and enough houses, roads and bridges destroyed,
the Lebanese people would go down on its knees and do whatever the Israeli
When this failed (as should
have been foreseen) and most Lebanese of all communities rallied behind
Hizbullah, The C-o-C realized that there was no avoiding ground operations.
Since there was no plan, he did without. Troops were sent into Lebanon
in a haphazard way, without clear objectives, without time-tables. The
same locations were occupied time and again. The end result: the forces
bit off small pieces of land on the edges of Hizbullah territory, without
any real achievement, but with heavy losses.
It cannot be said that the
war aims were not attained. Simply, there was no war aim.
* * *
THE WORST part was not the
lack of a plan. The worst part was that the generals did not even notice
The investigators of the
State Comptroller disclosed last week a startling fact of utmost importance:
most members of the General Staff have never attended any of the high
command courses which are the Israeli equivalent of a military academy.
This means that they never
learned military history and the principles of strategy. They are military
technicians, equivalent to engineering technicians or bookkeepers. I
assume that they are well versed in the technical side of the profession:
how to move forces, how to activate weapon systems, and such. But they
have not read books about military theory and the art of war, have not
studied how the leaders of armies conducted their wars throughout the
centuries, have not become acquainted with the thoughts of the great
A military leader needs intuition.
Certainly. But intuition grows from by experience - his own experience,
the experience of his army and the accumulated experience of centuries
For example: if they had
read the books of Basil Liddell Hart, perhaps the most authoritative
military commentator of the last century, they would have learned that
the battle of David and Goliath was not a confrontation between a boy
with a primitive sling and a heavily armed and protected giant, as it
is usually presented, but quite on the contrary, a battle between a
sophisticated fighter with a modern weapon that could kill from a distance
and a cumbersome combatant equipped with obsolescent arms.
In the Lebanon war, the role
of David was played by Hizbullah, a mobile and resourceful force, while
the Israeli army was Goliath, heavy, routine-bound, with inappropriate
* * *
ANYBODY WHO reads this column
regularly knows that we blew the whistle well before the war. But our
criticism then was suspect because of our opposition to the war itself,
which we considered immoral, superfluous and senseless.
Now we have several military
inquiry committees, appointed by the chief-of-Staff himself (about 40
of them!), and they, one after another, confirm our criticism almost
word for word. Not only confirm, but add a wealth of details that paint
an even darker picture.
It is a picture of utter
confusion: improvised operations, an anarchic command structure, misunderstanding
of orders, orders that were issued, cancelled and issued again, General
Staff officers giving orders directly to subordinate commanders bypassing
the chain of command.
An army that was once one
of the best in the world, an object of study for officers in many countries,
has become an inefficient and incompetent body.
The committees do not answer
a basic question: how did this happen?
* * *
EXCEPT FOR a few hints here
and there, the committees do not say how we got here. What has happened
to the Israeli army?
This, too, we have said many
times: the army is the victim of the occupation.
Next June, the occupation
of the Palestinian territories will "celebrate" its 40th anniversary.
There is no precedent for such a long military occupation regime. A
military occupation is by its very nature a short-term instrument. In
the course of a war, the army conquers enemy territory, administers
it until the end of the war, when its fate is decided by a peace agreement.
No army is happy with the
role of an occupying force, knowing that this destroys it, corrupts
it from inside, damages it physically and mentally, diverts it from
its most important function and imposes on it methods that have nothing
to do with its real mission - to defend the state in war.
With us, the occupation became,
almost from the beginning, a political instrument for the attainment
of objectives that are foreign to the function of "Defense Forces".
In theory, it is a military regime, but in practice it is a colonial
subjugation, in which the Israeli army mainly fulfills the shameful
task of an oppressive police force.
In today's army, there is
no officer on active service who remembers the Israel Defense Forces
from before the occupation, the army that grew up in the "small"
Israel within the Green Line, that defeated five Arab armies in six
days, commanded by the brilliant General Staff under Yitzhak Rabin.
All the commanders of the Second Lebanon War started their career when
it was already an occupation army. The last military success of the
Israeli army was achieved early in the occupation period, a generation
ago, in the Yom Kippur war,
An army whose job is to uphold
the occupation - "targeted killings" (approved this week by
the Supreme Court in a shameful decision), demolition of homes, mistreating
helpless civilians, hunting stone-throwing children, humiliating people
at innumerable roadblocks and the hundred and one other daily doings
of an occupation army - has shown that it is not fitted for real war,
even against a small guerilla force.
* * *
THE CORRUPTION of the Israeli
army and the rot that has set in, exposed in all their ugliness by the
investigations of the war, are a danger for the State of Israel.
It is not enough to remove
the Chief-of-Staff (whose clinging to his post is another scandal added
to the scandals of the war), nor is it enough to change the whole high
command. There is a need for reform from the top to the bottom, a change
of the army in all sectors and all grades. But as long as the occupation
lasts, there is no point in even starting.
We have always said: the
occupation corrupts. Now it has to be said with a clear voice: the occupation
is endangering the security of Israel.
Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom.
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