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Tired of Winning: How True and Why?
The Second Lebanon War and Its Failure

Aharon Levran
ACPR Policy Paper No. 170 (Hebrew), 2007


The question of victory or lack thereof in the Second Lebanon War is extremely disturbing. Even though we were not routed in the war – neither did we achieve a clear, decisive victory. Despite the fact that the Chief of the General Staff claims that we won on points, a draw would be a more appropriate characterization. Furthermore, considering its significant superiority in every military parameter, a draw is not a flattering result for Israel.

The primary reason for the non-victory lies in the spirit of “tiredness of winning”, in the belief that “the disengagement will bring more security and prosperity and much joy and pleasure to all of the nations of the Middle East” (as Olmert claimed in 2005). The spirit of those statements and the delusional belief in “peace” and the “New Middle East” since Oslo, have trickled down to significant segments of the Israeli population (which voted it into power), including the upper echelons of the army. This spirit led to the lack of preparation of the IDF for a possible war and the failure to undertake, certainly not in a timely manner, the proper, necessary military steps. The severe cuts in the military budget and striking decreases in troops and weapons, which brought about the deterioration of the ground forces and the reserves – are a practical manifestation of the quixotic spirit that has enveloped the leaders of the country and the army and most of the nation in general.

An additional central strategic reason for the non-victory was the assessment that air power alone would bring about the victory. While that assessment was not totally baseless, it was mistaken. That is because of the old, well-known principle that the Air Force alone does not win wars, although it does have the ability to contribute significantly to achieving victory and to enhancing deterrence. The mistake was also in military strategy – over-reliance on firepower at the expense of ground movement and maneuvers. And worst of all – once they became aware of the fact that the Air Force was not “delivering the goods”, it was still possible to change tactics and introduce ground forces to occupy territory and destroy enemy units.

Additional central reasons for the non-victory are tied to the severe deviation from defense theory and the principles of war. An intolerable level of terrorism and guerilla activity against Israel has always been an extremely just casus belli, and Hizbullah frequently provides it. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that it was a confrontation between rogue Iran and the United States and the West, Israel did not exploit the great opportunity to rout Hizbullah.

Despite the fact that the ultimate objective of any war is victory or clear decision, it does not appear that Israel sought a clear victory over Hizbullah and certainly not its defeat. Although Hizbullah absorbed quite a bit – by refraining from occupying the territory (at least) to the Litani River, the IDF missed the opportunity for a demonstrative victory. That is primarily because the term “occupation”, which is an elementary component of military strategy, has (totally unjustifiably) become abominable in the eyes of many in Israel.

Since Israel was “tired of winning”, not to mention that it didn't want and didn't take action to achieve a decisive victory, it formulated the objectives of the war in a nebulous, unquantifiable manner. Routing Hizbullah was not set as a clear objective of the war, and even worse, removal of the threat posed by rockets to northern Israel was not included as an objective. This was a colossal mistake as the ballistic threat is not a secondary threat but rather an intolerable strategic threat. That threat could have been neutralized had the IDF acted in accordance with the basic principle of military strategy – speedily transferring the war to enemy territory, in other words, conquering its territory by means of firepower and movement (a flanking maneuver from north to south). A course of action of that type is likely to minimize casualties and certainly to realize a clear victory.

Regarding deterrence, whose enhancement was a component of the “strategic objective” of the war – it is difficult to arrive at an unequivocally determination - only time will tell. On the one hand, the destructive power of the Air Force was displayed; Hizbullah was moved away from its extreme proximity to the border and the Lebanese Army, supplemented by an enhanced UNIFIL force, deployed in southern Lebanon. On the other hand, there were also clear IDF failures, especially on the ground and in achieving its objectives and it seems that these intensified the radicalism among the Arab public and the Palestinians vis-à-vis Israel.

For the complete text of this paper in English, click here.