Ari Tatarka

Lebanon 3; Is the IDF Ready?

Open AI

As record numbers of rockets fall on northern Israel and the government threatens escalation, it seems a new Lebanon war is imminent. This article examines the successes and failures of the 2006 Second Lebanon War and its implications for a coming war with Hezbollah.

Lasting for 34 days, the war was triggered by the kidnapping of two soldiers, a part of the escalating exchanges along the border since the Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in 2000.  After over 100 IDF casualties and over 600 from Hezbollah, the war was ended by the internationally imposed ceasefire, both sides claiming victory, and Hezbollah retreating behind the Litani River.

Has anything changed? What threats face the IDF in a future confrontation with the terror organization?

This article does not reassess the 2006 war or dive into its context, only highlighting those details relevant to a future confrontation. I am not a military analyst; this article is the synthesis of several reports published by academics and military experts.

The performance of the IDF in the Second Lebanon War is widely regarded as disappointing compared to previous operations. Whether this constitutes a defeat is the most contested aspect of 2006 war and is another matter altogether.

Combined arms maneuvers, operations with coordination with more than one branch of the military, were sub-par. Ground troops only entered Lebanon in the latter half of the conflict and were met with Hezbollah forces still in fighting shape. A factor contributing to the lack of effectiveness was that IDF training was not focused on this kind of confrontation, since the First and Second Intifada, the IDF had focused on battling terrorists in less conventional settings and addressing civil unrest. While the air campaign conducted by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) was extensive, it failed at eliminating Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal and leaders. According to some, this was due to lack of intelligence and to others lack of strategic planning.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah exceeded expectations, demonstrating surprising proficiency in many aspects of combat. The leadership was able to maintain operations throughout the entire conflict but were simply surprised and overwhelmed by the degree of Israeli force.

Some analysts attribute lower Israeli military effectiveness to the lack of military experience in the political leadership, Prime Minster Ehud Olmert’s background was as mayor of Jerusalem, Defense Minister Amir Perez was known for his political acumen within the Histadrut Labor Union. The degree of impact is disputed given we do not know how much their political decisions impaired the experienced Chief of Staff Dan Halutz.

There was certainly hesitancy among military planners to engage in a full ground invasion given the public’s sensitivity to casualties. The leadership also expected an internationally imposed ceasefire to be quick in coming and did not see the benefit in large investment of ground troops. This led to a war consisting largely of aerial operations of mixed effectiveness.

The government’s approach was criticized as hasty by the Winograd Commission which was created to investigate the war. There was an apparent lack of planning before the operation and poor strategic thinking by the ground forces, this was considered be a significant factor for Israel’s apparent failure. The Winograd Commission also criticized the lack of a political solution to be implemented with the military effort. This is contradicted by some sources which attribute Israel’s loss to a lack of effective intelligence by the IAF which failed to neutralize Hezbollah’s missile capabilities.

While Hezbollah was badly damaged and forced beyond the Litani River, its ability to survive a confrontation with the IDF was integral in its propaganda efforts and made it incredibly popular with its constituents. It is important to note that this was a post-facto propaganda effort, they did not enter the conflict with narrow survival as their objective.

The nature of both combatants has changed significantly since 2006. Hezbollah, tested and strengthened in the Syrian Civil War, faces a more technologically advanced and experienced Israel. An examination of current capabilities and threats with comparisons to the major factors of the previous conflict will follow.

Israel is unlikely to attempt a complete destruction of Hezbollah, such a task would require significant investment in blood and treasure which seems beyond Israel’s apatite. Israel is more likely to seek a retreat of Hezbollah behind the Litani River and the return of an international force at the border per Security Council Resolution 1701.

Since 2006, Hezbollah has amassed an armory of somewhere between 120,000-200,000 rockets, the vast majority are estimated to be unguided short-range munitions. The threat Is largely from long-range guided munitions capable of causing tremendous damage to major Israeli cities. It is estimated that Hezbollah could launch somewhere between 3,000-4,000 rockets per day at the start of a major conflict. Suppressing such barrages would be a significant challenge for the IAF given the sheer amount and speed with which such rockets could be launched.

We can expect in any future conflict, Hezbollah will launch a significant propaganda campaign against Israel. Hamas and Hezbollah are incredibly proficient in use of media, but Hezbollah’s network for reaching the Arab world is far more extensive, including news stations and radio. However, given they have already been engaged in a propaganda war against Israel since October 7th, it is hard to imagine an invasion prompting an international reaction of significance.

Hezbollah’s support from the Arab governments has plummeted since 2006. Due to Nassralah’s involvement in Syria and alliance with Iran, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have all branded Hezbollah a “terrorist” organization. This bodes well diplomatically for Israel; a war with Hezbollah is unlikely to trigger adverse reactions from potential allies in the region.

Since 2006, Hezbollah has added tanks, armored personnel carriers, and other conventional capabilities to their arsenal. However, it is doubtful whether they would be able to effectively employ them given Israel’s complete dominance in conventional warfare, the appearance of a tank would be almost immediately met with an Israeli drone or air strike.

Of more concern is Hezbollah’s significant anti-air and anti-armor capabilities believed to include several of Russia and Iran’s most modern platforms. Amikam Norkin, ex-air force chief, stated in 2019 that Israel’s air superiority in Lebanon is no longer uncontested, air superiority was vital to the success Israel enjoyed in the 2006 engagement.

Additionally, Hezbollah’s infantry has gained experience and can operate effectively independently, historically a weakness of all Arab militaries. According to some reports, squads can set up anti-tank or missile launching positions within 28 seconds.

Hezbollah has also built extensive networks of bunkers and trenches in Southern Lebanon. These bunkers were effective in 2006 as the IAF was unable to decisively destroy their infrastructure and will likely pose a significant threat to a future Israeli operation.

However this development is not one-sided, the IDF has greatly improved its intelligence-gathering technology, AI systems like “Gospel” can process and compare massive amounts of observational data to create potential targets. This could negate Israel’s major disadvantages in the last conflict and improve IAF effectiveness.

The destruction wrought by Hezbollah munitions in 2006 promoted the protection from missiles as one of the primary influences in Israeli force design. The development and deployment of several new systems including the Iron Beam, Iron Dome, and David’s Sling will likely mitigate the destruction that was caused in the past. In the past eight months, its effectiveness has varied. Hezbollah has not attempted to hit major population centers, so the security umbrella is still untested, though it the system has fared very well against Hamas barrages.

A challenge to the Iron Dome defense system has come in the form of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). UAVs are not entirely metal and fly at lower speeds and altitudes allowing them to go undetected by the defense systems calibrated to nullify the missile threat. This was a weakness that was exploited by Hamas at the southern border who used drones to cripple the automatic detection systems. Sources within the IDF claim that rates of interception of UAVs are comparable to that of other modern militaries but seem low given the high interception average for missiles. The IDF has been attempting to address this issue since October 7th yet the threat remains significant in any future clash with Hezbollah.

With regards to a possible military operation, integration between army and air forces is far superior to 2006 and both have received valuable experience in Gaza. Additionally, unlike in 2006, any operation against Hezbollah would be meticulously planned and coordinated with all branches of the military beforehand. The strategic failings of the Olmert cabinet are unlikely to recur, the IDF has been training for a confrontation with Hezbollah, and the increased focus on the organization is part of the reason for the lack of attention on Gaza before October 7th.

Politically the outlook is shaky, support for an Israeli offensive is widespread but the political machinations and instability of the current coalition could endanger the war effort.

Ultimately some kind of Israel Hezbollah showdown is inevitable, as the status quo is unsustainable. Statistics and speculation are only useful to a point, war is always unpredictable, especially so in the Middle East.

It is worth mentioning that the estimated casualties for the operation in Gaza were far more than the real amount. Israel has adapted and refined their strategy in Gaza excellently, learning in an astoundingly short time.

Personally, I hope for a diplomatic solution but at the moment that seems unlikely. Israel cannot accept a status quo of displaced citizens and constant barrages and Hezbollah cannot be seen to retreat and abandon its Hamas ally. Regardless, let us hope for peace.

About the Author
Ari Tatarka is a student of Politics Philosophy and Economics at Monash University in Melbourne, He previously spent 2 years studying at Yeshivat Orayta in Jerusalem and has been a life long student of the humanities.
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