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12 August 2006


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Col. Lang: For us non-military types, could you explain what the IDF is spending its money on? I thought the Pentagon had cornered the market on spending more than $400 billion/year and still failing to outfit our troops with basic equipment.

Piotr Chmielarz

I agree with author of this comment. In my opinion from 2000 israeli army doesn't fight with any serious opponnet. I think that everybody can agree that operation against palestinian organisation can be called rather police action then war. Palestinian organisation despite bravery of their militiants aren't serious opponent for IDF. I think too that case of such peformance of this army is that troops from private to generals think that noone arabic army can win with them so they doesn't spend enough time for training. the same can be told about intelligence service.

br. t.

I'm new here to your blog and I just want to say how very impressed I am (blown away actually) with your analysis of the situation in Lebanon. It may very well be the first great battle of the 21st century unfolding before us and I'm sure it will be studied for years and years to come. The implications surrounding this siege of Lebanon will be far-reaching and profound. I can almost feel the ground beneath my feet start to shift as the political/social/religious/military ramifications of this battle start to reverberate throughout the world. I think your really nailing the military analysis of it. Bravo, great work.

Anyways, It seems like Israel is now making a desperate dash for the Litani river, even throwing out commando units far ahead in apparent hopes of grabbing positons and THEN agreeing to the ceasefire. Considering their less then stellar efforts so far at acquiring and/or securing much of anything in Lebanon over the past 5 weeks I was wondering what you thought of their chances of pulling this last second gambit off? And of HA allowing a ceasefire to go forward under such tactics by the IDF?

Keep up the great work.

Rex Brynen

Actually, most of the pictures I've seen in the Israeli press are not of TOW clones, but actual US-manufacture TOWs:



The production dates on the boxes are 2001--well past the Israeli delivery of TOWs to Iran in 1986 (as part of Iran-Contra).

I've seen one picture of what looked like a Kornet tube, but my ATGM identification skills aren't so strong that I can tell for sure.

W. Patrick Lang


The Israeli government is threatened by a failure of confidence in the electorate concerning its competence. The long expressed demand by ground officers for a drive to the Litani is underway as a kind of minimal satisfaction of the goals that Israel said it had in the early stages of the war.

The IDF wants to do this because it, too, is facing a crisis of confidence, in their case, on the part of their troops, especially reservists.

In Re IDF attainment of the Litani phase line, this will prove nothing. Like the WH, the Israelis do not seem to be willing to understand that HA is a Lebanese force with its roots inthe villages that the IDF will bypass on the way to the Litani. A retired general commentator on Fox said yesterday that after reaching the river the IDF will "mop-up" behind itself in those villages.

The homes of the men that the IDF has been fighting are in those villages. Does Israel intend to de-populate Lebanon south of the Litani?

Nasrallah made it clear today that HA will observe the terms of the Resolution but will continue to fight the IDF as long as they are in Lebanon. He said nothing about disarming, but that HA would cooperate with Lebanese troops....

Matthew: I have no idea how the IDF have been spending their Money so poorly, but am sure that someone is going to tell us. pl


I found an article about light infantry, namely Australia's 9th ID in North Africa, that strongly reminded me of IDF vs Hezbollah:

'The third example, places light infantry in a static defense against armor. In April and May 1941 the German Afrika Korps met defeat when they encountered an outnumbered Australian unit at Tobruk. The 9th Australian Division was not operating in a high-intensity battlefield as defined today. However, considering the technology available in 1941 and the environment of the battle, it was high-intensity for its era. The 9th Division organized its defense as a strongpoint in depth with a mobile reserve. This division was well supported with separate brigades of armor and numerous anti-tank and field artillery battalions. The key to the success of this division was the close cooperation and coordination of inf antry, armor, artillery, and engineers.

The 9th Division used the depth of its defense to its advantage. It did not have sufficient forces to be strong everywhere along the front, so its commander chose to establish pockets of resistance. Enemy armor units were allowed to penetrate friendly forward units in preplanned areas so that they would be destroyed in designated kill zones within the strongpoint. The light infantry used aggressive, deep patrolling to deny the enemy close-in observation and maintained all-around security against surprise
attack by enemy armor.

The Australians learned two unique lessons from this experience. First, the artillery and the anti-tank guns are the nucleus of the defense. Second, these forces must be integrated with the infantry units and engineer obstacles. In support, the infantry must be organized to defend these weapon systems and the sectors of fire for the AT weapons must be established and maximum effective marked on the ground with reference points.

However, it should be noted, this process is time consuming and must take into account the preparation time for individual and crew-served weapon fighting positions. ...

Light infantry forces stress high quality leadership, confidence, and self reliance. The result is a small unit that is decisive and offensively oriented. The chaotic environment of the battlefield will find individuals fighting not in mass formations, but in small disjointed groups working independently from one another, but toward a common objective. Groups of fighting men on foot will still reign supreme.'


Replace 'anti-tank guns' with missiles and RPGs and 'field artillery' with mortars and missiles you pretty much get the picture. The only thing Hezbollah is apparently lacking is an armor component that allows for a quick counterstrike - but then, maybe they have something else to make good for this. Their success is no miracle.


Badtux, while I agree there is nothing supernatural about HA, even if they are getting the nickname of the "ghost army" I don't their acheivement should be measured by the number of casulties they inflict but by their ability so far to stop the march of the IDF. Ironically, I dont beleive even Nasrallah and the HA war council expected the fromtline to last as long as it has because he stated in an earlier speech that their goals were exactly the opposite when he said "geography doesn't matter, casulties do", meaning he fully expected them to advance but to take casulties. I think you're right that IDF tactics have meant their losses have been kept to a minimum but so have their gains. I think you can conclude that either the IDF command is not fully signed up to this campaign (US Neo-con involvement?) or that they thought it would be much easier than it turned out and had no plan B.

Col., An accurate and succint analysis. As I said previously, HA's goal now is to stop the war to end the suffering. All demands made of them by UN resolutions have loopholes you can drive a tank through (as may I add all demands of Israel). You can't monitor redeployment of a guerilla force especially not, like you say, they want those guerillas out of the very areas they live in.


pl asks: "Does Israel intend to de-populate Lebanon south of the Litani?"

Yes, they are preparing for this and most of the population is gone. The irregation channels are bombed away. Some towns have been hit with thousands(!) of 155mmm. There will nothing to go back to for those who flead.

On Bad Tux piece on data point:

"Day 32 of fighting claims lives of seven Israel Defense Forces soldiers: Seven fighters were killed Saturday and 84 were injured, 11 of them sustaining serious wounds, in a series of fire incidents in southern Lebanon.

A group of fighters were hurt early Saturday in an accident in the eastern region, when an IDF tank which accompanied the infantry forces reversed and accidentally hit them.

IDF sources noted that the accident apparently happened due to lack of coordination between the infantry force and the tank team."

Bad coordination between tanks and infantry is lack of training. One needs to train this on and on.

The German tanks I used to ride have a phone at the rear end for communicating with acompaning infantry. Do Merkava's have such?


A number of Israeli commentators have recently written about the unpreparedness of the IDF ground forces for actual warfare.

One of them, writing in Ha'aretz, noted that the IDF had not held large unit exercises for several years, and that performance measures were based more on numbers of Palestinians detained than on more military parameters.

If this is the case, then this would seem to call for a reorganization of IDF ground forces into a more paramilitary organization, trained to deal with internal security and counterterrorism; and a field--or strike--force to train against external and more conventional threats.

The former force would be made up of conscripts and reservists, the latter of long-serving volunteers.


On the problems the IDF is so assiduously demonstrating, I would highly recommend, "The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History of The Israeli Defense Force," by Israeli defense maven Martin Van Creveld. Although written in 1998, before the Second Intifada and the pullout from Lebanon, Van Creveld charts the downward spiral of the IDF in its later years due to becoming an expensive Police Force, predicting their current inadequacies. He quotes Lao Tsu: "A sword, plunged into salt water, will rust."

Van Creveld warned: "Among the commanders, the great majority can barely remember when they trained for and engaged in anything more dangerous than police-type operatons; in the entire IDF there is now hardly an officer left who has commanded so much as a brigade in a REAL war. Taking the behavior of the Argentines in the Falklands as our example, one shudders to think what IDF commanders and troops would do if under full-scale attack by real-life soldiers armed not with rocks and knives but with missiles, cannons and tanks."


The IDF reminds me of the Argentine Army that fought in the Falklands: very good at fighting unarmed civilians, but not so good at fighting professional soldiers in a real war.

The incredible mistake that Israel made was spending the first week or more of the war "Looking For Mr. Good Shlepper". Did they really think French troops would relieve them in mid-battle to fight the "terrorists"?

Once it became clear that the Israeli's were not terribly interested in fighting their own battle, I don't think Hezbollah took them very seriously anymore.

Recall the importance of the first battle, as in the Civil War.


Matthew: "For us non-military types, could you explain what the IDF is spending its money on?"

It looks like its spent on lots of tech and "high concepts." There's a fair amount of information here:


I think a minor but perhaps not negligible cause of their sluggish performance over the last month may be that the IDF runs on a Windows platform.

"The system accommodates sophisticated weapons' sights, the VIPER an integrated weapon based fire control system, command and control system, which can run on laptop computers and ITL's new wearable computer, to support battle planning, tactical movement, target acquisition, task allocation, situational awareness, and post mission debriefing. Hundreds of such units, controlled under computer based command and control systems are operational with the IDF ... After evaluating several options and fielding an initial XP based system, ITL decided opted [sic] to use the power saving Windows CE to drive their computer, taking advantage of its efficiency and modest power consumption."

Not all that reliable and certainly not all that secure.

John Howley

Israeli dissidents have long railed against the occupation citing its corrosive effects on the moral and legal fiber of the new nation. Now we see the corrosive effects on the military itself.
Another fundamental change in Israeli society has been the fading of the old Labor-Zionist model of equality and collective sacrifice. It has been replaced by privatization and the mentality of "I've got mine." Israel's biggest domestic problem is an exploding poverty rate (Peretz ran well on this issue in the last election).
The individualistic, market-oriented culture seems not to fit well with an army based around universal service and reserves. A shift to a professional army is long overdue.
But then, it wouldn't make sense to use professionals to police the West Bank--draftees and reservists are cheaper. We're back to that pesky problem of the occupation.
The occupation represents a mortal danger for Israel; their elite was partway to realizing this...now they'll just get distracted again.

Bob Gaines

Col. - I looked at a contour map of south Lebanon, and it appears to be pretty rough country, as suggested by the description of Merkavas being fired on from hillsides and from behind. I was a tank platoon leader and company commander in the 60s, and I've forgotten a lot, but I can't imagine a tank unit going into a confined or rugged area without lots of infantry support. Even reservists would know that would be awful risky. Are the Israelis really that untrained? What am I missing?


Very interesting post and comments. I am still amazed, as a non-maven in military matters, that the IDF is as hollow as it appears. Moving tanks into a "kill box" sounds like such an elemental mistake. And if you do it early in the war, shouldn't you have modified your tactics by now?

The idea that the IDF is rusty because all it's been doing is police work is also very interesting. But how does an army stay sharp? No one want Israel fighting a full-scale war every decade.

Col. Lang writes "The Israeli government is threatened by a failure of confidence in the electorate concerning its competence." Yes, indeed. I expect the present government to fall within a year, probably sooner. And I see Netanyahu's name cropping up more and more in news accounts.

I had hoped his political career was about over, but he may be the next PM. And there will be another war with Hezbollah in the next few years, unless Hezbollah mutates into a peaceful Lebanese governing party, which I doubt.


Israel has lost big time.


The Argentineans were also surprised by their enemy. But they were fully aware that the British troops especially the RMC the Paras and the SAS were exceptionally able.

The British Governments, politically motivated, will to resist after years of signaling total disinterest in the Falklands or any of their former colonial projects that was unexpected.

I’d make another parallel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Isandlwana a far greater defeat of an arrogantly confident colonial army confronted with an army they regarded as racially inferior but that happened to be lead by more able tacticians. I’d also note it was a pyrrhic victory for the Zulus.


I wouldn't be so sure about Netanyahu, from what Im reading Tzipi Livni isn't coming out of this too bad.


In Haaretz, Ari Shavit has an effective indictment of Olmert. ("Olmert Cannot Remain in the Prime Minister's Office," Aug. 11.) Among Shavit's charges is this:

"He mistakenly gambled on air operations, was strangely late with the ground operation, and failed to implement the army's original plan, much more daring and sophisticated than that which was implemented."


Does anybody know what the army's original plan was? This seems to bear on how decrepit or effective the IDF really is these days.


To Rex:

The captured missile in the picture http://www.hnn.co.il/images/albums/967_16248.jpg does not look like a Kornet tube (see, for example, http://img.lenta.ru/news/2005/04/15/missile/picture.jpg).
It appears to be a Metis-M AT-13 (http://worldweapon.ru/images/strelok/metism/metism_02.jpg) , an older and less capable wire-guided missile, or even the original Metis AT-7. Tube attachments on Kornet are spaced closer together, I think.

Rex Brynen

I think TA's characterization of "incompetece" is a little too harsh. That being said, the quality of the IDF has always been a little overestimated, since people have tended to judge by its past sweeping victories over generally badly-trained and badly-led opponents.

As for "rust" and "police work" issues, these relate in part to having learned non-transferable combat tactics against the Palestinian intifada.

Palestinian militants tend to be equipped with little more than small arms, IEDs, and a very limited of RPGs and ineffectual home-made anti-tank weapons (in Gaza). In such an environment, tanks and heavy APCs (such as the Achzarits one tends to see operating in south Lebanon, which are converted T-54/55 tanks) are largely impervious to Palestinian fire, unless they drive over a very large IED.

By contrast, Hizb can and does use weapons (TOWs, RPG29s as well as plentiful RPG7s) capable of immobilizing and even penetrating the heavier armour, especially in flanking shots. This has meant that tanks and embarked infantry are much more, not less, vulnerable as they would be in the WBG. Indeed, it appears as if many IDF infantry have been disembarking APCs well short of their destinations and marching to contact with APCs held back because of this.

As BT notes, Hizb's anti-armour kills also relate to morale, their deployment in dug-in and well camouflaged positions (in some cases, attached to shelter tunnels), their willingness/ability to operate in very small units without wavering (2-4 man anti-tank teams seem to operating semi-independently), and their willingness to hold terrain once they are bypassed, and then "pop up" and shoot when the tactical situation is suitable. In most armies, a small number of guys stuck behind enemy lines would withdraw, not go to ground and wait for a good shot.

As others have noted, Israel's unwillingness to take significant military casualties has also led them to a slowly-slowly warfighting strategy on the ground, which has left Hizb forces in the south intact longer than might otherwise be the case.



Don't let the POTUS do it, or I'll be laughing at pictures of retreating, bloodied Americans soon.

Byron Raum

I am new here, I don't know as much about battle tactics or weapons as most of you, but I have been writing software for the last 15 years. The IDF engineers made the right choice about Windows CE. CE is not the same thing as the Windows XP you have on your desktops; it is a fairly decent (and completely different) realtime system. I would imagine it is a fairly good choice for light battlefield tasks. (Jokes about Windows notwithstanding.)


The questions about the quality about the IDF may be besides the point. In our new global village, parity is coming in many forms. Watching our beloved USA waste billions in Iraq while our infrastructure continues to erode and our Chicken Hawks want us to fight an endless series of colonial wars could bring the whole American Experiment down. I doubt the UN will ever let us starve a country into submission before we de-fang it, like Iraq. Our political culture, with its glorification of air-power war and "liberation" conflicts, needs to adjust to a new world. My sister went with a group to Russia recently. She left with the impression that many Russians would love to us humiliated. And I mean, love to see us damaged. God only knows what they are selling to the Iranians right now....


And sometimes not so high tech systems fail you. Remember those pictures of Israeli soldiers with llamas? Robert Parry over at consortium.com had this explanation:

"One Israeli plan to use llamas to deliver supplies in the rugged terrain of South Lebanon turned into an embarrassment when the animals simply sat down."

LLAMAS? Every army in the world has used mules and they have given good service once you train qualified muleskinners.
Why must the Israelis constantly try to re-invent the wheel?

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