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Martin van Creveld on The Lebanon War


Eminent and controversial military historian, Martin van Creveld, analyzes the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah War in the latest issue of Infinity Journal. Some Excerpts:

The Second Lebanon War: A Re-assessment

….Though the decision to retaliate in force was inevitable, it also meant that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) was taken by surprise and did not have time to prepare properly. Of the entire vast order of battle, only five regular brigades were immediately available. Moreover, these brigades had spent years doing little but carrying out counter-insurgency operations in the Occupied Territories. As a result, they had almost forgotten how to fight a real enemy; he who fights the weak will end up by becoming weak. Some of the burden fell on the Israeli Navy which shelled Lebanon’s coast, imposed a blockade, and cut the country off from the world. In doing so, one of its modern ships was hit by an Iranian-built surface to sea missile, suffering damage and taking some casualties. Since this was the first time in thirty-nine years anything of the kind had happened, it was a considerable propaganda victory for Hezbollah. At the same time it proved how much the crew had underestimated the enemy, since they (perhaps acting on their superiors’ orders) had not even switched on the vessel’s electronic defenses.

….”Stark raving mad” (majnun, in Arabic) was, in fact, the way many people in Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world reacted to the Israeli attack. As the statements of several of Hezbollah’s top leaders indicated, they too were surprised by the strength of the Israeli reaction. None of the organization’s original objectives were achieved. Its fighters remain in prison; the Israeli “occupation” of Shaba Farm continues; and Jerusalem, which it set itself as its ultimate objective to liberate, remains as firmly in Israeli hands as it has been during the last forty-four years. What the war did do was to show that, in case of war, neither Syria nor Iran would necessarily come to Lebanon’s rescue. The country’s infrastructure was left in ruins. Thirty thousand dwellings were destroyed or damaged, and dozens of bridges, underpasses, and gas stations demolished. Hundred of thousands of people were forced to flee, and as many as 2,000 killed.

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This piece is heavily IDF-centric in the analysis, perhaps reflecting van Creveld’s established authority on command and logistics and his recent work on air power, but I was surprised by the lack of space devoted to Hezbollah’s operations, given the author’s deep influence on 4GW theory and the study of postmodern irregular and asymmetric warfare. That may reflect, in part, the thrust of Infinity as a publication or the need for brevity but there’s an almost Clausewitzian subtext in the conclusion.

9 Responses to “Martin van Creveld on The Lebanon War”

  1. Mercutio Says:

    Van Creveld concludes that because following the Lebanon War Hezbollah has not conducted missile attacks, etc., against Israel, that – despite appearances to the contrary – Israel’s operation succeeded in its objective of ending those attacks.

    This is an example of the post hoc ergo prompter hoc fallacy – for it assumes that Hezbollah’s post war conduct was caused by Israel’s operation and not by some other factor.

    We would need an in depth study of Hezbollah to determine what impact, if any, Israel’s operation has had upon its subsequent conduct.

  2. zen Says:

    "We would need an in depth study of Hezbollah to determine what impact, if any, Israel’s operation has had upon its subsequent conduct.’
    It ain’t forthcoming 🙂

  3. Lexington Green Says:

    Anyone volunteer to go in there and interview those guys?I wonder what would happen if someone from, say, the French or Chinese equivalent of the Army War College asked Hezbollah for permission to go in there, interview people, and do a study of their side of the war.  

  4. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Lex,.You bring up a good point. Your idea is fascinating. There are enough rabid anti-Israel academicians to have street creds to do just that—and I’m quite serious..Wonder if anyone will give it a whack?

  5. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Zen, Lex, Scott:

    I don’t think you have to be rabidly anti-Israel,  and I’m not sure you have to go to the Lebanon to do it.  After all, Mark Juergensmeyer (UC Santa Barbara) interviewed Algerians in Paris, Abdul Aziz Rantisi in Gaza, and Mahmoud Abulhalima in prison at Lompoc, along with Sikhs and Christians and others, for his book Terror in the Mind of God, and Jessica Stern (Harvard) interviewed others for her book, Terror in the Name of God. But those are both religion scholars rather than strategists or guerrilla warfare specialists…
    And what about the "formers" who have been attending the Google AVE event in Dublin these last few days.  Are any of them ex-Hizb?
    Abu Muqawama / Andrew Exum recently posted his dissertation abstract on his blog with CNAS:

    The way in which the existing social science literature measures military capability does not explain how Hizballah, a small Lebanese militant group, has managed to defeat the Israel Defense Forces and its allies throughout the 1990s and in 2006. Conventional approaches measuring numerical preponderance, technological advantages or the way in which actors employ force cannot explain conflicts in 1993, 1996 and 2006 – in which a smaller, technologically inferior adversary using only basic light infantry tactics managed to deny victory to the most powerful military actor in the region. This study, by contrast, demonstrates the way in which Hizballah has developed a ‘comprehensive’ approach to warfare incorporating both kinetic and non-kinetic lines of operation. Not only combat operations but also propaganda campaigns and the provision of social services have enabled Hizballah to consistently realize political objectives on the battlefield. Only by expanding the definition of what constitutes military power and operations can victory and defeat in southern Lebanon be explained.

    How close do you suppose that might come to offering the kinds of insights you’re hoping for — and not finding in van Creveld?

  6. zen Says:

    My understanding of Hezbollah, which is admittedly out of date and generalist perspective, is that the org compartmentalizes it’s military- terrorist wing operations pretty rigidly from their political org personnel. Not only would Hezbollah spokesmen not shed light on their actual strategic and tactical assumptions, they can’t bc the folks running that section keep them in the dark and need to know within their own units. Good basic security.

  7. zen Says:

    Hi Charles,
    Thx! That selection by Ex was exactly what is needed to fill in the blanks, both his dissertation and the two just published books he described. Read the Stern book, it was good work, going to motivation, psychology and social environment

  8. Charles Cameron Says:

    Interesting abstract, article is available on the web:

    The labelling career of the Lebanese armed group and political party Hizbullah is an interesting case with which to investigate the epistemological consequences of the politics of naming. Having found itself since its inception in the mid-1980s on the receiving end of mainly US and Israeli policy makers’ and analysts’ scorn for being an archetypical terrorist organisation, Hizbullah has been surprisingly successful in achieving its stated aims and in enduring the verbal and military onslaught against it. Although it is not the intention here to reduce explanations for Hizbullah’s durability to discursive politics, this article suggests that both the labelling of Hizbullah as terrorist and, conversely, its identification as a ‘lebanonised’ political force that is about to make its conversion into an unarmed political party are misleading and incapable of grasping this organisation’s complexities. In fact, both ‘terrorist’ and ‘lebanonised’ labels produce a quality of knowledge inferior to that produced by Hizbullah’s own conceptualisation of its enemies. But most importantly, the debate on Hizbullah’s alleged terrorist nature has obscured several of its traits that many should register before passing judgement on it. Our analysis shows that the variety of institutions Hizbullah has been carefully elaborating and readapting over the past two decades in Lebanon operate today as a holistic and integrated network which produce sets of values and meanings embedded in an interrelated religious and political framework—that of the wilayat al-faqih. These meanings are disseminated on a daily basis among Shi’a constituencies through the party’s institutionalised networks and serve to mobilise them into ‘the society of the Resistance’ (mujtamaa’ al-muqawama), which is the foundation of the hala al-islamiyya (Islamic sphere) in Lebanon. Accordingly, any prospect of Hizbullah’s transformation away from armed ‘resistance’ should be firmly placed in an analysis of its hegemony among the Shi’a of Lebanon and of the tools it uses to acquire and sustain this status.

  9. J.ScottShipman Says:

    p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Arial} span.s1 {font: 10.0px Arial} Hi Charles, Thanks for the references. There is one more I’d like to throw in that I’ve skimmed but not read through: Marc Sageman’s "Understanding Terror Networks."

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