Published: 17 January 2008
Air & Space Power Journal - Spring 2008
Divining Victory: Airpower in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War by William M. Arkin. Air University Press (http://www.maxwell.af.mil/au/aul/aupress), 131 West Shumacher Avenue, Maxwell AFB, Alabama 36112-5962, 2007, 356 pages, $30.00 (softcover). Free download from http://www.maxwell.af.mil/au/aul/aupress/ Books/Arkin/ArkinDownload.html.
Two pernicious myths have emerged from Israel’s campaign against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in the summer of 2006. The first is that Israel indiscriminately bombed civilian population and infrastructure. The second is that Israel failed to defeat Hezbollah because it chose airpower as its principal military instrument. William Arkin, the well-known independent military analyst, explodes both myths in his new book, Divining Victory.
With respect to the first myth, Arkin cites the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the campaign, which noted “a significant pattern of excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force by the IDF [Israeli Defense Force] against Lebanese civilians and civilian objects.” (See Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Lebanon Pursuant to Human Rights Council Resolution S-2/1 [New York: United Nations, General Assembly, 23 November 2006], 3, http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/specialsession/A.HRC.3.2.pdf.) However, Arkin shows, with meticulous documentation, that the Israelis were very discriminate in their target selection. They decided, for example, to avoid striking the Lebanese electrical power grid and hit civilian residences only in known Hezbollah enclaves that could be directly linked to Hezbollah military capabilities. That this broke down during the last few days of the campaign, when Israel sowed large parts of southern Lebanon with cluster munitions, was more a reflection of Israel’s blindly growing sense of strategic frustration than part of a consistent effort to deliberately inflict civilian damage. Arkin clearly shows that the Israelis conducted very discriminate target selection, even if the targets they selected did not support Israel’s ultimate, intended end state in a logical manner.
With respect to the second myth, Arkin points to a school of thought in which “an ‘effects-based’ operations mind-set and what IDF theorists call ‘cognitive’ objectives rather than conventional approaches of attrition and ‘destroying’ the enemy . . . led to the ‘aerial arrogance’ on the part of many senior IDF officers.” However, he maintains that “to equate an effects-based approach with aerial arrogance is a mistake” (p. 154). Arkin goes on to point out that Israel conducted almost the antithesis of an effects-based campaign, taking “the most conventional of approaches” geared to destroying Hezbollah’s fighting ability on the ground in ways “almost divorced from the overall campaign objective and desired strategic outcome,” especially in southern Beirut (p. 155). Effects-based theory and doctrine maintain that the desired end state and objectives should drive all subordinate considerations. Arkin demonstrates how this did not happen in the Israel-Hezbollah campaign.
More importantly, the book examines the larger question of why Israel failed to achieve victory in a conflict that pitted a modern, Westernized nation with a military built along US lines against an unconventional terrorist enemy embedded within an indigenous civilian population. Arkin maintains that Israel went about the campaign in a fundamentally wrongheaded way. An approach based on end-state considerations devolved into an exercise in servicing a set of targets selected for what commanders considered immediate military advantage. Especially in southern Beirut, Israel ignored the strategic-communications battle being waged successfully by Hezbollah, which made each military gain seem like a direct attack on innocent civilian targets. Israel came under much criticism for not committing itself to a more aggressive effort on the ground. Arkin counters that a large ground invasion involving more troops might indeed have produced a different outcome, but without any guarantee that such an effort would have resulted in decisive victory, fewer political problems, fewer casualties, and less civilian destruction. Indeed, the Israelis invaded and occupied southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000 and emerged from that conflict with an enemy that entrenched itself more firmly there than their enemies had been in 1982. Invasion and more forceful action on the ground were far from a panacea.
So what would it have taken for Israel to have come out better in this campaign? Arkin suggests that
since Israel was not going to “win” the war against Hezbollah through statistical accumulation and was not going to fight Hezbollah to some total war victory, an equal objective had to be . . . also creating some degree of sympathy and support for Israel’s right to defend itself. . . . Had Israel . . . concentrated its resources on military forces and capabilities in the south and the Bekaa [Valley], had it pursued a campaign more attuned to emerging humanitarian and international norms regarding the use of cluster bombs, had Israel shown greater transparency in describing what it was doing and the intelligence basis for its decisions . . . it might have—might have—bought more time and engendered greater sympathy . . . thus not only achieving more militarily, but also in the fundamental long-term objective of counterterrorism: not creating even more enemies tomorrow (p. 157).
Divining Victory is chock full of primary documentation, tables of organization and equipment, target lists, and lists of damage inflicted (taking up nearly half the volume). Whether one agrees with its conclusions or not, it will serve as the most complete independent source of data on the campaign for some time to come. For this as well as for its admirably objective analysis of what went wrong with Israel’s thinking about the war, this book will be an invaluable addition to the library of airpower practitioners and of anyone interested in the challenge of using modern conventional military power to fight terrorism.
Lt Col John P. Hunerwadel, USAF, Retired
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.