The Lessons of the Israel-Hezbollah War

A Briefing

The lessons from the Israeli-Lebanon War in 2006 are now far clearer than they were during the fighting and its immediate aftermath. The war has led to extensive criticism from military experts within Israel, as well as the work of the Winograd Commission. At the same time, the resurgence of the Hezbollah, and its partial rearming, have demonstrated just how difficult it can be to defeat an asymmetric enemy fighting on its own soil and with a popular base.

The attached briefing summarizes these lessons and attempts to put them in the broader context of the key lessons the United States should learn from the Iraq and Afghan conflicts. Examples of these lessons include:

•The need to properly characterize the enemy, the consequences of going to war, and the ability to achieve successful conflict termination: Different as the three wars are, and the conditions under which Israel and the US have fought, they do raise the common lessons that one of the most critical single choices in war is the choice of where, when, and why to fight.
In all three cases, Israel and the United States faced real enemies. At the same time, it is an open question as to whether Israel’s grand strategic failures in characterizing its enemy and the political situation Lebanon were worse than the US failure to understand the nature of the enemy and risks it was dealing with in Afghanistan and Iraq. In all three cases, both Israel and the US also went to war without a credible plan for conflict termination and for dealing with the aftermath of the wars they chose to fight.
•The need for realism in assessing the ability to use airpower. At a tactical level, Israel placed reliance on air power that cannot be compared to the way the US has used air power in the Afghan and Iraq conflicts, but which repeated many of the miscalculations about the ability of strategic bombing to achieve decisive political and military effects that characterized at least some of the strategic air and interdiction campaign in the Gulf War in 2001. These limits to airpower are as old as, Douhet but they are lessons that military forces seem to have to constant relearn
There are other lessons more unique to the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict that may serve as a warning of the shape of things come in Afghanistan and Iraq, or in future conflicts. One was how ineffective most IAF close air support sorties were in dealing with a Hezbollah that could take advantage of tunnels, sheltered buildings, and well-prepared concealment.
•The dangers of “proliferating” advanced light weapons to asymmetric and insurgent forces: Another warning comes from the Hezbollah use of advanced anti-tank weapons; manportable and light surface-to-air missiles, and anti-ship missiles. The situation in both Iraq and Afghanistan would be very different if the US and its allies faced anything like the same threat. It could have a major impact on the use of tactical airpower, but it would raise far more serious questions about the value of uparmoring and the security of tactical and logistic movements.

The attached brief explores a wide range of additional lessons, including the lessons regarding readiness and training, warfare in built-up areas, and missile and rocket attacks and defense. (For a book length analysis, see Anthony H. Cordesman, Lessons of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, CSIS Significant Issues Series, November 2007, ISBN 978-0-89206-505-9 ().

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy