Israel's Long War with Hezbollah: Military Innovation and Adaptation Under Fire

Georgetown University Press   2018


In Israel’s Long War With Hezbollah, Raphael D. Marcus analyzes the relationship between Israel and Hezbollah, with which it has engaged in three military conflicts—in 1993, 1996, and 2006—since Hezbollah’s founding in 1982. Marcus utilizes an unusual approach; in addition to essentially providing a history of Hezbollah, he details how its tactics have changed over time, and how this has caused the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) to alter its own approach in response. He also places the IDF’s change of tactics into the unique, broader cultural context that exists in Israel today.

Marcus provides an excellent analysis of the Second Lebanon War (2006), the longest conflict in which Israel has engaged since its War of Independence (1948-49). Most Israelis were disappointed with the war’s outcome, which could charitably be described as a stalemate. Since Israel was fighting against an opponent devoid of an armored corps, air force, or navy, most predicted the war would result in a decisive military victory for Israel. Instead, over the course of five weeks, Hezbollah was able to lob more than 3,900 short-range rockets and missiles against Israeli population centers.

This book is significant because it describes, in great detail, both the greatest current military threat against Israel as well as long-term threat trends. With respect to current threats, the author notes that Hezbollah has amassed more than 150,000 rockets and missiles as of late 2018, and that Hezbollah’s successful tactics in the Second Lebanon War inspired Hamas to acquire its own missile capability—demonstrated in November of 2018, when it launched more than 300 short-range rockets and mortar rounds against Israel in under two days.

Marcus posits that the longer-term threat to Israel has less to do with external factors themselves, and more to do with changes in the Israeli mindset. Since the early 1980s, Israeli society has become hyper-sensitized to military casualties. This has been the case even as Israel experienced an enormous population increase (of 300 percent since 1973). The population growth might lead one to suppose that Israeli society would be willing to tolerate military casualties at least at the same absolute rate as had occurred in prior decades. But, as Marcus notes, the opposite has occurred. The most striking example of this phenomenon was Prime Minister Olmert’s and Defense Minister Peretz’s willingness to tolerate thousands of rockets and missiles targeting Israeli towns and cities because they feared that Israeli voters would not accept any military casualties. It also accounts for the fact that, instead of sending in the army to find and destroy Hezbollah’s launch sites, the IDF relied solely on air strikes for four of the five weeks of the war even after this approach had failed for the most part. This decision is notable because it was the first time during a war that a country made the conscious choice to allow its civilian population to be bombarded in order to protect its army from suffering casualties—a complete inversion of the historical norm.

Israel’s Long War With Hezbollah provides valuable background to this ongoing conflict and a window into what one can expect in the inevitable next round of fighting.

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