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

Raphael D. Marcus

  • Review
By – January 28, 2019

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 (194849). 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.

Gil Ehrenkranz is a lawyer in the Dis­trict of Colum­bia spe­cial­iz­ing in telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions law and inter­na­tion­al trans­ac­tions. He has been pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished in MID­STREAM Mag­a­zine includ­ing an arti­cle con­cern­ing Israeli mil­i­tary options regard­ing Iran’s nuclear weapons pro­gram., as well as in the Mid­dle East Review of Inter­na­tion­al Affairs

Discussion Questions