TEL AVIV — Israel's new chief of staff, an air force general, believed that most of Israel's future operations would be conducted from the air.
Military leaders were convinced that with superior communications and air power they did not even need new U.S. "bunker buster" munitions to root out terror leaders in underground hideaways.
Today, this vision of air power as a panacea has been shattered.
Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz and his advisers have been stunned by the failure of Israel's air war
against Hizbullah, which has shrugged massive air bombings on its
headquarters in Beirut to maintain the rocket war against the Jewish state.
"Air power is not the answer here," a senior officer said. 'You have to
go from one Hizbullah [weapons] bunker to another. Some of these bunkers are
seven meters deep and can't be destroyed by aircraft, even if you could find
The air force learned that lesson in Beirut as fighter-jets sought to
destroy Hizbullah headquarters, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials acknowledged that 23 tons of
munitions failed to penetrate the thick walls of the underground command
headquarters constructed by Iran.
Indeed, the air force did not even deem the purchase of deep penetration
munitions a priority. Earlier this year, Israel decided against purchasing
U.S.-origin bunker-buster weapons regarded as a requirement for any air
strike against Iran or Syria.
Military sources said Halutz was convinced that communications and air
power rather than troops would rapidly win Israel's wars. They said the air
force was surprised by its failure to halt or even reduce Hizbullah rocket
Only a month ago, Lt. Col. Itay Brun explained the
concept of Israel's military. The concept envisioned an army based largely
on special operations units and backed by air power.
As Brun described it, most of Israel's operations would be conducted
from the air. Fighter-jets would destroy guerrilla strongholds, helicopters
would pick off enemy combatants while unmanned aerial vehicles would select
and track targets. Most of the tactics would also be used in a conventional
"The next challenge is to win the war against terrorism and guerrillas
from the air," Brun, adviser to Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, told a
But he General Staff quickly learned that Hizbullah was not a Shi'ite
version of the Palestinian insurgency in the Gaza Strip. For years, the air
force boasted of its ability to kill Palestinian insurgency leaders while
glossing over the failure to halt missile strikes from Gaza towns only three
kilometers from Israel.
"We are fighting a much more capable [Hizbullah] terror organization
which practically holds a sword to our neck and has 12 percent of the
Israeli population living in shelters and paralyzes the entire northern part
of the country," Brig. Gen. Ido Nehushtan said.
"As aggressive and effective as the air war has been, there is still a
need for ground operations," Maj. Gen. Benny Ganz, chief of the Ground
Forces Command, said.
As a result, the General Staff has approved the entry of at least 5,000
troops in Lebanon in a limited search-and-destroy mission for Hizbullah
rockets in villages near the Israeli border. So far, about 3,000 soldiers
have been deployed in southern Lebanon, where attack aircraft and unmanned
aerial vehicles failed to detect and battle Hizbullah fighters in the thick
On Friday, two AH-64A Apache attack helicopters crashed in northern
Israel near the Lebanese border. The military said a pilot was killed and
another four soldiers were injured as the helicopters sought to support
troops in Lebanon.
As the air force received 60 percent of
the military budget, army training was cut to the bone and the armored corps
was significantly reduced.
Reservists forgot what the inside of a main battle tank looked like.
Army supplies dwindled way past the danger point as military intelligence
dismissed the prospect of a conventional war against Israel.
Over the last two years, the Ground Forces Command has been
administering the Digital Army Program, a nearly $1 billion effort to link
ground forces assets to ensure situational awareness as well as coordination
with the air force and navy.
Today, Israel's advanced technology has been unable to detect, let alone
stop Hizbullah assaults. Military sources said Hizbullah quickly developed
methods to penetrate Israel's C4I [command, control, communications,
computers and intelligence] border system, based on advanced sensors and
heavy air surveillance.
Hizbullah, the sources said, learned how to disable cameras and exploit
blind spots to cut through the border fence and attack Israeli military
positions. They said this was how a small Hizbullah force attacked an
Israeli border post on July 12 and abducted two soldiers.
The military acknowledged that for more than one hour commanders were
unaware that soldiers had been taken to Lebanon. Commanders said they were
caught off guard by Hizbullah's mastery of anti-tank weapons, mortars and
"It may be that we don't have our priorities straight," said [Res.] Maj.
Gen. Yiftah Ron-Tal, who until 2005 headed the Ground Forces Command.
To some strategists, the Israeli concept of air power was doomed to
failure. In a lecture at Tel Aviv University in March, [Res.] Maj. Gen.
Yaakov Amidror, a former head of military intelligence
research, warned that ground forces and tanks have remained far more
flexible and resilient than aircraft.
"The policymakers must understand the limitations of the air force,"
Amidror said. "My feeling is that the air force does not sufficiently stress
In a report released on July 19 by the Jerusalem Center for Public
Affairs, Amidror and co-author Dan Diker argued that Israel could be forced
to convert its air war to a ground war in Lebanon. The report, entitled "A
Strategic Assessment of the Hizbullah War: Defeating the Iranian-Syrian Axis
in Lebanon," asserted that Israel underestimated the Iranian-sponsored
Shi'ite militia, trained and equipped by Damascus and Teheran.
"This is a war in which Israel is acting primarily through its air
force, which is a new approach," the report said. "However, if Israel's air
force fails to stop Hizbullah rocket assaults, Israel may be forced to send
in substantial ground forces to control the areas from which rockets are
being launched. This real possibility would have far-reaching implications
in terms of potential losses for the IDF and for the citizens of Lebanon."