‏The Air War – A Success or Failure?

Col. (Ret.) Dr. Shmuel L. Gordon believes that every statesman, army commander, and researcher should read Benjamin S. Lambeth’s book
‏The Air War – A Success or Failure?

Operations in Israel’s War Against Hezbollah: “Learning from Lebanon and Getting it Right in Gaza,” the new book from Dr. Benjamin Lambeth, a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation, is a major contribution to the understanding of the Second Lebanon War of 2006 and the Gaza campaign of 2008-2009. ‏

It fulfills all the criteria for military-academic research and I believe it will undoubtedly serve as a springboard for further research in the field. ‏Dr. Lambeth presents his readers with a vast amount of information on the war, explains the key issues, and offers a balanced, tempered criticism. ‏The opening chapters describe the main combat operations, air power acheivements, central issues, and some sections of the Winograd Commission’s Final Report.

The material here is rather well known to most Israelis who are interested in the war and its concequences, but nevertheless, it is of great value to the target audience: foreign military persons, scholars, and politicians. ‏These chapters are certainly objective although one senses the author’s great sympathy toward Israel, the IDF, and the Israeli Air Force (IAF). ‏

A particular chapter deals with Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 through January 2009. The author carefully describes the preparations and particularly, the encouragement for cooperation between the air and ground forces. The campaign is also depicted accurately and in painstaking detail, beginning with the aerial attack that lasted six days, followed by the ineffective ground fighting, and later the ceasefire. ‏ I must admit that Lambeth’s conclusion that Operation Cast Lead was a success is puzzling. He completely identifies with the Israeli consensus that the lessons of the Second Lebanon

War had been learned and implemented; and that warfighting skills had vastly improved at the outcome of the campaign. Furthermore, the study goes to great lengths to exonerate Israel of any moral misconduct during the campaign. In my opinon both issues are open to debate. ‏The last chapter and the conclusions are the most important.

A basic approach toward the Second Lebanon War is the main factor for its radically different assessments—mainly between those who were responsible for the strategic decision-making, and those who meticoulusly study the war. ‏The first appraoch examined the war as an independent clash, and came to a balanced conclusion that, although far from a success story, Israel had made some important acheivements. ‏

The other approach compared it to previous successful wars, campaigns, and operations in Lebanon; beginning with Operation “Litani” (1978), through the First Lebanon War (1982), and finally, “Operation of Accountability” (1994). The Second Lebanon War is considered a resounding failure for its insignificant political and military achievements. Dr. Lambeth prefered the former approach.

‏The author bravely criticizes some of the military issues in the two wars. He denounces the critics who claim that Dan Halutz, then-chief of staff, was unsuited for his role, and outlines his experience, abilities, and suitability for the position. Dr. Lambeth argues that the decision for an aerial attack stemmed from the fact that, no one in the government wanted a ground operation that might incur many casualties. ‏He strongly condemns, and rightly so, the effects-based strategy (borrowed from the US by IAF and IDF ground forces), that caused considerable damage to the IAF’s aerial strategy. Commanders like Gal Hirsh (91st Division Commander) and Dan Halutz (Chief of Staff) always “pay the price,” whereas General Staff officers (who play a decisive role in modern wars) evade responsibility for their decisions and the consequences of their errors.

‏Ben Lambeth’s implicit conclusion is that, if the Olmert government wanted to avoid a ground operation with heavy losses, it should have launched a brief, overwhelming air offensive. ‏Another debate Lambeth presents is over the successses and failures of the war.

Obviously, some strategic advantages were seen throughout the Second Lebanon War, but a few unspoken questions remain to be addressed: Was it possible to accomplish these results with a tenth of the effort and losses? Or alternatively: Was it possible to achieve ten times greater and more significant outcomes in light of the effort invested in the operation? The honest and