I am not a fan of Olmert, the Prime Minister of Israel. I don’t know if he’s good or bad or something inbetween. I leave that to those who know him better than I do. But, there are a few things that I know about him that are good.
He’s trying to make peace with the neighbors. That’s good.
(I mean the part about the trying.)
He’s also trying to do as little damage as possible. That’s also good.
But, he makes a lousy general. Really lousy.
Unfortunately, he is a politician in time of war, which kinda makes you a part-general. And in war, part-lousy is all bad.
The problem is that, like most politicians, he is a people-person. He is undoubtedly horrified by what generals must deal with every day: the grim calculus of war. You send out such-and-such number of soldiers. A certain percentage of them die. You win.
If you do not send out enough of your soldiers to die, you lose.
No politician wants to EVER play with such mathematics. That’s why Olmert and his cabinet tried to make this war a victory of air power.
It was doomed to failure, but they had to try.
The account of one young soldier operating deep in southern Lebanon explains why they had to try:
Early that morning we received horrible news over the radio: in a village half a mile to our east, an advanced anti-tank missile was launched into a window of a home where a unit we had been working with in parallel was hunkered down. The result was devastating; nine killed, forty wounded. We had been with those guys hours before, sipping Turkish coffee around the buses before we crossed over the border. Now we heard their cries for assistance over the radio.
The above was taken from his blog entry here:
Read the complete entry. It’s a powerful account of the terror of war.
Does this mean that Israel was right to rely so heavily on air power?
No. You can’t fight people who live in caves and hide in civilian areas with air power. You need to go in on the ground.
However, I say to all arm-chair generals out there: don’t be so quick to criticize until you’ve had a bullet zip past your left ear and kill a close friend sitting next to you. THEN you will know the horror of war.
So yes, the commitment to an air campaign was a mistake, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t understand why Israel at least needed to try.
I guess we should consider this a lesson in the proper use of air power in counter insurgency operations.