Israel's Long War with Hezbollah

Military Innovation and Adaptation Under Fire

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Raphael D. Marcus
  • Washington, DC: 
    Georgetown University Press
    , August
     2018.
     320 pages.
     $36.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781626166110.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Raphael D. Marcus chronicles the Israeli Defense Forces’s (IDF) strategic and operational evolution from the 1980s until just after the 2006 Lebanon War. What differentiates Israel’s Long War with Hezbollah: Military Innovation and Adaptation Under Fire from the vast literature focusing on the Israeli Defense Forces and its military strategy is that Marcus emphasizes the vital role that Hezbollah and its military adaptations played in forcing the IDF to constantly reassess its responses to Hezbollah’s provocations. In other words, both the IDF, (clearly recognized as the more technologically superior organization), and Hezbollah, (often dismissed as “only” a terrorist group) consistently learned from and altered key aspects of their military strategy in response to the actions of their enemies.

Marcus divides Israel’s Long War with Hezbollah into two parts: Strategic Adaption and Operational Adaption. The first part details the IDF’s progression from viewing and treating Hezbollah as a “routine security” threat to IDF’s recognition that Hezbollah evolved into a guerilla group. This leads the IDF into adopting deterrence as a cornerstone of their military strategy and the IDF’s emphasis on deterrence as their primary strategy against Hezbollah continued, even as they withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. In fact, key military and political figures hoped that withdrawing from Lebanon would lessen the threat that Hezbollah posed to Israel, as well as decrease the internal domestic unrest in Israel. Prior to their withdrawal, the IDF faced increased scrutiny as Israeli citizens pushed back against what they viewed as a needless engagement in Lebanon. The final chapter in this section examines how the failures of Israeli deterrence strategy led to the 2006 War. 

Part 2 focuses on the IDF’s struggle to create a coherent, overarching operational concept and how their inability to do so had serious negative ramifications in the 2006 War. The IDF’s ability to fashion a coherent operational concept was hampered by Israeli attempts to adapt an American-style Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) that disproportionately emphasized military airpower, and the creation of a lean and smart army. The appeal of the RMA was the notion that overwhelming technological superiority would lead to an easy defeat of an enemy while preventing needless Israeli causalities—an important factor considering the adverse reaction to IDF losses from within Israeli society. Marcus also explores the creation of the military think tank Operational Theory Research Institute (OTRI), whose purpose was to review the IDF’s operational concept. The OTRI eventually formulates the Systematic Operational Design (SOD), a conceptual framework that is unevenly disseminated throughout the IDF. In post-war assessments, the supposed incoherency of the SOD was blamed for the lackluster performance of the IDF during the 2006 War. However, Marcus makes clear that OTRI and SOD were unfairly scapegoated in assessments criticizing Israeli action in the 2006 War. Marcus asserts that larger issues, such as the uncritical adaption of American-style RMA, the shrinking of ground forces, budget cuts and the Israeli’s focus on counter-terrorism, and the Palestinian threat, negatively impacted the IDF’s ability to respond to Hezbollah in a systematic fashion in 2006.

Marcus’s analysis is bolstered by the more than three dozen interviews that he conducted with IDF officers, commanders, United Nations (UN) peacekeeping and diplomatic officials in Lebanon, British officials in Lebanon, and hundreds of speeches, press briefings, and lectures from Israeli political and military officials. Unfortunately, as Hezbollah is—by necessity—much more secretive than the IDF, Marcus was unable to interview many of its members, though he does interview a senior official of Hezbollah’s Public Relations Bureau. Marcus also visited Hezbollah strong holds in Lebanon, and he addresses this inability to interview Hezbollah officials by acknowledging a reliance on the numerous written and oral statements and interviews given by Hezbollah members and leaders throughout the years. 

Israel’s Long War with Hezbollah is a must read for anyone interested in an in-depth analysis of the military conflict between Hezbollah and the IDF, as well as the numerous adaptions both have undergone through the decades. It is important to clarify that this is a book which focuses extensively on military strategy and operations. Larger socio-political issues are discussed in reference to their impact on Hezbollah’s and the IDF’s ability to innovate militarily. Larger questions regarding Hezbollah’s origins, the political circumstances leading to Israel’s occupation of Lebanon, and the tensions between Lebanon and Israel, are not examined. Additionally, this book does not explore the role religion plays, if any, in the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict. Yet, if one is interested in examining the military aspects of the IDF and Hezbollah conflict, one would be hard-pressed to find a more comprehensive book.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Naiomi Gonzalez is a doctoral student in History at Texas Christian University.

Date of Review: 
April 15, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Raphael D. Marcus is a Nonresident Fellow at the Insurgency Research Group in the Department of War Studies, King's College London, where he received his PhD. His research interests include Middle East security issues, terrorism, military affairs, and organizational learning. He is currently working as a intelligence and counterterrorism analyst at a law-enforcement agency.

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