Intelligence: The Embarrassing Lessons of Lebanon

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January10, 2007: Israelis continue to examine what went wrong with their intelligence efforts before, and during, the war with Hizbollah last Summer. There appears to be general agreement that the intelligence officers in charge were sloppy and missed some important details. There were some reasons for that. Lebanon had become a secondary front since Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon in 2000. That gesture was supposed to have brought calm to the Lebanese border, and for six years it did. Also in 2000, the Palestinians began a terror campaign against Israel itself, and that led to more and more Israeli intelligence resources being devoted to counter-terrorism. After about four years, that battle was won, but resources were not shifted back to Lebanon. The terrorist threat to Israel was still seen as the more important one, and continued to demand a priority on intelligence efforts. Apparently, no one made a big stink about the way intelligence work on southern Lebanon was deteriorating.

The commanders in northern Israel thought they had the intelligence situation under control. There was a network of informants in southern Lebanon, and plenty of air reconnaissance. But the Israelis missed the details of how the Hizbollah rockets were stored. Also missed was the number of modern Russian anti-tank guided missiles Hizbollah had, as well as anti-ship missiles, and how both of these would be used. Worse yet, a lot of essential information that was in hand, was not immediately given out to ground troops who were sent into southern Lebanon. The delayed information was often highly confidential (much of it coming from Lebanese informants), but if the troops didn't have it, the data might just as well not have existed.

The troops had not been trained for the kind of fighting they ended up doing in Lebanon. This was another side effect of the counter-terrorism campaign against the Palestinians. Proper training would have required more money, and attention from the high command. Neither was forthcoming as long as everyone was focused on keeping suicide bombers out of Israel.

The problems the Israelis encountered here are classic, and have happened many times throughout military history. It takes particularly strong leadership, at the top, to insure that a secondary theater (like the Lebanese border) stays sharp, while a more immediate threat (the Palestinian terrorism) is constantly demanding immediate attention. The Israelis not only have to reconsider how they run their intelligence operations, but how they select their senior military leadership. The guy at the top can make mistakes with long term consequences, and this was one of those examples of how that plays out.

 


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