Nasrallah on the “Myth” of the 34 minute Israeli air strike in July 2006 War or How RAND’s Lambeth got it wrong
I particularly enjoyed Nasrallah’s speech the other night for ONE reason: his choice to rebut (along with loads of other pieces of evidence and argument he did not raise) the central myth (yes I am convinced it is a myth) of the July 2006 war: that the IDF in a bold 34 minute air operation, destroyed up to 90% of Hizbullah long and medium range rocket power (the various iterations of the myth have somewhat different pronouncements).
Benjamin S. Lambeth wrote an extremely problematic ode to airpower for RAND last year called “Air Operations in Israel’s War Against Hezbollah, Learning from Lebanon and Getting It Right in Gaza,” which quite unfairly and illogically sought to discredit William Arkin’s much more rigiorous and convincing study for the Journal of Small Wars called “Divining Victory: Airpower in the 2006. Israel-Hezbollah War” (google em!).
This is Lambeth’s argument which Nasrallah put front and center the other night (read Arkin!)):
“…In all, based on reliable real-time post-attack BDA and some sub- sequent visual confirmation by IDF SOF teams on the ground in Leb- anon, the IAF leadership believes that it all but completely negated the Zelzal threat. No Zelzals were ever launched into Israel or even readied for launch by Hezbollah’s Syrian- and Iranian-trained rocket crews, and the relatively modest rate of Fajr fire decreased radically following the successful execution of Operation Mishkal Sguli and the IAF’s repeatedly effective TST attacks against mobile Fajrs and other medium-range rockets that commenced soon thereafter.56
“Perhaps prompted by the paucity of subsequent official reporting on the IAF’s preemptive-attack operation in any detail, an early Ameri- can assessment of Israel’s air war against Hezbollah in 2006 expressed pointed doubt about the veracity of the IDF’s claims regarding Opera- tion Mishkal Sguli. That account went so far as to dismiss the operation all but out of hand as a “mythical attack,” suggesting further that “the facts do not exist to substantiate whether 90 percent of Hezbollah’s medium- and long-range rockets were indeed destroyed . . . on the first night of the war.” The study additionally declared, in a statement that was either misinformed or misspoken, that “Hezbollah subsequently carried out extensive long-range rocket strikes, a fundamental reality that seems to call into question whether Israel had intelligence of such fidelity . . . to . . . validate the original . . . assessment.” (In fact, as noted above, the long-range Zelzals were not even targeted during Operation Mishkal Sguli but were systematically attacked and eliminated later by IAF fighters. Also as noted above, no long-range Zelzals and relatively few medium-range Fajrs were successfully fired into Israel by Hezbol- lah.) The above-mentioned study finally concluded, in one of the most bizarre judgments rendered by anyone regarding the IAF’s combat per- formance during the second Lebanon war, that “the whole legend [of Mishkal Sguli] could be untrue. . . . The tale is repeated mostly by IAF and IDF defenders in Israel who think they are countering an unfair indictment of air power.”57
“Given the persistent uncertainty that continues to surround many of the few known facts and figures associated with Operation Mishkal Sguli and the IAF’s subsequent effort to eliminate the Zelzal threat, there is plainly room for legitimate questioning, at least at the margins, as to the precise extent of effectiveness of the IAF’s attempt to target and negate Hezbollah’s strategic rockets. But it is far-fetched in the extreme to suggest that, despite all the authoritative Israeli leadership pronouncements about the IAF’s counter-rocket attack in the opera- tion’s early aftermath, including that of the investigating Winograd Commission, Mishkal Sguli was, in the end, nothing more than an artful concoction of the Israeli government’s disinformation machine. Even the most outspoken Israeli critics of the IDF’s performance throughout the campaign have not gone so far as to render such an outlandish indictment of the Israeli security establishment.
“In the end, the IDF determined that good target intelligence and capable and timely force employment had allowed the IAF to knock out preemptively most of Hezbollah’s Fajrs and other medium-range rockets during the campaign’s first two days. Knowledgeable IAF officers have also expressed confidence that subsequent well-targeted attacks against identified and geolocated Zelzal storage facilities also largely negated that pivotal Hezbollah capability, thus preventing Nas- rallah from making good on his recurrent threats to fire longer-range rockets at Tel Aviv.58 On August 3, Nasrallah thundered ominously: “If you [Israelis] strike Beirut, we will strike Tel Aviv.”59 Not long there- after, the IAF boldly reattacked Hezbollah’s leadership facilities in the heart of downtown Beirut, and no retaliatory Zelzal fire against Tel Aviv occurred. The fact that no Zelzal was ever launched into Israel at any time during the crisis suggests either that the Iranians had leaned hard on Nasrallah and directed him not to fire them or that the IAF had essentially deprived Hezbollah of that capability through its pre- emptive air attacks. Both hypotheses are equally plausible.60 After the ceasefire went into effect, General Halutz testified before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on August 16 that some 90 percent of the Zelzals had been destroyed at an early point in the cam- paign, noting also that Hezbollah had successfully fielded a number of dummy launchers with fake infrared signatures, which also were erroneously struck in the mistaken belief that they were valid targets..”
— Lambeth’s reasoning here is not even internally consistent… And his OWN ADMISSION of significant doubt of the operation should have led him to be much more circumspect about dismissing Arkin in such a crude manner.
BUT just one point that should make you stop reading his piece and turn to something else is his bizarre contention – and he hangs much of his argument on this – “Hezbollah’s leadership facilities in the heart of downtown Beirut.”
— This raises the question HAS LAMBETH ever been to Beirut? Did he not translate Nasrallah’s precise statement that if the IAF hit DOWNTOWN BEIRUT they would hit tel aviv – THE IAF NEVER WENT THIS FAR during the war. PLUS, come on, you dont need to be much of an expert to know that HIBZULLAH does not have their leadership facilities in downtown Beirut.
Sad that this passed for a RAND report.
In any case, Nasrallah address Lambeth’s simplistic arguments below – remember the core issue whether one believes Nasrallah’s claims below or not (and I think he is surely exaggerating that the bait and switch really fooled the Israelis SO MUCH), the OBVIOUS EVIDENCE ON THE GROUND RAISED BY ARKIN is that the missles keep going steadily and steadily deeper and deeper into Israel.
Period – and the Israelis were not able to stop it.
Second – Lambeth does not know much about Hizbullah’s strategy because if he did, he would have understood the point made by Arkin and many others that HIZBULLAH DOES NOT FIGHT BY BLOWING ITS LOAD immediately or in a knee jerk fashion. Longer range rockets DID NOT NEED TO BE DEPLOYED AND CHANGE THE CALCULUS OF THE WAR because the hizbullah strategy was manifestly succeeding on the ground…. there was no need to hit tel aviv, which would have shifted the war into a fundamentally different vein and opened up a range of contingencies which looked far less certain than the impending “victory” hizbullah achieved (according to the israeli assessments that is).
Here is Nasrallah on the controversy – not a great translation by their media office:
“As for the Israelis, they staged an operation. On Friday July 14th, 2006, a proposal was made to the mini-cabinet. They said the following to the cabinet: During the past years – from 2000 to 2006 – till now, we – meaning the Israelis – gathered precise, serious and very important information. We know all the locations of Hezbollah rocket platforms, whether Fajr 3 or Fajr 5 – so they specified the names – and these rockets are made in Iran.
Israeli defense minister then said the locations of the platforms in the south are all specified. We have carried on a very precise intelligence mission – so they overstated their intelligence work. We could specify the locations of all platforms. We specified the coordinates and over the past years we performed aerial maneuvers to hit similar goals. Thus the air force is ready now to stage the operation. Should you agree on the Qualitative Balance Operation, this operation could crush Hezbollah and the Resistance and it would put an end to the war. They supposed that this operation could lead to astonishment and a very massive collapse among the leadership of the Resistance, and consequently, the war would be over and Hezbollah would fall short from launching any middle or long range rocket. Indeed they were not talking about the Katusha Rockets which may hit targets 17 or 20 kilometers far or a bit more. They were talking primarily about mid range rockets and long range rockets, according to our and their considerations.
Well, the cabinet endorsed the operation. An hour after the endorsement – see to what extent they were full fledged – more than 40 Israeli F 16 and F15 planes – according to Israeli sources – launched an attack. That is besides the planes which were offering coverage. According to the Israelis, the planes stroke more than 40 targets, and according to the Americans, they stroke more than 50 targets. Within 34 minutes the operation was over, and all the predetermined targets of Fajr3 and Fajr 5 platforms were destroyed.
During that time, Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halotz contacted the enemy’s PM Ehud Olmert and told him: We won! The war is over. If you still remember Shimon Perez – he was the enemy deputy prime minister – the following day said: Israel had won and Hezbollah Secretary General fled to Damascus (while I was still in Dahiyeh). This was the Qualitative Balance Operation.
Later on, the Israeli military and security leaders talked about intensive security efforts, great security professionalism, collecting information and serious operations in collecting information, and maneuvers and great budgets spent on making this achievement. See to what extent they bargained on the first strike! They compared what took place to what took place in the War of 1967 when Israeli Air Force stroke and hit a great part of the Egyptian Air Force. They also compared what took place to the strike staged by Israeli planes on Syrian Sam 6 Land-Air Rockets which were in Lebanon. The Israelis still believed this until this very moment because they kept the truth from them. Halotz then said: We have destroyed 70% to 80% of Hezbollah’s rocket capacity. They praised the step and tackled it with much administration and they still do.
Well, what did take place precisely? What is the true scene which is based on evidences? The truth is that the rational, ever alert Resistance and its security and military mind discovered early the intelligence and reconnaissance mission over the mid range rocket platforms. However, it carried on with the game. It helped them, and thus they gathered the information they wanted. How did they gather it? This is another issue which we will not reveal now. Anyway, they know how they gathered the information. Now in no time the creative security mind of Martyr Hajj Imad Moghniyeh and his brethren leaders in the Islamic Resistance had an idea. The Israelis build all their considerations on this strike. In the Israeli military mind – or rather in the classical military mind – there is usually the first strike. The Americans used that in the Gulf. In Gaza War, the Israeli worked accordingly when the war started. As you still remember, they hit a massive assembly for the Palestinian police belonging to Gaza Government and hundreds of martyrs fell. This is called the first strike.
In any new war – God forbids – the Israelis think, plan and prepare for a first strike. Thus we are talking about the first strike in July War. Well we kept them moving in the first strike without they knowing. This was the first military achievement. It is that the Resistance knew that the Israelis knew the locations of the platforms. The second security achievement is that the Resistance could bring out these platforms from these places without the Israelis knowing or feeling. The Israelis kept believing that the mid range rocket platforms are in these place; however, they were moved to other places while the enemy did not know or feel that.
When the Israelis took the decision to perform the qualitative balance operation, they stroke these locations. The overwhelming majority of the locations hit during the Qualitative Balance Operation were empty. What took place was that these platforms were brought out of their true places and started their fight which lasted for 33 days. Rockets started to fall on the north, on Haifa and behind mid Haifa; they were ready to hit Tel Aviv. This is what took place.
The Qualitative Balance Operation of which the Israeli Air Force and the Israeli Intelligence brag about is to be dubbed today on the sixth anniversary of the War as the “qualitative illusion”, “the qualitative failure” and “the fall in the trick of the Resistance operation” or “the tricky war”. Indeed the evidence on what I say is that the 70% -80% of the Resistance rocket capacity which Halotz claimed was demolished was active until the last day of the war, and it was able to work much longer. I don’t remember if I said before that if during those days we used to launch a limited number of rockets that was not because our arsenal was limited or because we hadn’t the capacity to launch more rocket. We were able to launch rockets and we had a great number of rockets; however, we were taking time into consideration. We used to organize our rocket shelling on the supposition that the war would last for long and we did not want the war to end because we ran out of rockets.
Thus this was the “Qualitative Balance Operation” and the first strike. Indeed the following day when they discovered the truth and found out that a great number of rockets was launched on that very day, Halotz entered again to the mini-cabinet and told them: Unfortunately, it seems we ushered in a long operation which might last for weeks…”