Israelis Confront 'New Kind of War'
High-Tech Tactics Fail to Halt Rocket Fire

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 9, 2006

JERUSALEM, Aug. 8 -- Three years ago, Ron Kehrmann's 17-year-old daughter died when a suicide bomber blew up a Haifa city bus.

Two nights ago, a Hezbollah rocket landed about 100 yards from Kehrmann's print shop in downtown Haifa, the coastal city that has been the target of scores of rocket attacks.

"There's a lot of resemblance with what happened when my daughter was killed and what is going on now," said Kehrmann, a 48-year-old Haifa native. "This time it's an even more threatening situation. When you're a suicide bomber, you're one or two people; in this case there are barrages of 17 or more rockets, and your chances of getting hit are much higher."

Like the suicide bombers who terrified Israelis during the Palestinian uprising, Hezbollah's unguided and relatively unsophisticated missiles have left one of the world's best-equipped armies unable to defend its citizens.

Military analysts say Israel believed, perhaps mistakenly, that it could wage a Kosovo-style air war to eliminate most of Hezbollah's launchers. They also fault the military's over-reliance on high technology in an era of guerrilla-style threats, and a political strategy of trying to keep military deaths low by using minimal ground forces.

"I don't think anybody had any way to really grasp the implications of this kind of war," said Gerald Steinberg, head of the conflict management program at Bar-Ilan University.

With 150 to 200 missiles landing almost daily in northern Israel, the country's primary defense has been to clear citizens from the region or send them into shelters. The relentless and indiscriminant rocket attacks -- which increased despite Israeli air and ground wars against Hezbollah in Lebanon -- have undermined the country's faith in both military and political leaders and are likely to force major shifts in Israeli military strategy and tactics, according to many analysts.

"This war will be studied in all military academies in the world as a new kind of war which requires new and unprecedented definitions of how to fight it and how to win it," said Yaron Ezrahi, a professor at Hebrew University who is one of Israel's leading political scientists.

"The problem for the army and the problem for the Israeli government is the concept of military victory which was inscribed in the minds of Israelis in wars like the Six-Day War or even the Yom Kippur War," said Ezrahi. "That is utterly irrelevant to this kind of war, to the war of a regular army against a terrorist network."

One of the most significant military debates spawned by the conflict is over the investment in a state-of-the-art military that appears to be ill-equipped to combat weaponry such as Hezbollah's rockets.

"Technology has taken a blow in this war," said Hillel Frisch, a senior researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. "The Israeli air force is going to come under tremendous criticism."

The United States and Israel invested in developing a multibillion-dollar missile defense system after Saddam Hussein fired Scud missiles at Israeli cities in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. But the Arrow-2 system is incapable of hitting Hezbollah's long- or short-range rockets, which are launched too close to Israel and land too quickly.

The Israeli military scuttled a program several years ago to develop defenses against primitive rocketry, deciding the effort was too expensive and might not work, according to Frisch.

Instead, Israel Defense Forces aircraft, drones and surveillance systems have been trying to spot the elusive rocket launchers, usually after the rockets have been fired and the portable launchers have been driven away by Hezbollah fighters.

Just as suicide bombers packed their explosive devices with pieces of shrapnel and ball bearings to increase their potency, many of Hezbollah's warheads have been filled with bullets and tiny metal balls that augment their destructive power when they hit humans, buildings or automobiles, according to police investigators who have examined the rocket debris.

"These missiles are very inaccurate," said Martin Van Creveld, a prominent Israeli military historian who teaches at Hebrew University. The deaths of 12 reserve soldiers lounging in a parking lot in the border town of Kfar Giladi on Sunday "was a pure accident," he said. "It might have landed anywhere else."

Forty-eight people have died in the rocket attacks -- 36 civilians and 12 soldiers, according to the Israeli military.

The Israeli military has "not been able to break their spirit, yet," said Van Creveld, referring to Hezbollah. "Unless it is stopped diplomatically, it could go on for a long time."

Analysts and the Israeli military estimate that Hezbollah had anywhere from 12,000 to 16,000 rockets. The military estimates that Hezbollah has fired nearly 3,500 rockets into Israel -- most of them the medium- and shorter-range varieties. Those projectiles range from 302mm rockets weighing 165 pounds that can fly up to 68 miles to a Haseb rocket weighing 14 pounds that can travel up to seven miles, according to the Israeli National Police.

Steinberg estimated that Hezbollah had 1,000 to 1,500 rocket launchers before the conflict began, many of them hidden or kept underground. After four weeks of aerial bombardments and ground skirmishes, the Israeli military estimates that it has destroyed about 300 launchers, a spokesman said.

"To find all the needles in the haystack is going to be difficult," Steinberg said.

"Experience shows that air force is not good enough to deal with rocket-launching," said Eran Duvdevani, a military operations specialist at Israel's International Policy Institute for Counter Terrorism and an instructor for Israeli military officer training programs. "There is no alternative but to use ground forces."

The debate over sending Israeli ground troops into southern Lebanon was one of the most emotional of the conflict.

Military officials feared significant casualties, and political leaders worried about the impact of the deaths in a nation where military service is mandatory for men and women.

"The Israeli army didn't move quickly and decisively as it should have," said Frisch, the military analyst. "The big debate is the change in ethos. Now soldiers' lives have become more precious than losses in the rear."

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