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Israel examines its military during Lebanon fighting lull

Israel examines its military during Lebanon fighting lull

The fighting in Lebanon is already triggering debate about the division of
missions between the Israeli air force and army. The conflict also revealed
classified technology that Tel Aviv kept under wraps prior to the simultaneous
conflicts with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Analysis of the combat is being rushed because many believe the U.N.
ceasefire will not be lasting. Both U.S. and Israeli military officials doubt
that either U.N. or Lebanese troops can disarm Hezbollah troops, and that means
that a continuation of the fighting is inevitable.

"The ceasefire is not in Israel's interest," a Pentagon official says.
"Hezbollah will use it to rearm and redeploy."

"I absolutely agree," says a retired Israel air force general. "They are
preparing for the second round of fighting which will start soon."
Hezbollah officials were saying last week, within days of the ceasefire,
that they would not withdraw or disarm without extended negotiations with the
Lebanese government of which they contend their organization is a part. That
stance indicates Hezbollah will try to shed its title of a state within a state
and will present its militant wing as a legitimate Lebanese military force. It
would justify retaining its arms as the only way to protect southern Lebanon
from Israel since the country's regular military is too weak to do so. The U.N.
force being assembled to police the area will not be authorized to disarm

In defense of the IAF, the air service's leadership never claimed that it
could suppress the short-range missiles fired by the hundreds from southern
Lebanon, says the general, who maintains his contacts with the strike fighter
community. "Nobody suggested that the air force could win the war alone," he

However, the air force was extremely effective in carrying out the
strategic missions it was assigned, the general contends. "It took care of all
the long-range missile capability which could have inflicted damage south of
Haifa," he says. "They did not fire a single [210-kilometer range Zilzal-2]."

Some of the earliest reports from Israel's Defense Ministry confirmed that a
number of the long-range weapons had been identified and destroyed. The other
strategic mission of the IAF was to damage the roads and bridges that had
permitted the long-term supply of weapons, supplies and intelligence gathering
equipment from Syria and Iran.

Israeli troops are finding still packaged Russian-designed AT-5 anti-tank
weapons produced in Iran as well as Russian-made, Syrian-supplied Kornet-E
laser-guided and Metis-M anti-armor missile weapons with delivery instructions
attached. Other equipment discovered in captured strongholds includes Russian
AT-4 Fagot and Italian Milan anti-tank weapons, as well as a variety of
sophisticated observation devices, including night-vision systems and remote-
controlled cameras.

However, the weapons with the most political impact in this conflict were
the short-range, unguided artillery rockets, like the Iranian-built Fajr-3 (now
being found in large numbers) that fell on Israel by the hundreds. Despite the
bombing campaign, thousands of these weapons were already in Lebanon and in
Hezbollah's hands before the air war began.

"The air force can't take care of the tactical missiles" once they are out
of sight in tunnels and building basements, the IAF general says. "That's a
different issue. It's not the task of the air force. There's no way [fighters
and unmanned aircraft] can find and destroy all the short-range rockets. There's
no way to do that but with a ground force" that can go into the building and
tunnel complexes where the missiles are hidden. "That was obvious from the
beginning of the war."

While the IAF contends it did its mission, others are putting some of the
blame for the offensive's mixed results on the Israel Defense Forces chief of
staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the first air force officer to serve in that post.
Critics contend that his expectations for the IAF were too high. As a result,
along with continued fighting against Hamas in Gaza and the looming roles-and-
missions battle between the services, there are strong signals the Israeli
defense establishment is headed for a shakeup. Halutz is also under pressure
from some factions to resign after it was disclosed he sold stocks shortly after
the attack on Israeli soldiers inside Israel that led to the latest conflict.

The stock market later dropped sharply. Additionally, a heated debate over
future defense spending priorities is expected in the coming months.

The Israeli military says it struck 7,000 targets during the month-long
campaign, with the navy bombarding another 2,500 along the coast. The air force
flew more than 15,500 missions, about two- thirds of which were for combat
operations and the others in support roles. About 2,000 helicopter missions were
flown, plus 1,000 helicopter-based search-and-rescue missions and about 1,200
transport aircraft missions.

The IDF says reconnaissance flights totaled more than 1,300, including
manned and unmanned aircraft. However, within those unmanned flights a
classified capability was fielded, apparently for the first time. Armed UAVs
were employed by the IAF throughout the war, but without any great visibility.

But toward the end of the conflict, at least a few missiles were fired from
UAVs during the daytime, and they were spotted by ground observers. A least one
of them claimed he was in a convoy of civilian automobiles that was attacked.

- David A. Fulghum (davef@aviationweek.com)