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So far, Israeli action is going to plan

Martin van Creveld

The Guardian, Wednesday 7 January 2009

This article appeared on p7 of the Main section section of the Guardian on Wednesday 7 January
2009. It was published on at 00.01 GMT on Wednesday 7 January 2009. It was last
modified at 00.22 GMT on Wednesday 7 January 2009. It was first published at 00.20 GMT on
Wednesday 7 January 2009.

Karl Marx once said that historical events appear to repeat themselves; the first time is serious,
the second is farce. Recent events in the Middle East seem to confirm his theory, albeit that the
order has been reversed.
Tactically and operationally, Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 2006 was in many ways a farce. The
air force performed extremely well, taking just three days to accomplish what General
Schwarzkopf in 1991 failed to do in six weeks (finding and knocking out the enemy's long range
rocket launchers). On the other hand, the ground forces proved almost entirely useless. Much of
the equipment was old and deficient. Command and control, logistics, and intelligence all failed
to work as they should. Some of the Israeli troops had not trained for years; their motivation
having been sapped by the need to police the Palestinians in the occupied territories, they went to
war as if it were a picnic. As a result, 120 of them were killed.
This time things are very different. In charge is a new and very able minister of defence as well
as a new, rather dour, chief of staff. Having been fired on for years, most Israelis are convinced
the war is absolutely necessary. Militarily speaking the operation has been well conceived, well
prepared, and well executed.
When it was the turn of the ground forces to do their bit they displayed none of the hesitancy so
characteristic of the Second Lebanon War. Even civil defence, which in Israel is the
responsibility of the army and which in 2006 malfunctioned badly, is doing its job as well as
anybody could expect. Partly as a result, though Hamas has launched several hundred rockets
into Israel and is firing more daily, so far the number of Israeli civilian casualties has been

negligible. Among military casualties, most were due to friendly fire rather than to anything the
enemy could do.
Now that the Israelis have cut the Gaza Strip into three parts and occupied most of the open
terrain, they are likely to find the next stage of the campaign more difficult. Hamas well
understands its own inability to confront the Israeli juggernaut in the open. Accordingly it has
been preparing for urban warfare; equipping its fighters with short-range anti-tank weapons,
building bunkers, laying mines of all sizes (in the past, some weighing as much as 200 pounds
have been used), booby-trapping houses, and digging tunnels.
In the face of such resistance, the last thing the Israelis want to do is to barge down the alleys of
Gaza, Rafa, and Khan Yunnis. Instead, it is a question of provoking the enemy to fire coming
just close enough to flush him out of his hiding places and bring him to battle. To accomplish
this they must advance carefully and systematically, using every means; electronic intelligence,
signals intelligence, whole arrays of unmanned airborne vehicles, sophisticated night vision
equipment and possibly also Palestinian collaborators (human intelligence). Once the enemy has
been identified they rely on their air force and infinitely superior artillery to blast away the
Hamas fighters. To the Palestinians unlucky enough to get involved in the fighting the process is
likely to be very costly mais c'est la guerre.
For all the Israeli shortcomings that the 2006 war in Lebanon revealed, after five weeks of
incessant pounding Hezbollah's will was broken and it agreed to a ceasefire. This time around
Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and Minister of Defence, Ehud Barak, have made it clear that they
mean business; perhaps this explains why, so far, Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah has done
nothing more than hold speeches.
Considering how much better prepared and organised the Israelis are this time around, there is
good reason to hope that the result of the present campaign will be similar, namely an end to the
rockets and the insertion of some kind of international force that will limit, if not prevent,
Hamas' ability to rearm. Judging by the intensive and very successful reconstruction activity that
has taken place in southern Lebanon, such an outcome can only benefit both sides.

Martin van Creveld is an Israeli military historian and expert on strategy who lives near Jerusalem.

Why Iraq Will End as Vietnam Did

by Martin Van Creveld

As Shakespeare once wrote, they have their exits and their entries. Between about 1975
and 1990, following the US defeat in Vietnam, military history was extremely popular
among the US Armed Forces. After 1991, largely as a result of what many people
considered the stellar performance of those Forces against Saddam Hussein, it went
out of fashion; after all, if we were able to do that well there was not much point in
studying the mistakes our predecessors made. Now that comparisons between Vietnam
and Iraq have suddenly become very fashionable indeed, history is rushing right back at
us. Here, I wish to address the differences and the similarities between the two wars by
describing Vietnam as it was experienced by one man, Moshe Dayan.
As of 2004, Dayan is remembered, if he is remembered at all, mainly as
the symbol of Israeli military power on the one hand and as one of the
architects of the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Agreement on the other. In 1966
he was fifty-one years old. Having resigned his position as chief of staff
in January 1958, he spent the next two years studying Orientalism and
political science at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In 1959 he was elected to
Parliament and spent five years as minister of agriculture; serving first under his old
mentor, David Ben Gurion, and then under Levi Eshkol. In November 1964 he resigned
and found himself a member of the opposition.
Long interested in literature, a superb speaker when he wanted to, in 1965 he published
his first book, Sinai Diary, which proved that he could write as well as fight. He was,
however, developing an attitude of having seen it all, done it all; a feeling that his twin
hobbies, archaeology and an endless string of mistresses, could only relieve up to a
point. Hence, when the most important Israeli newspaper of the time, Maariv, proposed
that he go to Vietnam as a war correspondent he jumped on the idea. The articles he
wrote were published in Maariv as well as the British and French press. In 1977, by
which time he was serving as foreign minister under Menahem Begin and engaged in
peace-talks with Egypt, the Hebrew-language articles were collected in book form and

published. In the preface Dayan explains they were too long to be included in the
memoirs he had published a year before; perhaps his real aim was to warn Israelis of the
consequences that might ultimately follow if they did not get rid of what he called the
blemish of conquest. If so, unfortunately he did not succeed.
Dayan knew nothing about Vietnam, and prepared himself thoroughly. His first visit
was to France where he had many acquaintances from the time of the Israeli-French
alliance of the mid-nineteen fifties; some of these people had served in, and helped lose,
the First Indo-China War. His very first contact was a retired Air Force General by the
name of Loission. In Loissions view American public opinion was to blame for not
putting its full support behind the War to which should be added, in parentheses, that
at the beginning of the War that support had been overwhelming. He thought the War
could easily be won if only American public opinion agreed to bomb North Vietnam
back into the Stone Age. As it was, a combination of Viet Cong terrorism and
propaganda prevented the world, as well as the South Vietnamese themselves, from
seeing how righteous the American cause was; he even believed that, had free elections
been held, the Vietnamese might have wanted the French back. He ended the
conversation by asking for his ideas to be kept secret. Dayan, who did not think those
ideas constituted a ray of light to an embarrassed world, readily agreed.
His other French contact, a General Niceault, was more enlightening. For his role in the
1961 attempt to overthrow the Fifth Republic, Niceault had just spent five years in jail;
as so often happens, jail proved an opportunity to think and to learn. Unlike Loission he
had devoted a lot of thought to the matter and his mind was fresh and agile. To Dayan
he explained that the Americans were using the wrong forces against the wrong targets.
Their intelligence simply was not good enough, and most of their bombs hit nothing but
empty stretches of jungle. He suggested that the solution to the problem was to use
small groups of five to seven men; their task would be to shadow the Viet Cong and act
as guides, calling in air power or artillery when contact was formed. The American
attempts to prevent the North Vietnamese from infiltrating into South Vietnam by way

of the demilitarized zone were not working either, given that each time a path was
blocked another one could be found to bypass it. Perhaps the War could be won by
sending in a million-man army and killing all male Vietnamese, but the days in which
such things were possible had gone. He ended by telling Dayan that there was no point
in going to Vietnam, since he would see nothing anyhow. Typically of him, Dayan
answered that, if he would be unable to see the enemy or the war, at any rate he would
see that he could not see; and that, too, would be enlightening.
From France he went to Britain in order to see Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery of
Alamein. Montgomery at that time was in the midst of writing his History of Warfare;
Dayan, who had met him once before when he was studying at Camberley Staff College
in 1951, noted how relaxed and alert the old man looked. Montgomerys ideas
concerning Vietnam were very clear-cut. The Americans most important problem in
running the War was that they did not have an unambiguous objective. He himself had
tried to get an answer on that subject from no less a person than former vice president
Richard Nixon. In response he had been treated to a twenty-minute lecture; at the end of
which he remained as much in the dark as he had been at the beginning.
To Montgomery, an exceptionally systematic commander who always planned his
moves very carefully, that was the essence of the problem. Not having a clear overall
policy, the Americans were permitting the field commanders to call the shots. They did
what they knew best, screaming for more and more troops, locking up entire
populations in what where euphemistically called strategic hamlets, and bombing and
shelling without giving a thought to what, if anything, they were achieving. At the end
of their talk Montgomery told Dayan to tell the Americans, in his name, that they were
insane. Again Dayan did not disagree, though perhaps this time for different reasons.
From Britain he flew to the United States. Eighteen years had passed since his first visit
to that country. Like many visitors, the dominant impression he received was that of

towering power the like of which history had never seen. Here was a society racing into
the twenty-first century, with the rest of the world only barely keeping pace.
His first meeting was at the Pentagon where no fewer than three colonels had been
appointed to brief him. They pretended to be humble and called him the glorious
General Dayan; at the same time, as he noted, they appeared ready to provide him not
only with the answers but also with the questions he was supposed to ask. He left with
the feeling that they, and those whom they represented, did not really have a handle on
the War. In particular, he wondered why, given the four to one superiority that the
Americans and their South Vietnamese Allies enjoyed over the Viet Cong, General
Westmoreland would not give the latter a chance to concentrate and attack so that he
himself could smash them to pieces. The answer he received, namely that Westmoreland
thought doing so was too risky, he considered unconvincing.
During the next few days his feeling that the Americans did not really know where they
were going was reinforced. Everywhere he went he was received courteously enough.
Everywhere he went the people he encountered were committed and extremely hard
working. Intensely patriotic, they seemed proud of what they were doing and would not
admit any errors. At one point he asked whether they had changed their methods since
they first went to Vietnam and was told that they did not have to do so since everything
worked much better than expected. Thereupon he noted that the US Military never made
any mistakes; however, that comment he kept to himself. He was subjected to a flood of
statistics so and so many enemies killed, so and so many captured meant to prove
that the situation was well under control and that large parts of the territory of South
Vietnam, as well as its population, were now safe against terrorist attack. As he noted,
however, even a few elementary questions revealed that things were far from simple.
Later he was to discover how right he had been in this; in the whole of South Vietnam
there was not a single road that was really safe against the Viet Cong. Nor was there
anything to prevent the enemy from returning even to those places that had been most
thoroughly cleansed and pacified.

The three most important figures he met were the deputy head of the National Security
Council, Walt Rostow, General Maxwell Taylor who was then acting as special adviser
to President Johnson, and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Rostow, a Harvardbased economist, had published a famous book in which he explained how the
developing world would catch up with the developed one in four clear, well-defined,
stages. Now he told Dayan that the desire for economic growth would drive the peoples
of Asia closer to the US. Dayan, who had observed how determined Israel Arabs
neighbors had been to get rid of their Western overlords even at heavy economic cost,
doubted it; had he been alive today, no doubt he would have expressed the same idea
about the situation in Iraq. Rostow also believed, or pretended to believe, that the
forthcoming elections in South Vietnam would be free and democratic and thus
strengthen the Government in waging the War. Still he was the first American to whom
Dayan spoke who was prepared to admit that the US objective was not just to help
South Vietnam but to set up a permanent military political presence in South East Asia
so as to counterbalance the growing power of China. To that extent, the conversation
with him was the most useful of those he had had so far.
Taylor, whom he met next, was the first American to present him with a comprehensive
plan for winning the War. It consisted of four elements, namely a. improving US Army
operations on the ground; b. making full use of the Air Force to bomb the North; c.
strengthening the economy of South Vietnam; and d. reaching an honorable peace
with Ho Chi Minh. Asked whether he thought the US was making progress in those
directions, however, he could not produce convincing indications that this was indeed
the case. As the Americans themselves admitted, in spite of the heavy casualties being
inflicted on the VC Taylor estimated them at 1,000 a week the latters operations
kept growing more extensive and more dangerous. Nor could Taylor point to any clear
progress as a result of the air campaign. He did, however, believe that the bombing
formed a heavy burden on the North; sooner or later, the enemy would break.

Dayans last important contact, Robert McNamara, had a reputation of being hard to
approach. This turned out to be untrue and Dayan was pleasantly surprised; at a small
dinner party with Margot (McNamaras wife), Walt Rostow and several journalists, the
Secretary Defense did what he could to answer all the questions that were directed at
him. He admitted that many of the figures being floated by the Pentagon particularly
those pertaining to the percentage of the country and population secured were
meaningless at best and bogus at worst. No more than anybody else could he explain to
Dayan how the Americans intended to end the War. What set him apart was the fact that
he was prepared to admit it, albeit only in a half- hearted way; as we now know, he
already had his own doubts which led to his resignation in the next year. He consoled
himself by saying that the War was not hurting the US economy. In other words, it could
go on and on until one side or the other gave way.
Flying to Vietnam by way of Honolulu and Tokyo, Dayan summed up his impressions
so far. Almost all of the Americans he had met were pleasant enough. None, however,
could tell him how they were going to win the War. Most could not even give a
convincing reason why the US had to be in Vietnam in the first place; at least one had
said that, had President Johnson been presented with a way to get out, he would have
jumped on it and withdrawn his troops. What really infuriated them was any attempt to
question their motives. As far as they were concerned their cause was noble and just.
The fact that the Communist States did what they could to support the Viet Cong and
North Vietnam was bad but understandable. They were, however, puzzled by the
attitude of their European allies. Those Europeans supposedly shared Americas liberaldemocratic values. Still many of them were strongly critical. At a loss to explain the
problem, the Americans attributed it to cowardice, envy, and the resentment that arose
from Europes own recent failure in waging Imperialist war. He thought that, in
ignoring the Europeans, the Americans were making a big mistake.
To make things stranger still, the determination of American decision-makers to ignore
world public opinion was counterbalanced by their extreme sensitivity to the views of

their own electorate. At that moment, he noted, fully seventy five percent of those
polled were in favor of bombing North Vietnam just as, in April 2004, a small
majority of Americans still believed that the war in Iraq was worth-while. Still
permitting public opinion to decide on such issues seemed to him a strange way to run a
war, and one he thought was likely to have grave consequences for the future.
He arrived in Vietnam on 25 July. His first stop was Saigon where he spent two days
being processed. He was issued with an American uniform, rucksack, water bottles,
and helmet; as he wrote, had it depended on the soldiers in charge they would also have
given him a weapon and hand-grenades. He used his spare time to meet a Vietnamese
professor of nuclear physics to whom he had been referred by an Israeli friend. The
professor told him in strict confidence, since saying anything contrary to the official
line was dangerous that the Viet Cong were much stronger than the Americans knew
or wanted to know. Later during his visit he also had occasion to meet with the South
Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and minister of defense, General Nguyen Van Thieu,
as well the chief of the general staff of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Both owed
their positions to the Americans who had connived in Diems assassination and both, he
thought, were highly intelligent men. Both, interestingly enough, reserved their greatest
admiration not for some American commander but for the North-Vietnamese General
Giap. Giap had been the hero of the struggle against the French. Now, they fondly
hoped, he might force Hanoi to make peace.
On 27 July he joined a river patrol. The patrol consisted of three fast boats, each one
manned by four nice kids and commanded by an officer. They were armed with heavy
machine guns and light automatic cannon; as he noted, it was the first time since the
Civil War when the US Navy had embarked on river operations. They raced along at 25
knots an hour, using visual navigation to find their way by day and infrared at night.
From time to time they would stop to search one of the thousands of South Vietnamese
boats carrying provisions from the Delta to Saigon. The searches woke up old
memories. They reminded him of the ones that the British used to conduct when trying

to fight Jewish terrorists in Palestine; offensive, but largely useless. The US sailors
checked papers, took a perfunctory look at the load of the boats they stopped, and
proceeded on their mission. While he did not think the boats they examined actually
carried weapons, had they wanted to do so it would have been easy enough. As to
thoroughly checking each and every boat, it was clearly impossible.
On 28 July he went aboard the largest aircraft carrier then cruising off the Vietnamese
coast, USS Constellation. He was a professional military man and had often read and
heard about such ships; yet what he now saw made a breath-taking impression on
him. The vessel constituted five acres of sovereign American territory that could go
anywhere without having to worry about troublesome allies. Isolated at sea, the crew
did not constitute a security problem and the lack of anything else to do made them
work all the harder at their jobs. The ship was protected from the air, the sea, the
ground, outer space, and under water; if Dayan was being ironic after all, the enemy
consisted of little men wearing straw hats he did not say so. The product of this
floating factory was firepower. Every ninety minutes, amidst a numbing outburst of fire
and noise, flights of combat aircraft took off to strike at targets in Vietnam; but when it
came to specifying the precise nature of those targets his hosts refused to answer his
questions. As always, Dayan was impressed by the Americans pride in themselves,
their nation, and their mission. He ended the day by noting that they were not fighting
against infiltration to South [Vietnam], or against guerrillas, or against North
Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, but against the entire world. Their real aim was to
show everybody including Britain, France, and the USSR their power and
determination so as to pass this message: wherever Americans go, they are irresistible.
The next month he stayed until 27 August was spent visiting various units
throughout South Vietnam. First he went to see the Marines, joining a company that was
patrolling only about a mile south of the Demilitarized Zone in order to prevent
infiltration from the North. The company commander was a first lieutenant by the name
of Charles Krulak. For two nights and three days they humped up and down amidst the

vegetation that covered the hills. They waded through streams and sometimes almost
drowned in them; at one point Dayan himself lost his foothold and had to be pulled out.
Yet throughout all that time the only target at which they opened fire was some kind of
unidentified animal. Apparently it had been wounded, and the noise it made kept the
entire unit awake for an entire night. Thirty-five year later General (ret.) Krulak, excommandant of the Marine Corps, told me that, as they set up camp one evening, Dayan
had asked them what they were doing there. He gave it as his opinion that the American
strategy was wrong. They should be where the people are, not vainly trying to chase
the Viet Cong in the mountains where they were not.
A few days later his wish to see the War where the people are was granted. Near Da
Nang, he visited another Marine unit that was engaged in pacification. The Marines
were responsible for security he noted their excellent discipline whereas most of the
actual work was done by civilians. Once again, he found the Americans on the spot
committed and immensely proud of what they were doing to bring a ray of light into a
troubled world. Once again, he left the district clear in his own mind that much
remained to be done; so much so that it was doubtful whether the Americans were
making any progress at all. Nor was he impressed with the attempts to help the South
Vietnamese peasants improve their standard of living by introducing new agricultural
methods, better livestock, and so on. One is reminded of the figures coming out of Iraq
concerning schools and clinics reopened, doctors pay raised, and the like.
Back in Paris Niceault had told him the battle for hearts and minds would not work,
given that that the Vietnamese had their own cultural traditions as well as immensely
beautiful women and that Californization was the last thing they wanted. This,
moreover, was a field where he had some experience. With US financial backing, during
his term as minister of agriculture (195963) he had sent Israeli experts to carry out
agrarian reforms in various Asian and African countries. Some of those countries he had
visited in person, only to find out how hard it was to make a long-established culture

change its ways. Clearly doing so in the midst of a war, when every achievement was
under constant threat from Viet Cong terrorists, was much harder still.
Another extremely interesting visit was the one he paid to 1st Air Cavalry Division.
Organized only a few years previously, it was the most up-to-date fighting force in the
entire world. Not to mention the incredible economic, industrial, and logistic power that
made such a unit possible in the first place; and, having done so, supported it in battle
thousands of miles away from home. Operating under conditions of absolute air
superiority as was also to be the case in Iraq, in all South Vietnam there was not a
single enemy aircraft the division did exactly as it pleased. It required no more than
four hours warning to land an entire battalion at any location within its helicopters
range. As it turned out, though, often four hours were four hours too many. Arriving at
the selected spot, the troops would find that the enemy had gone.
It must have been during his stay with 1st Cavalry that the following incident took
place. As was his custom, Dayan wanted to visit the front, which in the case of Vietnam
meant going on patrol. His hosts reluctantly agreed, but fearing lest something might
happen to the celebrity for whom they were responsible selected a route that was
supposedly free of the Viet Cong. As often happened, their information proved wrong.
They came under fire and were pinned down, as the phrase went. Looking around
from where he was lying, the American captain in charge discovered that Dayan had
disappeared. In the end he located him; the middle-aged visitor from Israel was sitting
comfortably on top of a grassy knoll. With great effort, the captain crawled to him and
asked what he was doing. What are you doing? was the answer he got: get your up
here, and see what this battle is all about.
The way he saw it, the problem was intelligence. According to Nortons (commanding
officer, 1st Air Cavalry) information, there was a Viet Cong division in this highland
area. It was not concentrated in a single base but split into several battalions, each about
350 men strong. It was Nortons plan to land a battalion... in the Vietcong divisional

area and then, in accordance with the developments of the battle, to rush in additional
reaction troops to reinforce, seal off, and carry out flank attacks. All this was fine,
except for one small item missing in the plan: the exact location of the Viet Cong
battalions was not known. Air photos and air reconnaissance had failed to pick out their
encampments, entrenched, bunkered and camouflaged with the jungle vegetation. The
US intelligence sources were largely technical air photos and decoded radio
intercepts, for Viet Cong units from battalion strength and up used transmitters. Only
scanty information could be gleaned from POWs. Many of the latter spat in the
Americans face and swore to die rather than talk.
Contrary to what had been written about the enormous logistical requirements of the US
troops from iced beer to go-go girls he was impressed by the Spartan nature of the
arrangements. The Americans were prepared to improvise at a moments notice; throw a
flack jacket into the helicopter, hop in, and off you go hunting VC. The entire Division
was a huge force, fast and efficient. It used its weapons including artillery support
and tactical and strategic air support very effectively indeed; in Dayans view, it was
as superior to other forces as the German tanks had been to their enemies at the
beginning of World War II. [Its] battle procedures operated like an assembly belt. First
came the shelling of the landing zones by ground artillery. Then came aerial
bombardment. And the landings themselves were covered by gunships, the
accompanying, close-support, heli-borne, units firing their rockets and machine guns
almost at our feet. It was an amazing operation, but where was the war? It was like
watching military maneuvers with only one side. Where were the Viet Cong? And
where was the battle? The Viet Cong were there, a few hundred yards away. And the
battle came half an hour later when the company which had landed 300 yards to our
south ran into an ambush after it had started moving off. Within minutes the company
was shot to pieces, suffering 25 dead and some 50 wounded including its commander.
Calling in their firepower, 1st Cavalry gave pursuit. Meeting resistance they would
radio for the B-52s bombers; to what effect, was not clear.

To recount each and every detail of Dayans visit would be tedious. Everywhere he was
met with the greatest courtesy and was given a fairly free hand to see and ask what he
wanted. As he noted, American officers were committed, very hard working, and as
frank as circumstances permitted; many of them enjoyed the War which, at this time,
was still in its forward phase. General Westmoreland he found pleasant and informal.
It was true he seemed to lack the astute expression that Dayan had discerned with
some other senior generals. Still there could be no question of American officers being
incompetent oafs who delighted in setting alight Vietnamese huts and were fragged by
their own men; that image only rose after the War and as a direct result of it.
One of their problems was the need to get their names mentioned by the media so as to
advance their careers. This, Dayan thought, did not turn them into better persons or,
what was more important, better commanders. He admired the American rank and file,
particularly the Marines and the Green Berets. They were physically fit, very well
trained, and, this being 1966, still did their job willingly. They were, to use his own
Hebrew phrase, golden guys; the fact that they were being rotated in an out of the
country too fast to learn its ways and become really effective in doing their work was
scarcely their fault. He was even more impressed by the tremendous military-industrial
muscle that enabled 1,700 helicopters to be deployed in a single theater of war. It also
enabled a single operation by a single South Korean infantry company to be supported
by no fewer than 21,000 artillery rounds. As he noted, this was more than had been
expended by all Israeli forces in the wars of 1948 and 1956 combined.
Still, nothing could make up for the lack of accurate and timely tactical intelligence.
Partly its absence was due to cultural obstacles; wherever he went, translators were very
much in demand and, of course, said exactly what they pleased. Partly it was due to the
physical conditions of the country, and partly to the nature of the War itself. In Dayans
own words, the information available to the Americans was limited to: 1. What they
could photograph; 2. What they could intercept (SIGINT); and 3. What they could glean
from low-ranking prisoners. As a result, most of the time they were using

sledgehammers to knock holes in empty air. So far they had not succeeded in inflicting
unacceptable losses on the enemy who kept reinforcing. Even if they did succeed,
militarily, it was hard to see how the South Vietnamese would be able to set up a viable
government in the shadow of the gigantic machine that protected them; whether that
machine would ever be withdrawn was anybodys guess.
As to what he was told of the wars objectives, such as defending democracy and
helping the South Vietnamese people, he considered it childish propaganda; if many
of the Americans he met believed in them, clearly nobody else did. Over a year before
the Tet Offensive proved that something was very, very wrong, he left Vietnam with the
definite impression that things were not going at all well. In his own words, the
Americans are winning everything except the war. Perhaps this was one reason why,
instead of flying home by way of the United States as both Taylor and McNamara had
asked him to do, he chose the other route. When he wanted to he could be very tactful
and rubbing salt into the Americans wounds was the last thing he wanted. The trip did,
however, provide a welcome opportunity to keep his military knowledge up to date.
Some people claim that the US won the War in Vietnam, to which I can only say that I
strongly disagree. Others argue that Vietnam differed from Iraq, saying that it was
essentially a conventional war that was lost because the American civilian leadership
failed to provide its Armed Forces with proper strategic direction. It is of course true
that there are considerable differences between the two. Still, recalling Dayans
observations, I think there are three main reasons why the similarities are more
First, according to Dayan, the most important operational problem the US Forces were
facing was intelligence, in other words the inability to distinguish the enemy from either
the physical surroundings or the civilian population. Had intelligence been available
then their enormous superiority in every kind of military hardware would have enabled
them to win the War easily enough. In its absence, most of the blows they delivered

including no fewer than six million tons of bombs dropped hit empty air. All they did
was make the enemy disperse and merge into the civilian population, thus making it
even harder to find him. Worst of all, lack of accurate intelligence meant that the
Americans kept hitting noncombatants by mistake. They thus drove huge segments of
the population straight into the arms of the Viet Cong; nothing is more conducive to
hatred than the sight of relatives and friends being killed.
Second, as Dayan saw clearly enough, the campaign for hearts and minds did not work.
Many of the figures being published about the progress it was making turned out to be
bogus, designed to set the minds of the folks at home at rest. In other cases any progress
laboriously made over a period of months was undone in a matter of minutes as the Viet
Cong attacked, destroying property and killing collaborators. Above all, the idea that
the Vietnamese people wanted to become Americanized was an illusion. All the vast
majority really wanted was to be left alone and get on with their lives.
The third and most important reason why I think Vietnam is relevant to the situation in
Iraq is because the Americans found themselves in the unfortunate position where they
were beating down on the weak. To quote Dayan: any comparison between the two
armies was astonishing. On the one hand there was the American Army, complete
with helicopters, an air force, armor, electronic communications, artillery, and mindboggling riches; to say nothing of ammunition, fuel, spare parts, and equipment of all
kinds. On the other there were the [North Vietnamese troops] who had been walking on
foot for four months, carrying some artillery rounds on their backs and using a tin spoon
to eat a little ground rice from a tin plate.
That, of course, was precisely the problem. In private life, an adult who keeps beating
down on a five year old even such a one as originally attacked him with a knife will
be perceived as committing a crime; therefore he will lose the support of bystanders and
end up by being arrested, tried and convicted. In international life, an armed force that
keeps beating down on a weaker opponent will be seen as committing a series of

crimes; therefore it will end up by losing the support of its allies, its own people, and its
own troops. Depending on the quality of the forces whether they are draftees or
professionals, the effectiveness of the propaganda machine, the nature of the political
process, and so on things may happen quickly or take a long time to mature. However,
the outcome is always the same. He (or she) who does not understand this does not
understand anything about war; or, indeed, human nature.
In other words, he who fights against the weak and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very
weak indeed and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To
kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel;
to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish. As Vietnam and
countless other cases prove, no armed force however rich, however powerful, however,
advanced, and however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is
always disintegration and defeat; if U.S troops in Iraq have not yet started fragging their
officers, the suicide rate among them is already exceptionally high. That is why the
present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one did. Namely, with the
last US troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters skids.
November 18, 2004
Martin Van Creveld is professor of history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has written a
number of books that have influenced modern military theory, including Fighting Power, Command in
War, and most significantly, The Transformation of War. He is also the author of The Rise and Decline
of the State.
Copyright 2004 Martin Van Creveld

Israel Doesnt Need the West Bank To Be Secure

By Martin van Creveld
Published December 15, 2010, issue of December 24, 2010.

When everything is said and done, how important is the West Bank
to Israels defense?
To answer the question, our best starting point is the situation before
the 1967 war. At that time, the Arab armed forces surrounding Israel
outnumbered the Jewish states army by a ratio of 3-to-1. Not only
was the high ground in Judea and Samaria in Jordanian hands, but
Israels capital in West Jerusalem was bordered on three sides by
hostile territory. Arab armies even stood within 14 miles of Tel Aviv.
Still, nobody back then engaged in the sort of fretting we hear today
about defensible borders, let alone Abba Ebans famous
formulation, Auschwitz borders. When the time came, it took the
Israel Defense Forces just six days to crush all its enemies
Since then, of course, much has happened. Though relations with
Egypt and Jordan may not always be rosy, both countries have left
the circle of enmity, as the Hebrew expression goes. Following
two-and-a-half decades of astonishing growth, Israels GDP is now

larger than those of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt combined. As

to military power, suffice it to say that Israel is the worlds fifthlargest exporter of arms.
Syria, Israels main remaining hostile neighbor, has never on its own
been strong enough to seriously threaten Israel. While Damascus is
getting some weapons from Iran, the latter is no substitute for the
genuine superpower patron that Syria had in the old Soviet Union.
Overall, therefore, Israels position is much stronger than it was at
any time in the past. So how does the West Bank fit into this
One of the main threats that Israel faces today is from ballistic
missiles. Yet everybody knows that holding on to the West Bank
wont help Israel defend itself against missiles coming from Syria or
Iran. Even the most extreme hawk would concede this point.
As far as the threat of a land invasion, it is of course true that the
distance between the former Green Line and the Mediterranean is
very small at its narrowest point, what is sometimes
affectionately known as Old Israel is just nine miles wide. As was
noted before, it is also true that the West Bank comprises the high
ground and overlooks Israels coastal plain.

On the other hand, since the West Bank itself is surrounded by Israel
on three sides, anybody who tries to enter it from the east is sticking
his head into a noose. To make things worse for a prospective
invader, the ascent from the Jordan Valley into the heights of Judea
and Samaria is topographically one of the most difficult on earth.
Just four roads lead from east to west, all of which are easily
blocked by air strikes or by means of precision-guided missiles. To
put the icing on the cake, Israeli forces stationed in Jerusalem could
quickly cut off the only road connecting the southern portion of the
West Bank with its northern section in the event of an armed

The defense of the West Bank by Arab forces would be a truly

suicidal enterprise. The late King Hussein understood these facts
well. Until 1967 he was careful to keep most of his forces east of the
Jordan River. When he momentarily forgot these realities in 1967, it
took Israel just three days of fighting to remind him of them.
Therefore, just as Israel does not need the West Bank to defend itself
against ballistic missiles, it does not need that territory to defend
itself against conventional warfare. If it could retain a security
presence in the Jordan Valley, keep the eventual Palestinian state

demilitarized and maintain control of the relevant airspace, that

would all be well and good. However, none of these conditions
existed before 1967; in view of geography and the balance of forces,
none is really essential today either.
And how about terrorism? As experience in Gaza has shown, a fence
(or preferably a wall) can stop suicide bombers from entering. As
experience in Gaza has also shown, it cannot stop mortar rounds and
rockets. Mortar and rocket fire from the West Bank could be very
unpleasant. On the other hand, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran already
have missiles capable of reaching every point in Israel, Tel Aviv
included. Many of those missiles are large and powerful. Compared
to the damage they can cause, anything the Palestinians are ever
likely to do would amount to mere pinpricks.
Furthermore, in recent years Israel has shown it can deal with that
kind of threat if it really wants to. Since 2006, when the Second
Lebanon War killed perhaps 2,000 Lebanese, many of them
civilians, and led to the destruction of an entire section of Beirut, the
northern border has been absolutely quiet. Since Operation Cast
Lead, which killed perhaps 1,200 Gazans, many of them civilians,
and led to the destruction of much of the city of Gaza, not one
Israeli has been killed by a mortar round or rocket coming from the

Gaza Strip. Since mortar rounds and rockets continue to be fired

from time to time, that is hardly accidental. Obviously Hamas, while
reluctant to give up what it calls resistance, is taking care not to
provoke Israel too much.
Keeping all these facts in mind and provided that Israel maintains
its military strength and builds a wall to stop suicide bombers it
is crystal-clear that Israel can easily afford to give up the West Bank.
Strategically speaking, the risk of doing so is negligible. What is not
negligible is the demographic, social, cultural and political challenge
that ruling over 2.5 million nobody knows exactly how many
occupied Palestinians in the West Bank poses. Should Israeli rule
over them continue, then the country will definitely turn into what it
is already fast becoming: namely, an apartheid state that can only
maintain its control by means of repressive secret police actions.
To save itself from such a fate, Israel should rid itself of the West
Bank, most of Arab Jerusalem specifically included. If possible, it
should do so by agreement with the Palestinian Authority; if not,
then it should proceed unilaterally, as the in my view, very
successful withdrawal from Gaza suggests. Or else I would
strongly advise my children and grandson to seek some other, less
purblind and less stiff-necked, country to live in.

Martin van Creveld is an Israeli military historian and the author of The Land of Blood and Honey:
The Rise of Modern Israel (St. Martins Press, 2010).

Lets Drop the Big One Now (23rd June 2011)

Starting on 19 March 2011, wasnt it nice to see those U.S and allied fighterbombers attacking Gaddafis forces? And now that Operation Odyssey Dawn
is already more than three months old, what can it teach us about the
relevance, or lack of it, of airpower in today's world?
A useful starting-point for answering the latter question may be found in
events that took place almost exactly a century ago. On 28 September 1911,
Italy went to war with the Ottoman Empire and invaded Libya. As part of
their army there were no independent air forces as yet the Italians
brought with them nine aircraft (later increased to thirteen). They also had
two airships, creating the largest, most modern force of its kind ever
assembled in history until that time. With this force they quickly established
absolute control of the air, which given that the other side was never able to
fly a single craft, nor fire a single anti-aircraft gun, was not hard to do.
During the early weeks of the campaign, aircraft and airships proved quite
useful. They provided liaison, flew reconnaissance missions, spotted for their
own side's artillery, and dropped hand grenades on the enemy. Never having
seen anything of the kind, the enemy troops ran as soon as the flying
machines made their appearance. This was the age when Kipling wrote of
"the white man's burden". Pro-Imperialist feeling was at its height, with the
result that, all over the "civilized" world, newspapers delighted in publishing
pictures of bare footed natives fleeing along with their women, children,
camels, donkeys, and goats.
Later, as the remaining Ottomans and their Arab allies resorted to guerrilla
warfare, things changed. Italian command of the air notwithstanding, a year

after the beginning of the war no fewer than 100,000 Italian troops were
fighting in Libya two and a half times as many as originally envisaged.
Even so, hostilities dragged on for the next seven years. In 1919 they died
down, only to flare up again three years later. Ultimately it was to take the
Italians, now under ruthless fascist control, twenty-one years, as well as a
quarter of a million ground troops complete with artillery and tanks to pacify
the country. They did so primarily by fencing off the Egyptian frontier, as
well as establishing vast concentration camps in which tens of thousands
died of hunger and disease. In the process, their commander, the subsequent
Field Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, earned the sobriquet "the Butcher of the
Is history being repeated, and if, so, what are the implications of this fact? To
be sure, technology has undergone enormous development since the time
when the most powerful Italian aircraft developing something along the
lines of 50 horsepower could carry a maximum of two people and were
armed with so-called Cipelli hand-grenades that pilots had to arm with their
teeth and throw overboard by hand. Instead of a few ramshackle machines
made of wood, wire and fabric, airpower now consists of a formidable array
of high performance jets, satellites, cruise missiles and drones, all using
sophisticated sensors and guided to their targets by an inconceivably
complex network of the most modern available sensors and data links.
During the first days of the campaign the Coalition's aircraft and cruise
missiles quickly eliminated Gaddafi's anti-aircraft defenses and drove his
aircraft out of the sky again, no great feat given that the former were at

least twenty years out of date and that only a few of the latter seem to have
been operational. That accomplished, though, the basic factors affecting the
use of airpower over Libya today bear a remarkable resemblance to those
that hampered it a century ago. They include problems with the weather,
such as cloud and sandstorms, which can and do disrupt operations; the
relatively small number of machines available to operate over a vast country;
the attacking aircrafts' long turnaround times (much longer than those of
their predecessors, incidentally), and the consequent difficulty of maintaining
continuous surveillance; the need to fly at high altitudes (nowadays, this
means over 15,000 feet) in order to avoid shoulder-launched missiles,
drastically reducing the ability to acquire targets; and the difficulty of
locating well camouflaged targets.
Now even more than then, aircraft tend to come out of God knows where
in fact, some have to fly in all the way from Britain, spending eleven hours
in the air and meeting Germany-based tankers to refuel on the way drop
their bombs on God knows what, and disappear to God knows where. In the
absence of follow up, the damage they create is similar to that caused by a
pebble thrown into an anthill. It is seldom lethal, and often the effects can be
quickly repaired or bypassed.
As journalists who have spent time in Libya told me, what is occurring is not
really a war; all there is are loose, ill organized and ill commanded, bands of
fighters. Some claim to be loyal to Colonel Gaddafi; others say that they
oppose him. In reality, many are loyal only to themselves, seeking to survive
amidst the general chaos. From time to time they clash and exchange some

shots, but hardly ever on a sustained basis or with any kind of strategic
objective in mind.
Given the lack of a network of observers on the ground, telling apart
"friends" from "foes" is almost impossible. Just one week into the campaign,
U.S Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was already accusing Gaddafi's
supporters of deliberately dragging the corpses of those they had killed to
places that the Coalition had bombed in order to stake their claims. Perhaps
so, perhaps not. What is not in doubt is the fact that, since then, the allied air
forces have repeatedly hit both rebels and civilians on the ground.
To justify their inability to prevail so far, Coalition spokesmen have started
blaming the rebels for their military incompetence. Not that this is in any
way surprising, given that almost all of them were civilians until hostilities
broke out in late February. More and more, one is reminded of Vietnam
where the Americans were always pointing fingers at their "feckless" allies
and where the loss of 11,000(!) fixed wing aircraft and helicopters did not
save them from defeat.
Taking a wider, strategic, point of view, could it be that the current campaign
in Libya is yet another one of the countless occasions in which the advocates
of airpower have misled politicians and the public with their siren song of a
short, easy and (for their own side) bloodless war? If Gaddafi's forces play
their cards well, then there is a good chance that this will indeed turn out to
be the case. To do so, their first rule must be to look as much like their
opponents as possible. That means using similar vehicles the ubiquitous
Toyota trucks seem to be playing a major role in the war while at the

same time avoiding the open countryside and fighting in the towns. Instead
of uniforms they should wear badges. The more they do all this, the greater
the difficulty Coalition aircraft will have in finding them and the greater also
the likelihood that civilian casualties will occur. Those casualties can then be
used in fact they are already are being used to rally popular support for
Gaddafi against the Western "crusaders". This being essentially a civil war, in
the long run, the side that manages to win such support is likely to be
Not Libya in 1911-1932 alone, but Algeria in 1954-62, Vietnam in 1965-75,
Somalia in 1993, Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002, and 2003, Lebanon in 2006,
and Gaza in 2009-11 provide scant support for the idea that airpower on its
own can bring the present war to a successful end. And even these examples
are just the tip of the iceberg. To be sure, Slobodan Milosevich in 1999 was
forced to give up. But only after a force that, at peak, consisted of 1,000 of
the most advanced combat aircraft in history had been attacking him for 78
consecutive days; and then not because his armed forces had suffered any
great damage but because he had enough of watching his practically
defenseless country being bombed to pieces for no purpose.
However, Gaddafi differs from Milosevich in that he is unlikely to be
swayed by what is happening to the country he has ruled for so long; why
should he, given that large parts of it have risen against him and are trying to
get rid of him? His army apart, from his point of view the more destruction
the Coalition inflicts the better. If only out of fear lest he share the fate of
Serbia's former president, he is much more likely to fight to the end.

A few weeks from now, everything may be over say in case Gaddafi is
assassinated, hardly an unlikely occurrence given the West's determination to
get rid of him, or decides to throw in the towel after all. More probably,
though, the Coalition has let itself in for a long, foolish, and, for the people
on the ground, cruel and bloody war.
Taking a wider strategic perspective, the conduct of the campaign so far
seems to be confirming a lesson that has now been repeated countless times
over the last hundred years; namely, that airpower while absolutely
essential when it comes to supporting the operations of regular armies on
both land and sea is much less useful in irregular ones. That was true in
Libya a hundred years ago; in Libya and elsewhere, it is still true today. The
only question is, when will they ever learn?

The World Can Live With a Nuclear Iran


By Martin van Creveld

Published September 24, 2007, issue of September 28, 2007.
Read more:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad looks and sounds as if he is in a panic and the Iranian president, on tour in
New York this week, has very good reason to be.

Israel, which Ahmadinejad regards as his countrys great enemy, has just carried out what seems to be
a very successful strike against an important Syrian installation. And behind Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert stands President Bush the same President Bush who four years ago needed no reason at all
to take on Irans neighbor to the west and demolish it to the point where it may never rise again.
Both Olmert and Bush have repeatedly signaled their determination to prevent Iran from going nuclear,
using force if necessary, and they may very well carry out their threats. Should they do so, then Iran
so often presented as some kind of regional juggernaut will have little to put in their way.
Though rich in oil, Iran is a third-world country with a population of 80 million and a per capita
income of $2,440. By the best available figures, those of the London-based International Institute of
Strategic Studies, its annual defense budget stands at about $6.3 billion a little more than half of
Israels and a little less than 2% of Americas.
Iran, in fact, spends a smaller percentage of its resources on defense than any of its neighbors except
the United Arab Emirates. And while Iran might very well operate covert programs whose cost would
bump up its total defense expenditures, the same can be said of many other countries.
Should the United States strike at Iran and lets be clear here, we are talking about a strike by cruise
missiles and manned aircraft, not about an invasion for which Washington does not have the troops
then Tehran will have almost no way to hit back. As Saddam Hussein did in 1991, Irans primary
response may well be to attack Israel, which probably explains why Ahmadinejad and his generals
keep making threats in that direction.
Even so, the Islamic Republic has few options. Irans ground and naval forces are irrelevant to the
problem at hand.
Iran may indeed have some Shihab III missiles with the range to hit Israel, but their number is limited
and their reliability uncertain. Should the missiles carry conventional warheads, then militarily
speaking the effect will probably be close to zero. Should they carry unconventional ones, then Iran
to quote former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, speaking not long before the first Gulf war will
open itself to awesome and terrible retaliation.
Irans air force is in an even sorrier state. Already in 1988, at the end of the Iran-Iraq war, Tehrans
fleet of old American-built aircraft was barely operational. Since then, and apart from the Iraqi aircraft
that fled to it during the 1991 Gulf War which are probably no longer operational the only
imports may have been some Russian-built fighters. Few people have actually seen these aircraft. And
even if Iran has Russian-built jets, they cannot reach Israel without air-to-air refueling and incurring all
the vulnerabilities that refueling implies.
Irans domestically manufactured aircraft, known as the Saeqeh, or Thunderbolt, is a development of
the American F-5 Tiger. Designed in the 1950s and upgraded in the 1960s, the F-5 which Iran
recently showed off at a parade was not considered good enough for the American air force. Instead
it was sold to countries, such as Iran, Jordan and several Latin American nations, which did not have
what it took to maintain and operate more sophisticated craft.
Iran appears to have copied some of these aircraft and upgraded them somewhat. Yet the Saeqehs do
not stand a chance against modern jets. In any case they are available only in very small numbers, and
like the Russian fighters Tehran may have acquired, they can reach Israel, if at all, only with air-to-air

Irans other options are either to stir up trouble in the Gulf or to launch terrorist attacks in the West.
Trouble in the Gulf will cause the price of oil to skyrocket, but it will not save Iran from being heavily
This threat, moreover, is something the American navy and its allies in the Gulf should be able to
handle. Why else would Washington keep two or three carrier task forces with more than 25,000
personnel in the region?
Terrorist attacks are certainly possible. However, their strategic impact will be close to zero. After all,
the September 11 attacks the largest such attack of all time did not diminish the capability of the
American armed forces by one iota.
A coordinated worldwide terrorist campaign, as distinct from individual pinpricks, is easier to talk
about than to organize; too many things can go wrong. Back in 1991, there were fears that Saddam was
about to launch such a campaign. In the end, not a single attack materialized.
In case Bush does decide to attack Iran, it is questionable whether Irans large, well-dispersed and
well-camouflaged nuclear program can really be knocked out. This is all the more doubtful because, in
contrast to the Israeli attacks on Iraq back in 1981 and on Syria three weeks ago, the element of
surprise will be lacking. And even if it can be done, whether doing so will serve a useful purpose is
also questionable.
Since 1945 hardly one year has gone by in which some voices mainly American ones concerned
about preserving Washingtons monopoly over nuclear weapons to the greatest extent possible did
not decry the terrible consequences that would follow if additional countries went nuclear. So far, not
one of those warnings has come true. To the contrary: in every place where nuclear weapons were
introduced, large-scale wars between their owners have disappeared.
General John Abizaid, the former commander of United States Central Command, is only the latest in
a long list of experts to argue that the world can live with a nuclear Iran. Their views deserve to be
carefully considered, lest Ahmadinejads fear-driven posturing cause anybody to do something stupid.

The Next Big Thing: Anger Management

Big Brother is coming. So what are we going to do about it?
BY MARTIN VAN CREVELD | APRIL 15, 2009 Foreign Policy
Technologys trumpet does not always herald a bright new dawn.

Already, our technologically empowered society tracks some undesirables at all times.
Now, imagine a world in which every newborn baby immediately has a little capsule
implanted under his or her armpit. Inside are monitors, tiny amounts of hormones, a
wireless transmitter, and a receiver. The device is powered by a battery like the one

inside your watch. Surgical replacement of the capsule every five years is mandatory,
strictly enforced, and, because it is very cheap, paid for by the state.
From birth on, no moment in a persons life will go unmonitored. At each street corner,
at the entrance to each home, perhaps even inside each room and under each bed, there
will be a metal box, tamper-proof and solid enough to prevent burglary. Each box will
contain a receiver and a transmitter linked to a central computer. Every time a person
passes near the box, an electronic report will go out. It will run somewhat as follows:
The level of the anger hormone carried in the bloodstream of No. KJ-090679883 is a
little elevated. Inject 21 milligrams of the relevant antidote into his bloodstream to
prevent him from turning violent.
All this will be done automatically, within seconds. At the same time, a record of the
event will be sent to central headquarters. There, physicians in white coats will be busy
looking for even better methods to prevent the rest of the population from harming
others, themselves, or the environment.
Most of the elements for such a system, such as hormone treatments to stop sex
offenders from repeating their crimes and antidepressants capable of turning people
into zombies, already exist. And with all types of violence rising as global GDP falls,
the rest are almost certain to become available in the very near future. Such methods
will certainly appeal to mayors who want to keep crime under control, peaceniks who
want to eliminate war in all its forms, and feminists who are always complaining of the
bad things men are doing to women. The question is, are we prepared to pay the price?