Monday, June 18, 2012
A Great Big Quote for Marco
From "Six Days in June: How Israel Won the 1967 Arab-Israeli War" by Eric Hammel:
...a committee headed by Colonel Chaim Laskov, the head of Zahal's Instruction Branch, was struggling with a list of operational imperatives and necessarily war-winning solutions to them. A veteran of World War II combat service with the British Army and the commander of Israel's only tank battalion during the War of Independence, Laskov was one of the relatively few senior Israeli officers who had opted and been accepted for a full-time military career following Independence. From the beginning, Zahal's mission was national survival. Everything Zahal could be and would become emanated from five basic precepts that were first articulated by the Laskov committee. The five precepts were an amalgam of factors from Israel's own history and geography, and the qualities peculiar to the Arab armed forces Zahal was most likely to fight. To remain viable and capable of conducting its mission, Zahal had to evolve in response to—often in anticipation of—changes in the situation and in the region of which Israel is a part. Following careful, brilliantly insightful study, Colonel Laskov's committee established the five bedrock precepts defining Zahal's mission in 1949. It is a glowing testament to the Laskov committee's care and, indeed, its prescience that its look into the future in 1949 proved to be stunningly accurate in 1967—and beyond!
1. Few Against Many
There were millions of Arabs who wanted to see Israel destroyed, but in 1949 there were fewer than 1,000,000 Jews in Israel. Realistically, Israel would be hard pressed to muster as many as 125,000 combat-effective soldiers, including over-age auxiliaries, from so small a population But no matter how many soldiers Israel squeezed out of its population, virtually any possible combination of Arab armies that went to war against Israel would be sure to outnumber Zahal, including the Standing Army, the Reserve, and all of Zahal's static home-defense units.
2. A War of Survival
The Arab states had repeatedly announced that any war they waged against Israel would be rooted in strategies aimed at annihilating the Jewish state and all who lived in it Even though the Jews had won their War of Independence, there was no assurance that they could win another war, or another, or another. As long as Arabs massively outnumbered Jews—and they always would—Israel stood a good chance of being annihilated.
3. A Strategy of Attrition
In view of Arab aims and numerical superiority, it was in Zahal's interest to wage a war that would not necessarily kill the maximum number of Arab soldiers but destroy the maximum amount of Arab weapons and war materiel. It was clearly impossible for Israelis to do to the Arabs what the Arabs said they would do to the Israelis—annihilate them—so Zahal would settle for a solution that was possible. If it could not undertake a strategy of annihilation, it would undertake a strategy of attrition. That is, once a war began, Zahal would do everything in its power to end that war and put off the next war by crippling Arab war-making ability. A strategy of attrition is not a strategy of mass killing, as is a strategy of annihilation; it is a strategy of mass destruction.
4. Geographic Pressures
At its widest point, an east-to-west line from the southern edge of the Dead Sea to a point along the Negev Desert frontier with Egyptian Sinai, Israel is about 140 kilometers (87 miles) wide. Between the northern edge of the Kinneret and the port of Haifa, Israel is 51 kilometers (32 miles) wide. At its narrowest point, between the West Bank and the coast north of Tel Aviv, it is a little over 14 kilometers (9 miles) wide. All of Israel in 1948 was less than 8,000 square miles. Nearly all of Israel's population lay in the narrow corridor between the West Bank and the Mediterranean Virtually all of Israel lay on a coastal plain dominated between the Lebanese border and the desert city of Be'ersheva by Arab positions on high ground. Modern Arab artillery pieces emplaced anywhere on the high ground along the West Bank frontier could reach the sea. Israel's most fertile farmland lay within rifle shot of Syrian infantry anywhere along the full length of the Golan escarpment. In military terms, Israel lacked "strategic depth." That is, Zahal could not give up ground to an enemy advance in order to gain any of a number of important strategic advantages, not the least of which was time to marshal a counterforce and launch a counteroffensive. For Israel, there was no space and there was no time. Zahal not only held the less desirable low ground, it could depend upon no strategic physical barriers—no rivers or mountain passes, for example— at which it could slow or stop an enemy advance across the narrow coastal plain. Israel enjoyed not one advantage arising from terrain. Its only geographic advantage was possession of extremely short lines of supply and communication, but that extremely important plus was more than obviated by a combination of geographical disadvantages. If Israel was forced into a defensive war, it would have to hold its enemy or enemies at the frontier. To do so, fortified settlements manned by resident home-guard units were intentionally built at key points along the border; they would act as breakwaters against an enemy tide while mobile forces maneuvered against the enemy flank or rear. If Israel fell victim to a surprise attack, whether or not the fortified frontier settlements were breached, Zahal would have to launch an immediate counterattack, on the fly, in order to mitigate its geographic disadvantages and then vitiate enemy gains. In that event, overall, Israel's best defense lay in a good offense.
5. A Short War
Israel could not afford to fight a protracted war. As the War of Independence had demonstrated, long wars meant high casualties. Israeli society could not afford losses anywhere near the estimated 4,000 soldiers and 2,000 civilians (amounting to 1 percent of the 1948 population) who had been killed to gain independence. The economy could not sustain that level of loss, nor could the nation's spirit. Not again. Given Israel's physical and political isolation, the relatively small size of its total military force, its struggling economy, a politically inspired paucity of reliable sources for replacement weapons and military supplies, and the relative influence of oil-producing Arab nations in various world forums, the Laskov committee asserted that Zahal had to plan for a short, violent war—and that it had to win.
In sum, to avoid the destruction of Israel and the annihilation of the Israelis, Zahal's commanders had to build, train, and equip a military force that would wreak maximum destruction upon several numerically superior Arab armies at once—on Arab territory and in the shortest possible time. As seen by its architects, the only way for Zahal to achieve its primary mission was to attain a massive qualitative advantage over its more numerous and better positioned adversaries. One way to meet all the conditions identified by the Laskov committee was for Zahal to use all its power decisively in the form of a lightning preemptive offensive that would immediately take the war into the enemy's land. Tiny Israel's best hope for survival, lay in building the best army in the region and using it first.