the years since Israel ended its military occupation of southern
Lebanon in May 2000, Israel's intelligence community watched
warily as Hezbollah built up its military presence in the region.
When Hezbollah militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers on July
12, 2006, the Israeli military was ready to react almost instantly,
based on years of extensive intelligence gathering. "Of
all of Israel's wars since 1948, this was the one for which
Israel was most prepared," said Gerald Steinberg, professor
of political science at Bar-Ilan University. "In a sense,
the preparation began in May 2000, immediately after the Israeli
withdrawal, when it became clear the international community
was not going to prevent Hezbollah from stockpiling missiles
and attacking Israel".
A perusal of thick and detailed secret dossiers
might show how deeply Israeli intelligence was able to penetrate
certain levels of Hezbollah's alignments, but also how limited
in importance this was in the decisive test of utilizing the
secrets. "Hezbollah's Combat Concept" dated January
2006 is a highly restricted 130-page booklet, crammed with data
on bunkers and Katyusha rockets and other military installations.
Its author is a lieutenant colonel in Military Intelligence
(MI), personal aide to MI director and formerly head of the
Lebanon section in the intelligence department of Northern Command.
The problem was, as is unfortunately so often with top secret
documents, in hierarchical organizations, that while all this
wealth was readily available, its contents were regarded so
restricted, that only a select few were allowed to feast their
eyes on its contents. The inevitable result was, as ridiculously
as it may sound, that even the commander of 91st Division, which
was in charge of the Lebanese border, was not party to such
life-saving information before the war started on July 12!
problem of intelligence gathering capabilities intensified further
with the outbreak of war. As is usual in combat situations,
the intelligence that is available to the troops before the
war, a great deal of which has been built up meticulously over
years, goes up in smoke as soon as the troops go into action.
The bank of targets that has been prepared diminishes after
the first wave of attacks. There is a tactical intelligence
difficulty in pinpointing new targets during the fighting, until
the forward combat elements actually make contact with the enemy.
The conduct of the battle, from there on, depends on tactical
intelligence, mostly real-time in nature, as targets come into
focus by the advancing troops, in modern warfare, through tactical
intelligence elements, such as TUAV, electro-optical observation
Moreover, it is especially difficult to run human agents to
provide actual information: Communications with them, even if
they are equipped with state-of-the-art devices, usually break
down because of a lack of physical contact. This became evident
when the ground war started along the border region. Although
Israeli intelligence had operated Lebanese human intelligence
(HUMINT) agents for years, since the "Security Zone"
era, some of which remained active, long after the IDF withdrew
in May2000. During the IDF's 18-year presence in Lebanon, the
members of the IDF HUMINT unit were especially active across
Israel's northern border. To this day the Lebanese press occasionally
runs stories about the arrest and trial of local agents who
operated in the service of this unit. In November 1998, a Lebanese
court convicted no fewer than 57 citizens of collaborating with
Israel intelligence. But many of the surviving agents were forced
to leave their homes in South Lebanon when the IDF distributed
Psychop leaflets calling to evacuate their villages before these
came under fire. Lack of HUMINT became critical when the fighting
intensified and Hezbollah fighters mingled with the population
in the villages, but were difficult to identify from non combatants.
Mossad can certainly high marks for much of the high precision
intelligence, which enabled the air attacks to pinpoint Hezbollah
medium rocket sites and neutralize most of them during the 48
hours, which saved most of Israel's major towns from these larger
rockets. Air force intelligence also performed in clock-work
fashion, identifying Hezbollah rocket launchers seconds after
firing, which were then destroyed by immediate air attack through
"cab-rank" cruising air assets, in the suspected environment.
The unique rapid reaction "sensor-to-shooter kill-chain"
tactics, similar to performance in the Gaza Strip, paid off
handsomely in Lebanon 2006.
IDF Military Intelligence gathering units ( HUMINT) and signal
intelligence( SIGINT) were tasked with obtaining vital intelligence
on Hezbollah forward deployments in South Lebanon and their
work was in high demand by forward troops, during the initial
stages of the war. But all this was not sufficient: For example,
one place was indeed identified, using satellite photographs,
as a Hezbollah bunker, however only from the ground at short
range before contact, were special forces able to discover that
it served as the entrance to a previously unknown extensive
underground network of caves and bunkers stuffed with missiles.
On the other hand, precise intelligence allowed IDF special
forces to raid Hezbollah strongpoints deep inside Lebanese territory.
The successful commando raids into the Beka'a Valley and Tyre,
depended on real-time intelligence. In fact, the surprise raid
into Baalbek, the most ambitious air and ground operation of
the current conflict, had been conducted, based on excellent
intelligence, demonstrating that Israeli forces could strike
A major element in the Second Lebanon War was Hezbollah's professional
employment of advanced anti-tank missiles. The very presence
of such weapons was no surprise to IDF intelligence. In fact,
according to declassified reports, one of these was actually
captured ( or obtained) and examined by experts long before
the war started. What remained obscure, was the massive deployment
and tactical method used by Hezbollah with these weapons, which
became a dominant star player during all ground engagements.
According to official statistics, anti-tank missiles hit 46
tanks and 14 other armored vehicles. However, fortunately, due
to enhanced protection, in all these attacks the Merkava tanks
actually sustained only 15 armour penetrations.
Senior Armored Corps officers claimed in media interviews during
the war, that the defense establishment had refused to provide
tanks with the Trophy, a locally developed active protection
system which creates a hemispheric protected zone around armored
vehicles, such as the Merkava 4 tank. The system is designed
to detect and track a threat and counters it with a launched
projectile that intercepts the anti-tank rocket. The reason
for such costly oversight, was claimed by the authorities, in
the aftermath of the war, as lack of funding due to budget cuts!
In overall perspective it seems, at first sight, that Israel’s
miscalculation in assessing intelligence information in Lebanon
has the same cause as America’s miscalculations in Iraq:
plain old grade arrogance underestimating the enemy. It is however
important to understand that Mossad and the rest of Israel's
intelligence apparatus are not all-knowing and all-powerful,
despite their past successes, which have created an aura of
great strength and invincibility around them. It is clear that
Hezbollah has studied and learned more than a few lessons itself
over the years. Members of its military wing, for example, are
far less publicly visible and, by implication, identifiable,
than members of Fatah's militia, which the IDF has been to hunt
and target with a highly successful "kill chain" apparatus.
The war in Lebanon may have begun with a string of intelligence
failures resulting from the fact that Israel had lowered its
alert level on the northern border prior to the Hezbollah raid.
But not all was lost. Last July, the war wiped out most of
the vast sum of $4-6 billion the Iranian treasury sunk into
building Hezbollah's military strength. The organization was
meant to be strong and effective enough to provide Iran with
a formidable deterrent to Israel or the United States embarking
on a military operation to destroy the Islamic regime’s
nuclear infrastructure. Iran has now been manipulatively robbed
of its primary deterrent asset ahead of a probable nuclear confrontation
with the United States and Israel. Hezbollah, on Hassan Nasrallah's
hasty orders, squandered thousands of rockets – either
by firing them into Israel or having them destroyed by the Israeli
air force. This at least, may have been worth the effort by
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Read David Eshel's past commentary here