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Sunday, September 3, 2006

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September 3, 2006

According to Ze'ev Schiff, towards the end of the war the IDF discovered that Hezbollah was using hundreds of permanent short-range rocket launching positions set up in orchards close to underground shelters and houses where rockets were stored. This exciting discovery came by chance at the last days of the war when on several occasions fires started by air strikes destroyed vegetation around some of the launching pads.

The rockets, stored near the launch points in underground shelters or houses, were usually aimed with a direction and trajectory precalculated to hit a specific target in Israel. They were usually set up in orchards by arrangement with the grove owners, who were paid by Hezbollah.

Source: How the IDF blew chance to destroy short-range rockets

The rockets were fired from a hydraulic launch pad that was raised during the operation and the launcher was preconfigured to hit particular targets in Israel, so its operation was reduced to reloading it with new ammunition. The pad was then lowered back, the position covered with thermal blankets in order to keep IAF aircrafts from detecting the post-shooting heat signature, and camouflaged with vegetation.

After reading this story probably many readers were asking themselves if the IDF has become so advanced and technological that its sophistication has finally reached the proportions of sheer idiocy. Mind you, that a significant portion of Hezbollah launchers was operated from similar launching pads we knew since several years ago and for no other reason that these launching pads feature so prominently in Hezbollah's propaganda clips!

Ze'ev Schiff suggests that were the IDF to have intelligence about locations of the launching pads the outcome of the war might have been different. But one of the comments to the article (#6) makes even this reasonable suggestion to look grotesque and oversophisticated, the IDF style. The commenter is asking, "Early in the conflict it occurred to me that by burning vegetation in south Lebanon the launchers would become visible. Does anybody know if this tactic was even used?" The most striking about this simple question is that its plain common sense is apparently no longer within the reach of minds trained to think in terms of smart laser guided bombs, heat detecting equipment and similar stuff.

There is another story that was repeating itself throughout the war - the IDF takes a town or village, considers it to be clean and moves on. The very next night either from underground tunnels or simply from nearby hills came hezbs and reinfiltrate the place. Only in the last days of the war after retaking Eit ash Shaab for god knows what time, the IDF finally brought bulldozers and started leveling the place with the ground. Now some are urging on purchasing expensive bunker detecting equipment, but why to search for bunkers in the first place if one can bulldoze houses that were used to conceal many of the entries to these underground systems?

The lack of imagination on the part of the IDF contrasted strongly with Hezbollah's low-tech no-nonsense methods, like underground tunnels or preset launching pads hidden in thick vegetation and covered with thermal blankets, and eventually the common sense defeated the hi-tech in the sense that to the last days of the war Hezbollah's Katyusha attacks proceeded unabated at the rate of 120-180 rockets per day.

The effective range of the short range arsenal of Hezbollah moves from 7 to 25 kilometers and this means that instead of producing scenes of such a spectacular devastation in the southern suburbs of Beirut the IDF would have better moved 20-25 kilometers into South Lebanon with bulldozers, rapidly de-urbanizing the area and destroying vegetation.

The next time IDF is going to fight a war with Hezbollah it should serioulsy consider developing methods and equipment for rapidly reshaping the landscape in its favor, both in terms of bulldozing urban landscape and in terms of destroying vegetation. It should ensure that it has efficient techniques of doing just this from the moment it makes sure that the bulk of the civilian population has been moved out of the area.

Bin Laden was reported once to have said that no equipment, smart or dumb, can detect well camouflaged underground tunnels. The target acquiring system used by the IDF's planes is one of the most advanced in the world. The same goes about much of the IDF's equipment. But nothing can beat the simple method of burning out vegetation across the narrow strip of 20-25 kilometers in terms of exposing katyusha launchers or Hezbollah fighters moving across the area.

Such tactic could have saved Israel loads of headache in terms of hunting down and destroying rocket launchers. It could have saved Lebanon its transportation infrastructure and maybe some bits of the tourist season, were the IDF to keep its activity concentrated in the south instead of much wider area, occasionally reaching Tripoli and areas even farther to the north. Finally it could have broken Hezbollah's determination much earlier on seeing its mini-Iran turning into an uninhabitable wasteland with most of its people expelled into areas out of its control and with no prospect of going back soon.

The next time the IDF fights Hezbollah, it should certainly try less to be sophisticated and more to be just smart.

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