A legend that debunked a myth: Scenes from the 2006 July War
In this article, scenes from the July War and its battles would be presented in an attempt to highlight the Lebanese resistance's legendary feat and the consequent utter Israeli military failure.
The beginning - Ayta; the legend
On the first day of the July 2006 war, the Israeli Minister of Security, Amir Peretz, accompanied by Gal Hirsch, the commander of the 91st Division, watched a live feed of a Merkava MK4 tank turret being thrown 136 meters away from its hull as it attempted to climb onto a hill overlooking the Lebanese village of Ayta Al-Shaab. The Lebanese Resistance had captured two Israeli soldiers to exchange them for Lebanese prisoners.
"Do you know what a tonne of explosive materials means?"
Gal Hirsch, the commander of the 91st Division
is said to have continued repeating to his interlocutor for the rest of the war duration.
In the book Prisoners in Lebanon, Ofer Shelah and Yoav Limor say that this blow had a shocking effect similar to Zidane's hitting Materazzi with his head in the chest during the World Cup that preceded the war. The Merkava event marked the Israeli military actions in the war, which were characterized by hesitation and overcaution. Military operations did not start in the Ayta Al-Shaab area until two weeks into the war and up to 3 weeks in the eastern sectors.
The book also lists that Gal Hirsch himself never stopped repeating to those who asked him to commit to a land invasion the following question: “Do you know what a ton of explosive materials means?” Ironically, the military that intended to employ the Shock and Awe doctrine suffered from it until the end of the war.
It would be unfair to consider this shock as the main reason to dissuade the Israeli military from conducting a land invasion, with the picture becoming clearer as this article goes on. The defeat was due to a combination of several factors, including internal politics, military and operational causes, and cognitive factors.
Israeli chief of staff Dan Halutz, the arrogant officer as described by his close associates, was a believer in the theory of achieving victories through air dominance. This is not only because Halutz is a former pilot and an officer in the Air Force but also to the general belief that dominated the Israeli military, which is that winning the war is possible through Shock and Awe without body bags returning, i.e. through modern technologies and large quantities of explosives.
Perhaps this was also one of the reasons that prompted Halutz himself to hastily announce the destruction of the bulk of the Resistance's missile arsenal in what he called "Operation Density"; a claim clearly proven wrong by the rockets continuing to fall on Israeli installations down to the last day.
In Ayta Al-Shaab, the two weeks that followed the beginning of the war on July 12 witnessed limited military operations by "Israel". Israeli forces stuck to reconnaissance by fire in the vicinity of the relatively large town. The Resistance also did not stand still during this period, so it launched an intense and accurate bombardment that targeted the command center of the 91st Division in the "Biranit" camp, located on the site of the destroyed village of Mansoura. One of these missiles hit the electrical generator of the command center, which led to the loss of illumination and ventilation for some time. On July 31, the Israeli forces began to advance, in what the Israeli dubbed "Operation Change of Direction 8." Consequently, the Israeli Paratroopers Brigade effectively surrounded the town from all directions.
More often than not, such a maneuver means the end for defenders, but that was just the beginning.
It was not long before the encirclement was followed by an attempt to storm the town from the east, which failed, followed by another attempt by the 890th Paratroopers Battalion from the north, which was also dealt a blow. The soldiers were surprised by the ferocity and violence of the fire, as one of them expressed in his post-war account, as terror and hysteria gripped the forces as soon as the casualties began to pile up. This was especially exacerbated when one of the soldiers, a sergeant, was fatally wounded in the head, so they “stopped functioning" and did not proceed to return fire directly that day.
After the battle, which resulted in the death of 3 Israeli soldiers and the wounding of 25 others, according to Israeli accounts, the paratroopers withdrew to the outskirts of the town, carrying their wounded on stretchers toward the border. Attempts to enter continued in the following days without achieving any progress, and the senior officers in the "army" continued their efforts without showing any intention to withdraw from the town, despite the growing frustration due to the lack of progress.
On August 5, the Carmeli Brigade (reserve) decided to withdraw on its own from the town after suffering losses, with one dead and 19 wounded, in what it called a "tactical retreat". This step came under harsh criticism after the war by the military leadership. It came to the point that the Israeli “army” sent a team to negotiate the evacuation of the town on August 7, and it could not extract with words what its soldiers had failed to do, especially after the insistence of the two leaderships on the process of occupying the town, “a symbol of the determination” of the resistance, as some Israeli officers put it.
In the last days of the war, a tank was destroyed in the vicinity of the village of Ayta Al-Shaab with an RPG-29 rocket. Its crew consisting of 4 people got killed and its turret flew off, similar to what happened with the Merkava tank that was destroyed on the first day of the war. In addition, a Puma armored vehicle and several bulldozers were destroyed, one of which attempted to demolish some houses. Here, we can only imagine how the Israelis will vent out these successive blows by just depicting the pictures of demolished homes deeply rooted in the Arab consciousness in general and the Palestinian one in particular.
On the last day of the fighting, 4 soldiers were killed in Tal Abu Tawil, north of Ayta Al-Shaab, and 20 others were wounded by an anti-tank missile attack.
Using the word heroic to summarize the battle in Ayta Al-Shaab does not suffice. The Israelis, employing about 5 infantry brigades in the village and surroundings, comprising thousands of soldiers, after destroying more than 90% of the town's buildings, according to the UNHCR report, were not able to defeat a besieged Resistance infantry company comprising about 80 fighters, as admitted by the Israelis themselves.
I believe that the word myth was not created except for battles such as this one, which rarely exists in history in the tangible, material sense, and not the emotional and poetic one.
Bint Jbeil and Maroun Al-Ras
On Maroun Al-Ras and Bint Jbeil fronts, the scene was completely different, as a Maglan unit (which is an elite reconnaissance force) encountered an ambush of the Resistance in the Jal Al-Deir area, where more than half of them were killed and injured in seconds, while the rest of the unit was left stunned. This prompted the command to send two Egoz companies (another elite unit) to support the besieged Maglan unit. The companies, in turn, came under fire from Malyutka-guided missiles from the low grounds of Bint Jbeil, killing five soldiers, including Colonel Benjamin Hillman. That day was the bloodiest in the history of the Egoz.
“We expected to find a tent and 3 Kalashnikovs, and then we found a steel hydraulic door leading to a series of fortified tunnels,” one of the Maglan unit soldiers said after the war. Such fortifications were later dubbed Nature Reserves, which are fortified sites that formed a wall in the face of the Israeli military offensive. Following this incident, the commander of the northern military region, Odi Adam, prevented the attack on Nature Reserves for fear of losses, saying "A Nature Reserve is capable of swallowing an entire brigade."
In Bint Jbeil, several days after the previously mentioned battle of Maroun Al-Ras, excessive caution did not prevent the 51st Battalion of the Golani Brigade from falling victim to an ambush that swallowed one company after another and ended with the death of one of the company commanders and his deputy, in addition to the wounding of another company commander and the death of his deputy.
The battalion was literally about to disintegrate in a military sense and its original mission turned into a rescue mission. In a later account of one of the soldiers who participated in the battle, he recounts hearing on the radio that while he was being hit by Malyutka missiles from all sides, Brigadier General Gil Hirsch, who was in charge of the operation, declared that "the work is about to be completed, And the terrorists are fleeing." In such occasions, "you realize something is wrong," the soldier commented.
According to a Jerusalem Post article by Yaakov Katz, dated July 26, 2006, the Israeli government's stance on Bint Jbeil evolved as the war continued. Despite promises of advancement, there was "nothing tangible to put on display" to demonstrate it, knowing that a decisive win at Bint Jbeil may likely mark the turning point in the conflict for the Israeli public. It was thought that a Hezbollah capitulation here would have a "ripple effect" on the Resistance's other strongholds in South Lebanon.
A reason that pushed the Israeli military to attack Bint Jbeil, for which the whole operation was called "Webs of Steel" was Hezbollah Secretary General's victory speech In 2000. During that speech, Sayyed Nasrallah said "Israel" was weaker than a spider's web, which according to Israeli journalist Amir Rapaport developed a "cobwebs complex" in the Israeli high command.
According to Yaakov Katz in the Jerusalem Post, Bint Jbeil was cited as a significant "symbol" by senior Israeli officers such as Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and Chief of Operations Gadi Eisenkot. In the same location where Sayyed Nasrallah delivered his speech in 2000, they wanted to seize the town and bring an Israeli leader to deliver a victory speech. Rapaport claimed that Bint Jbeil would come to represent "Lebanon's collapse".
To sum the battle up, The Israelis failed to accomplish any symbolic or small task after failing to fulfill any sort of tactically significant achievements. The Israelis then hoisted the flag on a building they were positioned in, but they did not publish the photo later, since they withdrew after failing to accomplish their main objective.
An army of 'crying toddlers'
"In every land battle, the moment our soldiers encounter any resistance, the progress of the force stops. The commanders called for reinforcements, and the fighting focuses on evacuating the wounded and the dead from the battlefield... You will not find a single story about a force that fought until the completion of its mission, or a Hezbollah force that was killed or defeated"
Israeli war correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai,
in an article he wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth in 2011.
Ron Ben-Yishai, the renowned Israeli journalist, was not the first to place most of the blame on cultural and psychological factors following his military's defeat in the war, which is an old habit practiced by many. In World War I, Italian General Luigi Cadorno, having sent thousands of his soldiers to death by Austrian machine guns, armed with the high patriotism of that era, blamed the "cowardice and degradation of Italian soldiers" for Caporetto's crushing defeat. It is a dangerous path for anyone who wants to take it, especially if you need to mobilize for a national war. And we, the Arabs, took it to the end after the Naksa in 1967.
Although the Israeli journalist’s words carry some accuracy in describing what he calls “the mentality of crying toddlers,” in an old article of his titled “Crying toddlers do not win wars,” the reasons for this mentality are nothing more than a combination of several factors, including beliefs. Such factors include the military itself, the structure and development of a certain society, and the excessive reliance on technical superiority.
In some cases, this mentality was visible, while in the other cases of the July 2006 war, the defeat was dealt with through conventional military material means. The Israeli military institution suffered from what looks like psychological trauma after 2006.
Two events from the July 2006 war can shed light on such a trauma. In the first incident, tanks from the Israeli 366th Armored Division left a tank belonging to the battalion commander all by itself, backed by only an armored personnel carrier, in the Khiam area. The brigade assigned to the battalion commander consequently retreated toward occupied Palestine after being hit by Kornet laser-guided anti-tank missiles and suffering casualties. Another battalion commander refused to advance with his tanks and then proceeded to resign.
In another incident, the Carmeli Brigade, which was fighting in the vicinity of Ayta Al-Shaab, withdrew one of its battalions after losing a soldier and others sustaining injuries, in what it called a "tactical retreat", despite the Nahhal Brigade and paratroopers asking for the Carmeli Brigade support in attacking the village that was defended by a handful of Resistance fighters, around 80 to be precise, according to Israeli sources.
In both cases, the commands of the Israeli 91st and 366th Divisions were severely bashed after the end of the war, and their commanders either resigned or were expelled.
Following the war that ended on August 14, 2006, the Israelis went into a full spiral of disbelief, pathological lying, and all level of coping mechanisms. What had happened was not a mere military defeat, but a full-blown trauma to the Israeli military arrogance and ego.
The Arabs, for a long time, were subjected to all racial bias and slurs and were dubbed as incapable of mounting an organized and well-motivated military force, but this time they defeated "Israel". The turn of events after the war and the consequent deterrence that was established meant that the bully of West Asia had been put in its place and that another location where the Israelis regularly committed atrocities was to become a stronghold too risky to be attacked.
It has been 17 years without any Israeli wars on Lebanon, a record time to say the least in the history of the West's enforcer or its unsinkable aircraft carrier as some like to describe the colonial regime of occupation.
Israeli deterrence and power projection capabilities have been seeing a steady decline since that war they lost by failing to fulfill any of their pre-war announced objectives. "Israel's" early founders said they cannot afford to even lose one signal conflict, and while the defeat of 2006 didn't cause the Zionist regime to collapse or Palestine to be liberated, it is, without a doubt, a turning point in the Arab struggle for liberty and dignity in this battle that will be won by the side of the longest breath, the more solid will, and the stronger spirit.