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Blood and Guts Ed

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In between seriously problematic paragraphs, Edward Luttwak makes (or, perhaps I should say shows the way to) a couple of interesting points. Luttwak wishes to draw into the question the idea that Hezbollah fighters were particularly brave or competent in the recent war against Israel. As part of this effort, he argues

many commentators around the world kept repeating and endorsing his [Nasrallah’s] claim that his fighters fought much more bravely than the regular soldiers of Arab states in previous wars with Israel.

In 1973, after crossing the Suez Canal, Egyptian infantrymen by the thousands stood their ground unflinchingly against advancing 50-ton Israeli battle tanks, to attack them successfully with their puny hand-held weapons. They were in the open, flat desert, with none of the cover and protection that Hizbullah had in their fortified bunkers or in Lebanon’s rugged terrain.

Right, and to the extent that individual displays of courage matter for the conduct of modern warfare, Luttwak is correct to note that Arab soldiers in 1973 (and 1967) displayed enormous bravery in the face of overwhelming (tactical) Israeli superiority. I’ve noted on several occasions that Arab military organizations have very consistently been characterized by operational and tactical ineptitude. It would be a mistake, however, to derive from that the idea that individual Arab soldiers have failed to display courage. The problem is simply that individual courage cannot win modern wars. The difference between Hezbollah today and the Egyptian Army in 1967 has little to do with courage and everything to do with training and tactical and operational execution. Now, it’s reasonable to ask how Hezbollah achieved a much higher level of execution than Arab states, but that’s a different question.

Luttwak then goes off the rails, descending into absurd comparisons:

Hizbullah certainly did not run away and did hold its ground, but its mediocrity is revealed by the casualties it inflicted, which were very few.
[…]
Many a surviving veteran of the 1943-1945 Italian campaign must have been amazed by this reaction. There too it was one stone-built village and hilltop town after another, and though the Germans were outnumbered, outgunned and poorly supplied, a company that went against them would consider the loss of only eight men as very fortunate, because attacking forces could suffer a 150% or even 300% casualty rates – that mathematical impossibility being explained by the need for a second, third or fourth assault wave to take a small village.

Even that was not much as compared to the 6,821 Americans who died to conquer the eight square miles of Iwo Jima. Hizbullah should not of course be held to such standards, but on the whole it did not fight as fiercely as the Egyptians in 1973 or the Jordanians in 1967 – as Israeli casualty figures demonstrate.

Yeah… the notable difference between Italy and Lebanon is that the Israelis, last week, were fighting a guerrilla organization that, while well equipped for guerrillas, maintained a maximum of 6000 fighters, while the Americans in Italy and on Iwo Jima were fighting conventional armies designed to hold territory and that, while poorly equipped for a conventional force, had far better access to firepower than Hezbollah. Indeed, Hezbollah’s decision to stand and fight against the IDF opened up more questions about its capacity than it answered; in a purely military sense, Hezbollah might have been better served by limiting its direct contact with the IDF in order to limit casualties. Of course, Hezbollah’s political strategy (and its belief that a cease-fire was imminent) may have depended on standing and fighting even losing engagements against the Israelis.

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