Postmodern philosophical nonsense and the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War

Its the 10th anniversary of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War, so I’m skimming through this paper (PDF) from the US Army Combined Arms Center, “We Were Caught Unprepared: The 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli War”.  I was highly amused to learn that apparently, one big problem with the Israeli strategy going into the war was the nature of the new doctrine of warfighting that was being espoused by one Brigadier General Shimon Naveh, who founded the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) Operational Theory Research Institute.  His theory of Systemic Operational Design (SOD) was designed to make commanders think critically and innovate around battlefield tactics, and drew heavily on French postmodern philosophy and related theories of architecture and psychology, focusing on the need to rethink the spacial nature of the battlefield in ways to surprise enemies (i.e. blasting your way through walls, instead of going through doors and looking through windows).

But, it doesn’t seem like the new doctrine, or its language, was properly understood, and the US Army’s analysis is absolutely withering.

For the IDF, the major problem with SOD was the new terminology and methodology. Not every officer in the IDF had the time or the inclination to study postmodern French philosophy. It was questionable whether the majority of IDF officers would grasp a design that Naveh proclaimed was “not intended for ordinary mortals.” Many IDF officers thought the entire program elitist, while others could not understand why the old system of simple orders and terminology was being replaced by a design that few could understand (25).

Much of the problem was apparently that the new doctrine did away with previous rigidity and clarity of orders, missions, and goals, in favor of more ambiguous and vague language around the larger “system” of the war.

Commanders need to speak in a simple accessible manner, composed essentially of two things: what do we occupy and what do we blow up. This is understandable. When an order is given to render the enemy “incoherent” or to make the enemy feel “distress” or “chased down,” or to “achieve standoff domination of the theatre” field commanders simply do not know what to do and cannot judge how well or how bad they are progressing (26-7).

The muddled nature of the new postmodern doctrine had significant effects when the IDF attempted to implement it in a real war, against a competent military force (as opposed to ineffective Palestinian guerrillas).  One example given was the floundering of Division 91 during the last days of the war, when they failed completely from their positions in the south-east of Lebanon, westward to the Mediterranean.

The investigation concluded that commanders within the division “did not fully understand their orders” and “were not present with their troops during important battles and even failed to fulfill basic missions.” The investigation also found fault “in the way tactical orders were composed, sometimes without a time element. Since the orders were not clear, they were changed, in some cases, on an hourly basis. Brigade commanders did not properly understand their missions…They didn’t know what their goals were and how long they had to fulfill their missions.” Remarkably, according to the report, “an entire battalion sat in the same location for several days without moving and when the commander finally received orders to push deeper into enemy territory he was confused and failed to fulfill the mission.”

Some of the problems within Division 91 were caused by Hirsch’s operation orders. Instead of using the standard terms and format in writing his orders, Hirsch used the terminology and methodology from Halutz’s new doctrine. Israeli Air Force campaign planner Ron Tira, who reviewed the orders after the war, wrote that “when Division 91 gave its battle orders to its brigades, the orders were such that they were impossible to understand.” Not surprisingly, Division 91’s drive to the Mediterranean fell far short of the mark by war’s end (52-4)

The clear lesson from all this: if you’re a settler-colonial armed force, don’t let yourself get so arrogant as to totally revamp your military doctrine with a bunch of poorly described postmodern philosophical jargon, a mere few months before engaging in a real war!

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