Reason – Bombing to Lose: Why Israel Failed in Lebanon

My first piece for Reason, “Bombing to Lose: Why Israel failed in Lebanon,” has been posted. It expands upon the writing I’ve done here and elsewhere on this general theme. An excerpt:

Like O.J. Simpson’s search for the real killer, however, Olmert’s review begins with a false premise. By any meaningful measure, Israel lost this war. Wars, Clausewitz tells us, are fought to achieve political objectives. Intermediate military objectives—targets destroyed, enemy personnel killed, and so forth—are merely a means to an end. Reasonable people can debate whether the offensive created more terrorists than it killed, but it is beyond dispute that Israel ended up accepting a truce that falls far short of its original war aims.

Discussion welcome.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    James, congratulations on the Reason gig. Good article by the way.

  2. James Joyner says:


  3. Christopher says:

    James, do they pay you in Absinthe?

  4. James Joyner says:

    They’ve asked for an address to send a check, so hopefully not!

  5. Herb says:


    Good post, however I think you may have overlooked a few additional reasons why Israel “lost” the war.

    First, Israel did not use “Overwhelming Force” to nail Hezbollah to the cross, Most everyone knows that overwhelming force is the key to any war victory.

    Second, Israel had the MSM as well as most members of the UN against them. The MSM had pictures of so called civilians killed and overplayed the destruction in every form of media. And, The UN was against Israel from the get go like they always have been. This so called UN resolution was more or less forced on Israel by the UN and its terrorist sympathizers

    Third, Israel tried to fight a surgical war using “clean” tactics. Hezbollah hid behind so called civilians and didn’t give a damn if they died or not. I have never heard of someone winning an ally fight by fighting clean.

    Israel lost with with the reasons you provided, but they also lost by the reasons I provided.

  6. Bithead says:

    I am in substantial agreement with Herb on this one.

    However, even absent a full effort on the part of Israel as opposed to a “targeted campaign” there are other points in the win and lost columns to consider. As I said elsewhere;

    I’m of the view that any situation that leaves Hezbollah and on and entity in the region means that Hezbollah wins. So are they… and thus their cheering, this afternoon, in the world press. Such is, after all, the nature of terrorist campaigns.

    Hezbollah knows full well that Lebanon has neither the ability and or the willingness to lemonade Hezbollah. Lebanon has been under pressure from the United Nations to do precisely this since 1978 with an entire string of resolutions between then and now, not one of which was ever implemented. On that basis, we have no reason whenever to believe that situation is going to change anytime soon.

    Israel, for its part will not move on to the region until the U.N. peacekeeping force shows up. But the U.N. peacekeepers have a long documented habit of disappearing as soon as the bullets start flying. So what happens when Hezbollah and decides they’ve had enough of the U.N.’s “help” and decides to go after their hated enemy again? Personally, I doubt it’ll be any time at all, possibly before the peacekeepers ever get a chance to get their wallpaper picked out and the drapes hung.

    For all of the screaming from the white house and from the U.N. security council about Hezbollah acting as a state within a state, that is precisely what has been provided for by united nations resolution 1701. Thus, does the united nations accomplish exactly what I predicted they would, and what they always have, they’ve made a bad situation that much the worse.

    So, James, to add to your measurements, then, let’s take stock of what we have now. We have a Hezbollah our remaining in armed force in the region on that point loan has palau wins; this is after all a terrorist action. But now, thanks to the United Nations they have the legitimacy by means of implicit and direct recognition written into the language of 1701.

    I suspect this was precisely Hezbollah’s plan in the first place. That Israel didn’t have the courage to drop the hammer on these so and so’s is just icing on the cake for Hezbollah.

  7. Kent G. Budge says:

    Sometimes there’s no substitute for quoting Churchill:

    They should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history when the whole equilibrium of Europoe has been deranged, and the terrible words have for the time being pronounced against the Western democracies: “Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.” And do not suppose this is the end.

    This is the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of the bitter cup, which will be proffered to us year by year, unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we rise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.

    In Commons, 1938

  8. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    James, you may think Israel lost the fight, but what is it that is tangible Hezbollah won? Massive destruction of infrastructure, their supporters have no place to live. A largely deminished fighting force. This victory by Hezbollah gained them no territory. They claim victory, but the price paid will be what? They did not face the full might of the IDF. Let them claim what they will, the truth is they made a horrible mistake and it will cost billions of Iranian dollars to pay the price. Some victory.

  9. Pat says:

    The recent action in Lebanon was not a war. It was a battle in a far larger war and it is too soon to know whether or not the battle had any strategic impact on the larger war. The battle was instigated by Iran to divert attention away from its nuclear program. Hizbollah was Iran’s first line of defense against Israel. Does that line still exist? Not now. Before the battle Hezbollah controlled all of Southern Lebanon. Now they control very little, and if they discharge their weapons, the cease-fire is off.

    The UN forces and the Lebanese Army are charged with the task of disarming Hezbollah. Israel won’t leave until Hezbollah is disarmed.

    Hezbollah is a cancer that has metasticized throughout Lebanon. If Israel is to destroy Hezbollah, it would have to kill Lebanon. It may come to that. But Israel has administered the first round of chemo. Lebanon needs the will to live, the will to beat the cancer.

  10. Bithead says:

    James, you may think Israel lost the fight, but what is it that is tangible Hezbollah won?

    First perhaps it’s worthwhile to cover a basic;

    In a war where one side is taking geurilla action, and the other is not, the latter wins by wiping out the other force. The former, by not losing, and continuing to not lose until such time as they can negotiate for what they want.