The war that wasn't
Contrary to the image portrayed by reports in the Israeli media - asserting that the IDF's performance in the war was near-perfect - in reality, not a single battle was fought during the 22 days of fighting.
It is very dangerous for the Israel Defense Forces to believe it won the war when there was no war. The expressions of satisfaction and praise for the war's outcome voiced by the army's top brass may lead the IDF to draw the wrong conclusions. Contrary to the image portrayed by reports in the Israeli media - asserting that the IDF's performance in the war was near-perfect and that the army adopted the lessons from the Second Lebanon War - in reality, not a single battle was fought during the 22 days of fighting.
The Hamas fighters did not even try to stop the IDF soldiers who entered the Strip, opting to withdraw without a fight. The challenge the soldiers were faced with in their advance on Gaza City was not - as senior command had said prior to the operation - hand-to-hand combat with determined fighters, armed to the teeth and willing to die, but the need to find booby traps and explosives, and occasionally to neutralize individual snipers as well. This is not war. It is not even a real battle.
There is nothing in common between the sort of combat adopted by the IDF during Operation Cast Lead and what happened in the battles of the Second Lebanon War. Therefore, the argument that the Gaza fighting proves that the IDF has adopted the lessons of that war lacks foundation. True, the soldiers were better equipped, the commanders were in the field and not stuck behind plasma screens, and the intelligence was a lot better than in 2006. But all this does not alter the fact that what happened in the Strip was essentially a military operation characterized by advancing forces in hostile territory, densely populated by civilians, without facing a military force.
At the start of the ground offensive, senior command decided to avoid endangering the lives of soldiers, even at the price of seriously harming the civilian population. This is why the IDF made use of massive force during its advance in the Strip. As a Golani brigade commander explained, if there is any concern that a house is booby-trapped, even if it is filled with civilians, it should be targeted and hit, to ensure that it is not mined - only then should it be approached. Without going into the moral aspects, such fighting tactics explain why there were no instances in which there was a need to assault homes where Hamas fighters were holed up.
Other outcomes of this fighting method were the extensive damage and the deaths of many civilians. According to IDF statistics, almost two thirds of Palestinians killed were civilians. Moreover, even though it was one of the war's aims, hardly any Hamas fighters were taken prisoner, and the holding center set up to imprison them remained almost empty.
The Israel Air Force, too, received a great deal of praise. The media asserted that during Cast Lead it proved that it is the world's best air force. While the IAF's quality is beyond dispute, it would be a serious mistake to bolster such a claim on the basis of its activity in the Gaza Strip. The planes operated in an environment free of air defenses, enjoying complete aerial superiority. A flight over the Strip and a mostly "accurate" bombing run, which can be dropped from a relatively short range, is not a complicated mission. The flights over Gaza are like test flights, which every pilot does dozens of times a year.
The IDF should relate to its performance in Operation Cast Lead with the necessary humility and proportionality. There was no war there.