Litani Operation With an Iranian Flavor

This is an updated version of the Litani Operation in March 1978 in which two divisions and another brigade operated in exactly those places that are once again in the news.

Two weeks ago yesterday, when the war plan in Lebanon was presented to the country's political leadership, the IDF already had estimated how many Israelis would die in fighting the enemy and on the home front - 90 or more. That estimate was based on a projected duration of about four weeks of warfare, and the fact that the fighting began at "minus 8" - the casualties sustained that first morning, near Zarit. The assessment was not untenable. In under two weeks, 42 Israelis have been killed, about half of them in three incidents: eight in the kidnapping and the ensuing rescue attempt, eight at the train depot in Haifa, and five from the Egoz unit in its battle at Maroun al-Ras.

Essentially, the IDF is waging two separate operations in Lebanon that are connected by the thinnest of threads against a single enemy deployed in different sectors: an along-the-border operation directed by the army's Northern Command, and a deep-into-Lebanon operation of the General Staff and its branches against the Iran-inspired missiles and rockets. The border operation was initially run by the 91st Division, complete with air support, and in recent days, a second division has joined in. Additional divisions and support units are waiting to be given responsibility for other areas.

This is an updated version of the Litani Operation in March 1978. At that time, two divisions and another brigade operated in exactly those places that are once again in the news - Maroun al-Ras and Bint Jbail. About 5,000 soldiers took part in the Litani Operation, and a similar number was called up into reserves. As in the current war, a navy missile boat was also hit, that time by an artillery gun.

Hezbollah predicted that the Israeli military thrust would advance along the same routes on which the army invaded Lebanon in 1982, and deployed its defensive array accordingly. The Northern Command and Military Intelligence knew of fortifications along the forward line, but not down to the level of detail that is needed to draw up an operational plan to overcome it; this may explain why Israeli forces were not employed against it from the side and rear flanks. Spending half a dozen years defending the border fence, without really believing that the IDF might ever go back on the attack in Lebanon - and not only in war games - have had a negative effect.

A forward control post of the air force, headed by Brigadier General (res.) Ika Brandt, a former commander of the air force/ground forces liaison unit, is at the Northern Command. Also watching over the sector that lies between the border and the Litani River are several high-ranking pilots who have been left underemployed, including the head of the General Staff's Special Measures Command, Brigadier-General Jack Yaakobi, who until last summer was the commander of Ramat David, the most important air force base in the North.

As soon as the operation began, the northern HQ was inundated with officers from the near and distant past who were frustrated at not having been called up, so that they could freely offer advice to the GOC Northern Command, Udi Adam. In the Yom Kippur War, a similar group of Palmach and circa-1948 IDF alumni proved to be an annoyance to their old colleague, Yitzhak Hofi, the GOC Northern Command, who was buckling under the burden. Eventually, one of Hofi's staff officers spoke with the base commander, who provided him with a room off to the side on which the officer hung a sign: "The general's strategy team." There the army vets put their heads together, came up with all sorts of ideas, and put them in writing. The staff officer thanked them warmly, walked over to Hofi's command post, and along the way tossed the pages into the trash.

The experiment in which the authority of the regional commands was expanded has only partially succeeded. The General Staff, primarily via the IAF when the target is deep behind enemy lines but also via its tight control of areas south of the Litani, is for all intents and purposes running the war - the war with a capital W, and not only the "war."

The lines of administrative division between various headquarters, which may bear a certain logic when all is quiet, or on paper, begin to lose meaning when Katyushas are being fired. The Home Front Command is responsible only for defending areas south of the Nahariya-Kiryat Shmona line; in these two cities and along the border, responsibility belongs to the Northern Command's regional defense HQ. Combat soldiers and non-combat support soldiers in areas targeted by Katyushas are not required to wear flak jackets or helmets; apparently, that order will only be given once they have been hit.

The test of reality will necessarily lead to soul-searching in many areas. For example, does the IDF really need so many different "special" units? Will it continue to support a reduction of compulsory military service, as was agreed upon prior to the Knesset elections - out of political considerations. This plan smacks of security complacency, which has been shattered in Lebanon.