General Disarray

Reviewed by Yagil Henkin

Captives in Lebanon: The Truth About the Second Lebanon War
by Ofer Shelah and Yoav Limor
Yediot Books, 2007, 437 pages, Hebrew.

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year has passed since the end of the Second Lebanon War, and the upheaval it set off within Israel has yet to subside. Most Israelis see the military campaign that took place in southern Lebanon during July and August 2006 as, in no uncertain terms, a bitter failure. The efforts of Israel’s military and political leaders, headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to portray the war as an impressive security accomplishment as well as their claims that Israel in fact “won on points,” as former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff Dan Halutz claims, have not been accepted by the general public. Israelis have learned the hard way that, at least as far as the Second Lebanon War is concerned, Henry Kissinger was right when he said: “The guerilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win.” The gap between the public’s expectations and what actually took place has left everyone asking the same disturbing question: How could this happen?

Ofer Shelah, an industrious journalist whose work has touched on everything from sports to statesmanship, and Yoav Limor, military correspondent for Israeli television’s Channel 1, have set out to answer this question in their recently published book Captives in Lebanon. In the introduction, they declare that “despite the fact that this war received the most media coverage in the history of Israel, despite the open airwaves and special radio reports, and despite the IDF’s openness, it was clear to us that there was much more to uncover. It was the rough, gut feeling of people who covered the war, each from his own position, and came to understand that something had gone profoundly wrong, the roots of which must be investigated.” Shelah’s and Limor’s journey into this difficult territory has apparently yielded the hoped-for results; the book’s subtitle, The Truth About the Second Lebanon War, indicates the authors’ belief that they have achieved the ambitious objective they set for themselves.
One must admit that this belief is not entirely baseless. Captives in Lebanon is an impressive journalistic feat. Only a few months after the end of the fighting, Shelah and Limor succeeded in publishing a coherent and comprehensive analysis of the military operation, partially based on documents they acquired but mostly derived from scores of interviews they conducted with high-ranking military, security, and government officials. Thanks to the wealth of information the book presents and the authors’ skillful prose, Captives in Lebanon offers a fascinating, if depressing, reading experience....

Yagil Henkin is a graduate research fellow at the Shalem Center and a doctoral student in military history at Bar-Ilan University. He is the author of Un-Guerilla Warfare: The History of the First Chechen War, 1994-1996, published by the Ministry of Defense in 2007 [Hebrew]. His last contribution to Azure was “How Great Nations Can Win Small Wars” (AZURE 24, Spring 2006).

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