uploaded : Wednesday 24th Oct 2007 at 00:43
by : The Associate Editor
On 8th October in London I was privileged to attend a by-invitation only paper, the Leslie Prince Memorial Lecture, delivered by General Sir Rupert Smith and presented by The Anglo-Jewish Association, which has helped 100,000 students in UK education. The General was Commander of UN Forces in Bosnia in 1995, was General Officer commanding Northern Ireland 1996-1999, after which he served as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in NATO.
Gen Smith pointed out at the opening of his lecture that his partner is Israeli. However, at no time in the delivery of his paper did one feel he had an agenda or was in any way a Christian Zionist or promoting Israel’s interests. If anything, he was critical of the handling of the July 2006 Lebanon campaign.
Gen Smith noted at the outset that our institutions are now unsuited to conduct war, a case in point being the Lebanon War. No longer are we dealing with process of peace/crisis/war/resolution/peace.
The Impressionists in their work altered data, offering compellingly different result looking at the same view. In the same way we must look at the conduct of war. With Industrial War, there was superior equipment and superior numbers. Now, in the age of al Qaeda we have war amongst the people, which is ‘formless’; -- how we use our equipment must be tactically correct. The General said that words like ‘annihilate’ are used in the new formless war, and military force does not resolve the clashes. Force achieves only sub-strategic goals. Why do we win the fight and lose the war? Our institutions of governance have failed to find the answer.
The Korea conflict started in 1948 with the same DMZ ( Demilitarised Zone) after World War II, after the Korean truce and now. When all is said and one, as Gen Smith asserted, there was no nuclear war but more recently there has been a danger which hopefully will be resolved. ( I will interject here that my liberal Guardian-reading friends insist the rise in tensions in flashpoint areas around the globe have resulted from one line in a Presidential speech about ’the Axis of Evil.’)
The General noted that the ulterior motive for the Yom Kippur War was Egyptian President Sadat’s desire to bring Israel to a settlement and that is why Israel intelligence failed: they did not ‘read’ the Egyptians long before the war ensued, a wart that nearly resulted in the annihilation of the Jewish State. I am not sure I quite ‘buy’ the General’s view: the attack on the holiest day of the Jewish year, when even the secular baseball player Sandy Koufax refused to pitch in the World Series, was a heinous act that is forever embedded in the psyche of Jews -- ‘one for the new hagaddah,’ one might say -- and it is also well known in Israel that the triumphal in Israel after the 1967 left many leaders complacent and unprepared for a renewed attack.
In 2006, after two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped Israel said to Lebanon -- ‘if you want your air conditioning to work and to be able to hop on a ‘plane to go shopping in Paris you’d better rein in Hezbollah. We will set you back twenty years.’ The General explained that we ( the US-UK coalition) bombed and bribed our way into Kabul in 2001 after 9/11 and were allies with the Northern Alliance. The same ‘bombing and bribing’ unfolded in Bosnia. I did not see how this applied to Israel-Lebanon but rather assumed he meant that Israel should have sought an alliance with a Lebanese faction before embarking on a major bombing campaign.
The Commander in the field is like a Producer; he must deal with ticket tout, ice cream sellers, gladiators and all else ‘peering through the coke straw.’ And he has to run the show.
In the July 2006 Israeli campaign, one million Lebanese people were displaced, and Hezbollah won the propaganda war. ‘Stood up to the IDF’ was the triumphant headline in some quarters and in ‘The Economist,’ ‘Nasrallah wins the war,’ meaning the radical Sheikh who now commands Hezbollah, won hands down.
The General provided more perspective: in 1978 UNIFIL was deployed in Lebanon, and the ‘I ‘means ‘Interim.’ It has been a flashpoint ever since.
Turning to our own military preparedness, or lack of, the General noted that without Conscription and depots of equipment the defence structure is no longer in place. The expression ‘Smith’s underpants- - one on, one off and one in the wash’ applies here: -- you must have a force to deploy and one in reserve.
Israel went to war for two men. We did not go to war to free POWs in previous wars. 1,000 Lebanese are dead; 230-300 Hezbollah died and 120 IDF soldiers and 44 civilians. Civilian fatalities would have been much worse but Israel has excellent civil defence facilities and infrastructure.
Gen Smith asserted that in the Lebanon war of 2006 bad communications between commanders and Reservists was apparent; at the vital River Latani Operation, the mission only began three days before the ceasefire. Katyusha rickets, meanwhile, are Russian, are high volume, and are for Hezbollah a kind of ‘surrogate air force.’
We must change the way we think about conventional war; our opponents seem to handle the use of force better than we do. Respect one’s opponent -- the ‘light’ is information -- you change people’s minds. OUR narrative must be the one the audience (public) support - - not theirs.
Can Israel convert this into win?
How can Israel gain support in ‘other’ wars?
Can Hezbollah avoid becoming the loser?
Will Syria and Iran continue to back them?
Can UNIFIL guarantee the borders?
If it breaks down, what is UNIFIL’s role?
What is the role of military force and best serves the purpose in these conflicts?
The General asked these questions and then looked pessimistic without saying any more except:
Israel will not rest in peace.
In the Q&A session I asked Gen Smith about the anti-Israel Lobby writers
Mearsheimer and Walt; he pointed out that the ‘Arab street’ since 2001 has seen the USA not a dishonest broker or arbiter but as a supporter of Israel.
In the recent autumn 2007 secret attack on Syria, the huge silence from Syria means someone has been bang to rights.
The General further explained that Hezbollah was successful in getting many Lebanese who before would have been pro-Israel and pro-American to become sympathetic to their cause. After the bloody Vietnam War Tet Offensive in 1968 the American people turned against their government.
Asked about an imminent world conference on peace in the Middle Eat, the General said, ‘No ‘conference’ is going to serve to constrain Israel if its existential survival is threatened.‘ He further explained that Israel has an outstanding missile defence system ideal for small geographical spaces, unlike the vast spaces of USA.
‘Industrial war’ is gone, and wrecking the infrastructure of a nation ( tanks crushing sewers, power lines coming down) does not win hearts and minds. In Borneo, Rhodesia and Malaya the people were not won over by the British.
General Smith’s talk left me thinking that conventional war is ‘over’ and that the dangerous campaign for defeating or marginalising radical Islamic terrorism will be with us for years to come.
Please visit the website of the Anglo-Jewish Association:
Some background on the AJA:
The Alliance Israelite Universelle was founded in France in 1860 to represent World Jewry as a protest against increasingly antisemitic incidents such as the Damascus Affair and the Mortara Case (see below). The Alliance later expanded to world membership and became the central agency for Jewish education for the Mediterranean area. In 1869 it opened the first agricultural school in Palestine.
In 1871, the AJA was founded in conjunction with the Alliance by approximately two hundred leading English Jews led by its first President, the lawyer Jacob Waley. It disassociated itself shortly after, due to the pressures of the Franco-Prussian War and established branches throughout the British Empire. The aims of the association were to “promote the moral, social and intellectual advancement of the Jewish people” and those abroad.
The AJA in 2007 is an association of Jews from all walks of life and levels of observance. It offers a cultural program for its members. It offers financial assistance to outstanding Jewish students in financial need studying for full-time for degrees at universities in the United Kingdom. It is a Privileged Body of the Crown, permitting it to present petitions and congratulations to the Royal Family. It is a full member of the International Claims Conference and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. It is represented through the CCJO at the United Nations, UNESCO and a number of other non-governmental organisations