I’ve been hesitant for several reasons to write about any tactical level mistakes the Israelis may have made in their ill-fated Lebanon operation. The main reason is that it is obviously very difficult to know how many units of what type are involved, much less also what unit they are and any sub units they may have attached. It is even less certain where or how those units were used. We also do not know whether the army or the defense minister determined the makeup of the forces involved. Despite this, it is an important aspect of the issue so I figure I may as well write based on what I have been able to glean from news stories. I may be completely wrong, or I may be right and you may have read it here first (probably not).
This story from the Jerusalem Post indicates that the brigade size force in southern Lebanon consisted of 2 armored battalions with infantry battalions in support. Another story from the Jerusalem Post states that the 51st Battalion of the Golani Brigade (infantry) was involved so that would seem to be the non-paratrooper infantry support mentioned in the other story. The paratrooper battalion mentioned in this wiki article and in the Jpost story was most likely supporting the armor battalions since the Merkava tank that they are equipped with is also an APC. The 12th Battalion of the Golani Brigade appears to have been rotated in to replace the 51st which was pulled out. Based on this information and common military organization, my guess would be that the operation consisted of 2 armor battalions, 1 paratrooper battalion, 1 infantry battalion, 1 recon company, 1 special forces company, along with some combat engineer support. It’s hard to say whether this is both brigades, or if the second brigade was in Israel since the Israelis seem to have rotated troops every few days. I would assume that the second brigade was in Israel while the other is in Lebanon since 8 battalions should have been enough for the operation. This would be a pretty standard armor force so wouldn’t strike me as surprising in general.
While in general this is a balanced armored force it is not balanced for its mission. It must not only fight to secure 3 large villages (or small towns) but also hold around 10 miles of frontage. In addition to that it must fight an unknown number of Hezbollah fighters in difficult terrain. I’ve heard estimates of 200-300 fighters in Bint Jbail and 100-200 in Maroun a-Ras, with no info on the numbers in the third village or in the hills in the area. The head of the IDF said in a news conference on Fox that they estimate that at the low end 200 Hezbollah have been killed (in line with my estimate of 200-300 in the previous post). If that is the case, combined with the continuing fighting there must have been around 1,500 to 2,000 fighters, including reinforcements, in the area. Given the defensive preparations, the terrain, the quality and size of the enemy force, and the area involved it was a tall order to expect a single (or even two) armor brigades to achieve anything permanent.
An added difficulty for the Israelis is that their battalions are small compared the American battalions. (Note: I used the computer game WinSPMBT to obtain the TO&E's for the various units described below.) An Israeli force as outlined above would consist of just 66 tanks, 44 IFV/APC’s, 580 infantry, and around 1,400 combat soldiers total. A similar U.S. Army force would have 93 tanks, 73 IFV/APC’s, 720 infantry, and about 1,800 combat soldiers. A U.S. Marine Corps force would be even larger (they use some of the largest battalions in the world) with 140 tanks, 43 IFV/APC’s, 1,030 infantry, and 2,400 combat soldiers. These 4 small Israeli battalions were ordered to clear three villages with at least 300 fighters (more likely twice that number) while also fighting upwards of 1,000 fighters in the hills around the villages. By comparison, in 2004 we deployed 11 larger battalion equivalents (5 1/3 Marine, 2 2/3 armor, 2 LAR, and 1 mech inf), with greater fire and intelligence support, to solely root out the approximately 2,500 insurgent/terrorist fighters in Fallujah. Our attack force had 112 tanks, 200 IFV/APC’s, and 3,300 infantry. When we required 3,300 infantry to clear out 2,500 fighters, it is silly to think the Israelis could defeat 300-600 fighters plus hold off around 1,000 around the villages with only 580 infantry. Also of interest is the infantry:tank ratios. The Israelis are using a very low ratio of 8.8 infantry per tank. That is fine for maneuver warfare on the Damascus plain but not to attack villages in the hills. Attacking in an urban environment at Fallujah we used a ratio of 29.5 infantry per tank.
As the second JPost story indicates, the Israelis were attacking Bint Jbail with its minimum 200 defenders with only 2 companies of infantry or about 180 soldiers. Due to their small size they had to attack from the same side of the town. When things went bad they had to rush in 2 other infantry companies from wherever they were (Maroun a-Ras or guarding against Hezbollah attacks from the hills?) denuding the tanks on the perimeter line of their infantry support and/or stalling the attacks on the other villages. In 1982 the Israelis sent an entire armored division through the same area even though it wasn’t the main focal point of either the PLO or the Syrian defenses. A similar sized force would be required to take the villages in a few days time (10 battalions total, 2 for Bint Jbail, 1 each for the other 2 villages, 3 or 4 for the perimeter line, and the rest in reserve).
This is not to say the Israelis have not had an effect in hurting Hezbollah. They have definitely caused a good number of casualties. However, victory is not just decided by kill ratios. Olmert’s ignominious withdrawal is a victory for the Hezbollah. Although Hezbollah will claim it as a major victory that they won, it was handed to them by Olmert. The Israelis have more than enough military power to secure 3 villages in southern Lebanon held by less than 2,000 defenders. They have enough to easily secure the southern third of Lebanon if they wanted to. That they do not use it, or use it efficiently, is not the fault of the Israeli soldiers or possibly their commanders, but of Prime Minister Olmert. Again, we don't know exactly what was used, or how, so I could be wrong, this is just my best informed guess.