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Tank Warfare On The Gaza Battlefield Part Two

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Martin Sieff
Washington (UPI) Jan 9, 2009
The failure of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, to provide any fight worthy of the name to Israeli ground forces in the first few days of operations in Gaza this week contrasted with the effectiveness of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Party of God in southern Lebanon, in standing fast against an Israeli ground forces offensive in July 2006.

The success of Israel's first ground operations in Gaza in January 2009 contrasts dramatically with the failure of its ground forces in southern Lebanon in July 2006. And along with the success of the Russian army in the former Soviet republic of Georgia last August, the Gaza operations so far teach the old, classic lessons of 20th century ground warfare that there is nothing to compare with the massed, skillful use of Main Battle Tanks, provided they are sensibly and thoroughly integrated with artillery, close air support and infantry units.

The Russian success in Georgia was vastly more impressive in military terms than the extremely slow, ultra-cautious Israeli penetration of Gaza -- a territory the Israeli army conquered in a single day at the beginning of the 1967 Six Day War. But the parallels are striking.

Like the Russians, the Israelis understood the importance of amassing in advance significant concentrations of both infantry and tank forces. The Russians massed 10,000 troops. The Georgians did not expect an attack, were not dug in to ground positions at all, and offered no significant resistance even when they commanded key locations like the Roki Tunnel and the Kodori Gorge, or the city of Gori, where local conditions were extremely favorable for prolonged resistance. Hamas made those same mistakes and so far has folded in exactly the same ways.

These failures were particularly striking because previous opponents of both the Russians and the Israelis proved far more formidable in standing up to them. Hezbollah, as noted, proved unexpectedly formidable in July 2006 against Israel, and the Chechens fought ferociously to defend their capital, Grozny, against the Russian army in the first and second Chechen wars.

In 2006 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz foolishly scrapped a general staff plan to assault Hezbollah with a major ground force of 50,000 troops and relied on the confidence of former Israeli air force commander and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz that air power without ground support could do the job.

By the time of this week's Israeli operations in Gaza, however, the reviled and discredited Peretz and Halutz had been replaced by the immensely experienced and capable Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. And both these generals understood, as U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki warned Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in vain in 2003, that there is no substitute for sufficient troops, firepower and tested, experienced tactical operations on the ground to get the job done.

In 2006 the quality of Israel's main, non-elite ground forces' infantry units proved poor, and therefore the integration of infantry and tank forces on the ground proved extremely weak. They have done vastly better so far in Gaza. The Russian army, similarly, was vastly more impressive in Georgia than it had appeared in the two bloody Chechen wars, also in the Caucasus.

(Part 3: Gaza teaches non-high-tech lessons)

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