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Foreign Policy Analysis (2015) 11, 215–231

Airpower and Quagmire: Historical

Analogies and the Second Lebanon War1
University of Birmingham


Carleton University

This paper assesses the role that analogical reasoning played in Israel’s
decision making during the 2006 Second Lebanon War with Hezbollah.
Two analogies seemed to dominate internal deliberations: the “air power
superiority” analogy which drew on more than a decade of developments
in military theory and the air-based campaigns of the two Gulf wars and
the Balkan wars of the mid-1990s and late 1990s; and the “Lebanese
quagmire” analogy which drew on Israel’s own traumatic experience of
Israel following the its first war in Lebanon in 1982. The misuse of these
analogies by the Israeli political–military leadership during the war pro-
duced a myopic approach which advocated an almost total reliance on
air power rather than ground maneuver to win the war and refrained
from using ground forces for fear of entering another bloody and
unpopular war in Lebanon. The constraining power of these analogies
prevented the consideration of alternative courses of action or the effec-
tive calculation of cost-benefit analysis during the war. Whereas previous
studies of the war provided various explanations to singular decisions or
episodes, this paper shows that the air power and quagmire analogies
contained the conceptual boundaries of Israeli decision making during
the war and thus best explain its attraction and limitations.

On the morning of July 12, 2006, the Lebanese Shia guerrilla group Hezbollah
ambushed an Israeli border patrol, killing three Israeli Defence Force (IDF)
soldiers and capturing two more. Soon after the abduction, an Israeli Merkava
tank went in pursuit of the missing soldiers, but it hit a land mine, killing its
crew of four. Another soldier was killed in a shoot-out with Hezbollah gunmen
as he tried to recover the bodies of the dead tank crew (Norton 2007; Lambeth
2011). That night, at the end of a two-hour meeting, the Israeli government
approved an air campaign of massive retaliation against Hezbollah. According to
the findings of the Winograd Commission, the government “did not want a war,
did not intend to go to war, and did not know it was going to war. Only on
March 25, 2007 did the government publicly refer to the military campaign as
‘war’. Nevertheless, this was the essence of the 12 July decision” (Winograd
2008:33). Israel’s inner circle of decision making during the 34-day war with

We thank the support of the Leverhulme Trust (Research Fellowship # 2011-222) and the helpful comments
of the three anonymous reviewers.
Siniver, Asaf and Jeffrey Collins. (2015) Airpower and Quagmire: Historical Analogies and the Second Lebanon War. Foreign
Policy Analysis, doi: 10.1111/fpa.12029
© 2013 International Studies Association
216 Airpower and Quagmire

Hezbollah was undoubtedly the most inexperienced in the country’s history. It

included Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a former mayor of Jerusalem who rose to
the country’s top post after his predecessor Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke-
induced coma six months previously; Minister of Defence Amir Peretz, whose
political prowess were confined to his previous position as the leader of the larg-
est trade union in the country; and the IDF Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General
Dan Halutz, former commander of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) and the first air
force general to hold the post. Olmert and Peretz represented a rarity in Israeli
politics, as neither possessed a great deal of military experience or were inti-
mately familiar with military affairs. They thus had to rely on Halutz as a source
of expertise throughout the war, who, as an air force officer, lacked knowledge
and appreciation of ground maneuvers. According to one account, with “the
inexperienced Olmert and Peretz both express[ing] their willingness to allow
the army maximal freedom of action, the Chief of Staff had in effect become
the prime policymaker at this [early] stage of the war” (Bar-Joseph 2010:153).
This paper explores the important role that analogical reasoning played
throughout the war, from the inception of the crisis to the justification of its
less-than-optimal conclusion. Two analogies seemed to dominate internal delib-
erations. First, the “air power superiority” doctrine which drew on more than a
decade of developments in military theory and the air-based campaigns of the
two Gulf wars (1991 and 2003) and the Balkan wars of the mid-1990s and late
1990s. A second powerful analogy was based on Israel’s own traumatic experi-
ence of the “Lebanese quagmire” which began with its 1982 invasion and ended
in a hasty nocturnal withdrawal from southern Lebanon eighteen years later.
Together these historical analogies produced an evidently myopic approach
which hijacked discussions and subsequent decisions toward a paradigm which
advocated a “sterile” mode of fighting by relying heavily on the IAF rather than
ground forces to win the war, in the hope that doing so would stop Israel from
sinking into a second Lebanese quagmire that would result not only in a signifi-
cant number of casualties but would also invite the scorn of the Israeli public, as
was the case two decades earlier. However, the various tactical and strategic limi-
tations of this approach were rarely debated seriously by the inner circle of deci-
sion making, and, as such, potential alternatives were not presented until the
very late stages of the war. By examining the misuse of historical analogies dur-
ing the Second Lebanon War, this study makes an important contribution to the
growing body of literature on this conflict by conceptualizing the role of analogi-
cal reasoning in influencing the Israeli decision-making process. It also provides
fresh empirical insight to this aspect of FPA which for decades has been domi-
nated by studies of the American presidential system.2 The paper begins with a
survey of the academic literature on analogical reasoning and then presents the
case for the explanatory power of the airpower and quagmire analogies during
the Second Lebanon War. It then integrates the conceptual framework with the
empirical evidence to suggest that the frequent reliance on the airpower and
quagmire analogies skewed significantly Israeli policy making during the crisis
and ultimately resulted in an outcome which at least in the short and medium
terms had produced sub-optimal results for Israel.

The Use and Misuse of Analogical Reasoning

When making security and foreign policy decisions during international crises,
policymakers are often required to respond rapidly to unfolding events while lev-
els of anxiety are high and the quality or availability of information is limited. A
crisis may also surprise policymakers by its emergence, and its threat to the status
Some notable exceptions include Lefebvre (1994), Macdonald (2001), Dyson (2006), and Asher (2008).

quo may increase the probability of the use of force to defuse it. These constrain-
ing factors may then lead to a sub-optimal decision-making process, where poli-
cymakers come to rely on cognitive schemes to compensate for the deficiencies
in time, information, and resource management (Herman 1969; Jervis 1976;
Holsti 1999; Cowan 2009; Mintz and DeRouen 2010). Accordingly, when analyz-
ing foreign policy decisions one ought to consider the human element and its
impact on the quality of the process as well as the outcome.
Studies of the psychological or cognitive makeup of policymakers have
featured prominently in FPA literature since its early development in the 1950s,
and while they cannot by themselves predict foreign policy behavior, they can
nevertheless explain an integral part of the making of foreign policy.3 In one of
the seminal works on crisis decision making, Irving Janis suggested that when
confronted with crisis, policymakers may resort to three coping mechanisms: affi-
liative, egocentric, and cognitive. Affiliative schemes are designed to help the
policymaker reach a decision without risking relations with subordinates or the
decision-making environment. A policymaker may draw on egocentric heuristics
particularly when there is a need to satisfy personal motives or emotional needs
—this mechanism is often explained as a compensatory tool for insecurity or
lack of confidence in one’s ability to do the job. Finally, cognitive schemes—the
focus of this study—are designed to alleviate levels of anxiety and uncertainty,
particularly among inexperienced decision makers. In doing so, they make use
of simplified images of reality and are selective of incoming information to avoid
dealing with the more complex reality and may even ignore evidence which will
not fit into their constructed image of reality. These images occur in the form of
analogies, metaphors, and schemas (Janis 1989).
Analogies are generally understood to be “the idea that two or more events
sharing enough common features can be assumed analogous in other pertinent
respects” (Jeffrey 2009:310) As such, cognitive psychology considers the “ten-
dency to analogise to be an activity inherent in all human beings, and a process
which is often essential in order to make sense of the world around us” (Hough-
ton 1996:524). The usefulness of analogical reasoning as an indicator of foreign
policy is not a matter of consensus in the academic literature, with some arguing
that analogies are often used as a retrospective device to justify policy choices
already decided upon. Roland Paris suggests that analogies and metaphors may
be used by politicians “as tools of political persuasion in their public rhetoric” in
order to draw “parallels between contemporary phenomena and past events […]
thereby encouraging listeners to conceive of the present in the light of the past,”
while in their study of the US Congress, Taylor and Rourke conclude that analo-
gies were only invoked in order to justify positions already decided upon (Taylor
and Rourke 1995:466–467; Paris 2002:428–429). But while there is some debate
over the analytical usefulness of analogical reasoning, the literature is fairly uni-
form over its conceptual borders. Khong defines a historical analogy as a term
which “signifies an inference that if two or more events separated in time agree
in one respect, then they may also agree in another.” In a more recent study,
Brunk argues that “analogies compare what is ‘unknown’ to a similar event that
is already well understood or ‘known’.” Likewise, Breuning emphasizes that one
must look at a foreign policy situation as an “ill-structured problem” with many
unknowns; this makes it natural to compare the current situation “to a historical
situation that is deemed similar and about which more is known” (Khong
1992:6–7; Breuning 2007:70–71; Brunk 2008:304). Thus, when during a crisis
policymakers are caught in an environment of high anxiety and high stakes
where information and time are limited, they may resort to cognitive schemes
such as historical analogies. This may help them understand the current event as
See, for example, Sprout and Sprout (1956, 1957), Holsti (1967), Janis (1989), and Farnham (1990).
218 Airpower and Quagmire

bearing similarity to a previous one, and subsequently tie “to that analogy…a
specific course of action which should be taken to achieve a desired outcome or
avoided to prevent an undesirable outcome”; in essence, this is the “power of
the analogy” (Breuning 2003:230; Angstrom 2011:228).
Despite their analytical appeal, the effectiveness of analogies is limited by the
cognitive biases of their users, meaning that analogies are frequently used to
make poor decisions (May 1973; Neustadt and May 1988; Khong 1992; Hough-
ton 2001; Noon 2004). This practice usually manifests itself in two forms. Firstly,
the analogies themselves are often inappropriate in that they “not only fail to
illuminate the new situation but also mislead by emphasizing superficial and
irrelevant parallels” (Khong 1992:12). Secondly, the analogies invoked can be so
oversimplified that they “obscure aspects of the present case that are different
from the past one” (Jervis 1976:220). A case in point is the Munich analogy,
which has been so oversimplified that it has been invoked in every “major threa-
tened or actual US use of force during the first two decades of the Cold War as
well as [in] the decisions to attack Iraq in 1991 and 2003” (Record 2007:165).
Such poor comparisons are explained by the failure of policymakers to ade-
quately compare the situation at hand with historical incidents—not just for
their similarities, but crucially, for their differences. Thus, MacMillan argues that
decision makers often forget, or fail to realize, that “[each] historical event is a
unique congeries of factors, people or chronology […] it offers no clear blue-
print” (MacMillan 2010:153). The failure here is largely psychological, given that
an analogy’s appeal lies in its ability to provide a “short-cut” to rationality; there
is therefore seemingly no need to delve deep into researching the particularities
and nuances of the analogy being invoked as there already is, supposedly, a clear
lesson to be learned and applied.
Moreover, some argue that even if policymakers were to delve into “deeper,
casual variables” it would “vastly increase the probability that two events rarely
share the exact same casual variables, which would make it much more difficult
to find an acceptable analogy to the current crisis [negating] the simplifying
role” (MacDonald 2002, 43). In this regard, President Kennedy’s use of World
War I as an analogy during the Cuban missile crisis (how a series of actions with
unintended consequences could get out of control) is often cited as good prac-
tice (Breuning 2003; Winter 2003; Tierney 2007; MacMillan 2010). The Kennedy
example is also used to distinguish between two versions of human “complexity,”
which is defined as “how attentive or sensitive individuals are to information
from their surrounding political or policy environments and to the extent to
which they require information when making decisions”; leaders who are sensi-
tive to information pertaining to their “decision environment” will be more
receptive to the “views of colleagues or constituents.., outside actors, and the
value of alternative viewpoints and information discrepant with their existing
ideas” (Dyson and Preston 2006:267). This will often translate to a more sophisti-
cated use of analogies, compared to low-complexity leaders “who consistently
[employ] quite simple analogies in their policymaking” (Dyson and Preston
2006:282). Perhaps the most damning critique of Israel’s leaders’ conceptual
complexity appeared in the interim report of the Winograd Commission of
Inquiry which was set up to investigate Israel’s conduct of the war, Defence Min-
ister Amir Peretz lacked any “knowledge or experience in military, political, or
governmental matters. He also did not have knowledge of the basic principles of
using military force to achieve political goals” (Winograd Interim Report 2007).
According to one study, Peretz did not even take notes during the two-hour
handover meeting with his predecessor, Shaul Mofaz. At this most important
meeting, where he was exposed to Israel’s top military secrets and strategic capa-
bilities, on more than one occasion Peretz was seen doodling and even nodding

off (Shelah and Limor 2007:64).4 As will be discussed later, Halutz too, exhibited
patterns of low conceptual complexity, particularly with regard to his dogmatic
belief in the superiority of airpower and his failure to heed the advice of others.
According to the Winograd commission, Halutz “failed in his duties as com-
mander in chief of the army and as a critical part of the political–military leader-
ship, and exhibited flaws in professionalism, responsibility and judgment”
(Winograd Interim Report 2007). As for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, by his
own admission he realized within one hour that his decision to give Peretz the
defense portfolio was a grave mistake (Harel and Issacharoff 2008:69). The
appointment of a security neophyte to head the largest and most sensitive civil-
ian-military system in the country, particularly as Olmert himself lacked the rele-
vant experience to counter Pertz’s ignorance, suggests an acute lack of judgment
and responsibility on the part of the prime minister.

The Power of Analogies During the Second Lebanon War

Israel’s war effort consisted of three main stages: targeting Hezbollah’s strategic
capabilities using airpower to destroy its arsenal of medium and long-range rock-
ets (12–19 July); intensifying the damage to Hezbollah’s military capabilities by
“pushing” it out of southern Lebanon, using the air force and limited ground
operations, mostly by Special Forces (20 July–7 August); and finally, limiting
Hezbollah’s ability to launch short-range Katyusha rockets by taking control of
the area up to the Litani river, using (reluctantly) five infantry and armored
divisions (8–14 August).
Since the end of the war, a large number of studies have attempted to explain
Israel’s failed strategy during the war as well as more parochial aspects of policy-
making. Rationalist explanations examined Israel’s desire to achieve long-term
deterrence against Hezbollah and their Iranian backers, and the lessons learned
from the war in Israel’s subsequent war in Gaza in 2008–2009; other studies
blamed defense cuts and poor training for the incompetence of the ground
forces during the war. The roles of honor, pride, and aversion to loss of life were
also used to explain Israel’s poor performance, and as a case study of military
strategy, the unhealthy tilt in favour of airpower at the expanse of ground
maneuver is often cited as the overreaching reason for Israel’s failure to deliver
a significant blow to Hezbollah.5
This paper argues that while these various explanations (which are not neces-
sarily mutually exclusive) may explain singular decisions or episodes during the
war, they fail to provide the conceptual boundaries of decision making. For
example, considerations of national honor/pride/humiliation may explain why
Israel responded so heavily and so rapidly, but they do not explain why Israel
chose to rely on airpower rather than a massive ground invasion as it did in
1982, or intense artillery barrage, as it did in operations Accountability in 1993
and Grapes of Wrath in 1996. By the same token, there is no doubt that rationalist
considerations of long-term deterrence, or the desire to create an “image of vic-
tory” in the eyes of the world media, played a part in the conduct of the war,

Ironically, six years after the war many Israelis were grateful for having the neophyte Peretz as Defence Minis-
ter in 2006. While his performance during the war in Lebanon was rightly criticized, his decision to invest large
sums of money into the then-unproven and un-tested Iron Dome anti-missile defense system potentially saved the
lives of thousands of Israelis who lived under the range of Hamas’s Qassam rockets during the Gaza Conflict of
2012. Precisely because Peretz was an outsider in the defense establishment he headed, he was not bound by tradi-
tional combat doctrines and was more open to evolutionary ideas. See, for example, Levinson (2012), Shushan
See, for example, Lavran (2007), Kober (2008), Matthews (2008), McMaster (2008), Nir and Knafo (2009),
Bar-Joseph (2010), Marciano (2011), Mor (2012), Pahlavi and Ouellet (2012), and Petrelli (2012).
220 Airpower and Quagmire

but again, they fail to explain why airpower was the primary method to achieve
these objectives.
The abovementioned explanations can thus be explained as cumulative ingre-
dients in a conceptual framework which rested on two clear and powerful analo-
gies. Within hours of the news of the kidnaping, the dominant mind frame
among the political–military triumvirate of Olmert, Peretz, and Halutz was the
need to deliver a quick and massive blow to Hezbollah. Almost simultaneously,
the option of large ground maneuver was discarded as a real option. To achieve
this “cheap victory,” decisions during the subsequent five weeks—on the strate-
gic, operational, and tactical levels—were framed with frequent reference to two
analogical boundaries: First, Israel would rely on its air power to avoid collateral
damage and minimize combat casualties; Second, Israel would refrain as much
as possible from a long-drawn ground campaign in south Lebanon. In essence,
the airpower and quagmire analogies contained the spectrum of Israeli decisions
during the war.
The framing of Israel’s conduct during the war via this analogical prism can
be further explained as a filler of a legitimacy gap. According to Levy, since the
1970s, liberal democracies have increasingly found themselves affected by
the “gap of legitimacies syndrome,” where a high level of political legitimacy for
the use of force is seemingly clashing with a low level of social legitimacy for the
human sacrifices attached to the use of force. From the outset, the government
enjoyed an unprecedented support for its actions against Hezbollah—at home
and abroad.6 At the same time, however, the political–military leadership was
reluctant to deploy a large-scale ground maneuver given the “Lebanese quag-
mire” precedent. This gap—between the public support for a military campaign
to eliminate the Katyusha threat and the perceived high price associated with
the large ground maneuver which was required to eliminate this threat was trans-
lated into a systemic failure to appreciate that a military campaign which is cen-
tered on the soldier rather than the mission is doomed to fail (Winograd
Interim Report 2007).

The Airpower Analogy

All of Israel’s previous wars have been won by maneuver rather than firepower.
The latter (often airpower) played a key supporting role, but victory was always
achieved as a result of ground forces holding on to a piece of territory. The
debate between advocates of maneuver and supporters of airpower is not new;
however, over the last two decades, the popular credence of the Revolution in
Military Affairs (RMA), which champions the use of advanced technologies to
fight wars more effectively and with less casualties, has seemed to shift the bal-
ance in favour of airpower as the decisive factor on the battlefield.7
As chief of the IAF from 2002–2004, Halutz was an ardent supporter of this
school of thought. At the National Defence College in January 2001 Halutz
declared: “Many air operations were generally implemented without a land force,
based on a worldview of Western society’s sensitivity to losses. A land force is not
sent into action as long as there is an effective alternative. The IAF is a partner
in or decides wars. This obliges us to part with a number of anachronistic
assumptions. First of all, that victory equals territory. Victory means achieving the
strategic goal and not necessarily territory. I maintain that we also have to part
with the concept of a land battle. We have to talk about the integrated battle
and about the appropriate force activating it. Victory is a matter of conscious-
ness. Air power affects the adversary’s consciousness significantly.” A year later
The support was significantly eroded following the ill-fated attack on Qana. See Mor (2012).
Cohen (1996), Knox and Murray (2001), Richter (2005), and Loo (2009).

Halutz argued that “Airpower alone can decide, and let alone be the senior part-
ner to such decision” (Kober 2008:22).
In April 2006, Halutz endorsed a new operational doctrine for the IDF. One
of its core principles was the theory of Effects-Based Operations (EBO) which
was developed by the Americans in the aftermath of 1991 Gulf War. EBO repre-
sented a body of military thought which maintained that precision firepower
would allow for a swifter campaign with relatively low number of combat casual-
ties. Intellectually, EBO was inspired by the new military language of Systemic
Operational Design (SOD), which saw traditional notions of mission, task, cam-
paign, and command, reanalyzed and reconceptualized. As such, the objective
ought not to be the annihilation of the enemy’s ground forces or the conquer-
ing of territory, but the enemy’s strategic (rather than military) collapse. In
order to achieve this cognitive impact on the enemy, there was no need for full
engagement with enemy forces, but rather the surgical targeting of strategic
nodes of command and control, communication, and logistics. Two of the key
benefits of the new doctrine were the reduction in collateral damage and the
avoidance of large ground maneuvers to win the battle.8 The empirical justifica-
tion for the new doctrine was firmly anchored around the American experience
during the two Gulf Wars in 1991 and 2003 and the Balkan campaigns in the
mid-1990s and late 1990s. These operations convinced the military echelons, and
particularly IAF chiefs, that “standoff attack by fires (principally air power) was
an effective means to affect the will of the adversary and determine conflict out-
comes” (Johnson 2010). Ground forces were deemed largely obsolete, as US Air
Force historian Richard Hallion hastily observed: “Simply stated, airpower won
the Gulf War. In the airpower era, neither armies nor navies can be considered
the primary instrument of securing victory in war.” The military historian John
Keegan announced that when the story of the Kosovo war is written, “it will, I
believe, tell a quite simple story: how, for the first time in military history, air
forces won a war”; and John A. Tirpak, editor of Air Force Magazine, concluded
that “for the first time in history the application of air power alone forced the
wholesale withdrawal of a military force from a piece of disputed real estate”
(Tilford 2000:24; Matthews 2008:24). According to Eliot Cohen, the appeal of
airpower stems from it being “an unusually seductive form of military strength in
part because like modern courtship, it appears to offer gratification without com-
mitment”; likewise, Kreps states that this infatuation is rooted in the firm belief
that airpower “seemed to provide an anti-septic, low-casualty answer for modern
warfare” (Cohen 1994:109; Kreps 2009:143). The lessons of NATO’s 11-week
bombing campaign over Kosovo in which it suffered no combat fatalities had
since been projected to successive campaigns, such as the US-led Operation Iraqi
Freedom in 2003. In Israel—a country that had suffered high levels of casualties
in the politically unpopular 1982 Lebanon War—the simplified notion that a
campaign fought from the air and with the latest technology which could both
avoid IDF casualties and destroy Hezbollah at the same time proved enticing.
According to Seymour Hersh, in early discussions between Israeli and American
officials about the desired war model in Lebanon, the Kosovo war was used
repeatedly as a role model. NATO’s successful destruction of key nodes of infra-
structure in Kosovo and Serbia by using airpower alone was repeatedly pointed
by Israeli officials as what Israel would try to achieve in a war with Hezbollah;
soon after the war started, the Israelis told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,
“you did it in about 70 days [in Kosovo] but we need half of that—35 days”
(Hersh 2006). According to one account, Halutz and other IAF commanders
continued to refer to Lebanon “as an updated version of the successful NATO
operation in Kosovo in 1999.” The problem with the analogy, however, was that
Smith (2002), Reese (2003), and Petrelli (2012).
222 Airpower and Quagmire

“they merely forgot to mention that during the months of pounding Kosovo, the
citizens of NATO states did not sit in shelters,” unlike one million Israeli citizens
during the daily barrage of Hezbollah’s Katyusha rockets (Harel 2006).
Halutz often claimed that he had “observed the Kosovo war, its reliance on air-
power and the apparent connection with a rapid victorious outcome, and sought
to adopt that intervention as a model of strategic behaviour”; another account
suggests that Halutz’s study of the Kosovo War strongly influenced his belief
“that air strikes alone would be sufficient to bring Hezbollah to its knees” (Kreps
2009:77–78; Bregman 2010:276–277). But while Halutz’s views were not wholly
supported by the General Staff, his insistence on the continuous use of airpower
ultimately prevailed. In subsequent discussions, the director of military intelli-
gence, Major General Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash, said that the political echelon
should not be misled into believing that airpower alone could provide the solu-
tion for the threat of Hezbollah rockets, and Chief of Northern Command Major
General Benny Gantz concurred: “If such is the case, we have to prepare for a
protracted ground move” (Schiff 2006). During a General Staff meeting on 18
July, General Amos Yadlin, director of military intelligence (Aman) as well as Ha-
lutz’s Deputy, General Moshe Kaplinsky, estimated that the use of ground forces
on a large scale was inevitable and that despite the obvious risks such move
might become necessary “perhaps even tonight, tomorrow or in two days.”
Halutz, however, concluded that “there is no point in planning a ground
manoeuvre… [we need] to aim for smaller, shorter, more focused things.”
Halutz refused to even plan for such an eventuality: “I do not approve this time
of a large-scale ground manoeuvre. It is also a waste of time to plan for it,
period. If we do it, we will have time to plan for it.” Halutz wrapped up the
meeting and ordered to expand the list of targets for the air force and increase
the firepower (Winograd, 80–81). The same day, during a discussion at the
ministry of defense about the need to plan for a large ground maneuver,
defense minister Peretz argued that “we need to start preparing public opinion
for this, to prepare the whole business around it, it is not simple.” However,
Halutz maintained that a discussion about the ground option should take place
only after all other options have been exhausted (Winograd 2008:84). Halutz
and Olmert were in complete agreement on this point. During a private meeting
on 20 July, the prime minister explained that an extensive ground operation was
not an option: “I tell you as a guideline, in case it comes up by the generals… I
will not approve a large-scale ground operation,” and Halutz concurred: “prime
minister, like you I do not want to enter into a ground operation, moreover, I
think it is right that we reach an understanding that it is not the direction we
want to achieve” (Winograd 2008:90).
As noted above by MacMillan, failure to appreciate the uniqueness of each
crisis may lead to a misuse of the analogy. In taking on the seemingly simple
analogy of “airpower wins wars,” Halutz evidently displayed little appreciation for
the considerable differences between the situation which Israel encountered in
Lebanon, and the environment in which Western forces operated during the
Gulf and Balkans wars. Neither Israel nor Hezbollah played a part in these wars;
the threat posed to NATO by the Milosevic regime was considerably different
than the threat posed to Israel by Hezbollah; the military tactics used by
Milosevic’s supporters differed from Hezbollah’s bombardment of civilian
populations with the use of well-hidden and mobile rocket launchers; Israel was
fighting a nonstate actor, a populist-based guerrilla group entrenched in densely
populated civilian areas.
Concerning the role of airpower in achieving victory, the Israeli leadership
“ignored or [were] not aware of the fact that [a] battlefield decision at
the strategic level [had] never been achieved from the air, only at the tactical
level” (Kober 2008:25–26). Moreover, as Daalder and O’Hanlon noted in their

assessment of the Kosovo conflict, airpower alone did not in fact win that war. It
was the realization on the part of Milosevic in late-May 1999 that he faced a seri-
ous threat of a NATO ground invasion as well as total isolation in international
diplomatic circles. These dangers were, in turn, reinforced by the destruction of
Serbian infrastructure by NATO airpower (Daalder and O’Hanlon 1999). At the
beginning of what turned into a 78-day war, NATO officials had thought, like
Halutz in 2006, that airpower could ensure a quick victory. But knowing that
NATO’s airpower strategy was largely premised on a desire to avoid casualties,
Milosevic’s strategy was to wait out the war. Moreover, NATO’s air campaign had
in fact bolstered Milosevic’s stature, and even toward the later stages of the war,
when NATO began targeting civilian electrical and water distribution networks,
neither Serbia’s war-weary population nor its military were coerced into over-
throwing Milosevic (Byman and Simon 2006). Thus, if there was one lesson that
the Israeli leadership ought to take from the Kosovo, analogy was the futility of
“attempts to force an adversary’s hand by targeting its populace’s will to resist”
and that a coercive use of airpower against civilian population “often stiffens an
adversary’s determination, as the leadership and the country as a whole unite
against the coercer” (Byman and Waxman 2000).
Only well into the fourth week of the fighting, as the IAF failed to stop the
barrage of Katyushas on the north of Israel (at a daily rate of more than 100),
did Halutz finally succumb to the pressure and by early August conceded that a
large-scale ground invasion was necessary to deal with the Katyusha rockets, even
in the face of a high number of casualties to Israeli forces. But the operational-
ization of this decision was significantly constrained by another powerful
analogy—that of the Lebanese quagmire.

The Quagmire Analogy

The determination of the Israeli leadership to rely on airpower while postponing
large ground maneuvers for as long as possible cannot be fully understood with-
out studying the legacy of the First Lebanon War. In this respect, the dual analo-
gies of the reliance on airpower to achieve victory on the one hand, and the
anxiety of entering another Lebanese quagmire on the other, were not mutually
exclusive, but rather reinforced each other. This made the task of resisting the
inevitable policy implications virtually impossible and explains why no alterna-
tives to the air campaign were seriously debated until the last week of the war.
Unlike the airpower analogy in Israel, which was positive in nature (“airpower is
good”) and was borne in the minds of mostly air force professionals, the Leba-
non quagmire analogy can be described as a national trauma which is shared by
all Israeli citizens who are old enough to remember the 1982 invasion and the
subsequent eighteen years of military presence in southern Lebanon. The
trauma of Lebanon was built not only on the high level of casualties Israel sus-
tained during the war and the subsequent occupation of Southern Lebanon
(approximately 1,200 Israeli soldiers were killed, half of them during the war
between 1982 and 1985)9; it also entailed the shock of the political deception of
then-minister of defense Ariel Sharon, who sold the government a swift ground
operation up to 40 km into Lebanon to clear strongholds of the Palestine Liber-
ation Organisation (PLO), which used southern Lebanon as a base to attack
Israel’s northern settlements. When the swift operation turned into a bloody
stalemate, public opinion turned decisively against the government and the con-
tinued presence in Lebanon, resulting in several IDF withdrawals: first from Bei-
rut in 1983 and then again in 1985 from central Lebanon, then finally to a total
withdrawal from the country in 2000 (Levy 2009:72). Politically, public outrage
Taken from http://www.israeldefense.co.il/?CategoryID=486&ArticleID=2507.
224 Airpower and Quagmire

over the operation led to the resignation of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the
premature departure of Chief of the General Staff Rafael Eytan, and the removal
from office of Defence Minister Sharon. Thus, the quagmire analogy can be
summed up as a simple lesson to Israeli policymakers: do not enter Lebanon, or
else risk getting entangled in a bloody, unpopular and protracted conflict.
This chastising lesson was reinforced by what Edward Luttwak termed “post-
heroic warfare”: the changing views adopted by Western societies toward war in
recent years. Particularly, it refers to the growing intolerance these societies have
for high casualty rates in what are termed “wars of choice” (that is, conflicts that
pose no existential threat to the state but are pursued for other aims), which
have come to characterize the types of interventions Western societies have
undertaken since the end of the Cold War. Accordingly these societies may “be
more willing to support wars in which [both] casualties [are] low in numbers
[and are being fought] for limited aims” (Luttwak 1995:112). In this context, it
is evident that as a consequence of the First Lebanon War, Israeli society can be
regarded as “post-heroic.” According to Levy, by 2006 “Israeli society [had] chan-
ged its attitude to the sacrifice of life in war,” while Steinitz noted that Israel’s
failures in the Second Lebanon War were the result of a “culture of war we
adopted since the first war in Lebanon in 1982,” referring to it being the first
“war of choice” in Israel’s history (Steinitz 2006; Levy 2009).
Against this public sentiment and faced with a threat from Hezbollah, Israel’s
political and military leaders (many of whom fought during the First Lebanon
War) were determined not be dragged into another Lebanese quagmire. Halutz
was cautious “of becoming mired in “Lebanese mud” and experiencing numer-
ous casualties on the ground,” and other generals in the IDF had “no appetite
whatsoever for a reprise of the sort of massive ground invasion that Israel had
launched into Lebanon in 1982” (Kreps 2009; Lambeth 2011). Hirst concurs
that “Israel’s earlier experience in Lebanon had bred a deep-seated, obsessive
fear of entering that murderous ‘quagmire’ again” (Hirst 2010:345).
The fear of being entangled in another Lebanese quagmire was so paralyzing
that Olmert and Peretz refused to consider a ground maneuver as a viable alter-
native to the air campaign. The use of ground forces in Lebanon had an addi-
tional constraining effect, being that it involves the use of thousands of
reservists, who unlike conscripts can freely protest against the government when
their tour ends—as was indeed the case during the First Lebanon War. Olmert,
in particular, was captivated by the political repercussions of Israel’s first mud-
dling in Lebanon. Confiding in former Defence Minister Moshe Arens, Olmert
expressed his concern that if he ordered a land invasion “the masses would take
to the streets in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in protest against the government.” The
prime minister, Arens recalled, “was scared of returning to the Lebanon 1982
period, when Israeli soldiers got stuck on enemy land for years. The fear of get-
ting bogged down in the Lebanese quagmire paralyzed him” (Harel and Issa-
charoff 2008:172). Peretz too was evidently worried about the effect of such
scenario. Meeting with Meir Dagan, head of Mossad, the defense minister
expressed the view (shared by General Yadlin, director of Aman) that the Israeli
public “was confident that [the] air force would do the job and that it preferred
it over a ground operation… the public was still significantly influenced by the
trauma of entering Lebanon.” Dagan retorted that he believed that “the trauma
of Lebanon resides more with the political leadership than with the public”, but
Peretz concluded that “if the home front sees that the [army’s presence in Leba-
non] results in casualties and the feeling is that we are back to the days when we
were there, they [Hezbollah] hit us and we hit them, there is a greater chance
that [the public’s] spirit will be broken” (Winograd 2008:106).
Once the government ordered the large ground maneuver in Lebanon in the
final days of the war, Peretz became increasingly preoccupied by the number of

casualties the IDF sustained in battle. After the IDF lost eight troops in one day,
he was seen holding his head in his hands, asking Halutz “how will this end?”
(Halutz 2010). Peretz’s sensitivity to the loss of life in battle was typical of a post-
heroic society in which victory or defeat is measured by the number of casualties.
According to Major General Elazar Stern, “Every casualty was reported to the
Chief of Staff, and there was a case in which an entire battle was stopped
because of one casualty” (Kober 2008:11). Major General Udi Adam, com-
mander of the IDF’s Northern Command for most of the Second Lebanon War
reflected this anxiety in an interview during the second week of the war: “I do
not believe that anyone wants to go back into Lebanon” (Lambeth 2011:58–59),
whereas General Eyal-Ben-Reuven, Adam’s deputy, noted that, “the traumas of
the First Lebanon War became the prism through which we perceived and
fought the Second Lebanon War. Fear of getting bogged down again in the
Lebanese quagmire that began in June 1982 determined how the IDF fought in
July and August 2006.” This explains the remarkable consensus between the mili-
tary chiefs and the government about the continuation of the air campaign,
despite its evident failure to deal with the short-range Katyusha rockets: “No one
wanted to get bogged down again in the Lebanese quagmire. It was much easier
for Halutz to present to the cabinet a plan that relied primarily on air strikes
and minimal ground forces” (Wagner 2007).
Often during the war, the sensitivity of the political–military elite for combat
losses overshadowed their responsibility to protect the lives of more than one
million citizens who had been living in shelters for weeks. According to Luttwak,
ironically, only the loss of more civilian lives would have convinced the leader-
ship that a large-scale ground invasion—and with it a large number of combat
casualties—could be justified (Luttwak 2006). Inevitably then, this casualty-averse
mind-set among top policymakers meant that the ground option was never con-
sidered a viable alternative to the air campaign during much of the war.
Given the repeated references to the First Lebanon War by military and civil-
ian policymakers, as well as the media and the public, it is not surprising that on
March 2007 the Israeli government’s Ministerial Committee for Symbols and
Ceremonies officially named the war “the Second Lebanon war.” Alternative
names, such as War of the North or Shield of the North War, were quickly
dismissed as euphemistic—much like the official name given to the First
Lebanon War—Operation Peace for Galilee. By naming the conflict the Second
Lebanon War, Israel naturally invoked the analogous association with another
Lebanon War. As a member of the committee for Symbols and Ceremonies
explained, “The Second Lebanon War was the most appropriate name for the
war since it has already been ‘burned into public conscience’” (Sofer 2007).
Indeed public and media references to the First Lebanon War dominated the
analysis and commentary of the Second Lebanon war from the outset. According
to Kaufman, “media analysis of the war constantly referred to the 1982 Lebanon
war and the consequent eighteen years occupation of South Lebanon until May
2000, in an attempt to draw parallels with 2006… [There] was general agree-
ment in describing Lebanon as a rotten, violent and irrational ‘black hole’ into
which Israel has been periodically and inadvertently drawn since 1982 and even
before” (Kaufman 2010:198). The government thus found it impossible not to
conduct itself through this prism, and this analogy set the boundaries of the
chosen strategy—the reliance on air power, and the avoidance of large-scale
ground maneuvers.
On 4 August, General Yadlin conceded at a General Staff meeting that, “I
thought that a two weeks’ job of the air force will bring us to another place, and
today I think differently. I think that the only way to clean the area of these
Katyushas… is by a significant ground manoeuvre.” Responding to a question as
to why the IDF did not recommend such course of action earlier, both Yadlin
226 Airpower and Quagmire

and Halutz found the answer not in their own infatuation with the superiority of
airpower, but rather in the fact that “the Israeli society was not ready to accept
penetration into Lebanon on 12 July. There was no acceptance of a ground
operation” (Winograd 2008:156). The conclusion that only a large ground opera-
tion could successfully tackle the threat from Hezbollah’s short-range rockets
was not a matter of hindsight toward the end of the war and in its aftermath. It
was the conclusion of a long series of IDF studies, war games and military exer-
cises which took place in the years preceding the war, including one in June
2006, only weeks before the war. They all pointed to the need for a ground
maneuver to take control of the area up to the Litani River, which would elimi-
nate 95 percent of the Katyusha rockets. According to this scenario, after a short
and intensive air campaign, the reserves would be called up and the ground
operation would last between seven to ten days (Ben-Israel 2007). However,
despite this preparation and the fact that there were two operational plans in
place for the event of rocket attacks by Hezbollah, Halutz and his civilian superi-
ors were paralyzed by the thought of another Lebanese quagmire and continued
to believe in the ability of airpower to win the war. Consequently the plans for
ground operations were not executed until the 31st day of the fighting.
In taking the quagmire analogy as a policy prescription of how not to wage war
against Hezbollah, Israeli policymakers faced a number of problems. For one,
the conflict that occurred from 1982 to 2000 was a much more complicated
affair, fought for different reasons and, at least initially, against a very different
set of foes, some conventional (the Syrian army), others unconventional (the
PLO and other Syrian-backed militias). The war that began in June 1982 was a
large-scale invasion of Lebanon in which Israel deployed 78,000 troops, 1,240
tanks, and 1,500 armored personnel carriers. As noted earlier, the aim of the
1982 operation was ostensibly to remove the PLO threat to the north of Israel by
advancing no farther than the Litani River, 40 km into southern Lebanon. The
subsequent 18-year Israeli presence in Lebanon resulted in around 700 IDF casu-
alties and the emergence of several grass-root protest movements. Several politi-
cal and military leaders, chief among them Sharon and Begin, saw their careers
tarnished by the conflict. In what can be seen as a testament to the psychological
hold the war had on Israeli society, the First Lebanon War eventually earned the
moniker “Vietnam” (Lambeth 2011:xiv). While the geopolitical context and the
ratio of casualties in these two wars were incomparable, the political and social
hallmarks of the American experience of fighting a long and unpopular—and
ultimately an unwinnable war—seemed to be mirrored in Israel’s 18-year mud-
dling in Lebanon. Both were seen publicly as quintessentially wars of choice and
spurted popular anti-war movements; both were defined by several traumatic
turning points (The My Lai massacre and the Tet Offensive in Vietnam; the
Sabra and Shatila massacre and the suicide bombings of the IDF headquarters
and the Marine Barracks in Lebanon); and both became associated with the
legacies and ultimate downfall of the respective leaders of both countries.10
But a cursory survey of Israel’s adventures in Lebanon since the 1978 Litani
Operation reveals that the essence of “quagmire” was not entailed in the opera-
tions themselves, but in Israel’s failure to extract itself from Lebanon when they
ended. Moreover, the popular assumption held by Israeli leaders in 2006 that a
large-scale invasion into Lebanon should be avoided at all costs was not reflected
in public opinion. The Israeli public was prepared to sustain combat casualties
in order to win the war. In a similar fashion to the public mood in the second

Public criticism over the Vietnam War was one of the reasons behind Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to seek
re-election in 1968 (in addition to his weak position within the Democratic party and his ill health), whereas Mena-
chem Begin famously declared “I cannot go on anymore” before he resigned from office amidst daily protests
against the war outside his residence.

Intifada, there was readiness on the part of the public to endure the prolong
fighting and its consequences in order to achieve long-lasting calm and security.
As one retired Israeli army colonel noted during the war, “Something has hap-
pened to our society when we think losing eight soldiers is a tough day. Well I’m
sorry, it’s not” (Boot 2006). Indeed the fear of a large number of combat casual-
ties (especially of reservists) and the belief that the Israeli public “was not ready”
for such a large-scale operation had a crippling effect on virtually the entire
political–military echelon. In one of the most telling observations about the
impact of the quagmire analogy, the Winograd commission concluded that,
These considerations, in different permutations, were at the heart of the prime
minister’s objection to a ground operation. To this one must add the psychologi-
cal effects of the “Lebanese quagmire” images, as well as the anticipation of a
negative public reaction to a deep penetration into Lebanon… We should also
note that from the majority of the government ministers there was a real resis-
tance to a wide ground operation, though it seems that it wasn’t based on a thor-
ough understanding of the characteristics of the theatre and of the real
alternatives which were available to Israel during different stages of the war
(Winograd 2008:527).

In displaying this aversion to combat casualties and the fear of another quag-
mire, government may have even negated on its most basic contractual obliga-
tion to its own citizens—to provide for their protection (Inbar 2007). An
inherent problem with the Lebanon quagmire analogy was the fact that in
essence the 1982 invasion was a war a choice, which explains its enduring unpop-
ularity. However, in 2006, with more than one million Israelis hiding in shelters
or fleeing south to avoid the barrage of rockets, there is some traction to the
argument that Israel had no choice but to go into Lebanon to remove the threat
from Hezbollah’s rockets; only during Israel’s war of Independence in 1948 and
the first Gulf War in 1991 did large proportions of the home front come under
sustained attacks for such a prolonged period of time. Once more, the Winograd
commission provided the most incisive observation about the conduct of the war
against the crippling effect of the quagmire analogy: “it seems that Israel went to
war without being prepared to pay the price of war” (Winograd 2008:397).

The case of the Second Lebanon War demonstrates how multiple analogies,
once invoked, can overlap to influence policy decisions (Angstrom’s “competing
analogies”).11 The number and variety of analogies evoked—as well as their use-
fulness—depend both on the cognitive schemas of the decision makers as well as
the contours of the present crisis. The ubiquitous misuse of the Munich analogy
in almost every major U.S. foreign policy crisis since the 1940s, or the Carter
administration’s use of no less than a dozen analogies during the Iran hostage
crisis, for example, demonstrates the extent to which historical analogies not
only dominate the foreign policy decision-making process, but also the impor-
tance of understanding their role in shaping policymakers’ perceptions of policy
options, the crisis environment and even the justification of the outcome. Histor-
ical analogies are not value-neutral—they can be commonly divided into “good”
or “bad” examples from the past of how to approach a crisis. Unfortunately,
however, it seems that policymakers are more inclined to refer to past failures
rather than successes when confronted with a new crisis. Dowty’s study of Ameri-
can foreign policy in the Middle East concludes that “the bigger the success, the
less the learning process” (Dowty 1984:376), while Reiter observes that often
Angstrom (2011:225).
228 Airpower and Quagmire

“continuity of policy follows success while innovation follows failure” (Reiter

1994:490). The case of the Second Lebanon War presents a unique case where
two analogies dominated the decision-making process by providing both positive
and negative stimuli for action, which, rather than contradicting one another
were in fact interdependent. The airpower analogy represented innovation, a
positive lesson to be learned from the past successes of air campaigns of the
1990s, whereas the quagmire analogy signaled a warning from history about the
costs of another muddling in Lebanon. They thus seemed to satisfy the aspira-
tions as well as the fears of the decision-making cycle and as such did not leave
room for competing analogies. The airpower analogy was always present in Ha-
lutz’s mind, even before the war had started, and it seemed to complement per-
fectly the quagmire analogy as a justification to avoid the use of ground forces.
Moreover, the overbearing of these two analogies throughout the process pre-
cluded the resort to other popular models of decision making, such as bureau-
cratic politics or organizational behavior. Olmert and Peretz’s inexperience and
Halutz’s background had made the first two completely dependent on the lat-
ter’s advice and expert opinion; there was no bureaucratic jostling for influence
or organizational inertia. With regard to their preferred policy options, where
Olmert and Peretz stood did not depend on where they sat, they did not bring
with them distinct views which could be attributed to their respective agencies.
The result—a mutually-reinforced conviction in airpower and a paralyzing fear
of another quagmire—led to a decisively myopic strategy. To this effect the
Winograd commission found that without integrated decision-making proce-
dures and orderly management of the process, there is “natural tendency to
reach conclusions mostly based on ‘gut feelings’ and intuition, without testing
them against others with a different range of knowledge, experience, culture or
ideology”(Winograd 2008:56). The failure to ensure that such diverse parameters
for decision making existed was one of the important findings of the Winograd
commission with regard to this aspect of the war.
The Second Lebanon War was the first war in which the IDF had significantly
departed from one of the basic tenets of its strategic doctrine, namely the use of
large ground maneuvers, in favour of firepower from the air. This shift did not
take place in July 2006, but has permeated gradually into the military and politi-
cal echelons in Israel following the traumatic experiences of the Yom Kippur
War and the First Lebanon War and gained further traction by the experience
of the Americans in Kosovo and Iraq. In addition, the changing regional order
and shift in the nature of the threat, from conventional to low-intensity and
asymmetric, also contributed to the increased reliance on airpower and Special
Forces. These developments led to the view that what was necessary was a “small
and clever IDF”—a mantra which became popular during Ehud Barak’s tenure
as chief of staff in the early 1990s. The desire to fight the perfect war, with maxi-
mum firepower and minimum casualties, was thus grounded in complex histori-
cal, political and technological developments, which in the summer of 2006 fed
into the decision-making process through the (ineffective) operationalization of
the dual analogies of airpower and quagmire.

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