Between perception and reality
Many people think Israel's technology can accurately strike any enemy quickly and carefully without hurting civilians or our forces
There is a gap between public expectations and reality on the ground in the fighting that has now continued for 14 days. There is nothing new about this gap: It happens any time a state army fights a terror or guerilla force. It happened to the United States in Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. It happened to us in Lebanon and with the Palestinians. It happened to Russia in the 1980s in Afghanistan, and is happening again to them today in Chechnya.
There are four standing expectations that can be found in just about all clashes.
First: There is an expectation that the clash will end quickly. Why? "Because we are much stronger than the enemy." I remember one officer during the Lebanon War who told us the war would last two days. Afterwards, it went up to three days, then to six days. On the sixth day there was a "cease fire," but it wasn't exactly the end of the operation. Rather, it was the beginning of a move that lasted 18 years.
Second: There is an expectation that we will strike them but that they won't hit us. Why? Because we are a big, strong army, and they are no more than a "gang" or a bunch of thugs. There is an expectation for everything to look good, just like an old fashioned western: Bad guys get hurt, whilst the good guys are immune to enemy bullets.
Here, too, there is a hidden expectation that we, with our technology and exact weaponry, can inflict precise damage on the enemy without any damage to our forces.
Third: There is an expectation of no civilian casualties to the enemy. This is a natural expectation, for we want not only to be the stronger side, but the just side as well. That feeling of justice can crumble when it turns out that entire families are killed and children are left with amputated limbs.
Fourth: There is an expectation that the military clash will end with a convincing victory, a victory so crushing that the few remnants of the enemy will come out of their hiding places waving white flags and will agree to surrender unconditionally.
All four expectations are natural. They are based on rational conclusions from the public's "assessment" of the situation. The problem is that that assessment relies on concepts, facts and historical experience of wars that have nothing in common with the current one. They are based on all-out conventional wars between countries and armies, not on low-level clashes between countries and organizations.
The point here is that with regard to all four points cited above, realistic expectations are far lower than those hoped for, or than those that would be attained if we were measuring on a scale of criteria of "conventional war."
With regard to Iraq, America, too, erred, and continues to err in its assessment. At least to the outside world, they are using ideas that are largely irrelevant and rest on factors that are more or less unimportant. Wars whose outcome rests more-or-less on the number of tank divisions each side has. Unfortunately, statistics such as these are unimportant to armed clashes in the 21st century.
The results of the campaign to this point are more-or-less in line with the IDF's assessment. There have been no surprises vis-à-vis any of the four above-mentioned points.
If the army gave the politicians this assessment when the operation began, it was correct. As stated above, the gap between expectations and abilities in this kind of clash is natural. The army must not bridge this gap by changing tactics in order to meet the expectations of this or another party.
Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland is a former National Security Advisor