Why has the vaunted IDF military machine performed so poorly in Lebanon? Surely there are a number of reasons, but what I think is the most important one just came to me in the shower this morning.
Specifically, the weakness in the IDF's military performance can be traced to an indecisiveness on the political level as to what to do with the Litani River once it has been taken.
The Litani River, see map here, runs across the Southern tip of Lebanon. It is is a natural line of defense for any invading army, and therefore the logical front edge of any Israeli buffer zone. However, to take and hold it means a reprise of the earlier, ill-fated occupation that ended with an ignominious withdrawal in the year 2000.
After all, the Israelis know that a French-led U.N. force ready to serve as proxy occupation army, willing to fight off Hezbollah and suck it up bravely whenever the Israeli air-force "accidentally" napalms some of their men, is set to arrive in the region no later than the 25th day after Doomsday. Take the Litani, and Israel is stuck with the Litani until they withdraw from it, with their forward troops eating Kaytusha rockets the whole time. Olmert and co. would prefer to avoid this scenario.
On the other hand, if you set up a buffer zone short of the Litani, then it doesn't work. Give Hezbollah an uncontested passage over the river, and the rest--getting close enough to jump your guys or fire rockets at Haifa--is easy. So your troops eat rockets, and so does Northern Israel.
Hamstrung between these two lousy alternatives, you get the kind of silly military behavior we've been seeing. The Israelis send a bunch of guys towards the river, maybe even past it, fire off a few rounds, take a few casualties back, and leave. They land some commandos, shoot up a few buildings, and leave.
And with this new offensive, the IDF--and this, being from a military background, particularly annoys me--is being asked by its political masters to be more active in the buffer zone, but they're still not allowed to make any progress.
The IDF is being made to take part in a political drama, not do its job, in other words..