Below, J. L. notes that Operation Cast Lead was partly a response to the perceived loss of IDF prestige following the 2006 Lebanon incursion. I guess this is right, but I feel like every recent Israeli military operation – from the 1982 Lebanon invasion to the Intifada and so on – has provoked a new round of hand-wringing about the IDF’s declining reputation.
Not coincidentally, the ’82 invasion marks the end of open warfare between Israel and the Arab states and the beginning of a new phase of asymmetric conflict. I very much doubt that Israel’s ability to defeat its neighbors’ conventional militaries has declined since the 1970s, but because the IDF is now fighting small terrorist cells or diffuse insurgent groups, even tactical successes get obscured by the messy nature of low-level conflict.
The larger lesson is that counter-insurgency is difficult to do well, even with a highly-proficient military. The IDF hasn’t gotten worse at fighting – its missions have become more difficult and metrics for evaluating military success are now harder to come by. The fact that insurgent groups can make even the IDF look bad is another point in favor of the United States avoiding future foreign occupations at all costs.