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Thursday, August 17, 2006

"SO MUCH FOR THE WALL...."
Israel's Strategic Blunders, Round Two
James S. Henry

Almost everyone except the bovine US President -- who also believes that US-backed forces are winning in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the "GWOT," despite mounting evidence to the contrary -- now acknowledges that Israel has suffered an important strategic setback at the hands of Hezbollah.

Indeed, the "soul-searchers" reportedly include a majority of Israelis, many members of the IDF, leading US and Israeli security analysts,  and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert himself. As one leading Israeli journalist put it today, "This is not merely a military defeat. This is a strategic failure whose far-reaching consequences are still not clear." 

Lessons (Re-) Learned?

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 In hindsight, both Israel and the US should now (re)-learn some very costly lessons about the risks of taking on a highly-motivated, well-trained and adequately-armed guerilla army on its own turf. They also have now an opportunity to remember some important lessons about the limitations of purely-military solutions to such conflicts.    

 As in the case of  the US strategic bombing campaign in Vietnam, Nato's air war in Kosovo (1999), and, indeed, the Allied air war against the Nazis during World War II, Israel's month-long air war against Hezbollah has largely failed to accomplish its strategic objectives. In particular, Hezbollah's ability launch dozens of missiles into northern Israel went utterly unscathed, with the largest single number of missles launched on August 12, the day before the ceasefire.

 Given the elaborate ground defenses, arsenal, and trained force that Hezbollah was able to pre-position in South Lebanon, its ground forces also avoided the knock-out blow that Israel and Washington had hoped for.060811_isreal_tanks_300

 By far the most effective "weapons" on the ground were not Iranian-supplied long-range missiles, drones, cruise missiles, or even Katushyas, but a combination of disciplined ccombat training and tactics,  heavy investments in combat engineering, remote sensing, and other defensive equipment, and sophisticated anti-tank missiles, many of which appear to have been supplied by Russia, by way of Iran and Syria.

On the other hand, proponents of anti-missile defense systems, "smart bombs," 60-ton Merkava tanks,  border walls/electronic fences, and "infowar" clearly have some work to do. None of these systems performed very well for Israel during this conflict.   

 The widespread bombing campaign exacted a horrific price from Lebanon's civilian population, uniting most political factions within Lebanon against Israel rather than against Hezbollah, at least temporarily.

 Only part of this campaign's horrific civilian toll in Lebanon can be explained by Hezbollah's propensity to "swim" in the civilian sea -- part was simply due to targeting mistakes on made by the Israeli Air Force and its intelligence sources, and part was due to deliberate choices made to go after "dual use" targets,  including oil refineries, bridges, power plants, and transportation vehicles. News_2

 The Summer War has also greatly boosted political support for Hezbollah on the "Arab street" throughout the Middle East, converting initial criticisms by the Saudis, Egypt, Jordan,  Kuwait, and other conservative regimes into widespread expressions of support. We suspect that much of this official support is insincere, but it probably reflects a genuine fear that these regimes have of their own people. 

 Syria, which had been under strong political pressure to continue its detachment from Lebanon, has been "reaccredited" by Israel's excesses during the conflict -- able to assume the self-righteous role of Lebanon's protector against foreign aggression. On the other hand, the Baathist regime may also now be in a stronger negotiating position with respect to the West.

_39800141_nasrallah300ap_1  Iran's hardcore anti-reformers have so far only been strengthened by Hezbollah's performance to date in this conflict, and by Israel's costly tactics. Nor were they discouraged from pursuing their nuclear development program. Their only real challenge now will be to replenish Hezbollah's sorely-depleted missile arsenal, and to find ways around the "ceasefire's" prohibition on Hezbollah repositioning.
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 Most important, Hezbollah's ability to define victory as "not losing" against one of the world's most powerful armies has certainly not encouraged other radical groups around the planet to lay down their arms and pursue peaceful alternatives.

 For every Hezbollah fighter that was killed by the Israelis in the last month, the heavy bombing campaign probably generated several new recruits -- not only in Lebanon, but also in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir, and the West Bank.Abdullah_1

  • In short, as a result of this strategic setback, Condi Rice's Panglossian "birth pangs of democracy" are likely to prove more prolonged and painful than ever.   


WAS THERE ANY ALTERNATIVE?

 At a tactical level, clearly Israel and the US both need to do much work to do regarding the failures of their intelligence operations with respect to Hezbollah's arsenal and military preparations. We can add this to the lengthy list of their  other intelligence failures in the last decade alone.

 The preference for high-altitude offensive bombing,  naval shelling, and open-field tank/ heavy vehicle warfare over hard-slog ground offensives also needs to be reexamined. To the extent that this reflects a preference for arms-length "hi-tech warfare," and a reluctance to sacrifice infantry for the sake of defeating dedicated militants like Hezbollah, this may indeed rise to the level of the same "morale/ will to die"  handicap that has crippled other many colonial armies,  in places like Vietnam, Algeria, China, and (long ago) the US itself.      
_40384_victory14806
 At a strategic level, the notion that the "enemy" simply consists of a finite stock of "fanatical terrorists," motivated primarily by "Islamo-fascist" dogma, or -- as Benjamin Netanyahu put it last week -- "12th century religious doctrines," is simple-minded and unhelpful. Among other things, they were clearly very professional, highly-trained soldiers. Unless military planners come to appreciate the political implications of what they do, and the real nature of their enemies, they may lose the war both on and off the battlefield.

 Another key point here is that the "Islamofascist" categorization, and the tendency to lump all "Islamic radicals" and "terrorists" together, has blinded both the US and Israel crucial schisms -- for example, the Alawite-Sunni rivalries that have been so important in Syria, Shiite-Sunni rivalries in Iraq, Bahrain, and Lebanon, and secular - religious rivalries in Palestinine.  

 True, it is now very late in the day, and the long-term failure of Israel and its enemies in the region to make any progress at the bargaining table may indeed mean that this overall story is headed for a terrible climax._41429427_soldier_getty_203body_1

From this angle,
 however, perhaps the one good thing about this strategic disaster is that it may remind Israel and the US that, whatever the final outcome of any attempt to solve the problems of the Middle East by military means,  it will not be cheap, easy, or devoid of surprises.

  • (c) JSH, SubmergingMarkets, 2006     

 
   
 

 

 

         

 


August 17, 2006 at 02:54 PM | Permalink

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"SO MUCH FOR THE WALL...."
Israel's Strategic Blunders, Round Two
James S. Henry
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