Monday, July 24, 2006

Lots Of Fighting, Little Change

I know what you're thinking. As windy, avid a follower of the Middle East situation and supporter of Israel as I am, how could I possibly go a week without posting directly on the Battle of Lebanon?

Well, (1) I've been busy, (2) I've been tired at night because I've been busy, and (3) my part of the country is gripped by an unseasonal heat wave, and my house doesn't have air conditioning, which turns my den into an oven and will fry my PC if I leave it on for any sustained period of time.

Those are the personal reasons. The topical reason is that, ironically, I've become the victim of information and commentary overload. My archive has forty-five articles in it since my last post. And yet in the big picture things haven't changed very much. Nevertheless, I shall endeavor to get caught up.

***A week ago today an Israeli airstrike destroyed an Iranian missile with the range to hit Tel Aviv, eighty miles south of the Lebanese border. This was followed up by a Hezbollah threat to carpet-bomb Tel Aviv with over five hundred more such missiles. The significance of this development will be explained in a subsquent post.

***An IAF attempt to decapitate the leadership of Hezbollah in a bunker in southern Beirut just narrowly missed. The terrorists claimed it was an "under-construction mosque," a hilarious lie which, even if it were true, would still mean little since they hide all sorts of nasty stuff inside mosques for protection and propaganda purposes.

***Abdullah bin Jabreen, "one of Saudi Arabia's leading Wahhabi sheiks," has issued a fatwa against any Wahhabi Sunni Muslim rendering any aid, including prayers to Allah, to their crazoid Shiite counterparts in Hezbollah. A sudden sunburst of tolerance and goodwill toward the Jews? Un, no. More like a kick in the ass to the Iranian-controlled terror group for being so stupid as to attack Israel so openly that the Jews look sympathetic, as well as a less-than-implicit declaration that Sunni Arabs have no desire to live under Persian Shiite domination.

***On the long-forgotten Gaza front, the political front-men of Hamas can no longer hide the fact that they were figureheads all along for the terror gang's true leader, Khaled Mashaal, in Hamas' true capital, Damascus. Small wonder, then, that they're looking to bail out on Hezbollah and salvage any separate peace from the Israelis that they can get - which apparently includes releasing Gilad Shalit in exchange for "consideration of future releases of Palestinian prisoners".

There are strong arguments being advanced that the Jews should not only not let Hamas off the hook, but should settle matters once and for all with its true leader's hosts (more on that later).

The Battle of Lebanon itself has been in a holding pattern as the IAF softens up the battlefield preparatory to a ground invasion to eliminate Hezbollah's military assets and infrastructure, and Hezbollah continues to expend its six-year supply of rocket and missile stocks on northern Israeli population centers. This stalemate began showing signs of moving to the next stage as the weekend began (via CQ):

The IDF was gearing up for a large-scale ground incursion into Lebanon on Friday. Thousands of reservists were being mobilized to the North throughout Friday to beef up forces stationed in the area in preparation for a possible operation.

In total, three to four ground divisions will be operating along the Lebanese front.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said on Friday that the defense establishment was evaluating the size of the force needed to conduct a large-scale operation in Lebanon.

"We have no intention of being dragged into something that Hizbullah wants to drag us into," Peretz said. "Nevertheless, we will operate in every place that we find it necessary."

On Friday afternoon, the IAF dropped leaflets over southern Lebanon all the way up to the Litani River calling on residents to move northward to avoid being caught in clashes between IDF forces and Hizbullah cells. The move could signify a step in preparation for the ground incursion.

The most interesting response to this mobilization came from the Lebanese government itself, which warned that it would join Hezbollah in resisting an IDF "incursion." (Not quite the "assertion of sovereignty" that Condi Rice had in mind, I'm guessing) This is consistent with an article in the Lebanan Daily Star to the effect that Hezbollah commander Sheikh Nasrallah is the de facto ruler of Lebanon. The Lebanese government's subservience stems from Nasrallah's boast that he'll force the release of Samir Qantar, a notorious Islamist murderer of several Israeli police officers and a four-year-old girl. Not a particularly significant factor since they couldn't evict Hezbollah from their territory in any case, which is why the terror group is based their in the first place.

That presence was unable to prevent the first Israeli advance, into the town of Maroun al-Ras. It was, however, able to make the IDF pay a stiff price for its gains, something that has couter-terrorism experts more than a little alarmed:

The Israeli Defense Forces and Hezbollah have fought pitched battles over the past two days in the region around Avivim. Ynet News reports nine Israeli soldiers were wounded during the fighting, and two were killed in the nearby town of Maroun al-Ras. "Attempts to rescue some of the injured were carried out under relentless fire," according to the Ynet News report. Six Hezbollah cells were engaged during the attack. Israeli forces have withdrawn from the area. [emphasis added]

Was this because the IDF's "incursion" into southern Lebanon thus far is more of a "raid on steroids" or because they were repulsed? Hard to say. We know that the Israelis have no intention of occupying Lebanese territory south of the Litani River as they did twice before, a curious pre-emptive declaration to make in advance of the invasion they're carrying out to ostensibly eliminate the Hezbollah threat to their northern cities. But as Bill Roggio observes, even being fought to a standstill by terrorist irregulars is a defeat for a heretofore professional, well-equipped force like the IDF.

To the extent that this is an unpleasant surprise, it reflects a rather (Does this sound familiar?) spectacular intelligence failure by the erstwhile "omniscient" Mossad:

Hezbollah also has built an extensive underground networks, including "fortified underground bunkers some forty meters (roughly 120 feet) underground, along with mass weapons caches" and communications systems. All of this was built under the nose of the Israeli military and intelligence services, as well as the peacekeeping forces of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)....In the words of an American military officer, "If we didn't know this about Hezbollah's capabilities, just think of what we don't know about Iran's capabilities."

This is why our spooks are doubting the Israeli claim that Hezbollah is running low on munitions and is in imminent danger of military collapse. As if U.S. intelligence is awash in excess credibility.


The Hezbollah fighters are well trained, and according to an anonymous senior military source, using ammunition and equipment such as armor piercing rounds, body armor, night vision gear and laser sights. Hezbollah also possesses mortars, RPGs, anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, anti-tank missiles and possibly surface to air missiles to accompany their arsenal of short and medium range missiles capable of striking into the heart of Israeli territory. Hezbollah is using infantry tactics and fighting at the squad and platoon level.

How did they get so good?

What we are seeing today is the direct result of the state sponsorship of a terrorist entity after it has gone unchecked for over two decades. Hezbollah has evolved from a terrorist, paramilitary group into the most effective fighting force in Lebanon, capable of conducting professional operations and using sophisticated weapons. The training camps in the Bekaa Valley are not only churning out fighters for Hezbollah, but train other terrorist organizations, exporting the dangerous tactics being used today in Lebanon, much like the training camps in Afghanistan served as a breeding grounds of today's crop of terrorists. [emphases added]

In other words, in the endless tiresome miasma of cease-fires and "peace processes" and "road maps" we and the Israelis have waited far too long to deal with Hezbollah. Not, come to think of it, unlike how it took the 9/11 attacks to motivate us to take down al Qaeda and their Taliban hosts. Now they are, to employ a colorful phrase, some "bad mother[expletive]s" that have become a dangerous nut for the IDF to crack.

And yet it is precisely because of that enhanced martial prowess that the Israelis cannot duck the logic of the unpalatable choice placed before them:

While Israel can degrade Hezbollah via air strikes, naval bombardments and limited raids, the Iranian proxy force cannot be defeated without putting boots on the ground in southern Lebanon and deep into the Bekaa Valley. Hezbollah fighters must be engaged on the ground to be defeated. Anything short of that - a buffer zone or negotiated settlement, both of which members of the Israel government and military has indicated it would accept - is a victory for Hezbollah and Iran. Hezbollah would have struck at Israeli cities and stood up the invincible Israeli army, while weakening the nascent Lebanese democracy and asserting itself as the true military power in the country. This would far exceed Hezbollah's victory of the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000. [emphasis added]

Just like the assassination of Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand in Belgrade in August 1914 became a flashpoint for a huge war that quickly subsumed it, so the kidnappings of Israeli soldiers can no longer be the point of the IDF's strategic thinking. Whatever the initial provocation, the Israelis must seize the golden opportunity of Islamist miscalculation and relatively favorable international opinion to not just "degrade" Hezbollah's capabilities or defer the resumption of their attacks and raids into Israel (and perhaps much worse acts of war involving WMD) but finish off the Iranian catspaw once and for all.

This may - will - be Israel's last chance to do so. Given that reality, Israel's friends and supporters, to say nothing if the Israelis themselves, had better hope and pray that Ralph Peters' pessimism is wrong. Because we and the Jews have far bigger fish to fry than just Hezbollah.