Thursday, July 27, 2006

Reading the Middle East Tea Leaves

So how's the Battle of Lebanon progressing? Is one side or the other gaining the upper hand or is it settling into a stalemate?

It's difficult to say without at least first defining what victory would mean for both sides. Which isn't difficult; for Israel it is the destruction of Hezbollah and the cleansing of its northern neighbor from Iranian/Syrian influence. Whereas for the terrorists, it is simply to survive, to ride out the IDF's retaliatory fury until "the international community" can wear down the Bush Administration into forcing upon Israel a premature cease-fire that would leave the "Hezbos" intact and in place, free to regroup, rearm, and launch fresh murderous aggressions in the future.

It goes without saying, as has been said here repeatedly, that this equation leaves a lot more time on Hezbollah's side than Israel's, provided that the Jews settle for half measures rather than truly resolving to annihilate "the army of God" once and for all, whatever and how ever long it takes. And the state of Israeli resolve is far from clear.

On the one hand, after suffering nine soldiers killed in action yesterday, the Israeli security Cabinet decided against expanding its ground offensive into southern Lebanon, which so far consists of a roughly six square-mile salient centered around a couple of Hezbollah strongholds, though they did call up another thirty thousand reservists as an apparent bit of bet-hedging. Nine dead IDF troops may not sound like much, but for a country as small as Israel, with one-fiftieth of our population, it is significantly, significant, and at that daily rate the numbers could add up faster than the Israelis can long sustain. That is part & parcel of the "Hezbos"' strategy - make uniformed Jews bleed now so that the rest of them can be killed later.

However, on the other hand, things may not be going so fabulously for the terrorists as their public chortling is trying to put over (via CQ):

An Israel Defense Forces analysis of the messages transmitted by Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah to his men during the fighting in Lebanon reveals a slightly different tone from the one he took in three public television interviews in the same period and in an interview with the Lebanese newspaper A-Safir. ...

Nasrallah admits that his organization is having morale problems and says his group will receive support and encouragement.

He adds that not only Hezbollah, but also Israel, has been badly hit.

He also complains frequently that the Arab states have deserted Hezbollah and the Lebanese and are not helping them against Israel.

This might help explain Nasrallah's being whisked away to the apparent, and, if so, more than proverbial, woodshed by his superiors in Tehran and Damascus:

Hizbullah head Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is currently in Damascus, the Kuwait-based a-Siasa newspaper reported Thursday. Nasrallah was apparently taken to Damascus by Syrian intelligence for a series of meetings.

According to the report, Nasrallah is scheduled to meet with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani and perhaps with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

This may or may not be the "ass-chewing" of Cap'n Ed's interpretation. But at the very least it would seem to be akin to calling a time-out in basketball to talk things over and try to slow down the other side's momentum. It appears clear that the bad guys didn't anticipate the level of the Israeli response to Hezbollah's kidnappings and (latest) round of rocket attacks, and the effectiveness of the IAF's air campaign. If the "Hezbos" are nearing the point of tactical collapse, an emergency summit to figure out what to do next would make sense.

That airborne effectiveness, and the macabre prospect of mass hand-to-hand combat on the ground, may explain the apparent Israeli internal divisions over which military strategy to pursue. But as the latest StratFor bulletin suggests, that itself may just be a diversion for something far bigger:

In making the decision to restrict the ground operation in southern Lebanon, the Israeli Cabinet carefully inserted a statement that said any future decisions regarding the IDF strategy would take into account "the need to prepare forces for possible developments." This nuance becomes especially critical in light of Israel's decision to call up three additional divisions of reservists July 27. The reservists are ostensibly being called up to "refresh" troops in Lebanon who have been on the battlefield for a short time, but will not be deployed until further notice. It is difficult to see how IDF troops on the front can be relieved if the additional forces have not even been deployed, unless Israel is quietly building up its ground forces for a major assault to clear Hezbollah positions south of the Litani River.

The Israeli Cabinet also agreed to send forces up to the Aouali River - just north of Sidon in Lebanon - as a necessary move to destroy Hezbollah's rocket-launching platforms, according to Israeli radio. This is an extensive reach into Lebanon that would place the IDF within striking distance of the Bekaa Valley - Hezbollah's main base of operations. We also have received indications that reserves belonging to Israel's elite fighting force, the Golani Brigade, have already moved north up to the Bekaa Valley. Fighting on Hezbollah's turf in the Bekaa Valley will undoubtedly be the most difficult stage of Israel's military campaign. At the same time, moving ground forces into the Bekaa is also necessary for Israel to meet its objective of sterilizing Hezbollah's military capabilities.

This makes a lot more sense. The Israelis have to know the stakes involved in this fight, and that they will almost certainly never get another opportunity like this again. It may have started over a few kidnappings, but it's grown far beyond that now, as was inevitable. They can't settle for another measly "security zone" manned by another bunch of toothless "international peacekeepers" that will do anything but keep the peace. They can't leave Hezbollah intact. Anything less than total victory is simply not acceptable.

That takes us back to this "league of villains" confab in Damascus, and Ali Larijani's presence in particular. You have to think that the terror masters know the stakes as well, and that they're not eager to sacrifice their prized proxy army in Lebanon without getting a significant strategic gain back in return. This can only be the successful luring of Israel into triggering a wider conflict that will force "moderate" Arab regimes like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to close ranks behind Iran (or risk Islamist revolutions against them) and draw the United States into the nuclear showdown after which the mullahs so slaveringly lust.

This provides some context for John Batchelor's latest hair-raising nugget of intel:

At present, the Zelzal-2 missiles on their mobile launchers, under Iranian rocket crews, are deployed along the Syrian side of the Syrian-Lebanese border. When the order is given — and it may already have been — the rocket crews will push over the border crossings, park about fifteen meters inside Lebanon, and launch on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. [emphasis added]

That would trip Israel's reported "red line", eminently believable given the growing pressure under which the Israeli government is coming from its public opinion for "results" in the fight against Hezbollah, which means as a practical matter stopping the daily rain of Hezbo missiles. If the Iranians hit Israel's largest city and capital, respectively, the pressure for escalation will become irresistable, the gloves against Syria will come off, and the mullahs will get their flammable wish.

It may be getting tiresome for you all to read, and it frankly gets tiresome for me to have to reiterate, but it still bears repeating as many times as necessary: If, back in 2003, invading American forces had made a clean sweep not just of Saddam Hussein, but of Bashir Assad and the mullahgarchy, Iraq would not now be, for the first time, in real jeopardy of dissolving in intra-Muslim sectarian chaos, Hezbollah would have withered on the vine with no hope of resupply, there would be no burgeoning Iranian nuclear threat or the theofascist lunatics ready, willing, and eager to use it, and the Middle East would not now be poised on the brink of all-out war.

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We can only hope and pray that the cure for this particular "disease" is (1) allowed to be fully administered, and (2) sufficent to save the "patient."

Either way, we should also be profoundly grateful that the cure is a kosher one - and ashamed that, to employ a biblical aphorism, David is being left to fight all the demons of hell on Goliath's behalf.