Thursday, August 03, 2006

Cease-Fire 'Out Of The Question,' & Then Some

This was the heartening headline yesterday after several days of media handwringing at Israel's apparent plight at the hands of the "invincible" Hezbollah. It was uttered by the IDF's Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, at the northern Israeli army base of Kiryat Sh'monah as the Hezbo rockets' red glare provided the self-explanatory justification.

I've never bought the "intense pressure of world opinion will force Israel to an immediate cease-fire" line, much less the "intense pressure of world opinion will force the Bush Administration to force Israel into an immediate cease-fire" angle, because never is it explained just exactly what teeth this "intense pressure" has. Are we talking about Russia and/or Red China militarily threatening the Israelis or ourselves? Or their stirring up trouble elsewhere in the world (i.e. another North Korean "missile test")? That's the only "intense pressure" that would bear any credibility, it seems to me. No other members of the "international community" have the ability to actually coerce us, and therefore our Jewish allies. So in the absence of Sino-Russian threats (if existant, entirely behind the scenes so far), what could "the world" possibly do if we and Israel ignored their "intense pressure"?

Well, I guess there are the "moderate" Arab despots (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan) who could complicate things for the Israelis. But their rooting interest against Iranian regional hegemony is the mitigating factor there, and their calls for a cease-fire are simply bet-hedging in case Hezbollah emerges from the Israeli onslaught intact.

That outcome is now looking increasingly unlikely:

Israel pressed the first full day of a massive new ground attack, sending 8,000 troops into southern Lebanon on Wednesday and seizing five people it said were Hezbollah fighters in a dramatic airborne raid on a northeastern town....

Israeli military officials....said their troops were going from village to village in south Lebanon to clear them of Hezbollah guerrillas. Hezbollah was putting up resistance, but the officials said they were confident that would not change their objective of reaching four miles into Lebanon by Thursday. They said they could easily dash inland to the Litani River - their final objective about eighteen miles from the border - but that they were moving methodically so as not to leave behind pockets of resistance.

Israeli commandos flew in by helicopter before dawn into the northern town of Baalbek, on the border with Syria, capturing five Hezbollah guerrillas and killing at least ten, said Israel's army chief, Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz.
This rapier thrust into the Bekaa Valley is of particular interest (via CQ):

After several hours of intense fighting in and around the hospital in the eastern Lebanon town of Baalbek, which was built by Iran for the express purpose of treating Hizbullah operatives, IDF commando forces on Wednesday morning took a number of Hizbullah operatives captive.

An IAF helicopter dropped commando forces a short distance from the hospital late Tuesday night. The force was discovered as it moved towards the structure, where Hizbullah operatives were suspected of hiding. Several hours of gunfights ensued, and at least 10 Hizbullah guerrillas were reported killed. Another force was helicoptered in to extricate the commandos and provide backup for the mission.

After inspecting the identification of everyone in the hospital, the IDF soldiers proceeded to arrest several Hizbullah officials, who were later transported back into Israel. The officials' names and positions in the organization were not revealed. The main target of the operation was Muhammad Yazbek, a senior figure in the organization. Yazbek was not in the hospital at the time of the raid.

No IDF soldiers were wounded in the operation, an army spokesperson told the Jerusalem Post.

Here's a map for additional reference. And here's some video footage as well.

One could look at this as tit-for-tat with the Hezbo's kidnapping of IDF soldiers that helped start this latest violent chapter, though so minimalist a strategy would be foolhardy in the extreme. One could also see it as a huge psychological blow to Hezbollah in that it re-establishes that the IDF not only can take them any time they want, but isn't being forced to fight the war Hezbollah wants. Though that blow will quickly fade if it isn't followed up with a full-scale ground thrust into the Bekaa to cleanse it of the terrorists' footprint.

What most intrigues me, though, is the position in which this move potentially places Israel vis-a-vie their ultimate enemies:

Israel is not just looking to create a buffer zone in southern Lebanon with this new action - they want to strike at Syria.

Syria has maintained their connections to Hezbollah in large measure in this area. The Bekaa Valley borders on Syria, on the eastern slope of the Lebanon Mountains in northeast Lebanon. It puts Israeli troops much closer to Damascus than they otherwise would be, and removes most of the natural obstacles between the IDF and the Syrian capital. Most importantly, the destruction of Hezbollah assets in the area would not just degrade Syrian control over their terrorist proxies, it would severely damage their status as kingmaker in Lebanon as well.

One step removed behind all of the above factors is the Iranian mullahgarchy, for whom the Syrian Ba'athists work. Destroying Hezbollah and neutering Syria would remove Tehran's ability to project power directly against Israel, a serious blow to their ambitions of regional superpowerdom and the amputation of a significant tentacle of their global terror apparatus.

Now confronted with the war they claimed to want, the Hezbos did the only thing they could do - resume firing every rocket they could into northern Israel. A strategy that is, to put it sweetly, experiencing first-hand the law of diminishing returns:

Hezbollah fighters have run gauntlets through IDF forces in southern Lebanon to get to the Blue Line with their launchers. They have fired and retreated at high speed, hoping to avoid return fire. They want to prove that they still have offensive capability against Israel, even thouugh their rockets do almost no damage to Israeli military assets.

It's impressive, but rather foolish. In the first place, Israel has already shown that they will not be deterred by rocket attacks, so the effort here is mostly wasted. Just as in Britain in 1940, the attacks on civilian populations has strengthened Israeli resolve, not diminished it. Tactically, Hezbollah's new operation is not much better than Japanese banzai attacks in the Pacific in WWII. They are sending their assets out into the open in a frontal charge that even when initially successful carries no strategic or political gain. All they do is expose their fighters to IDF fire - and their rocket launchers.

The launchers are the key, and that's why the Israelis have been targeting them. Without launchers, it doesn't matter how large Hezbollah's stockpile of Iranian missiles is, because unless they've got some awfully big slingshots in reserve, there'll be nothing they can do with it. Which is what makes these mad dashes just to make a propaganda point ("We're still in the fight!") of diminishing relevance so pointless.

The terrorists' raison de'tere is attacking the will and resolve of their enemies by demoralizing them with the spectre of unstoppable violence. But if their enemies' will and resolve holds, and even strengthens, and their enemies have the power to strike back with devastating force, the terrorists are, in a word, screwed.

This also makes their "Iwo Jima strategy" all the more ill-considered, particularly for a terrorist organization:

Hezbollah’s strategy appears geared for a massive Israeli armor and infantry incursion up to and perhaps beyond the Litani River.

Hezbollah was counting on a twofold IDF tactic of digging out the entrenched fighters in a costly war of attrition while also moving rapidly into Lebanon, leaving its lines of communications vulnerable to guerrilla ambushes in the rear. The Israelis thus far have not taken the bait.

Hezbollah apparently banked on Israel falling for a “rope-a-dope” strategy. Instead, it is Hezbollah that is trapped, like the Japanese Imperial Army on Iwo Jima, in a delusion of its own making.

Instead, it appears that the IDF succeeded in luring Hezbollah - and, naturally, the Western media - into falling for what might be christened a propaganda rope-a-dope instead:

Many fear that Israel’s difficulties in the current fighting signal a sea-change in the IDF’s fortunes. These drawbacks might give credence to Hezbollah’s charge that IDF military supremacy is a myth. The critics and doom-and-gloom pessimists ought to take a deep breath and appreciate the Israeli strategy.

It is Hezbollah that has been outsmarted here, though uninformed, mainstream reporting of the initial results obscure this fact. For in banking on a massive Israeli offensive, Hezbollah apparently posted a sizeable force in the Lebanese border towns that are being picked apart one by one by the IDF. Already there are IDF reports of as many as 230 Hezbollah terrorists killed in Maroun al-Ras and Bint Jbeil. The Bint Jbeil meat-grinder, where Hezbollah appeared determined to make an ill-advised last stand, has done its work....

Like the Japanese at Iwo Jima, Hezbollah has stored enormous quantities of ammunition in the Lebanese border towns, perhaps planning to wage a hit-and-run guerrilla war on Israel’s supply convoys as the IDF repeats the 1982 invasion. But Israel’s been there, done that, and she is not going to make the same mistake twice. “‘This battle against Hezbollah is going to last,’ Avi Dichter, Israel’s public security minister” informed reporters. “‘We’re not in any hurry.’” [emphasis added]

The foundational premise of Hezbollah's strategy is that the Jews must defeat them rapidly before "world opinion" forces them to retreat, and that protracting the battle and running up the IDF's casualty count will make that impossible and, therefore, hand a comprehensive political and propaganda victory to the Hezbos and their "Syranian" masters. But if "world opinion" is irrelevant, and the Jews are in no hurry AND are making their enemies bleed instead - in short, are playing for keeps - then the clock may, indeed, be ticking for Hezbollah.

We can then look for Iran to mobilize its other terrorist assets elsewhere in a frantic move to regain lost momentum, or recklessly attempt to escalate the current fighting beyond Lebanon. But that's another post.