Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Under the plan...

I have been working on a lengthier Israel/Hezbollah post this afternoon. This just "broke" on CNN.com:
Israeli forces are operating in Baalbeck area, northeast Lebanon -- about 50 miles from Lebanese capital, Beirut, and near border with Syria.
It appears as though a nearly conventional (state vs. state) war is now underway between Lebanon (Hezbollah as chief belligerent) and Israel. This description is admittedly incomplete, as Lebanon has yet to engage Israel with its army. According to every expert in the field, that engagement would be futile for the Lebanese side so it may never materialize. However, Hezbollah has become a political power within Lebanon, a state within a state. Moreover, as of the early part of this week, Hezbollah was popular and viewed by many Lebanese as defending Lebanon. This view is expressed in the Arab world as well.

Israel has returned to the original conception of their Lebanon offensive, after a tough day in Bint Jbeil, a tragic airstrike in Qana, and a bombing pause that wasn't at the beginning of this week.

The Financial Times:
Under the plan, Israeli forces would mount further raids into south Lebanon to destroy Hizbollah bases, although one senior politician said the expanded offensive could involve an advance to the Litani river, about 18 miles north of the Israel border and last several weeks.
The Times of London:
The initial push will take Israeli ground troops four miles across the border, as the first step to clearing Hezbollah out of Lebanon's border region up to the strategic boundary of the River Litani, 13 miles north.
Israel has also expressed its terms for a cease-fire, CNN:
ensure that Hezbollah will never return to the Israeli-Lebanese border;

obtain the release of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah guerrillas July 12;

stop Hezbollah from shooting missiles and rockets into Israel;

prevent the Lebanon-based militant group from rearming with missiles and rockets from Syria and Iran; and

free Lebanon from Hezbollah's control.
IDF's casualty estimates are as follows, CNN:
Israel says it has wiped out 300 of the estimated 2,000 Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon during its three-week offensive.

"Hezbollah has taken a serious beating and that is why the pressure of a ground offensive will produce the expected results," Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Tuesday on Israeli Channel 10.

A Hezbollah spokesman says a total of 43 of its fighters have been killed, Reuters news service reported.

Clashes with Hezbollah have left 33 Israeli troops dead, IDF said.
If Hezbollah fields 2000 fighters and Israel has "wiped out" 15 percent of that force, then the objectives that the IDF and the government have established are within reach. However, there is a tendancy for conventional forces to overestimate the casualties they inflict on a guerilla force. Hezbollah counters with a paltry casualty figure, that we should also consider dubious. There's a typical ratio for combat fatalities to casualties, which has only been broken by the current Iraq war. It's 4:1. By Hezbollah's own account, they have endured about 160 casualties.

The impact on the terrorist organization's fighting spirit appears to be disproportionately less than their battle losses. Hezbollah enjoys 70 to 80 percent approval throughout Lebanon for their actions, according to published reports.

The Boston Globe:
Triumphantly, he hoisted a pair of Israeli night-vision goggles from the rubble.

``These are precious," Hussein said. ``We don't have much night-vision."

Hussein and another Hezbollah commander, Hamid, offered a rare glimpse yesterday into the Shi'ite militia's operations to a few reporters at the battleground of Bint Jbail, which has fast risen to the status of myth among Hezbollah's followers.

It was here, a week ago, that Hezbollah fighters stopped several Israeli tanks and turned back an Israeli ground advance that sought to rout them from this strategic Hezbollah stronghold in southern Lebanon. Israeli soldiers have given vivid accounts of hand-to-hand combat, sneak ambushes, and fighters who sprang from a network of tunnels to surprise the Israelis.
The New Yorker:
“The real battle started four days ago, when the Israelis moved their troops into Lebanon, and it became a ground war,” he said. “That is the preferred situation for Hezbollah. They fought four days to take Maroun al-Ras, just one mile from the border, on very open ground, with tanks—four days.” A few days after our conversation, control of Maroun al-Ras was still in dispute, and Israel was facing more resistance than expected in the village of Bint Jbail.

But Hezbollah’s interests are not reducible to the conventional terms of a casualty balance sheet. Hezbollah has embedded itself deep within Lebanese society, in effect creating a state within a state, with an extensive social-service network. Even if Israel manages to dislodge Hezbollah’s fighters, Nasrallah will likely remain the most powerful politician in the country, in part because the chaos of the last weeks has exposed the weakness of the government. Most of the Lebanese analysts I spoke with said they believed that Hezbollah had, on its own terms, been significantly strengthened by the conflict.
Senator Chuck Hagel called for an immediate cease-fire yesterday. Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has demanded a cease-fire. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has asked for the same.

The European Union, however, has not yet called for an immediate cease-fire, though it has requested an immediate end to hostilities. CNN:
But in a reflection of continuing divisions, the EU foreign ministers did not agree to a proposed draft that had called for an "immediate cease-fire" -- apparently due to opposition spearheaded by Britain and Germany.

That appeared to stem from concerns that trying to force Israel into an unconditional cease-fire now would be seen as a victory for the Hezbollah guerrilla movement, which Western nations and even Lebanon itself want to see disarmed, not strengthened.

The EU also underscored that a cease-fire should be "sustainable" -- echoing wording used by U.S. officials who want the end of fighting to be accompanied by changes on the ground, especially the removal of Hezbollah from Israel's border.

Hezbollah had used those positions to attack Israel three weeks ago, sparking a massive and relentless offensive that has killed far more civilians than guerrillas.

The European Union has been under pressure both in Europe and abroad to play a more assertive role in helping to end the bloodshed in the Middle East.

But on Tuesday, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic refused to approve a draft statement calling for an immediate cease-fire. EU foreign ministers instead urged "an immediate cessation of hostilities, to be followed by a sustainable cease-fire," Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said.

"Cessation of hostilities is not the same as a cease-fire," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "A cease-fire can perhaps be achieved later. ... We can now only ask the U.N. Security Council and put pressure on it and not to waste any more time."
That is an interesting third track that only diplomats could find. In principle, the United States and Israel are the only two countries, perhaps with the addition of Tony Blair, who do not believe hostilities should swiftly end.

The best characterization I can muster for this conflict is that it is an existential one. Hezbollah will not agree to the terms that Israel now demands. There is little reason to believe Israel will stop short of those demands at this point. In this existential battle, Hezbollah's infrastructure (and Lebanon's) cannot long endure. It may take a week or two. It may take several months. That is not certain, but what we do know is that Israel will occupy a large swath of Lebanese land and request a robust international force to keep Hezbollah from re-emerging.

Israel's seizure of this land, which is justified under both United Nation Resolution 1559 and common sense, will meet with great protest in the Arab world -- it already has. I put little stock in placating the Arab street. But, I do wish we would avoid the provocation of that temperamental and often ill-informed mass. There were, and perhaps still are, diplomatic alternatives to this military course of action. Some punitive strikes should have been launched. The rockets need to be silenced. Yet, Israel carving a zone to be enforced by French and other European powers will only destabilize the region at a crucial point.

I am very concerned that Sistani's veiled threat could mean the last straw breaking whatever democracy was left in Iraq. Iran remains hell-bent on a nuclear program, and this military venture will not help dissuade them. This will also press Syria closer to Iran -- perhaps with the diplomatic force multiplier of a collapsing, Shiite dominated Iraq. Sunni nations, many with unpopular leadership, will be fearful of Iran and yet repulsed by the United States. What sort of ideaology do they turn to at that point?

This is my sole issue with a large scale military operation in Lebanon. It is, in a way, the correct response to Hezbollah's power and violence. Yet, in another equally important way, the dogs of war are difficult to predict and to contain; the escalating violence in Iraq shows this clearly to us.

No one can be certain what will emerge from these very combustible conflicts.

However, we have seen small insurgencies grow lethal in effect with only a few months worth of experience. Hezbollah has been taking notes from the classic insurgency of the Viet Cong -- they've built tunnels and established small, autonomous units. Do not be surprised if Hezbollah has also studied the insurgency(ies) to their east, in Iraq.


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