Thursday, July 13, 2006

Israel will invade Lebanon

I give it a 70 percent chance that Israel will launch a full-scale invasion of Lebanon within the next 48 hours, going all the way to the Bekaa Valley and to the outskirts of Beirut.

Hezbollah used to be reined in by the Syrians. Now with Syria gone from Lebanon, Hezbollah is an Iranian show, and the Iranians don't want them to cool off, since tweaking the Israelis improves their prestige in the Shi'ite Arab world. However, if the Israelis really crush Hezbollah, it could look bad for the Iranians, since they would have hung their guys out to dry. Consequently, the Iranians may have over-calculated here, or just given Hezbollah too much rope, or figured that if Hezbollah got out of hand, the Syrians would get involved in a fight with the Israelis and then you have a big Arab-Israeli war that would help them.

At this point, though, the Israelis really don't have a reason not to invade. The nasty thing about terrorism is that it doesn't fit within the normal Westphalian sovereignty paragdigm. You have political violence being committed, but no internationally-recognized actor on whom to pin the blame. But this is no longer the case in Gaza or Lebanon. In Gaza, Hamas is the government. If a foreign government kidnaps one of your soldiers and launches attacks into your country, it is an act of war. If actors within your country launch attacks against your neighbor and you are unwilling or unable to put a stop to it and hold them responsible, customary international law lets the victim use force in your country as if the attacks were authorized by you.

Of course, customary international law is not much admired these days. But it's not like the Israelis really care what the Russians or French think.

The Israelis are going to go all the way to the Bekaa Valley, and cause as much damage as they can, and then withdraw. The goal will be to kill as many Hezbollah as possible, destroy weapons, and drive them out of Lebanon and into Syria. This will leave the Israelis' right flank exposed to the Syrians and the question is whether the Syrians can convince the Israelis they won't take advantage of it.

I don't think the Syrians will, because the last five times they tried they've gotten shellacked. But the Israelis might be nervous enough to take out Syrian air bases and missile launchers, and if they do that, there is no way the Syrians won't try to retaliate. A war with Israel is not in Syria's best interests and they know it; it will decimate their military, and they are currently surrounded by hostile forces on three sides (Israel, Turkey and Iraq). Like Iraq under Saddam, Syria is ruled by an ethnic minority, so the main concern is maintaining domestic power, and a decimated army won't help that. However, if they are attacked, the Syrian people will not tolerate the Asad regime doing nothing. My guess is that the Syrians are working with the Egyptians and Jordanians at this moment to figure out a way to keep Israel out of Lebanon (and, failing that, convincing Israel that they will not interfere). The problem is that the only way Syria might really convince Israel that they won't interfere is to stop Hezbollah itself, and Syria doesn't have the will or means to really do that.

So I'm saying 48 hours. How that plays out in Iraq is anyone's guess.


Kohler said...

Quick questions:

1. Isn't talk of whether or not Iran over gambled a bit much? Sure, the Hezbollah attack was an escalation of tension along the border, but it was hardly as notable as, say, a wave of suicide bombings. I'm not sure anyone would have expected the kind of reaction they got from Israel; which apparently had plans for Operation Kick the Crap out of Gaza and Operation Kick the Crap out of Lebanon up their sleeves for a long time.

2. Why is any terrorism emerging from Gaza to be pinned directly on Hamas, while terrorism that emerged from the West Bank under the PLO wasn't? In the case of the kidnapping attack, it seems kinda obvious to me that it was designed to send Hamas a message (considering Hamas was in the midst of negotiations with Fatah over recognizing Israel), not launched by it. By now Hamas might know where the kidnappers are, but they have their pride as much as any government does; killing their friends and destroying their country doesn't make them eager to cooperate with someone they were already predisposed to hate.

I'm not sure what the hell the Israelis are thinking. What's the end-game here? How does obliterating the infrastructure of Gaza and Southern Lebanon (what's there, at least) then pulling back make anything better? Their strategy of unilaterally creating permanent borders is looking more and more like someone fencing off an ant's nest and then leaning over to periodically poke it with a stick. In this case, however, the ants have mortars and rockets. Once their infrastructure is further shattered and still more of them have lost family members to air-strikes, what's to keep them from just lobbing shells over that permanent border for the rest of their lives? Israel will gain a few square miles of settler suburbs at the cost of constant terror and several deaths every year. Businessmen will always have a choice: Shall I open my new branch in [random EU country] or in Israel, where I have a slight chance of having a mortar land on my head one day...

Also: Why now? Why go all out in your attacks on Lebanon? The Lebanese just kicked the Syrians out, and most were VERY much looking forward to normalcy and peace. Wouldn't increased pressure (combined, perhaps, with the occasional air strike into the South on Hezbollah military targets) have sped up the process by which Lebanon is forced to make steps to disarm Hezbollah? (personally, I think it would have been smarter still to wait it out and pressure the US and others to give massive funding to the Lebanese government so that it could build up a real army, independent of Syria or Hezbollah... THEN put pressure on 'em to disarm Hezbollah, but only after they have the guns (and clout) to do it without a civil war breaking out) Instead they play right into Hezbollah's hands... Worried that they were rapidly approaching the end (with the Israelis gone for years and an internal ban on terrorism, i.e. suicide bombings and such instead of rocket attacks and convoy ambushes), Hezbollah now can re-wrap itself in the Lebanese flag and say: "See, told you so! The hated Israelis are invading again! Everyone, rally to us! We know how to fight them off!"

As to whether or not the Israelis will invade Lebanon: Yhea. You're probably right. They seem to pretty much be making every choice badly, so that would be consistent with their record.

Though personally I wonder if it's just that there's a wave of '80's nostalgia sweeping Israel, much like what happened in Germany a few years back:

M.D. Fatwa said...

As for answers:

1. Yeah, sure. So you're saying I'm the only blogger who stretches a bit? Hey, at least I admit I have no idea what they're thinking. And as the Operation KCOOG and KCOOL (great musical line-ups, by the way), general staffs make plans. Plans for everything. We have a plan to invade Iceland, and a defensive plan in case we get invaded by Iceland. You're saying you're surprised Israel has plans to kick the crap out of Gaza and Lebanon sitting on the shelf?

2. The problem with Hamas is that it has two heads, one of which is sitting in Damascus. But Hamas is also a government right now. If Country X gets a soldier kidnapped, and then the government of Country Y says, "Yeah, we were part of that, and if you want him back, you've got to release a bunch of prisoners. Oh, and here's a few missiles in your direction, too" -- well, most countries would consider that an act of war. The difference from the past (and a difference muddied by the UN over the past few decades, since it was much clearer pre-1946) was that Fatah could always claim it was not responsible for what Hamas was doing. (In the old days, it wouldn't matter; a government was the sole legitimate user of violence, and if violence emanated from your territory, it was either ascribed to you, or you effectively admitted to having no control over your territory and a foreign government could invade to restore order. That was the justification the Brits used to invade Madagascar to force out the pirates.) Now, however, Hamas admits to being involved in what are clearly acts of war. (And by "clearly acts of war" I don't mean it in the sense that it is usually used, such as "I don't like it." I mean that really is an act of war.)

The Lebanese are screwed on this, but the Israelis would rather create a buffer zone within Lebanon than a buffer zone within Israel. The Lebanese government likely won't survive this, which is a shame because it had a decent enough chance. But not a great chance, and the odds of it ever having an army strong enough to disarm Hezbollah are zero in the short-term, zero in the medium term, and only slightly higher than zero in the long term. Where would this Lebanese army come from? Who would arm and fund it? (And if your answer to any of those questions is "Israel" or "the United States", you get a smack in the head. Look how well that has worked out for us in Iraq, and can you imagine Syria or Iran just letting someone come in and disarm Hezbollah? And if you said "the EU", you really need to stop cutting your crack with Malathion.)

The bottom line is that Hamas and Hezbollah have become far more sophisticated than the Israelis figured, and they pushed a button they knew the Israelis couldn't ignore. At the same time, the Israelis have slacked off far more than they had thought they had--having a warship hit by a Hezbollah drone shows they overestimated their own defensive capabilities and underestimated Hezbollah's striking power, and having three IDF soldiers taken alive in quick succession is not good for morale and may raise doubts about whether the current generation of Israeli military leaders are up to their parents' standards. The Israelis can't let this go. It would be a sign of weakness, and that is lethal in the part of the world. (Don't believe me? Ask any Arab leader...)

The difference between now and the 1980s will be that the Israelis won't stay. They'll destroy, then pounce again at anything that moves within southern Lebanon, but not otherwise occupy the place. It will become a no-man's land.

Kohler said...

1. No. I'm not surprised that the plans exist. Israel would have been stupid if it hadn't had a contingency plan to eradicate Hamas or Hezbollah. What is damning here isn't that the plans exist, but that they were apparently not even filed away. I'm implying that they were sitting on their desks, with them just waiting for any escalation as an excuse to use 'em.

In effect: That this was 99% "I'm as tough as Ari" politics. Perhaps later Olmert will be forced to allow several massacres at Beirut refugee camps in order to shows his street cred. ;)

2. Did I miss something?

Did Hamas take credit for the kidnapping raid? Last I checked it was (at best) a splinter group that was sending a message against the Hamas leadership.

And I've been reading consistent reports saying that even most of the leadership in Damascus were in favor of the rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah; that the moderation of Hamas was coming from both heads... Whatever we think of Hamas (particularly the more ruthless ones in Syria), they're not total morons. Obviously a full Palestinian civil war hurts their cause, while the reestablishment of some foreign aid (and the recognition of Hamas as a legitimate organization that goes with it) is a great boon. It doesn't take Machiavelli to spell it out for 'em.

Seems to me that the "let's go snatch some soldier's" idea is yet another example of the biggest problem over there: young hotheads. The Palestinians (under either Fatah or Hamas) just don't have the kind of control that would be required to stop these types of guys from launching their attacks (particularly when the Israelis keep air-striking their police stations), so any attempt at moderation is easy to foil. If you think the old guys are pussying out, just get your friends together and kill a settler or soldier. Israeli politics dictate that they'll walk out of the peace talks (or whatever is going on) unless the Palestinians immediate condemn all acts of violence against Israelis (even soldiers). Palestinian politics dictate that to do so might convince the next set of hotheads to simply kill YOU, as the worst thing you can appear to be is an Israeli toady (notice that, pre-Iraq, the main slur launched against the US from the Palestinian street wasn't that we were pro-Israeli or whatever, but that we were CONTROLLED by them through the power of the Jewish lobby, etc).

Any attempt at peace where any one or two guys can derail it at will is kind screwed.

Unless there was some sort of dialogue about the problem, where Israelis and Palestinians sat down and announced beforehand that they are gonna keep on truckin' regardless of who kills who in the next few days (with each promising to not launch attacks against each other directly).

Either way, I'm late for drinking now. :p

M.D. Fatwa said...

On #2, yes, you did miss something. Some of the group who captured that corporal were members of the Qassam Brigades, which is part of Hamas. These are the same guys who launched a modified rocket into Israel. Hamas, of course, seems to have been caught flat-footed by this, since the orders came from a rival power center in Damascus. Hamas has tried to cover this up later, saying that it was willing to negotiate for the release of the corporal--but that is just admitting that you have some say in the matter.

Nonetheless, the organization of the raid was impressive enough, as was the relative weakness of the IDF forces in the area. The fact Hezbollah could repeat it just a week or so later, and then launch rockets into Haifa--well, that's another bruise to the IDF. This isn't Olmert just trying to show how tough he is. At this point, he doesn't have a choice. If he let bygones be bygones with Hezbollah re Haifa and the two new captives, then he'd be a bygone.

Kohler said...

Again, didn't the Haifa rockets only come after the Israelis hit Beirut?

Either way, the cause of peace in the region is kinda screwed. The Palestinians never really reached the point where the majority wouldn't cheer at any hothead who wanted to go kill a soldier or two, and the Israelis are currently feeling very jingoistic. So there's just no way any politician there is going to be able to do what needs to be done...

William M. Razavi said...

Exactly what does Israel think it can do this time around that it didn't manage to do when it was in Lebanon for 18 (EIGHTEEN) Years (That's right--YEARS.)
Sure, they succeeded in removing the PLO from South Lebanon, but after 18 years they couldn't crush Hezbollah then.
I think an invasion of Lebanon now would be like stepping into a bear trap to kill the trap.
To whit--one might notice some tactical issues--
1. Isn't it strange how easy it's become to knock out Israeli patrols? The inciting incident to this whole mess was a straight up ambush where Hezbollah was able to knock out a patrol fight their way across the border take two prisoners and get back across without the might of the mighty IDF crushing them first.
2. Once the IDF decided to act the first thing that happened was that a Merkava hit a mine and 4 more soldiers were killed. Huh. You think there might be more mines between Qiryat Shemona and Baalbek? I'm guessing there will be. The best trick would be to let the IDF columns charge right up to Baalbek and then start taking out their fuel and ammo trucks after a couple of days.
3. You will note that Hezbollah hasn't even needed to resort to a suicide attack of any sort for many years. They've developed tactical capabilities. Sure, the Israelis are still overwhelmingly powerful--but we're getting closer and closer to the moment when the pikes and longbows trap the armored knights in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Seriously folks. A lot has changed since 1982.
One of the things that's changed is the willingness to resist--They were successful once, they have no reason to not fight again with the same tenacity as they did last time.
The other is the tactical capability. The IDF could raid Lebanon, sure, but not without cost. And what would that really accomplish?
Unless, of course, their plan is to kill every Shia in South Lebanon. (Or maybe just round them up and leave the lights on for someone else to do the dirty work like in Sabra and Shatila?)
Maybe that would do the trick.

M.D. Fatwa said...

That is precisely the reason the Israelis will invade Lebanon in force. They've been caught with their pants down, and they cannot afford (and their political leaders cannot afford) for that perception to remain. The difference between this time and last, of course, is that the Israelis will not try to occupy the territory. They will push into Hezbollah areas, destroy as much as they can, find as many weapons caches as they can, destroy those, destroy any sympathetic population centers, etc. At this point, they don't care about peace. The attitude seems to be that a stable Lebanon that can control Hezbollah would be great, but a buffer zone would be even better.

And lets not underestimate IDF capabilities vis-a-vis Hezbollah or even Iran, even if they have had some recent embarrassing moments. They still have the best equipment and the best training in the region, aside from the U.S. Is their willingness to fight really a question? Yeah, I know, new, soft generation, scars from the previous Lebanon campaign, etc. etc. The Japanese basically said the same thing about the United States in 1941 as well. Has the "paper tiger" rationale ever really been proven correct?

William M. Razavi said...

Excuse me, but what part of South Lebanon now ISN'T a "sympathetic population center"?

You do realize that this is a trap, right? Israel goes in, they kill some people, some of theirs get killed, maybe they're smart enough to withdraw. Six months from now some Lebanese Shia shoot a couple of rounds across the border again and we're back to square one.

No matter how well-trained and armed they are, they're approaching the point where they can't accomplish anything permanent on the ground in Lebanon.
Are they planning on having the buffer on the Awali, the Litani or the Orontes?

They can't find all the weapons caches without prolonged occupation--they tried that, but they don't have the numbers to do it effectively.

If the IDF couldn't control the West Bank and Gaza, and keep from some mook shooting a bottle rocket into Ashkelon--and let's be clear here about the "modified rocket technology" coming out of the metal shops in Gaza, it's the same "missile technology" that goes into making bottle rockets and pipe bombs--then how are they going to keep Lebanese from shooting off the occasional round into Qiryat Shemona, and later, once they can get them again, into Haifa and beyond.

As for a strike on Iran--geography and demography.
The ant metaphor is right. How much of Iran's infrastructure does Israel think it can destroy before it gets hit back?

I realize we have a real tendency here to read all the cool picture books with the pretty pretty weaponry and we see all the cool action movies where the wogs can't fire a shot in edgewise--but if it really worked out that way then there would be a few permanently invincible countries and then a bunch of people who will never be able to beat them.

I'm just saying look at the facts on the ground. Israel doesn't have the number of troops to commit to pacifying any portion of Lebanon. It can't occupy the whole country, and leaving any part of it unoccupied is to turn it into a "rest area" for insurgents. Demographics, demographics. Look at Lebanon's population, divide by a third (the Shia plurality) and then compare it with Israel's population. Does Israel have a 4 to 1 advantage? 3 to 1? Now factor in however many Israelis are needed to keep the Palestinians under control (as under control as it gets, of course). How do the demographics look now? This is a rough game, of course, because we're not talking about men of combat age. But then again, if Jane's was right and the IDF was fighting 960 well armed Shias in 1996, then are we just assuming that they'll be smarter this time in fighting Hezbollah?

In 1940 the Soviets were able to crush the Finns, but only after running into a lot of trouble first. And they were smart enough to not try to occupy the Finns in 1940. Which they regretted in 1941 when the Finns regrouped and attacked again to help out the Germans. I mention this, because it's one of the more successful counterinsurgency efforts. (Still, it gave us Molotov cocktails.)

The Russians today can control Chechnya, more or less. They have a demographic advantage they can bring to bear. It's not about technology or training, though these things help. It's demography, plus technology and skill. Plus, the Russians are perfectly willing to wipe out the Chechens and eventually move in some ethnic Russians into the empty land.
The US cavalry could never have permanently held on to the plains in the 19th century if it wasn't for the settlers. They brought in the demographic advantage with them. And of course, the US was at the time willing to do some things that are sort of hard to accept in a post-Holocaust world.
(Unless it's being done in the Balkans.)

Israel has no demographic advantages in military might. It can't permanently occupy Lebanon. The only reason it's been somewhat more successful in the West Bank has been the willingness of Israelis to settle the territory and confine the Palestinians in shrinking "reservations". This policy didn't work so well in Gaza, where it led to the untenable situation of less than 10,000 settlers in the middle of 2.4 million pissed off Palestinians with Israeli troops surrounding all their borders and even limiting their maritime access to several hundred meters off the coast.

Now, what again does Israel propose to do to Iran?

In Gaza, the best trained and equipped army in the middle east (and let's say for the sake of all those pretty books with the pretty weapons) and the 2nd bestest army in the whole wide world, can't maintain control over a bunch of mooks armed with a couple pounds of explosives and heavy bottle rockets.

Sure, they can keep bombing anything that moves there, but are we to really believe that a group of people with nothing to lose--NOTHING TO LOSE--are ever going to just stop and say "You know what, we're just weak, we're going to have to admit that and accept our role as subjects and accept the fact that we'll never have control over our skies and our borders..."
What part of the world does that work in? I'd like to know, so I can move there and take their land for myself.

Speaking of which, I'm a little offended that Israel's aggressiveness is defended by saying that people in "that part of the world" can't afford to look weak. What part of the world is it okay to look weak?

At any rate, it's not Israel's willingness to fight that's a question, it's a question of what kind of fight are we talking about?

Let's say Israel starts bombing Iran round the clock every day for the next 6 months. To what end?
What does that do? Buy Israel 5 or 6 years of minor trouble while some pissed off people start working out a better plan to hit back?

And what's to keep another country from developing the weapons and tactics to bridge the gap?

It's really difficult to beat people into submission. That's what the whole point of these exercises seem to be.

Maybe it'll work.
I seriously doubt it. No matter how cool Israel's weapons are and how badass their training is.
There's a limit to how long a country's security can be predicated on keeping one of the smallest countries in the region as the pre-eminent military power of that region. It's untenable, unless the endgame is genocide.

Still, let me know how that works out. I hear tell the Romans used to have legions posted all around the world once.

M.D. Fatwa said...

Hey, I'm not saying it'll work. I'm just saying they will try. And the Romans actually did pull it off for quite some time. Gotta give them some credit for that.

And as for which part of the world is it ok to look like a pansy? Do I really have to answer that? I'll give you a hint: begins with an "E", ends in an "e" and has an "urop" in the middle. They've got man-purses, for God's sake!

And also Massachusetts and significant parts of central California. They let you get away with being a pansy there, too.