ZenPundit
Monday, July 31, 2006
 
ISRAEL AND ITS ENEMIES: GOOD TACTICS CANNOT MAKE-UP FOR POOR STRATEGY

Though several requests were put in for this post earlier today, the aftermath of Qana seems an even more appropriate moment to survey how one of the most competent and effective of earth's armies finds itself frustrated and outgamed by a small terror militia dependent on third rate foreign powers for logistics and intelligence support. The answer to Israel's inability to come to grips with Hezbollah in Lebanon hinges on the fact that all military actions occur in a geopolitical, economic and diplomatic environment, or as Dr. Barnett likes to say " in the context of everything else".

You need a strategy in order to navigate that global context and I'm not sure what Israel's strategy actually is in Lebanon -or if they have one at all. Whatever the IDF is using, all observers seem to agree that it is not working very well in terms of advancing Israeli interests. Hezbollah, and frankly I see them as a very nasty, dangerous and destructive force, has managed to finesse a near disaster into a diplomatic coup and a military stalemate, primarily because they have kept their eye on their strategic goals and consider human life to be a very cheap price to pay for coming out on top.

Some informed commentators, notably Colonel Patrick Lang, have pointed to the IDF chief, a career air force man, as the source of Israel's current debacle, as General Halutz is the advocate of Israel's EBO attack on Lebanon, there's no doubt some truth to that. But General Halutz is the chief of staff, not the Israeli Cabinet, which contains no small number of politicians with experience in Israel's previous wars. Nor is he the Prime Minister of Israel. EBO is a tactic, a very effective one against states, but it is not an end in itself. Why, Israel would use an EBO attack and against whom counts for much more.

That was a question of strategy for Israel's government to decide for General Halutz, because for a small state like Israel, no matter how militarily effective it might be, diplomacy and leveraging the psychological dimensions and moral level of warfare matter about as much as bombs and bullets. Israel has no strategic depth, no room for error, while Hezbollah has depth clear back to Teheran. Instead, Israel went with the easy and tactically certain course of degrading Lebanon's systemic infrastructure -slowly - and is painting itself into a strategic corner as a result, having done insufficient damage to Hezbollah to justify the costs of the campaign.

In fairness to PM Olmert and the Israelis, we do not know the backstory here. The popular assumptions are that the Bush administration egged Israel on to attack Lebanon and, conversely, that Hezbollah is being run from Iran. These assumptions may very well be wrong. The Bush administration may have vetoed an Israeli EBO attack on Syria, a campaign that would have made far more strategic sense, given Syria's indispensible role as a conduit of Iranian aid to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. Likewise, while the Pasdaran and MOIS keep Hezbollah fine-tuned as a terrorist machine, Nasrallah may have manuvered Ahmadinejad and Khameini into backing Hezbollah's confrontation with Israel the way Ho Chi Minh and Giap once played Kosygin and Mao for fools. We don't know what options were foreclosed in a priori.

As Hezbollah is a semi-4GW organization, it obeys no recognized rules of warfare yet escapes much in the way of blame, and intentionally seeks maximum civilian casualties among Lebanese Shiites from Israeli retaliation, there are certain political realities that cannot be ignored:

First, even careful Israeli retaliation will kill plenty of civilians.

Secondly, if you are going to retaliate and kill civilians, the faster you react, the better you will appear to the rest of the world. Time lag and killing civilians does not mix for a power that needs diplomatic ratification to secure its strategic gains.

Third, if you are going to kill lots of civilians, there needs to be a realizable, acheivable, end-goal in mind. Pushing Hezbollah's rocket line back in terms of geography is meaningless because either Hezbollah will tweak their rockets to improve the range or Iran and Syria will provide better rockets. What happens when Hezbollah launches rockets from north of Beirut ?

The only meaningful strategic goal here for Israel was the total demilitarization of Hezbollah, an objective that coincided with the national interests of not just the U.S. but that of France, and therefore, in a languidly trailing and desultory way, the EU. The key to that objective was Syria, not Lebanon, and making the hapless and ineffectual Lebanese government instead of the "strong", generally unpopular and very "targetable" Syrian regime the focus of Israeli wrath - followed by real negotiations of things Damascus is interested in talking about - was a mistake. Carrots and sticks. Much more efficient use of Israeli political capital than bombing Lebanon or engaging in bloody house to house fighting in the Bekaa ( the only way to actually root out Hezbollah's fighters). A better route for Israel to have taken if it wanted an EBO campaign.

And of course, in five or six years, if Nasrallah were to have an accident, by then Israel will probably only be one of the suspected culprits. Perhaps not even at the top of the list.

OTHER INTERESTING LINKS ON THIS SUBJECT:

Abu Aardvark

American Footprints ( Haggai)

American Future

Arms and Influence

Armchair Generalist

Aqoul ( Tom Scudder)

Austin Bay ( Bill Roggio guest post)

Bliss Street Journal

Bruce Kesler

Caerdroia

Collounsbury

Counterterrorism Blog

Dan Drezner

DefenseTech

DEJA VU

Don Surber

Fabius Maximus (DNI)

John Robb

Juan Cole

Lexington Green

Live From the FDNF ! - New !

Martin Kramer

Memeorandum

Middle East Perspective

Sic Semper Tyrannis

Sun Bin - New !

SyriaComment.com

The Glittering Eye

Threatswatch ( Schippert)

William Arkin

William Lind (DNI)

Winds of Change ( Donald Sensing)
 
Comments:
Agree.

Qana is the inevitable result of ill-conceived (or non-existence of) strategy. "Inevitable" when the war is prolonged, so that it will surface sooner or later.

-- It is a repeat of Haditha
 
Frankly, you've said some stupid things supra, as this:
Israel has no strategic depth, no room for error, while Hezbollah has depth clear back to Teheran

By such standards of thinking, Israel has strategic depth, all the way back to Washington.

One sided analysis isn't analysis, it's rather sad political posturing which gets you zero real understanding.

The claims re "intential maximalisation" of civilian casualties are ... well, agitprop.

Indifference to, certainly. Intential implies something else that may or may not be true; the claims made come from partisan sources engaging in as much axe grinding as the Hezbullah spin with respect to Israeli practices.
 
Hi Col,

You tend to jump to conclusions at times and this is one of them.

" Strategic depth" isn't simply about supply lines but geography. Friendly geography.

Hezbollah lives and thrives in South Lebanon but in terms of manuver in dealing with the IDF space is relatively wide open for them and without any potential problems at their backs. Israel by contrast has only hostile territory to cross in order to exercise any military options and the sea.

You can call it " agitprop" if you like but Hezbollah is far more integrated into civilian communities than, for example, Mao's guerilla army. At one point this was probably nessecary for Hezbollah's survival but they have crossed the evolutionary lines to be able to field some conventional forces ( light infantry) successfully against the IDF.

At some point, they have to be held accountable for for the positions Hezbollah chooses to fire from. It draws return fire.
 
Re: poor strategy (Syria).

If it is too late to expand the conflict (I think it is winding down into an Israeli defeat across the board), then is there room for negotiating with the Syrians? We seemingly have much to offer them, and they could offer us some things we badly need, like help with the insurgency in Iraq and with Hamas and Hezbollah.

I often hear Assad treats these groups and actions as "cards" to be dealt with at the right time for the right price. I would hope there is still a chance to make that trade.
 
While I agree with most of your analysis, IMHO Israel does have strategy depth back to Washington.

Regarding "friendly geography". Remember today's technology has shrunk the world. Israel has all its friendly geography stretching to Europe and all the way back to Washington. After all, Israel is not in need of a base to retreat into (if that is the case, your point on geography may be valid). All it needs is a logistic support line (and a veto power in UN), which has been extended unconditionally by Washington and made possible by cheap airlifts.
 
Hi Sun Bin
Hi Eddie

In a geopolitical & logistic sense, yes, Israel has strategic depth back to Washington, I agree.Tech has definitely changed conceptions of distance and time. I had just meant more in terms of the immediate theater. Much like the Pakistanis talk about in terms of Afghanistan as their strategic depth in relation to India.

Re: Syria.

No, I'm not in favor of widening the conflict right now to Syria. You don't get out of a losing scenario by increasing your difficulties ten-fold ( "Hey...we can't defeat or invade Great Britain...let's attack the Soviet Union !").

Had the Israelis begun with pressuring Syria in mind and simply played light defense/retaliate against Hezbollah with an eye to a negotiated settlement that would have been better. But you can't get back to the staus quo ante dynamic. Syria isn't going anywhere and can be left for another day. The Israelis first order of business is to minimize the damage they have inflicted on their strategic position by their aimless flailing about in Lebanon.

After '82, Begin could at least say to the Israeli public, Washington and the world " The PLO is out of Lebanon" Olmert has nothing to say. Bad position.
 
Bollocks.

You tend to jump to conclusions at times and this is one of them.

" Strategic depth" isn't simply about supply lines but geography. Friendly geography.


Your comment was, and let me quote, "Hezbullah has depth clear back to Tehran." - perhaps you need a geography lesson, but Tehran is not a neighbour.

The comparison is and was stupid and one sided analysis.

Israel is in no danger of needed territorial depth to retreat, and has resources to draw on from the US (the last two Arab-Israeli wars rather demonstrating that).

You then dig your hole deeper with this piece of ignoramus whanking:
Hezbollah lives and thrives in South Lebanon but in terms of manuver in dealing with the IDF space is relatively wide open for them and without any potential problems at their backs.

This merely shows you don't know what you're talking about.

Potential problems at their back?

Sunnis, Druuze, Maronite Catholic Xian Lebanese for one, the Shiite Lebanese can amply fill you in on the nasty history there.

Generalised Sunni hostility in particular (however temporarily covered over by anti-Israel solidarity).

Whatever the rhetoric, Hezbullah is not going to perceive its situ in the easy light you do.

Israel by contrast has only hostile territory to cross in order to exercise any military options and the sea.

Whanking, ignorant whanking.

Israel is not facing an existential threat in its face off with Hezbullah.

You can call it " agitprop" if you like but Hezbollah is far more integrated into civilian communities than, for example, Mao's guerilla army. At one point this was probably nessecary for Hezbollah's survival but they have crossed the evolutionary lines to be able to field some conventional forces ( light infantry) successfully against the IDF.

Since you barely understand the Lebanese political situ, I am afraid I am not going to take your analysis of the Hezbullah's integration into the community with even a slight degree of seriousness.

Check back when you're not merely repeating the commentary of ill-informed fools.
 
Why does collounsbury rant like a drunken dick? So sad, the Internet People.
 
Collounsbury likes a good drink but his ire is raised by other things here, notably my general bias to the Israeli side of things.

All right Col, I sloppily expressed myself on "strategic depth" but I never said Israel faced an "existential crisis" here either. You inferred that on your own.

"Whatever the rhetoric, Hezbullah is not going to perceive its situ in the easy light you do."

They made their beds here with other Lebanese groups by provoking the Israelis. However,Hezbollah has done rather well in military terms vis-a-vis the Israelis, albeit with much help from Olmert.


I stand on my previous remarks that Israel attacking the Lebanese state was a strategic error and highly counterproductive. Nor have the Israelis experienced enough success in degrading Hezbollah's capabilities to justify the costs, human and otherwise. Nor will pushing Hezbollah "back" matter very much in even the short run. No lasting gains will be established by the tactics the IDF is using without some kind of larger strategy in mind, one involving a diplomatic settlement.
 
I'm skeptical of the actual value to Israel of degrading Hezbollah's rocket arsenal for reasons that include those that Mark has mentioned but for other reasons as well. What is the value of the current arsenal to Hezbollah? I'm not sure we have enough information to decide. For example, if anything they use or that is destroyed is just replaced free of charge with more, old inventories have zero value. If they'll be replaced with better weapons, it might even be in Hezbollah's interests for current stocks to be used or destroyed.

That's not nearly so true of Hezbollah fighters. It appears that their ground forces have been upgraded much as their rocket arsenal has but the costs of replacing them will be far higher.
 
collounsbury,

u may be right that the tone is biased to the US view (and reporting) of the event. but that is not the point.

the point here is that Israel made a big mistake even for its own good. and we pretty much agree that if Israel think carefully and do the right thing, there will be less suffering on both sides.
mark made this assuming a 'pre-israel' perspective, which makes the argument/analysis doubling convincing.

---
i do agree with one point in your cirtique though. that Mao's guerilla and Hezbollah are both deeply integrated with the local people. in fact, i believe this is a core characteristic of 4GW.

there is just little coverage in the west about how much popular support Mao had gathered to overthrown the KMT gov't (result of mccarthyism and cold war). the fact that the CCP degenerated after it took power does not mean that it was not supported before the revolution.
 
on 'agitprop'
1) having support (or even integrating) with civilian is not a crime. nor does it form an excuse to target the civilian
2) civilians are in general risk-averse and fearing death during war. they try to distance themselve even from the army they support (but would happying provide food/information/etc). but they won't risk their lives.
i.e., until their immediate relatives are killed and then they would join the resistance -- same in every occupied territory in history.
3) it is the side that the civilian chose to be enemy with that needs to reflect. something must have been done wrong. there is nothing to be proud of the 'israeli agitprop' if the hezbollah becomes more integrated with the civilian after this war, because the 'agitprops' just succeeded in creating more enemies for themselves.
 
As to the critic, Mark is used to me. And I respect him for that.

Collounsbury likes a good drink but his ire is raised by other things here, notably my general bias to the Israeli side of things.

All right Col, I sloppily expressed myself on "strategic depth" but I never said Israel faced an "existential crisis" here either. You inferred that on your own.

I was going for the jugular to illustrate the point.

My main thrust, however, is not to say you are an idiot per se, but to draw your attention to a blind spot.

Of course in my own so charming idiom.

The core issue is that Hezbullah doesn't feel safe, not with fellow Lebs (you noted my link to Jumblatt, the original Arabic was adequately conveyed by Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post - the inhabitants of Jbel Druuze have no love for the Shia, and above all Hezbullah, but Jumblatt is not so stupid as to deny the obvious, but the temporary as well).

To understand where Hezbullah is, you have to understand the Shia in Leb Land also feel like they have deep grievances, and their back up against people they can not truly trust.

That's what will lead you to understand Hezbullah's calculations, not the loose talk about Syria and Iran - for all that they are important.

Your overall point is well enough made, but Im looking forward to you having a better view on the nastiness that is Leb Land politics and why Hezbullah ain't going to back away from this knife fight either (in no small part because their "brothers" might knife them).

The rather nasty incentives mean that the American abdication of over-arching strategic thinking leaves both Israelis and Lebanese to their worst incentives, which is to the detriment of all.

And for this reason I have zero patience with whanking on (not here, elsewhere) about the comparative moralities - an empty calculus that in the end can only serve the partisan.
 
I should add sobriety makes me meaner, this whole reducing my consumption of various Cuban products makes me cranky.

Or maybe its the lack of sleep.
 
It's cute how Col begins fawning once loyalty is proven to him.
 
Very good piece here on just this subject:
http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/PUB650.pdf

IRREGULAR ENEMIES AND THE ESSENCE OF STRATEGY:CAN THE AMERICAN WAY OF WAR ADAPT?

Since the Isrealis appear to be following our playbook...(remember these?)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amiriyah_shelter

http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/04/08/sprj.irq.strike/index.html


...it would behoove them to peruse this work:

We can appreciate that tactical,
even operational, excellence, in the waging of irregular war, or
indeed any kind of war, must be at a severe discount, a waste, if it
is not directed by a constant concern for its strategic effect upon the course of political events.

 
“It's cute how Col begins fawning once loyalty is proven to him.” It is not loyalty you whanker, it is love. I love Col, I am not sure I could be loyal to him. I am pretty sure if I was in the military I could “paint” his house, so to speak. I converse and read his stuff because I love him. You know, the stuff friction is made of. Don’t you love the way he writes? It is so simplistic, that it is refreshing, the unguarded for the guarded, so to speak. But then you must know that what he writes is more complex. As he says, he writes the style he writes, for a purpose. If you love him, I suppose you understand what that purpose is; he loves us.

Larry Dunbar
 
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