Strategic Picture: Lebanon Under Fire (Comprehensive Analyses I)
Doing Analysis of the Middle East
I wasn't going to do a full analysis wrap up of the situation in Lebanon & the wider Middle East, frankly the war is not over and what we are in is a wobbly cease fire. It is far too early for this strategic wrap up but others are going for it and my own analysis is very different.
It is no wonder there are so many opinions (including mistaken ones at that) when it comes to the Middle East. This is a different place, it is not Kansas, or London and a very different rule set applies. Unless you understand the area, the Arab mentality, some Islamic history, and just as importantly Israel itself (which is radically different than Arabs States in the region) you will often draw blanks through no fault of your own trying to understand the region. This is not a shot at anyone, but a reflection of the reality that the talking heads in theatre for networks, and the guest speakers etc what have you are often off base. Listening to them put up opinion vs counter-opinion can make your head explode.
Analyzing this situation without understanding Lebanon & Israel's complicated history will immediately cause flaws from the get go in my own opinion. Studying Lebanon itself could lead to a full blown doctorate, that is how complicated a place it is. In a 4 part post, I hope to pull in the many missing factors shaping up in the Main Stream Media who are trying to get a head or tails of the situation.
Lebanon's Troubled History
Lebanon consists of mainly three main religious / ethnic groups. Muslims, Christians, Druze.
Within Lebanon itself these three groups have waged an ongoing war that far eclipses any we have seen recently, a civil war that killed hundreds of thousands from the 70's to the 90's and has shaped the modern history of the country. Failure to understand this internal make up is a critical mistake, because it means one might misunderstand the history of Lebanon, or groups like Hezbollah itself – which have been shaped by that very conflict.
Beyond the complex internal picture, Lebanon more than any other nation in the region is yanked to and fro by an equally complicated set of purely external factors. Syria, Israel, Iran, France, the US, the Soviets - each of these regional or international powers has equally played a massive and formative role in the makeup or lack thereof of Lebanon. Again, analysis disregarding these things is really going to be flawed analysis. Equally, in regards to this recent conflict of the last 35 days – not understanding the ever shaping Iranian situation on the international stage right now is another critical mistake..
The clash of Internals & Externals
Lebanon has been racked by conflict, but our story briefly starts mostly in the 70's where history of the region shapes itself, history in Lebanon merely repeats over and over, each time with a similar yet different set of actors.
The French supporting the Maronite Christians in their earlier colonizations, the Syrians regarding Lebanon as a Syria West, with a full blown occupation to that effect, the PLO, and then the Hezbollah (terrorist organizations) seeking to establish control of Lebanon and bases in the country for their own terrorist ends, the Israelis frequently entering the picture to secure security from those same terrorists attacking it southward across the border, the Americans called in to try and stabilize the country not once, but three times now, and the Soviets arming and actually creating wars in the region in the grand scheme of things known as the Cold War.
One could write a book on these topics, feel free. For now I direct you please to some posts which don't capture all this intrigue but can help establish at least some minor basis on key points, without this basis it is difficult in the extreme to really understand what is going on the last 30 days.
- Target: Lebanon, Then & Now (Jul 13th)
This post can give a brief but concise look at the repeating factors in regards to the PLO & Hezbollah, it is a great post to get an understanding of the background situation including the formation of Hezbollah, the Israel & Lebanon Christian / Druze alliance, the period where America was attacked by Hezbollah (the early 80's), and the raging civil war within the country.
In this post I looked at the initial attack across Israel's border by Lebanon, and some initial reaction from the externals or players mentioned above. Equally at the bottom of that post are 4 important links to posts which give some (in my mind) critical background on issues like Hezbollah, The Sheba Farms, the recent flare up about two months ago (not this 30 day war), which was a prelude to this recent war, in which Hezbollah attacked Israel yet again. The Iranian connection equally becomes a bit clearer if you read those posts.
This two parter explains Lebanon's struggle & failure so far the last 2 years to break the cycle of internals & externals I've been ranting about, and in part two the UN's role in all this, which more than any external has failed Lebanon to such a degree it is shameful. To understand the cease fire we see now these posts are critical reading.
The Strategic Picture Going In
Israel's numerous involvements in Lebanon have all been to counter terrorism, first the PLO ensconced in Beirut & South Lebanon 25 years ago, and now versus Hezbollah also ensconced in Beirut & South lebanon.
The threat from Hezbollah an Iranian proxy is derived mainly from their missile & rocket arsenal, and recently by the extensive bunker and strategic installations built / situated on the Lebanese Israel border. To understand who won, these factors are the critical ones.
Over 10,000 Rockets
People are talking of perceptions and what have you, I'll address that in another post following, perception is not reality. The rockets mentioned supplied by Iran mostly, and shipped through Syria have been ramping with Hezbollah for over a decade now. This arsenal was not secret, it was in fact a key portion of Iran's strategic depth in the region, a deterrence weapon holding Israel back, not even necessarily through lethality per say, but on the grounds that any actions Israel might take could result in thousands & thousands of rockets launching at Israel's population centers in the North. The fear in Israel of the unknown result of this rocket barrage was the deterrence that Iran enjoyed.
This is the critical factor, all the others are only contributing factors. The reason why encompasses the reasoning of this action in the first place. Iran is under vast international pressure to cease its nuclear weapons drive. On the exact same day that Hezbollah attacked, the international community was scheduled and preparing to deal with Iran in the G8 meetings. There is no question this was the impetus for Hezbollah's action, as such judging the outcomes without factoring this in as the main component is flawed to say the least.
The actions by Hezbollah were not meant to sprout into a war, they were meant to divert attention through a commando type attack, and the usual semi response from Israel we have seen over the years. The war that sprouted was a shocker for Iran & Hezbollah, they did not want under any circumstance to play the full hand of their deterrent at this time. This is critical to understanding who won the war.
These rockets are made up of three main types, Short range katyushas, Medium range Fajr-3 rockets, and longer ranged much more lethal Fajr-5 & Zelzal missiles. These Zelzals are the real danger. It is noteworthy that these missiles and their launchers were mostly destroyed in the first 48 HOURS of the conflict by Israel's Air Force. Some remained, none to my knowledge were actually launched. The lack of these missiles due to many being destroyed and an unwillingness by Iran to instruct Hezbollah to use them are the buttressing factor in Iran's shock & reluctance to use their big threat in this war.. Too early and not effective enough. Iran did not want the bluff called at this time, it sought to parlay its hand and up the ante, not lay the cards on the table.
The short range rockets are not stoppable, either by advanced anti ballistic weapon systems, or air bombing. They are too portable, too small, too concealed. They make up the BULK of the rocket threat in numbers, they also made up the bulk of the 150+ rocket a day striking in Israel. The only way to stop this threat is a full on ground invasion and takeover of south Lebanon pushing the katyusha launching range beyond their 20 KM zone away from the border.
Israel's Security Zone Push – The War
The first week of the conflict was made up of air power, few ground forces beyond minimal special forces were active in Lebanon during this period. We saw reports of so called massacres and all manner of pure hatred directed at Israel, frankly who cares. Lebanon failed to reign in its terrorists & avoid battle, Lebanon got the battle. You sleep in the bed you make. This period was all air power & special forces. Raids similar to the big Baalbek raid took place, about a dozen of them. None were in the news..
In the second week of the conflict a decision was made to clear a 5-6 km buffer zone on the border of Lebanon within Hezbollah's built up main bunker zone. Again, the short range rocket threat would not be eliminated by this move. Only the immediate Hezbollah physical attacks on the border and their border base was the target. Israel was not interested in a wider larger conflict that is clear.
Sent in to clear the bunker buffer zone was a very limited core of troops, elite combat units and a few thousand in total soldiers which included mostly support roles (artillery, supply etc etc). Small engagements - involving small units were used in stabbing attacks on the villages made famous on TV, Maroun El Ras, Beit Jbil, etc. A few units of men, 3 or 4 tanks.. Not Israel's army by any means which is the false perception.
Fighting was fierce in these villages & zones after years of built up Hezbollah presence. Israel equally used an in my mind terrible strategy of inserting, fighting, and pulling back with these small scale units, only to repeat over and again. The reason was a lack of will by the politicians to broach the difficult topic of occupation and an invasion, Israel had occupied zones in South Lebanon for 18 years, this was not on the agenda again clearly.
We saw reports of hard fighting, and Israeli casualties. We did not get the reports of Hezbollah killed and wounded. This is where the perception flaws worsen. In conjunction with an anti Israel image around the world from the get go, the loss of life in air attacks due to Hezbollah supporters allowing Hezbollah to operate from their homes, launch rockets from dwellings, and the basic nature of the fact that these areas were FULLY Hezbollah occupied villages caused chaos to perception. But perception is not always reality. Many Hezbollah fighters were killed, but Lebanon simply added tallies calling everyone a civilian. The Lebanese actively participated in lying for Hezbollah.
As an example, Beit Jbil was cleared after a few days of fighting. Israel non committal in forces & troops did not hold the village, they pulled back in order to stab at another, & so forth. This was reported in the media as a retreat, sure at some points by the very nature of these attacks IDF forces pulled back, pushed forward.. But the notion that Hezbollah caused IDF fighters to run away in some mass retreat is absurd propaganda. Clearly, areas not held saw the return of Hezbollah fighters, resulting in stabbing back in again to fight them. Bad strategy, terrible reporting. This manner of fighting continued into the third week at which point Israel called up reserves. None of these villages were being held, dozens saw fighting in the conflict. There was no retreat, this was stab; initial clear; pull back; stab elsewhere.
The continuous rocket firings on Israel, the non sustainable nature of the air attacks in quelling the rockets and the lack of actual fighting men on the ground in great numbers was pitched to the politicians within the 1st week as a problem. The military requested a real call up, 30,000+ fighting men & women. Many of the combat reserves were to report to the Gaza front ( let us not forget Israel is fighting two fronts) and the core battle units in Gaza were going up to Lebanon to fight Hezbollah.
A critical mistake was made in the political echelon here, one that compounded the overall strategic errors of the initial air campaign. These thousands of men were NOT deployed to fight. They were massed and held back in Israel itself. Their callup was supposed to effectuate a change of tactic to stop the short range katyushas – A push to the Litani river in South Lebanon carving out a 20 km zone and disarming Hezbollah. This is the first REAL talk of disarming Hezbollah by Israel by military means, it never went through.
In the mean, Lebanese civilians were told to clear out over & over again, this is another important factor. Israel does not slaughter civilians, there was reticence to go forward on the ground because it could have led to civilian slaughter. Hezbollah supporters indeed, but civilians in the area shielding Nasrallah's forces.. many moved North, aid organizations complained ceaselessy of tens of thousands who did not.
Due to vacillation by the Security Cabinet, these forces did not get their green light for a full ground offensive. Some of them were employed to assist in the smaller buffer zone attacks in a three prong medium move into Lebanon. No more tiny unit engagements, now a real front was being put forth and a few thousand fighting men finally entered the fray. Again, most of the IDF was not being employed, not even a 1/5th of the IDF was being employed in actuality. There was a reticence to invade plain & simple. Those 30,000 were called up, not put into the battle.
During this week as Israel began to clean out the buffer zone (5-6 KM) it took casualties, when you fight soldiers die. This is not some signal of a heroic Hezbollah victory, this is fierce fighting against Iranian trained commando Hezbollah fighters, some 2000 of them holed up in prepared defenses over 6 years, mined, wired, bunkered.. The character of the media reports were sheer stupidity in my eyes frankly. Again Hezbollah took MANY more casualties, but no reports were surfacing in Lebanon or the media.
The IDF at this point had counted up a few hundred Hezbollah dead with approx 50 Israeli soldiers killed in three weeks of bunker busting, special forces, clearing etc. Every soldier killed in Israel is a heartwrenching national mourning affair and with good reason. But when Hezbollah die, not a word, not a moan, not a weeping nation for the media to devour etc.
Keep this in mind with the so called 'perspective & perception' please. Funerals in Israel on TV, in the international media.. But nothing of the sort for Hezbollah's many more dead. Similar to Iraq where tolls are announced for America, coffins are wrapped in a treasured nation's flag, but no one ever talks about the dozens & hundreds of terrorists killed.. The gains, the same BS perception problem exists.
Ground Assault Map: IDF Pounding Hezbollah (visit the full post for details)
Israel is a unified country, but at the start of the 4th week serious malcontent was developing at the apparent reticence to actually fight it out seriously on the ground. Israel throughout was pushing for a diplomatic resolution, the Litani push was never properly considered, a full invasion had not been effected. Perception now played a VERY crucial role, but in a different manner. Olmert was banking throughout on big diplomatic gains to disarm Hezbollah, a cooperation of sorts with the Cedar Revolution government in Lebanon which did not share Hezbollah's goals. This was also the US position, the G8 positions from the outset make no mistake. It also explains this unwllingness to push forward in a more serious manner.
This was not a secret, the Foreign Minister Livni was gaga over this from day 2, the non military Peretz defense Minister was lost in his own pacifist induced guilt complex, and Olmert was worrying about his political ass.. The will to buck the international trend in Israeli politics was non existent. However, as pressure and talk in the UN came closer to an agreement on a cessation of the fighting Olmert was faced with bad news. The agreements discussed were amended by the French, and were bad for Israel, very bad in fact.
Faced with now open criticism within Israel, a nasty failed air plan at the outset, a near non existent ground push he finally committed last Friday night, and ordered the ground invasion on the same night the UN passed resolution 1701. This order caused changes in the resolution being tabled. The push after 4 weeks began, in other words Hezbollah faced Israel's real might for less than 48 hours.
In that time frame large portions of the southern Litani area were taken, heavy fighting ensued. The mass destruction with artillery & air bombing in support came to the fore, over 20,000 men for the first time pushed forward.
In 48 hours of fighting the IDF pounded Hezbollah viciously, throughout the fighting Hezbollah had been already open to cessation, their losses MUCH greater than seen on TV, their intentions to fight the IDF on the ground never having been a reality in the 1st place. South Beirut in this time frame was pounded more than ever.. Despite this massive short assault which produced as evidenced the IDF all over the place surrounding Hezbollah, we are now seing reports of Hezbollah as winners.. Perhaps the weakening UN situation has played a role in this, but there is much more than meets the eye here..
Who Won the War?
Who REALLY won, tying in Iran, talking about the war losses, the overall strategic picture after the fighting and explaining the realities facing Israel. Equally, a war within Lebanon itself is being waged even now, the analysis I have seen is deeply flawed in my opinion, it doesn't factor that internal war ongoing. Also looking at the war of perceptions and the lack of reality in the Arab World historically and today, and how that false reality seeps into our collective visions due to media.
Coming in Part III – The war is not even over, this was a battle in an ongoing struggle. In part three I'll look at the political ramification of fighting for Israel's military, and political echelon – in both cases mistakes were made. The battle / debate for battlefield supremacy is on in Israel even now between Blue & Green, Air vs Ground Forces.
Coming in Part IV - Next week I intend to look at the UN, and the last true opportunities for that body to assert itself as relevant this coming century.
If you are interested my archives here at the hashmonean also contain many in between posts describing weapons, fighting and diplomacy, if you'd like to read the daily events that you might have missed!