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I am: progressive, not a wild-eyed Progressive; liberal, but shun liberals and Liberals; conservative, but some Conservatives worry me; absolutely NOT a libertarian. I am: an idealist, but no utopian; a pragmatist, but no Machiavellian. I am a realist who dreams.


I welcome all opinions.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Israel vs Hezbollah (Stratfor.com):
   What the Israelis are waiting for

In inimitable character, George Friedman of Stratfor.com posits, if strategy is rational, then the consequences of that strategy should be revealing.

Friedman makes no bones about Hezbollah's strategy in today's Special Report,

Now that the war has started, it cannot maneuver in the open, for fear of Israeli air power; therefore, it is holding its positions, absorbing the airstrikes and engaging Israeli troops as they approach. Hezbollah continues to fire rockets at Israel. The longer it fights and the more resistance it offers, the more of a psychological blow it inflicts on the Israelis and the more it improves its credibility as a fighting force and its influence among groups resisting Israel. In an ideal form, the Israelis would be drawn into Lebanon, forced into an occupation and forced to fight the kind of counterinsurgency in which the United States is now engaged in Iraq.

But what of the Israelis? What in the name of everything rational are they doing?

Israel's stated goal is the destruction of Hezbollah's ability to wage war. [...] Israeli forces also must do this without being drawn into an occupation that Hezbollah and others could draw out into an extended counterinsurgency operation. In other words, Israel's goal is to shatter Hezbollah without an extended occupation of Lebanon.

Thus far, Israel's strategy has focused on an air campaign. Supplementing the air campaign has been a substantial mobilization of ground forces and a very shallow insertion of these forces along the southern Lebanese frontier. This is where the mystery begins.

Historically, Israel has tried to fight wars as quickly as possible. There are three reasons for this. First, Israel is casualty-averse and fears wars of attrition. [...]. Second, large-scale mobilization is extremely expensive for Israel economically. [...Third,] the United States normally supports Israel but usually wants to see cease-fires put into place as quickly as possible. Therefore, Israel typically has to end major, conventional combat operations as quickly as possible.

But to this point, Israel is fighting a very different war. It essentially has been conducting an extended air campaign without significant engagement on the ground.

Historically, the air campaign has been seen as incapable of delivering victory except in concert with a ground campaign. In this particular campaign, Israel clearly has not achieved either of its two objectives. First, rocket fire from Hezbollah has not been suppressed. [...] Second, the air campaign, from the little we have seen, does not appear to have broken Hezbollah's will to resist.

It is difficult, thus, to envision the air war as the totality of the campaign. If the Israelis have counted on this to be sufficient, it has failed so far. It also is difficult to imagine the Israeli air force having convinced the army that an air campaign by itself would suffice. Therefore, we are drawn to one of two conclusions: Either the main effort will come on the ground but has not yet been launched, or the Israelis envision some diplomatic solution to the problem of Hezbollah. In other words, the air campaign is either preparation for a ground invasion, or it is designed to set the stage for a political settlement.

There are three possibilities here:

1. Israel is going to go with the air campaign indefinitely.
2. Israel is going to negotiate a diplomatic solution.
3. Israel is going to wage a ground campaign.

We have explained why the first two options do not appear viable to us. Unless Israel's battle damage assessment of the airstrikes is showing its intelligence people something we can't see from afar, the air campaign is a valuable preparation for a ground war but not a substitute. Unless some sort of strange deal is in the works with Syria, which we doubt, we do not see the shape of a diplomatic settlement. And unless Israel is going to declare victory and just stop, we don't see the war ending. Therefore, our analysis continues to point to a major ground operation.

Stratfor.com believes the Israelis are preparing for a major ground offensive. But what and when is the big mystery.

People we have contacted in Israel keep talking about Israel having some surprises. We already are surprised by the amount of time between the initiation of the air attack and the initiation of a major ground offensive. If the Israelis have more surprises waiting, it will be interesting to see what they are. However, at this point, unless Israel wants to abandon the goal of rendering Hezbollah harmless for an extended period of time, it would seem to us that a massive raid in force, followed by destruction of infrastructure in detail, followed by withdrawal, is the most realistic option remaining.

We have been told to expect surprises in how Israel does this. We agree fully: We are surprised. We see the Hezbollah plan and it is unfolding -- not as well as it might have hoped, but not that poorly either. We await the Israeli solution to the problem posed by Hezbollah. There will be at least one clear criterion for victory or defeat on both sides. If Hezbollah continues to attack Haifa and other major cities without Israel being able to stop it, or it halts those attacks only after a diplomatic compromise, Hezbollah would have achieved its strategic goal and Israel would have lost. If Israel can end the attacks without making political concessions, Israel would have won. At a certain point, it is as simple as that.

Here is my thought. Hezbollah clearly wanted to provoke Israel and drag them into a war it did not want.

Given that the nearest major military threat to Israel after Hezbollah is Syria, is Israel trying to provoke Syria?


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