Is Israel Winning Or Losing?

Michael Totten has a perceptive yet disturbing essay on the situation in Lebanon:

The fog of war makes it impossible for me or anyone else to determine whether or not Israel’s war against Hezbollah is succeeding of failing militarily. But it’s painfully obvious that Israel’s attempt to influence Lebanese politics in its favor is an absolute catastrophe right now.

The (second in a decade) attack on Qana that killed scores of civilians has all but cemented the Lebanese public and Hezbollah together.

Cable news reports that 82 percent of Lebanese now support Hezbollah. Prime Minister Fouad Seniora – whatever his real opinion in private – is now closer to openly supporting Hezbollah in public than he has ever been.

The March 14 Movement (the Cedar Revolution) is, at best, in a coma if not outright dead.

I wish I had a nice answer for how to deal with this crisis. If I did, I’d be calling Ehud Olmert right now and giving it to him. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers here. The nature of Hizb’Allah – the way in which they deliberately hide in civilian populations – ensures that tragedies like Qana are guaranteed to happen again. The fact is that the Israelis were attacking a valid military target when they accidentally hit the building at Qana. When Hizb’Allah murders Israeli civilians, that’s by intent.

The ever-astute Josh Treviño puts it in the right context:

In a sane world, we would give thanks for Hezbollah’s failure to murder, regret what has happened in Qana, and reaffirm the justice of the Israeli war. But this is not a sane world: in place of right and wrong, too many appear to operate in a universe of strong and weak (or, one suspects, Jew and non-Jew) — and their sympathy goes to the weak, even if the weak is a shell of a polity married to a genocide-minded Muslim murder-front.

Israel has to ensure that Hizb’Allah cannot endanger them. Totten may be right that Syria and Iran are benefitting from this war, but Israel has little choice but to ensure that Hizb’Allah is defanged. That may very well mean invading Lebanon en masse and taking a large number of casualties in the process. Leaving an Iranian proxy army at the borders of Northern Israel just isn’t an acceptable option for anyone.

One commenter at Totten’s site does have an idea about how to fight terrorist groups like Hizb’Allah:

Asymetric warfare makes the military branch of a terrorist organization hard to hit – but it leaves the supporters of terrorism in a relatively vulnerable position. If the world were an intelligent place, we’d be fighting the strategy of asymetric warfare, not its army or its cities.

The state leaders, bureaucrats and bankers who support Hez would be our targets. As Sun Tsu said:

Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy;

Next best is to disrupt his alliances;

The next best is to attack his army.

The worst policy is to attack cities. Attack cities only when there is no alternative.

The world in general seems to have read that advice backwards.

Indeed, much of our strategy in this war is still rooted in the old doctrines of 20th Century warfare when the war we’re fighting is a 21st Century war – of all the criticisms of our invasion of Iraq that always struck me as the most convincing. As Glenn Reynolds observes:

Still, so as not to fail at making positive proposals myself I’ll make one suggestion: The real problem in the war on terror, I think, is a relatively small number of terror-backers in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Why aren’t we waging unconventional warfare against them? They undoubtedly have toes we can step on in the form of business interests, overseas accounts, vacation homes, etc. Would we make more progress by targeting those sorts of things, rather than fighting their cannon fodder in the field? If I recall correctly, a shift to that strategy was what ended the Philippine insurgency a century ago.

But I’m no military expert, so there may be good reasons why we’re not doing this. Or we may, in fact, be doing it and it just may be under the radar, though I kind of doubt that.

I’m not sure we are doing that, but at this point, it’s almost certainly worth trying. The very nature of asymmetrical warfare puts conventional powers like the US and Israel on the defensive: and the survival of both Israel and ultimately ourselves depends on how effectively we can neutralize these asymmetric threats. If we cannot, then we had better be prepared for a period in history that will make the Dark Ages look like a walk in the park…

UPDATE: Interestingly enough, The New York Times reports that many in Iran are nervous about Hizb’Allah’s chances:

No matter how this conflict is resolved, Iranian officials already see their strategic military strength diminished, said the policy experts, former officials and one official with close ties to the highest levels of government. Even if a cease-fire takes hold, and Hezbollah retains some military ability, a Lebanese public eager for peace may act as a serious check.

In the past, Iran believed that Israel might pause before attacking it because they would assume Hezbollah would assault the northern border. If Hezbollah emerges weaker, or restrained militarily because of domestic politics, Iran feels it may be more vulnerable.

“This was God’s gift to Israel,” said Nasser Hadian, a political science professor at Tehran University and an expert in Iranian foreign policy. “Hezbollah gave them the golden opportunity to attack.”

I’m not so sure of that. The Iranians are no doubt seeing this is a proxy war (because it essentially is), and Israeli’s military might seems to be faltering. However, the war in Lebanon has exacerbated the already violent Sunni-Shi’ite divide in the Muslim world, and as Iran criticizes other regional powers, any idea of Muslim unity gets more and more far-fetched.

A Machiavellian might think that a divide-and-conquer strategy might divert resources that would otherwise go towards terrorism – however, the effects of such a conflict would probably throw world oil markets into chaos and have a devastating effect on the world economy. Sadly, that scenario may be far closer than we’d be willing to admit.

2 thoughts on “Is Israel Winning Or Losing?

  1. Israel is losing support amongst Lebanon’s Christian population. They don’t have the allies they had 20 years ago. The scale of the attakcs in reprisal have hurt all Lebanese. True, they are not bombing Christian, Druze, or Sunni civilian areas. But they are knocking our Lebanon’s infrastructure and hurting their economy on the basis of what one group did. There was tremendous anti-Hezbollah feeling the first two days after the soldiers were kidnapped. Stuff like the Qana massacre will make that erode quickly. But there are signs of other groups getting restless. There is talk some Christian militias, such as the Lebanese Forces will rearm. A Druze village called Mari resisted a Hezbollah invasion to use them as a launching place for rocket attacks. A Christian mob attacked some Hezbollah cars in Beirut. Some Sunnis are very angry about how Hezbollah would use this a tool to marginalize them. Israel has waged this war incompatently at times, as it left the PFLP and Hezbollah tunnels near Syria free, but attacked non-terror areas like the port of Jounieh. If they can push Hezbollah past the Litani they will have won, but Hezbollah is putting up a mighty fight. This is emboldening support for other parts of the Arab world, but no one is joining in the fight. Thirty years ago multiple arab nations would have entered this conflict from the beginning. That startling fact alone lets us know how much the Arab mind has changed in these past few decades.

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