August 21, 2006


Misreading the Lebanon war (EDWARD N.LUTTWAK, 8/20/06 , THE JERUSALEM POST)

What is perfectly true is that the Israelis lacked a coherent war plan, so that even their most purposeful bombing came off as brutally destructive (though with a deterrence payoff, as Syria's immobility showed), while the ground actions were hesitant and inconclusive from start to finish.

There was a fully developed plan, of course, in the contingency folders - a sophisticated blend of amphibious, airborne and ground penetrations to swiftly reach deep behind the front, before rolling back, so as to destroy Hizbullah positions one by one from the rear, all the way to the Israeli border.

That plan was not implemented because of the lack of casualties among Israeli civilians. It had been a fair assumption that thousands of Hizbullah rockets fired in concentrated barrages would kill many civilians, perhaps hundreds of them each day. Barrages cancel out the inaccuracy of unguided rockets, and powerfully compound blast effects. That would make a large-scale offensive by more than 45,000 soldiers a compelling necessity, politically justifying the hundreds of casualties that it would certainly have cost.

Hizbullah, however, distributed its rockets to village militias that were very good at hiding them from air attacks, sheltering them from artillery and from probing Israeli unmanned air vehicles, but quite incapable of launching them effectively, in simultaneous launches against the same targets.

Instead of hundreds of dead civilians, the Israelis were therefore losing one or two a day, and even after three weeks, the grand total was less than in some one-man suicide bombings.

That made it politically unacceptable to launch the planned offensive that would kill young soldiers and family men, while not eradicating Hizbullah anyway, because it is a political movement in arms, and not just an army or a bunch of gunmen.

For that very reason, the outcome of the war is likely to be more satisfactory than many now seem to believe. Hassan Nasrallah is not another Yasser Arafat, who was fighting for eternal Palestine and not for actually living Palestinians, whose prosperity and safety he was always willing to sacrifice for the cause.

Nasrallah has a political constituency, and it happens to be centered in southern Lebanon. Implicitly accepting responsibility for having started the war, Nasrallah has directed his Hizbullah to focus on rapid reconstruction in villages and towns, right up to the Israeli border.

Hezbollah wants more responsibility and Israel and the U.S. are in a position to give it to them.

War Turns Nasrallah Into a Cult Figure: The military conflict in Lebanon has ended with a cease-fire. No proper peace treaty has been signed. Still, Hezbollah is celebrating the ceasefire as a victory over Israel. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has achieved cult status among the Middle East's Islamic radicals -- and he's become more dangerous than ever. (Matthias Gebauer, 8/21/06, Der Spiegel)

Nasrallah's rise to glory is the climax of an unusual career. He was born in the slums of Beirut in 1960. His parents saved the little money they had so he could attend a private school, where he was known as a devout Muslim. When civil war broke out in 1975, Nasrallah was 15. He was quick to escape to Iraq, where he attended an Islamic seminary in Najaf. Not much later, he moved to Qom in Iran. He was considered charismatic there and attracted considerable attention.

Nasrallah, who is addressed as "Prime Minister Nasrallah" by his followers, is not a religious fanatic. He never moved far up in the clerical hierarchies of Islam because he wasn't all that interested in the Koran. His former schoolmates describe him as hard-working but not particularly talented. Nasrallah is, however, an experienced politician: He regularly visited Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri for tea before the latter was assassinated. It was always possible to reach an agreement with the Shiite leader, Hariri once said.

Nasrallah has been an important political factor in Lebanon for years now. He's even met United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, once, as the leader of Hezbollah. Timur Gocksel, who was for many years the leader of the UN forces stationed in southern Lebanon, describes Nasrallah as a pure pragmatist. "He was hungry for knowledge," Gocksel recalls. "He had always read the paper. Of course he was interested in Israel and military matters, but he read about many other things too."

Israel and the US are still focused on the wrong issues: Every major political issue - Lebanon, Iraq, radicalism - links back to the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Rami G Khouri, August 21, 2006, Guardian)
Hizbullah has many people working backwards. While the American-Israeli effort to disarm Hizbullah aims mainly to protect Israel, the fact is that Hizbullah has developed its military capability primarily in response to a need to protect Lebanon from repeated Israeli attacks in the past four decades. (Lebanese calls to disarm Hizbullah are motivated more by a desire to prevent the party from bringing more ruin from Israeli attacks, or to prevent it from taking over the country's political system and aligning it with Syria and Iran.)

The way to end Hizbullah's status as the only non-state-armed group in Lebanon is to rewind the reel, and go to the heart of the problem that caused Hizbullah to develop its formidable military capabilities in the first place. If we solve the Arab-Israeli conflict in a fair manner, according to UN resolutions, we would eliminate two critical political forces that now nourish Hizbullah's armed defiance: the Israeli threat to Lebanon, and the ability of Syria and Iran to exploit the ongoing conflict with Israel by working through Lebanon.

Rather, the way to end that status is to recognize that Hezbollah heads a state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 21, 2006 8:33 AM

And if the Lebanese in the north object?

Obviously we can 'enable' Hezbollah to move beyond its current demonized position, but not without implosions in Damascus first, and also cutting the cord from Tehran. Then Hezbollah can prove its destiny, or not.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 21, 2006 9:41 AM

Then let them have free and fair elections and live under the Shi'a rule they've thwarted for so long.

Posted by: oj at August 21, 2006 9:45 AM

The opthalmologist has to go before there will be 'free and fair' elections in Lebanon. Why not tonight? Only Kofi would weep, although Khameini might curse a little bit.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 21, 2006 10:59 AM