Billmon on strategic planning:
But, of course, I’m getting the impression from reading between the lines of the official propaganda that the IDF is struggling just to produce these little symbolic victories — they seem to be “securing” the same objectives over and over again. So my guess is that the internal debate will now turn to how many more divisions to commit to the battle, how far north to push, etc. My friend can’t tell, nor can I, if the primary objective is still to smash the hell out of Hizbullah, or whether the Israelis are just looking to save a little face.
Pat Lang on Israel’s newfound taste for air power:
At the strategic level, the IDF under Halutz is following classic “Air Power” theory which holds that crushing the “Will of the People” is the correct objective in compelling the acceptance of one’s own “will” by an adversary or neutral. With that objective in mind, all of the target country is considered to be one, giant target set. Industry, ports, bridges, hospitals, roads, you name it. It is all “fair game.” In this case the notion is to force the Lebanese government and army to accept a role as the northern jaw in a vise that will crush Hizballah and subsequently to hold south Lebanon against Hizballah. Since Lebanon is a melange of ethnic and religious communities of which Shia LEBANESE are a major element and since many Lebanese Shia are supporters of Hizballah, the prospect of getting the Lebanese government to do this is “nil.”
Larry Johnson on clear and hold:
When you are fighting a force like Hezbollah, on terrain it views as its home, you cannot defeat them unless you occupy the land and maintain a force in place. That is a costly and long term proposition. Israel tried it once and withdrew. Israel will discover in the coming weeks that their current operation will leave them once again on the horns of a dilemma—stay in southern Lebanon and fight a long-term insurgency or withdraw and give Hezbollah another notch in its belt. A third alternative—an international force empowered to keep the peace—exists only as a fantasy on paper. No country or group of countries appears willing to assume the burden of a costly, long-term military occupation.
Reuven Pedatzur on unpreparedness in the IDF:
Until the incidents are examined seriously by elements external to the IDF, there is an unpleasant feeling of a whitewash operation going on – and concern that something fundamentally bad is going on in the army. Because what began at Kerem Shalom repeated itself on the Lebanese border: The IDF was again caught off guard, this time in a well-planned Hezbollah ambush. The intelligence failure and the complacency of the men in the patrol and of their officers had grave results. The entry of the tank into Lebanon, in an attempt to delay the escape of the kidnappers of the two soldiers, was also flawed. It is unclear why, at command levels, they did not anticipate that Hezbollah had laid mines to delay the advance of tanks.
Also see the NYT on the likely inadequacy of air power, the reluctance of Israel to commit significant ground forces (although Israel is apparently preparing to occupy a strip along the border), and on the continuing capacity of Hezbollah to resist the IDF.
First, some caveats on all of the above. Whatever mistakes the IDF may be making (and some of the above may be overblown), the US has been down the same road and made the same mistakes on multiple occasions. All military organizations make mistakes, including the IDF. Although in popular lore the IDF has acquired a reputation for invincibility, its performance historically has been uneven. The Yom Kippur War and the Lebanon occupation both revealed serious deficiencies. The question for the future is whether the Israelis will learn from the mistakes and either a) choose operations more likely to succeed, or b) become better at operations they’re likely to choose.
I have to say, though, that what appears to be an increasing commitment to the idea that air power can prevail over all obstacles is a disturbing turn. The idea that an organization like Hezbollah can be destroyed or even seriously damaged even by a long term, intensive air campaign is absurd. The commitment of small ground units helps, but won’t solve the problem. It is deeply troubling that some in the IDF appear overtaken by the same fantasy that continues to afflict the USAF; the idea that air power is the hammer than can drive all nails, even when those nails are screws. This point really reveals the absurdity of much of the blogospheric discussion of the Israeli campaign. Wingnuts are happily cheering on Israeli resolve to fight Hezbollah, while failing to note that the tactics being employed by the IDF stand no chance whatsoever of actually destroying the organization.
I’m a lot less concerned about IDF effectiveness on the ground, as Hezbollah is an effective organization, well trained and capable of laying a good ambush. Falling into such an ambush doesn’t necessarily reveal any deeper problems. But Johnson is correct to say that Israel is on the horns of a dilemma. If they don’t occupy southern Lebanon, Hezbollah will declare victory. If they occupy a small strip of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah will continue its attacks and declare victory. If they end the airstrikes without destroying Hezbollah, Hezbollah will declare victory. Indeed, it’s hard for me to figure out a way in which this will end without giving Hezbollah the opportunity to declare victory, unless a large contingent of foreign troops arrives from somewhere (Fiji? Chile? Mongolia?) to help disarm the militia or at least manage southern Lebanon.
… also read Philip Gordon on the hopelessness of an air power strategy.
… and it should be noted that Israeli ground incursions seem to be increasing in scope and strength. This is not, in my view, a bad thing, as long as the incursions allow Israel to actually engage and destroy Hezbollah forces. I don’t think that Israel can actually destroy Hezbollah through the limited incursions, of course, but it’s still better than an air campaign that won’t do anyone any good.