Palestinian historian and activist Bishara Doumani, these days in Nablus, provided these two very interesting analyses on the Israeli military offensive.
Michael Davie is a historical geographer (among other things), who is now in Beirut.
Uri Avnery is the head of a small but most determined and consistent peace movement in Israel. He has been around for a long time, fought in many wars, and knows the players very well. Of course, he has an axe to grind with the political establishment and that can be see from the tone of his essay. Nevertheless, the insider's perspective and the insistence that this war is just as much about ineptness as it is about grand strategies are worth reading.
A view from Beirut
To date, the Israeli strategy in Lebanon has not shown any tactical or strategic surprises or innovations. It is being lead as a classical military operation against regular armed forces, with the destruction of bridges, roads, telecommunication infrastructures, depots, and command centres. The premise is that Hizballah is a “classical”, “normal” enemy, that can be defeated by “classical” and “normal” means: total command of the skies, massive armoured movements, saturation artillery, well-trained infantry. Thus, by destroying the bridges and roads, no supplies or reinforcements can be sent from central depots or barracks to the various fronts. By destroying the telecoms, no orders can be sent to the local commanders. By destroying the deep bunkers of the military HQ, and thus by killing the officers, the chain of command is decapitated.
Also, by destroying Lebanon’s economic capacity (factories, agricultural produce) and by displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians the State would surrender on Israel’s terms, i.e. order Lebanon to forcefully engage Hizballah to disarm it.
However, Hizballah is not a classical army. It is not even organized in the usual pyramid-shaped command structure. It has no central HQ. It has no chief of staff as such. It has no permanent barracks. It has no tanks, no navy, no airforce, no transport trucks, no nuclear capability, no arms of massive destruction; no drones. Its communications are not entirely based on military equipment. Its intelligence does not rely on the myth of constant and omniscient surveillance. Its “soldiers” are neither conscripts nor full-time.
As such, any “classical” tactics are bound to be inadequate: large-scale tank manoeuvres, beach landings, helicopter attacks or paratroop descents would be of little tactical use. The failure of the Golani Brigade to take Bint Jbail using classical tactics is an indication of the problems encountered.
It was only at the end of the first week of aerial bombing and artillery barrages that the Israelis discovered to their surprise that Hizballah was completely intact. Its stock of ground-to-ground missiles was intact, as was the capability of the local commanders to lob them deep into Northern Israel. There could thus be no quick, classical “military” solution, as was the case in 1982, on exactly the same terrain, against the PLO and the Syrian Army.
For the first time, the Israeli Army was confronted by a well-trained armed group, perfectly familiar with the local terrain, with a very clear ideology to which all of its members totally adhered. Its military intelligence is superior to that of most Arab armies, its theoretical and strategic thinking is sophisticated. Its organization and planning is superior and not at all comparable to, say, the PLO’s, or even to Hamas’s or the Al-Aqsa Brigades. In the field, it does not need sophisticated communications equipment (and thus vulnerable to electronic countermeasures). Hizballah has digested the experience of many wars: from the Vietnamese to the Iran-Iraq conflict, for example. But also the Yougoslav conflict, and the Iraqi insurrection. It learnt from the successes and mistakes of the PLO in Lebanon, but also of the Intifadas and the on-going actions in Palestine. It’s fighters have no fear of death, quite the contrary, and their commitment to defending their allotted military position is total.
For these reasons, Israel’s military war against Hizballah (Israel’s political war against the Shias and against the Lebanese power structure is a different point all together) will certainly be bloody and difficult. Their failure to take Bint Jbail can be put forward as an example of the difficulties on the field ; their reliance on massive air strikes to prepare a (failed) raid on Baalbek is also an example. Their very slow progress to occupy villages just one or two kilometers from the frontier, even after massive air strikes and artillery barrages, are other examples. All Hizballah leaders, interviewed by the Lebanese and international media have given the same message: “we are ready and we will resist for a very long time if the Israelis think they can dislodge us quickly”. This, of course, is a psychological problem for the morale of the Israeli civilian population, which has massively abandoned the North of Israel for (up-to-now) safer places in Central or Southern Israel. This surprise and would partially explain some of the completely militarily-useless actions taken by the Israeli forces: the destruction of factories, diaries, wheat silos, medicine depots and transport, well-drilling equipment, etc. The destruction of fuel tanks for an electricity station at Jiyeh was completed by the targetting of its anti-pollution walls, creating the worst ecological disaster in the Eastern Mediterranean (and also militarily counterproductive for any planned amphibious landing). One can only explain these actions, and that of the Cana massacre, as a loss of nerve by the higher-echelon officers, who saw, to their horror, that their well-oiled plan wasn’t working.
Seen from Beirut, the Israeli plan to “finish” the Hizballah in 10 days brings amused smiles to many observers. The Israeli claims that the stockpile of missiles has been reduced to critical levels seems contradicted by even heavier and deeper daily volleys into Northern and Central Israel (Afula, Beisan).
Claims of extensive deaths in Hizballah’s ranks are either unverified by neutral observers, or turn out to be civilians killed in their houses or shelters, as confirmed by the Red Cross. While, undoubtedly, some Hizballah fighters have been killed or wounded (probably on the same ratio as the Israeli military casualties) their numbers are still intact, especially where ground combat has not taken place (between Bint Jbail and the Litani, the coastal plan to the South of Saida, Southern, Central and Northern Bekaa, the suburbs of Beirut). Hisballah has also come out on top of the psychological war in Lebanon itself. The blanket sending of SMS propaganda messages and telephone calls to the Lebanese, or the hacking of al-Manar television for a few minutes, has not changed the Lebanese’s positive attitude towards Hizballah’s military actions.
This, of course, brings us to the point of the missiles sent into Israel. If the Israeli Army can advance further than the few kilometers around Taibe, Houle, Maroun al-Ras, Marouahine, etc. it still has to confront forces deployed further back, either South of the Litani (the general area around Tibnine, the coastal plain, Tyre or the Marjayoun-Ain Ebel-Khiam triangle)or North (Nabatiye, the hills blocking the access to the Bekaa). These are the main advance routes used ever since Pharaonic times, so there can be no strategic surprises; these are also the exact same routes used by the Israelis since 1978. But the problem of the missiles will not be solved by occupying these areas. The option of pushing up to Rayak, Baalbek or Hermel (ie occupying all of the Bekaa, and thus half of Lebanon) seems improbable. Advancing up the Bekaa (in pure “classical” military style, as was the case in 1918, 1943, 1978, 1982 etc.) implies a “classical” war between armies, which is not the case today. It also brings strategic centres such as Damascus and Homs (Syria’s petrochemical and industrial centre) unacceptably close to Israel’s army with the risk of an all-out regional conflict. While the Hizballah missiles might now be out of range of Israel, the Israeli Army would now be in very close range of Syria’s own missiles, whose deployment there are not contravened by the 1974 disengagement agreements over the Joulan/Golan. The Israel itself and the Israeli forces in Lebanon would also be in close range of the Syrian SCUDS.
But of course, one could also suggest that the Israelis should lunge even deeper into Syria (Hama, Aleppo, Soueida) to get rid of the Syrian missile threat… but that would put these forces into an even closer position vis a vis the Iranian missiles. Et cetera, ad infinitum.
Whatever the case, Israel would still have to control the territory it managed to occupy. While it’s troops battle against small, but determined positions in house to house and hand to hand combat, their positions would suffer by roadside attacks, snipers, and possibly even suicide operations, all reminiscences of the previous Israeli occupation of Lebanon.
Several questions emerge. The excuse of the two soldiers abducted on the frontier (the official Israeli excuse for the war) is of course secondary, and only used for internal propaganda. The real reason for the destruction of Lebanon must be sought elsewhere, with C. Rice and G.W. Bush giving tell-tale hints about a ‘New Middle East’ being prepared in Washington with Israel being used as the local military vector. However, “crushing Hizballah’s military capacity” could take months, with no real long-term solution in sight, creating a real internal political, psychological, ideological and economic problem in Israel.
One could of course ask whether it was really worth it: surely the points of contention between Israel and the Hizballah (or between Lebanon and Israel) could have been settled by negotiation. It’s all about Lebanese prisoners still in Israel in spite of decisions by the Israeli High Court to free them; of continual and daily overflights of Lebanon by reconnaissance aircraft or of intrusiuons in its territorial waters; of killing of Lebanese and Palestinian activists in Lebanon; of the question of the Chebaa farms; of details along the Blue Line. The fact that this solution was not chosen by the Israeli power structure (who reject even the notion of a cease-fire even after international condemnation for the Cana massacre) points to a lack of understanding that the type of war has changed. It is not a classical war (as was the case in 1967 and 1973), nore an insurrection (the Intifadas), nor a guerilla war of liberation (the PLO in Jordan or Lebanon before 1982). One side is ready, the other not.
So the game will be played not in the field, but by diplomacy.
2 August 2006.
The Day After the War
The day after the war will be the Day of the Long Knives.
Everybody will blame everybody else. The politicians will blame each other. The generals will blame each other. The politicians will blame the generals. And, most of all, the generals will blame the politicians.
Always, in every country and after every war, when the generals fail, the "knife in the back" legend raises its head. If only the politicians had not stopped the army just when it was on the point of achieving a glorious, crushing, historic victory.
That's what happened in Germany after World War I, when the legend gave birth to the Nazi movement. That's what happened in America after Vietnam. That's what is going to happen here. The first stirrings can already be felt.
The simple truth is that up to now, the 22nd day of the war, not one single military target has been reached. The same army that took just six days to rout three big Arab armies in 1967 has not succeeded in overcoming a small "terrorist organization" in a time span that is already longer than the momentous Yom Kippur War. Then, the army succeeded in just 20 days in turning a stunning defeat at the beginning into a resounding military victory at the end.
In order to create an image of achievement, military spokesmen asserted yesterday that "we have succeeded in killing 200 [or 300, or 400, who is counting?] of the 1,000 fighters of Hezbollah." The assertion that the entire terrifying Hezbollah consisted of one thousand fighters speaks for itself.
According to correspondents, President Bush is frustrated. The Israeli army has not "delivered the goods." Bush sent them into war believing that the powerful army, equipped with the most advanced American arms, would "finish the job" in a few days. It was supposed to eliminate Hezbollah, turn Lebanon over to the stooges of the U.S., weaken Iran, and perhaps also open the way to "regime change" in Syria. No wonder that Bush is angry.
Ehud Olmert is even more furious. He went to war in high spirits and with a light heart, because the air force generals had promised to destroy Hezbollah and their rockets within a few days. Now he is stuck in the mud, no victory in sight.
As usual with us, at the termination of the fighting (and possibly even before) the War of the Generals will start. The front lines are already emerging.
The commanders of the land army blame the chief-of-staff and the power-intoxicated air force, who promised to achieve victory all by themselves. To bomb, bomb, and bomb, destroy roads, bridges, residential quarters and villages, and - finito!
The followers of the chief-of-staff and the other air force generals will blame the land forces, especially Northern Command. Their spokesmen in the media already declare that this command is full of inept officers, who have been shunted there because the North seemed a backwater while the real action was going on in the South (Gaza) and the Center (West Bank).
There are already insinuations that the chief of Northern Command, Gen. Udi Adam, was appointed to his job only in homage to his father, Gen. Kuti Adam, who was killed in the First Lebanon War.
The mutual accusations are all quite right. This war is plastered with military failures - in the air, on land, and on the sea.
They are rooted in the terrible arrogance in which we were brought up and which has become a part of our national character. It is even more typical of the army, and reaches its climax in the air force.
For years we have told each other that we have the most-most-most army in the world. We have convinced not only ourselves, but also Bush and the entire world. After all, we did win an astounding victory in six days in 1967. As a result, when this time the army did not win a huge victory in six days, everybody was astounded. Why, what happened?
One of the declared aims of this war was the rehabilitation of the Israeli army's deterrence power. That really has not happened.
That's because the other side of the coin of arrogance is the profound contempt for Arabs, an attitude that has already led to severe military failures in the past. It's enough to remember the Yom Kippur War. Now our soldiers are learning the hard way that the "terrorists" are highly motivated, tough fighters, not junkies dreaming of "their" virgins in Paradise.
But beyond arrogance and contempt for the opponent, there is a basic military problem: it is just impossible to win a war against guerrillas. We have seen this in our 18-year stay in Lebanon. Then we drew the unavoidable conclusion and got out. True, without good sense, without an agreement with the other side. (We don't speak with terrorists, do we? - even if they are the dominant force on the ground.) But we did get out.
God knows what gave today's generals the unfounded self-confidence to believe that they would win where their predecessors failed so miserably.
And most of all: even the best army in the world cannot win a war that has no clear aims. Karl von Clausewitz, the guru of military science, pronounced that "war is nothing more than the continuation of politics by other means." Olmert and Peretz, two complete dilettantes, have turned this inside out: "War is nothing more than the continuation of the lack of policy by other means."
Military experts say that in order to succeed in war, there must be (a) a clear aim, (b) an aim that is achievable, and (c) the means necessary for achieving this aim.
All three conditions are lacking in this war. That is clearly the fault of the political leadership.
Therefore, the main blame will be laid at the feet of the twins, Olmert-Peretz. They have succumbed to the temptation of the moment and dragged the state into a war, in a decision that was hasty, unconsidered, and reckless.
As Nehemia Strassler wrote in Ha'aretz : "They could have stopped after two or three days, when all the world agreed that Hezbollah's provocation justified an Israeli response, when nobody was yet doubting the capabilities of the Israeli army. The operation would have looked sensible, sober, and proportional."
But Olmert and Peretz could not stop. As greenhorns in matters of war, they did not know that the boasts of the generals cannot be relied on, that even the best military plans are not worth the paper on which they are written, that in war the unexpected must be expected, that nothing is more temporary then the glory of war. They were intoxicated by the war's popularity, egged on by a herd of fawning journalists, driven out of their minds by their own glory as War Leaders.
Olmert was roused by his own incredibly kitschy speeches, which he rehearsed with his hangers-on. Peretz, so it seems, stood in front of the mirror and already saw himself as the next prime minister, Mister Security, a second Ben-Gurion.
And so, like two village idiots, to the sound of drums and bugles, they set off at the head of their March of Folly straight toward political and military failure.
It is reasonable to assume that they will pay the price after the war.
What will come out of this whole mess?
No one talks anymore about eliminating Hezbollah or disarming it and destroying all the rockets. That has been forgotten long ago.
At the start of the war, the government furiously rejected the idea of deploying an international force of any kind along the border. The army believed that such a force would not protect Israel, but only restrict its freedom of action. Now, suddenly, the deployment of this force has become the main aim of the campaign. The army is continuing the operation solely in order to "prepare the ground for the international force," and Olmert declares that he will go on fighting until it appears on the ground.
That is, of course, a sorry alibi, a ladder for getting down from the high tree. The international force can be deployed only in agreement with Hezbollah. No country will send its soldiers to a place where they would have to fight the locals. And everywhere in the area, the local Shi'ite inhabitants will return to their villages - including the Hezbollah underground fighters.
Further on, the force will also be totally dependent on the agreement of Hezbollah. If a bomb explodes under a bus full of French soldiers, a cry will go up in Paris: bring our sons home. That is what happened when the U.S. Marines were bombed in Beirut.
The Germans, who shocked the world this week by opposing the call for a cease-fire, certainly will not send soldiers to the Israeli border. That's just what they need, to be obliged to shoot at Israeli soldiers.
And, most importantly, nothing will prevent Hezbollah from launching their rockets over the heads of the international force, any time they want to. What will the international force do then? Conquer all the area up to Beirut? And how will Israel respond?
Olmert wants the force to control the Lebanese-Syrian border. That, too, is illusory. That border goes around the entire West and North of Lebanon. Anybody who wants to smuggle weapons will stay away from the main roads, which will be controlled by the international soldiers. He will find hundreds of places along the border to do this. With the proper bribe, one can do anything in Lebanon.
Therefore, after the war, we will stand more or less in the same place we were before we started this sorry adventure, before the killing of almost a thousand Lebanese and Israelis, before the eviction from their homes of more than a million human beings, Israelis and Lebanese, before the destruction of more than a thousand homes both in Lebanon and Israel.
After the war, the enthusiasm will simmer down, the inhabitants of the North will lick their wounds and the army will start to investigate its failures. Everybody will claim that he or she was against the war from the first day on. Then the Day of Judgment will come.
The conclusion that presents itself is: kick out Olmert, send Peretz packing, and sack Halutz.
In order to embark on a new course, the only one that will solve the problem: negotiations and peace with the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Syrians. And with Hamas and Hezbollah.
Because it's only with enemies that one makes peace.
August 4, 2006