Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Israel Can't Afford to "Lose" Now

The Israelis are now facing a lot more than censure for "overreacting" to Hezbollah. They're looking down the barrel of an opponent that's more capable than they expected it to be.

As Steven Erlanger of the New York Times reports today, Israelis are not happy. "The criticism is not that the war is going on, but that it is going poorly. The public wants the army to hit Hezbollah harder, so it will not threaten Israel again."

Four weeks into this war, Israel is playing for stakes higher than the immediate threat from Hezbollah. The Lebanese militant group appears to have fought the Israeli Defense Force to a standstill. Much of Hezbollah's "success" may no doubt be thanks to the IDF's desire to minimize further collateral damage--a daunting task given the nature of the battle space. Whatever the case, the perception that Hezbollah is "hanging tough" against the mighty Israelis has been established, and the Jewish state needs to terminate the current conflict in a manner that regains some of its former aura of invincibility.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's political clout may be permanently damaged. Gerald M. Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University says, "There is a strong sense of hesitation, of the lack of military leadership needed in times like this.”

Yuval Steinitz of Israel's Likud party frames the issue in stronger language. “Doubts? That’s an understatement. People are talking of failure. The bombardment of Israeli cities was supposed to be over after 48 hours. The fact that only now the government is ready to even start the real ground campaign is overwhelming.” Steinitz is further concerned that his country's lack of decisive military success has come against Hezbollah, "…which is the size of a Syrian division without any air defense. So what would we do against Syria?”

All this bodes ill for any hopes of peace in the near term. Israel cannot afford to be perceived as having been bailed out by a cease-fire brokered by its American protectors. It must now press for a clear victory in combat and an end state in which it appears to have dictated the terms of peace.

Cable news networks are reporting that the IDF has commenced its "expansion" of offensive operations in Lebanon. Stand by: this isn't likely to end soon, or without considerably more bloodshed.

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Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.

11 comments:

  1. This failure stems from Olmert's lack of military experience, as I believe you have pointed out before, as I have at M&C. If he had served in the military, he'd have realised that air power has limited usefulness against pin point targets in an urban setting. But, being a bureaucrat, he was easily swayed by the siren song of his chief advisor, Chief of Staff GEN Halutz, a pilot. (The fact that he was under a lot of political pressure in the Knesset before this all started probably influenced his decision to try for the "cheap" solution of tactical bombing, despite 60 years of evidence that this weapon is a mace and not sword.

    Having failed initially, now they must work with conbined arms forces, against an enemy now entrenched in rubble - the worst possible situation for an attacker.

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  2. Yep. They're in a bad situation tactically, operationally, and strategically. They have to go for the "big kill" now, there's no turning back. And if they take too long and suffer too many casualties getting the job done, that's bad news for them too.

    But no matter how the ground war turns out, they're going to cause a lot more collateral damage, and that already isn't playing well.

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  3. If they can't close this down quickly with a meaningful tactical and strategic victory Olmert is in serious political trouble, internally. The Israeli people donm't want a long casualty list. (Who does, other than the Likudnik neocons in their government, and ours?) If Olmert goes, Netanyahu's faction might get back into power. That WILL lead to Israeli strikes in Iran and Syria, and yes, nukes are always a possibility with Netanyahu.

    Their salvation might be a meaningful international peace-keeping force, except the US has nothing to commit other than good wishes and some logistical support. The French appear to be willing, as does Fiji, because of the financial benefits. But any UN force, such as UNIFIL, must contain three nationalities. I wonder when the Bushies will decide that either Russia or the Ukraine should be the third party? That will bring on a full-scale war in the Levant within about 9 weeks.

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  4. Good analysis as always, Lurch.

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  5. One problem with a full-fledged offense is that it is going to be very bloody. Israel can't bring in close air support (choppers and low-altitude attack craft) because of the risk of Iranian Stingers coming up their snozzles (okay, so they're clones of China's clone of the Stinger, but they would work as well for Hizballah as they worked for the mujahdeen in Afghanistan, and you better believe that Hizballah has studied that lesson *hard* -- these guys seem serious about their profession of making war). This is why you haven't seen a lot of Israeli choppers flying CAS missions -- hell, when they extract wounded, they land the choppers two miles away from the fighting! The primary ground attack craft in the IAF right now is the F-16, which is a fine jet, but they're mostly bombing from 15,000 feet to keep out of range of the Stingers, which kind of precludes close air support even with smart bombs.

    And finally, Hezballah has shown that they have the ability to knock out Israel's beloved Merkava tanks thanks to new dual-stage warheads that Iran developed for the antiquated but apparently still-deadly AT-3's that they've shipped to HA in quantity, a capability which should have come as no surprise to Israel since Egypt used Saggers in 1973 to knock out an entire column of Israeli tanks, but apparently Israel arrogantly thought that surely Arab terrorists wouldn't have anti-tank missiles capable of knocking out tanks with reactive armor, after all Saggers wouldn't dent a Merkava, right? Well, not until Iran upgraded their warheads! And those aren't even Iran's front-line anti-tank missiles (which are AT-5's with much better operational characteristics though still not up to the "fire and forget" standards of American man-portable anti-tank missiles), they're just the cheap-ass Sagger clones that Iran churns out by the tens of thousands every year, the AK-47 of anti-tank missiles...

    What you end up with, then, is boots on the ground supported by artillery. And that's not the kind of war that Israel has fought in the past, and it's the kind of war that racks up a big body count fast if you want to actually win anything with it. Israel thought they were fighting the circa 1983 PLO, and instead found themselves fighting another enemy entirely -- one which apparently has studied not only 1973 war and the Afghan war but also has studied Israel's armed forces thoroughly and knows exactly how to make Israel bleed, bleed, bleed for each inch of ground gained.

    How is Israel's public going to react when hundreds of soldiers are killed in a day? What kind of fury are they going to unleash? And who is it going to be unleashed against? Expect a return to Israeli strategic bombing at that point... they are going to bomb Lebanon until the rubble bounces. And if there are any civilians in that rubble... well, they aren't going to be caring at that point. They don't have to, after all. With the United States in their corner, why should they care if the entire world screams in horror?

    - BT

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  6. EEngineer1:19 AM

    I've noticed that there has been very little use of anti-aircraft weaponry in either Iraq or Lebanon. Iran and Syria are both reported to have them, and Russia and China certainly have them in large numbers. I have this sinking feeling that they aren't being used so that US and Israeli forces won't get a chance to adjust to them until the final round. It would seem that it's hard to stop a fight when both sides are eager for war. I fear that those who do not understand history are about to get a dear lesson.

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  7. Well, MANPAD's have a very limited range. A Stinger has a realistic range of about 5km, or figure 15,000 feet. So all you have to do to defeat a MANPAD is fly above its range. Larger missiles simply aren't practical when you're operating as a guerilla force, they're not portable enough.

    Note that Israel is operating as if HA has Iran's copy of China's QW-1 MANPAD, operating from relatively high altitudes and *not* operating choppers in close support operations. I suspect this is because they know what's out there and that HA knows how to use it.

    Also note that the MANPAD's available to guerillas are IR missiles and while the QW-1 (the best of the lot) supposedly will lock on from a forward aspect, they really work well only from the rear aspect of the target. This undoubtedly is one reason why they haven't been used much in Iraq. The other reason they haven't been used much in Iraq is that Iran is arming the group that currently is *not* fighting us, rather than the group that *is* fighting us, so we don't get to see the QW-1's until the **** hits the fan and the Shiites turn on us...

    What this all means in Lebanon is: a) fighter jets are going to be flying at higher altitudes and using smart bombs rather than dumb bombs to do their "close air support" (sort of an oxymoron, if you're at 15,000 feet!), b) helicopters aren't going to be doing CAS either because they're just too bloody vulnerable, meaning c) lots of slogging it out on foot house to house with your own man-portable missiles and artillery support, because you're going to be getting shit-all close air support from your choppers and attack fighters (and your tanks are having to hang back due to the *other* issue, all those #$%@# Saggers with the new warheads Iran rigged to defeat reactive armor, bummer!).

    In other words, they haven't been used in Lebanon because Israel knows HA has them, and thus hasn't put anything in range of them. HA seems to have very good fire control -- they rarely seem to shoot unless they have something in their sights that they know they can hit, unlike the pray'n'spray dipsticks in Iraq.

    -BT

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  8. Nice, BadTux, but I believe the Mekava is fitted with Chobham-type armor. (It may even be the real deal, since Mossad is extremely competent. Hell, all they have to do is phone someone from AIPAC or Rumsfeld himself. But I'm also sure they've installed reactive packets on their tamks, too.

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  9. Anonymous8:57 AM

    I'm not sure to what degree this is a war of choice for Israel.

    If Iran goes nuclear, in the medium term absolutely everything changes in the mideast. In 1973 Israel was only able to win a conventional war because it was able to tell Nixon they'd go nuclear if he didn't support them. Since 1973 the various Arab countries have been resigned to living next to an undefeatable neighbor. Were this sense of resignation and inevitable mediocrity to lift, the mideast would almost certainly change entirely.

    Hezbollah was Iran's chokehold on Israel; i.e. any attack on Iran would have resulted in Hezbollah becoming active.

    To my mind, Israel is clearing the deck prior to sorting out the Iranian nuclear imbroglio.

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  10. I'm not sure the neo-cons care if Israel uses its nuclear weapons or not. These guys would love to use America's own nuclear arsenal against Iran, even talking about "nuclear bunker busters". As for Hizballah, it is not and never has been an existential threat against Israel. HA is incapable of large-scale operations outside of Lebanon by its very nature, which precludes the air force, armor, and logistics needed to project force. Somehow I don't see even Olmert being stupid enough to think taking out HA is going to affect Iran one way or another -- Iran has missiles that'll reach Israel with or without HA in the picture, and used HA primarily as a proving ground for their own tactics and weapons, not as an integral part of Iranian military strategy.

    As for the Merkava, me bad. I hadn't looked at its specs for a *long* time. I knew it was armored with the best armor in the world (at least equivalent to the M1A1, if not better) and that normal Saggers which were all HA was supposed to have would just bounce off of the thing. Obviously the Iranians fixed that with their new warhead (they've also improved the control system beyond what was available in the 1973 war).

    One gets the impression that Iran is wanting to see exactly how well all this stuff works in actual combat. Somehow I think they're pleased as punch right now... Israel is reduced to high-altitude bombing and can't use their armor and choppers the way they'd like, and the IDF is reduced to fighting a sitzkrieg war with an army designed, like the U.S. Army, to fight a blitzkrieg war. Does not bode well if the U.S. decides upon an invasion of Iran...

    -BT

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  11. BT, you are so right on the money about the nuclear option. The neocons, who, almost to a man are volutary, if not paid, Likud operatives are dedicated to the destruction of ALL functional governments in ALL Arab countries near Israel.

    The convenience of this is that it enables US/Israeli dominance of the mineral and fossil fuel resources in the Middle East, thereby denying them to the certain economic opponents of the US through the 21st century.

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