Thursday, July 27, 2006

Bombing to Lose

One of the problems faced by the Israelis has undoubtedly been the (understandable) reliance upon air power. If the effort is truly to destroy Hizballah, then an airpower driven effort is surely doomed to fail and I can think of no happy precedents to convince me otherwise. Even if the aim is rather less than this, it still represents an extremely high-risk/low-payoff way of going about things.

In the event of an extended bombing campaign against what is to all intents and purposes an insurgent group, the Israelis are going to rapidly find themselves running out of viable targets. This leaves three main options:

  1. Call a halt
  2. Broaden the target menu and rules of engagement
  3. Launch a land invasion

If the first option is taken, it begs the question - what was the point in the first place? At the tactical/operational level the Hizb will be back to full strength in a very short period of time. Stockpiles can be replenished. There is a large manpower pool. The Israelis will have inflicted a temporary inconvenience, quite possibly (though not certainly) at the cost of destroying the Lebanon. It's very hard to spin this as other than a strategic defeat.

The second option will lead inevitably to higher civilian casualties, greater outside condemnation and an even greater chance of internal Lebanese collapse, with no matching increased likelihood of strategic success.

Option three is fantastically risky to the point of being nuts. Of course, you can listen to the funny little people in sections of the commentariat (you know who they are) who have convinced themselves, apparently with the help of the usual unnamed "sources", that the Lebanese people will be just cock-a-hoop at a semi-permenant Israeli presence in their country. You are, of course, fully entitled to take the view that Munich 1938 has more to tell us about the current situation than... oh, I dunno... the Lebanon 1982-2000. But I wouldn't commend it. What will be guarenteed is mounting Israeli and civilian casualties and the real risk that Hizballah will be energised and the Anglo-American position in Iraq further compromised.

As for the Cedar Revolution - forget about it. Although it suits us to focus on the pretty, young pro-Western, broadly favourable to the Israelis, photogenic type people who seemed at the forefront of the action, like most successful revolutions the Cedar Revolution represents a broad coalition of interests. Let's forget for a moment the fact that the bombing campaign has alienated many of the previously pro-Israeli young liberals. Another, perhaps more important, grouping are those Lebanese who are simply fed up of communalism and outsider interference. These nationalists, perhaps best exemplified by General Michel Aoun, may be anti-Syrian but that does not make them pro-Israeli. The idea that they are going to welcome the Israelis using their country as a field for their own battles, or will buy into US rhetoric about Middle Eastern transformation, is naive to the point of criminal foolhardiness.

But in order to "win" in the Lebanon, the Israelis will have to find coalition partners from within the Lebanese population. For reasons noted above, they are likely to find this harder in 2006 than they did in 1982. However, even if they can the implications hardly bear thinking about. Effectively to further their purposes they will have to stoke, encourage and cement precisely the sort of inter-communal, inter-confessional tension that so many people, both in the West and among the Lebanese population, have been working so hard to minimalise.

Now, it's become abundantly apparent - and this is something I'll try to address at a later time - that sections of the US commentariat think this is a price that it would be just peachy to pay.

I non-respectfully disagree.

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