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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Stratfor's analysis of the ground war 

Blogging from my Blackberry, so this post is long on pasting and short on analysis.

Stratfor (subscribe here) sent around an analysis of the ground war yesterday afternoon that strikes me as fairly on target.
The ground war has begun. Several Israeli brigades now appear to be operating between the Lebanese border and the Litani River. According to reports, Hezbollah forces are dispersed in multiple bunker complexes and are launching rockets from these and other locations.

Hezbollah's strategy appears to be threefold. First, force Israel into costly attacks against prepared fortifications. Second, draw Israeli troops as deeply into Lebanon as possible, forcing them to fight on extended supply lines. Third, move into an Iraqi-style insurgency from which Israel -- out of fear of a resumption of rocket attacks -- cannot withdraw, but which the Israelis also cannot endure because of extended long-term casualties. This appears to have been a carefully planned strategy, built around a threat to Israeli cities that Israel can't afford. The war has begun at Hezbollah's time and choosing.

Israel is caught between three strategic imperatives. First, it must end the threat to Israeli cities, which must involve the destruction of Hezbollah's launch capabilities south of the Litani River. Second, it must try to destroy Hezbollah's infrastructure, which means it must move into the Bekaa Valley and as far as the southern suburbs of Beirut. Third, it must do so in such a way that it is not dragged into a long-term, unsustainable occupation against a capable insurgency.

Hezbollah has implemented its strategy by turning southern Lebanon into a military stronghold, consisting of well-designed bunkers that serve both as fire bases and launch facilities for rockets. The militants appear to be armed with anti-tank weapons and probably anti-aircraft weapons, some of which appear to be of American origin, raising the question of how they were acquired. Hezbollah wants to draw Israel into protracted fighting in this area in order to inflict maximum casualties and to change the psychological equation for both military and political reasons.

Israelis historically do not like to fight positional warfare. Their tendency has been to bypass fortified areas, pushing the fight to the rear in order to disrupt logistics, isolate fortifications and wait for capitulation. This has worked in the past. It is not clear that it will work here. The great unknown is the resilience of Hezbollah's fighters. To this point, there is no reason to doubt it. Israel could be fighting the most resilient and well-motivated opposition force in its history. But the truth is that neither Israel nor Hezbollah really knows what performance will be like under pressure.

Simply occupying the border-Litani area will not achieve any of Israel's strategic goals. Hezbollah still would be able to use rockets against Israel. And even if, for Hezbollah, this area is lost, its capabilities in the Bekaa Valley and southern Beirut will remain intact. Therefore, a battle that focuses solely on the south is not an option for Israel, unless the Israelis feel a defeat here will sap Hezbollah's will to resist. We doubt this to be the case.

The key to the campaign is to understand that Hezbollah has made its strategic decisions. It will not be fighting a mobile war. Israel has lost the strategic initiative: It must fight when Hezbollah has chosen and deal with Hezbollah's challenge. However, given this, Israel does have an operational choice. It can move in a sequential fashion, dealing first with southern Lebanon and then with other issues. It can bypass southern Lebanon and move into the rear areas, returning to southern Lebanon when it is ready. It can attempt to deal with southern Lebanon in detail, while mounting mobile operations in the Bekaa Valley, in the coastal regions and toward south Beirut, or both at the same time.

There are resource and logistical issues involved. Moving simultaneously on all three fronts will put substantial strains on Israel's logistical capability. An encirclement westward on the north side of the Litani, followed by a move toward Beirut while the southern side of the Litani is not secured, poses a serious challenge in re-supply. Moving into the Bekaa means leaving a flank open to the Syrians. We doubt Syria will hit that flank, but then, we don't have to live with the consequences of an intelligence failure. Israel will be sending a lot of force on that line if it chooses that method. Again, since many roads in south Lebanon will not be secure, that limits logistics.

Israel is caught on the horns of a dilemma. Hezbollah has created a situation in which Israel must fight the kind of war it likes the least -- attritional, tactical operations against prepared forces -- or go to the war it prefers, mobile operations, with logistical constraints that make these operations more difficult and dangerous. Moreover, if it does this, it increases the time during which Israeli cities remain under threat. Given clear failures in appreciating Hezbollah's capabilities, Israel must take seriously the possibility that Hezbollah has longer-ranged, anti-personnel rockets that it will use while under attack.

Israel has been trying to break the back of Hezbollah resistance in the south through air attack, special operations and probing attacks. This clearly hasn't worked thus far. That does not mean it won't work, as Israel applies more force to the problem and starts to master the architecture of Hezbollah's tactical and operational structure; however, Israel can't count on a rapid resolution of that problem.

The Israelis have by now thought the problem through. They don't like operational compromises -- preferring highly focused solutions at the center of gravity of an enemy. Hezbollah has tried to deny Israel a center of gravity and may have succeeded, forcing Israel into a compromise position. Repeated assaults against prepared positions are simply not something the Israelis can do, because they cannot afford casualties. They always have preferred mobile encirclement or attacks at the center of gravity of a defensive position. But at this moment, viewed from the outside, this is not an option.

An extended engagement in southern Lebanon is the least likely path, in our opinion. More likely -- and this is a guess -- is a five-part strategy:

1. Insert airmobile and airborne forces north of the Litani to seal the rear of Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon. Apply air power and engineering forces to reduce the fortifications, and infantry to attack forces not in fortified positions. Bottle them up, and systematically reduce the force with limited exposure to the attackers.

2. Secure roads along the eastern flank for an armored thrust deep into the Bekaa Valley to engage the main Hezbollah force and infrastructure there. This would involve a move from Qiryat Shimona north into the Bekaa, bypassing the Litani to the west, and would probably require sending airmobile and special forces to secure the high ground. It also would leave the right flank exposed to Syria.

3. Use air power and special forces to undermine Hezbollah capabilities in the southern Beirut area. The Israelis would consider a move into this area after roads through southern Lebanon are cleared and Bekaa relatively secured, moving into the area, only if absolutely necessary, on two axes of attack.

4. Having defeated Hezbollah in detail, withdraw under a political settlement shifting defense responsibility to the Lebanese government.

5. Do all of this while the United States is still able to provide top cover against diplomatic initiatives that will create an increasingly difficult international environment.

There can be many variations on this theme, but these elements are inevitable:

1. Hezbollah cannot be defeated without entering the Bekaa Valley, at the very least.

2. At some point, resistance in southern Lebanon must be dealt with, regardless of the cost.

3. Rocket attacks against northern Israel and even Tel Aviv must be accepted while the campaign unfolds.

4. The real challenge will come when Israel tries to withdraw.

No. 4 is the real challenge. Destruction of Hezbollah's infrastructure does not mean annihilation of the force. If Israel withdraws, Hezbollah or a successor organization will regroup. If Israel remains, it can wind up in the position the United States is in Iraq. This is exactly what Hezbollah wants. So, Israel can buy time, or Israel can occupy and pay the cost. One or the other.

The other solution is to shift the occupational burden to another power that is motivated to prevent the re-emergence of an anti-Israeli military force -- as that is what Hezbollah has become. The Lebanese government is the only possible alternative, but not a particularly capable one, reflecting the deep rifts in Lebanon.

Israel has one other choice, which is to extend the campaign to defeat Syria as well. Israel can do this, but the successor regime to Syrian President Bashar al Assad likely would be much worse for Israel than al Assad has been. Israel can imagine occupying Syria; it can't do it. Syria is too big and the Arabs have learned from the Iraqis how to deal with an occupation. Israel cannot live with a successor to al Assad and it cannot take control of Syria. It will have to live with al Assad. And that means an occupation of Lebanon would always be hostage to Syrian support for insurgents.

Hezbollah has dealt Israel a difficult hand. It has thought through the battle problem as well as the political dimension carefully. Somewhere in this, there has been either an Israeli intelligence failure or a political failure to listen to intelligence. Hezbollah's capabilities have posed a problem for Israel that allowed Hezbollah to start a war at a time and in a way of its choosing. The inquest will come later in Israel. And Hezbollah will likely be shattered regardless of its planning. The correlation of forces does not favor it. But if it forces Israel not only to defeat its main force but also to occupy, Hezbollah will have achieved its goals.

The world requires your learned and speculative commentary.

25 Comments:

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jul 22, 10:11:00 AM:

And C-130 fire foghting tankers full of a flammable substance could do what?

dorf  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jul 22, 11:11:00 AM:

Analysis is wrong when asserting: It Israel has lost the strategic initiative: It must fight when Hezbollah has chosen and deal with Hezbollah's challenge. Hezbollah never expected such a response at his action and kidnapping 2 IDF soldiers. Hezbollah miscalculated and did not observed changed reality: some years ago, EU and arab countries would push Izrael into cease-fire and Israeli population would not accept full scale ground offensive into Lebanon. In the article, comparisons between Iraq and Lebanon are made. That is also compltely wrong. Imagine that half of Baghdad is populated by Kurds and 25% of souther Iraq are christians. That would change the game completely. In crushing Hezbollah you change the reality among Lebanese minorities. Christians and Druze hate Hezbollah maybe more than Israelis (they wouldn't say to BBC live..). Israel will not dissolve the lebanese army, which in fact caused many problems in Iraq. Instead, Israel needs the army to guard the southern border.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Sat Jul 22, 11:55:00 AM:

Cut off Hezbollah and kill it, if possible.

Take out Nassrallah and Mughniyeh and as much of the top leadership as possible.

Syria may want part of this fight, but I doubt it. Assad can't help but have noticed that the Israelis can buzz his palace at will and that his own flank is exposed to attack by U.S. forces, if need be. In any event, Israel might welcome the excuse to engage and destroy from the air Syrian ground forces deployed near the Lebanese border.

The longer range difficulty is to neautralize Hezbollah's influence politically. Hezbollah currently controls the largest political party in Lebanon. Destroying Hezbollah's soft and hard assets in the south of the country will polarize Lebanese opinion either in support or opposition. The Lebanese who want a free and open society should not need further instruction to understand they, too, have a dog in this fight.

As do the surrounding Arab countries. The recent condemnation of Hezbollah by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and other Arab states is encouraging. Perhaps a peace-keeping force made up of representatives from these states would have more incentive to actually enforce terms subject to an Israeli withdrawal than would a willy-nilly aggregation of UN observors. When the time is appropriate--when Lebanese forces are capable, free of Hezbollah's influence--southern Lebanon could be entrusted to Beirut's control.  

By Blogger K. Pablo, at Sat Jul 22, 12:56:00 PM:

The lynchpin here is to isolate Syria, and to deny logistical support to Hizbollah via Syria.

This can be done 1.) the easy way, by offering U.S. assurances and some support to Syria in return for verifiable monitoring/surveillance of compliance. Condi Rice might be able to achieve an agreement like this with Assad via an intermediary like Egypt or Jordan. Iran needs Syria if they intend to re-supply Hizbollah. Otherwise, those bastards will not need the French to explain why the Maginot line was ultimately useless.

2.) The hard way. Israel can quickly establish air supremacy over Syria, and U.S. forces in Iraq are positioned also to interdict any resupply (via air or land) from Iran. Assuming Iran does not attempt to transgress this interdiction regime, Hizbollah re-supply can only be taken from existing Syrian stock. Given the destabilizing nature of imposing this set of conditions on Assad, Hizbollah logistic support will likely be disrupted while Syrian internal politics takes over, and so the existing stock will stay put or be expended in a military coup or in a Syrian civil war.

The outcome of this process is admittedly uncertain, but if Assad is given an easy way/hard way choice, taking the easy way is less destabilizing to him.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jul 22, 02:19:00 PM:

The analysis was very good and I thank the writer.

#2 by K. Pablo seems right. The key is that Hez and Syria face a difficult task in provisioning of the south lebanese area. Israel's bet bet is to avoid significant infantry battles and, for lack of better words, blow hell out of anything that moves day or night. Refugees could move north but not return. NGOs would be ejected - sorry, try again later. No food, no electricity, no phones, everything jammed.

Then they tell the UN to put up or shut up. Raise and commit 100,000 troops to monitor and pacify the area for 10 years. Said troops to be under a unified commander and fully prepared to fight. None to be from Muslim nations or the US.

I believe Israel has decided the situation will end, no truce, no meaningless cease fires. Risks, brutality as needed, Geneva be damned if it means their survival.  

By Blogger nowhere girl, at Sat Jul 22, 03:20:00 PM:

DEBKA (all caveats about DEBKA apply) has an interesting report that Iran has taken charge of the war from Nasrallah, and is already flying new long-range missles into Syria.

Whether this specific report is true or not, it's impossible to lay out a "full range" of strategies and responses without considering Iran. They will not want to lose this war, even to get a political "victory" while taking a military loss.

What this does do is underscore the importance of securing the Bekaa Valley and all lines of communications and supply from Syria.

If Assad falls (and he really doesn't have any life insurance at this point; coup or assassination are possibilities that have to be considered), it's a whole new game. By itself, that would be very bad for all in the region; we could assume both an Islamist government and jihadi training camps throughout Syria. But Assad's fall will set other forces in action. An Islamist regime in Damascus would almost certainly be Sunni, which would create friction with both Iran and whatever remains of Hezbollah. The MNF in Iraq wuold have to respond, to protect western Iraq at a minimum. It's crucial to think a few moves ahead of Assad's fall, and to do that thinking now.  

By Blogger Final Historian, at Sat Jul 22, 03:31:00 PM:

Nowhere Girl is correct, in so far that we need to really start thinking ahead. What would a Lebanon without Hizb'allah look like? What would a Lebanon with Hizb'allah in control look like? What effect will there be on Syria, and its leaderships actions? Iran? The other Arab states? The ripple effects from this will be huge.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sat Jul 22, 03:54:00 PM:

What would a Lebanon without Hizb'allah look like?

With the PLO gone, and Hizb gone I think Lebanon starts to look like the Orlando of the middle east.  

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Sat Jul 22, 03:59:00 PM:

Thanks for the pasting - it's a very concise analysis of the military situation.

Questions:

1. I was watching Anderson Cooper last night and learned that Hezbollah provides a lot of social services for the Lebanese people (food/water, education/indoctrination, housing, and a "jihad reconstruction" service that fixes people's homes after bombings?!?). If Hezbollah is destroyed, it will be imperative for Israel and other interested parties to ensure that these people are not left wanting their Hezbollah back. How do you all think these functions can be there once the smoke clears?

2. If Hezbollah is doing this "social work" in Lebanon, are other terrorist organizations also doing it for their populations?

3. Should the United States increase foreign aid for social services in areas where terrorists operate? How could this work?

I'm coming at this from something of a "hearts'n'minds" angle as well as a humanitarian angle. Your thoughts?  

By Blogger Final Historian, at Sat Jul 22, 04:55:00 PM:

Screwy, I believe it was Thomas Barnett who argued that the US military needs to re-organize, and that a large part of it needs to become a kind of "system administration" unit, designed to undertake exactly that kind of re-building. I happen to agree with that. Nations/regions without infrastructure, or where that infrastructure is damaged or decaying are ripe grounds for terrorist movements. The US needs to devote itself to eliminate those "Gaps" in Barnett's parlance. Lebanon is as good a place to start as any.  

By Anonymous Yair (israel), at Sat Jul 22, 06:08:00 PM:

Yes, one possibility is: "Refugees could move north but not return ... the UN to put up or shut up. Raise and commit 100,000 troops" (By Anonymous, at Sat Jul 22, 02:19:34 PM)

Perhaps also a periodic operation? Clear the area, sign some sort of cease fire and move out. This will break down within a number of years (no real force to stop HA from regrouping). Then start again from beginning. This _will_ be bad news for Lebanon on the long term but is better than occupation for Israel.

I think the real problem is the sort range missiles in South Leb. The bigger ones (in the Bakaa) can be handled by the IAF.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jul 22, 06:56:00 PM:

"Hezbollah wants to draw Israel into protracted fighting in this area in order to inflict maximum casualties and to change the psychological equation for both military and political reasons."

This is what Bin Laden wanted to do to the US in Afghanistan and what Saddam Hussein wanted to do to the US in Iraq. It's based on a misreading of what happened in Somalia and Vietnam. The misunderstanding is that western democracies don't cut and run when their vital interests are at stake. This is why Israel will destroy Hezbullah.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Sat Jul 22, 06:58:00 PM:

Let's not forget that Israel always has an ace in the hole -- it is an undeclared nuclear power. If its forces were threatened by Syria and those forces could not be evacuated or resupplied, and Syria (with Iranian backing) decided to actively move against Israel, it quickly escalates into an existential war for Israel. At that point, all bets are off, and the Olmert can make a decision that ends the war in less time than it takes to broadcast a CNN special. Taking out Damascus and Tehran would have far reaching consequences, but I suppose it solves the West's problem of Iranian nuclear power/weapons development, at least for the forseeable future.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jul 22, 07:04:00 PM:

I was the anon who spoke of 100,000 troops, etc.

to Yair: I am perhaps more anti-UN than pro-Israeli. If the UN will not help - and help with force that means something - then regard them as defunct, spit towards them, and be brave.

It seems that Israel decided to up the stakes come what may. And they certainly have been taking enough from Hez and Gaza.

The world can now see that Hez in Lebanon had become s real military force determined to damage Israel by any means available.

Prior to this Hez was hardly in the news in the US. Our media tended to portray them as a few hundred inept guys who occasionally shot across the border.  

By Blogger panther33, at Sat Jul 22, 07:53:00 PM:

Screwy,
You asked: "3. Should the United States increase foreign aid for social services in areas where terrorists operate? How could this work?"

Hez does provide social services that many in South Lebanon depend on. But they also provide something else far more powerful to the Shia of South Lebanon:an ideology that plausibly claims ascendancy and greatness for their ethnic group. Thus, outcompeting Hez for Lebanese hearts/minds on the basis of social services provided will not be possible until this ideology (that so many Lebanese fervently believe) is convincingly defeated.

One recalls that Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were pretty fair providers of social services in their own right. But before anyone else could come in and provide a competing version of social welfare, the ideology supporting the whole structure had to be destroyed.

As in WWII, the war cannot be truly won unless the Hezbollah/jihadist ideology is shown to be a lost cause to those who follow it.

A tough challenge, to be sure, but not impossible.  

By Blogger quantum, at Sat Jul 22, 08:22:00 PM:

Wars only end when you attack the center of gravity of the enemy.

What if we ignored the "political realities" and viewed the stage as the entire Middle East, not a seperate Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi, and Iranian problems but as one "field of bottle". Considering that, if Anglo (Israel was a British colony, after all) coalition is following a legitimate battle plan, it should begin to react across the field.

One other thing -- perhaps what is going on here is that America feels it can't defeat the threat from Islamist guerilla movements due to asymettrical advantages. In order to crush the Islamist threat, do we need for them to take over state governments? Then, fight a more "recognized" war which allows for a kind of victory?

Just jawboning here...  

By Blogger K. Pablo, at Sat Jul 22, 08:33:00 PM:

Quantum, it is conventional wisdom that the U.S. armed forces are second to none in pitched battles. I think if Iran did something foolish like pour Revolutionary Guard Units across the Iraqi border (as threatened by Iran's General Yahya Rahim Safavi)in open large unit warfare, they can expect a lot of problems.

I doubt, however, that it is U.S. policy to maneuver the Iranians into committing such a step.  

By Blogger Ed Nutter, at Sat Jul 22, 10:28:00 PM:

Just a thought on those fortified centers from which the Hiz launch rockets and operations.

How many of those 21,000 lb MOAB bombs, and their older 15,000 lb Daisy Cutter cousins do we have in stock? I wonder if Israel would like some. They would rattle some cages as well as some china.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jul 22, 10:53:00 PM:

The U.N. is not a solution. Russia and China and probably also France as well as a majority of petty dictatorial regimes in the general assembly will see to that. Rather it will be a thorn in the side of anyone trying to reach a workable solution. Better to let them send their diplomats and have their meetings and let them posture and strut and keep them on the sidelines.  

By Blogger Jake, at Sat Jul 22, 11:48:00 PM:

It is clear that Israel must separate Hizbollah installations in the south from their Bekka Valley logistical support. As Stratfor notes, the key to this is controlling Syria's ability to restock the Bekka bases, as the risks of a sustained Israeli incursion into the valley are just too great. My bet is that Israel will move to the Litani River and establish that as the northern extent of the buffer zone. They'll continue a heavy air game to destroy rocket installations north of the zone and try to lock resupplies in the Bekka Valley by controlling the air. Beyond that, they don't have a lot of options.

However, it would appear that the US is lining up the moderate Sunni states to pressure Syria to realign itself away from Iran (cutting Hizbollah from its supplies). That may take a lot of carrots, but it may be possible if Bush finds it somewhere in his heart to start dumping billions on Assad in exchange for his forfeiting Iran, Hizbollah and most importantly, the klepltocracy Syria has been running in Lebanon for thiry years.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sun Jul 23, 02:25:00 AM:

"...That may take a lot of carrots, but it may be possible if Bush finds it somewhere in his heart to start dumping billions on Assad in exchange for his forfeiting Iran..."

Doesn't work that way. Congress controls the budget, specifically the House, not the President, and I can assure you that the idea of giving 'billions' to Syria, for any reason, will never ever fly in the House of Representatives.

It wouldn't be smart anyway. Do you really think we could trust the Syrians to completely alter their means of governing and acting in the region? Where do you think that money would end up afterwards? -> In the form of Hezb Allah and co.'s (or maybe some new pawn) armaments/bunkers/etc., a boosted Syrian military, (courtesy of Russia, I'm sure) an instant slush fund with which to recruit spies or dole out to terrorists, and so forth. And don't forget infuriating Israel, Jordan, and Iraq (none of whom get along with Syria) and altering the regional balance of power.  

By Anonymous Gary Rosen, at Sun Jul 23, 02:45:00 AM:

The flaw in this analysis is that Hizbullah has only a finite supply of rockets. I believe that Israel's "disproportionate" response targeting Lebanese infrastructure (and not just Hizbullah personnel) was intended to prevent the terrorists from being resupplied. Between Israel destroying rockets and Hizbullah launching them at Israeli cities they will run out eventually, maybe in 6-8 weeks. Israel will have to tough it out but without rockets Hizbullah is a paper tiger.

Disclaimer: I have no military experience and I'm talking out my ass. But at least I admit it :^).  

By Blogger Nemesis, at Sun Jul 23, 11:21:00 AM:

Stratfor's analysis seems really dated to me. I doubt the Israelis are really that lacking in imagination. I also think Stratfor is giving Hezbollah more credit that it deserves. I look for some interesting developments in the week's ahead.  

By Blogger Jake, at Sun Jul 23, 03:59:00 PM:

@Dawnfire82

My somewhat flippant reference of "dumping billions" on Assad was meant to describe the type of "peace for dollars" deal we did with Egypt. That was a pure buyout and has been going on for thirty years now. (Interesting fact: Begin and Sadaat negotiated that deal before even approaching Carter. The only thing left when they got to Washington was the price Carter would pay to get the handshake on the evening news. Pretty expensive handshake, if you ask me.)

As TigerHawk notes in his latest post, we are supposed to be beyond the age of buying out Middle East despots, but I'm betting Bush would do a deal in the face of "international pressure'. Even as I write, Syria is threatening to get into the shooting war. I suspect this is an effort to set up a better deal coming out of the back end of this whole thing, although I'll have to eat those words if on Tuesday we see Syrian planes in dog fights above the Bekaa Valley.

Anyway, I fully understand who holds the purse strings in this republic and was assuming that Bush could rally his political allies on capitol hill if it came to that.  

By Blogger Chris, at Mon Jul 24, 11:12:00 AM:

Superb. Israel cannot get out of this without going at the Iranians in the Bekaa. It will come to that. However, they MUST fully mobilize to do this, in order to overwhelm Hezzies in the South. They must do this while a political consensus exists in Israel to do this.

They cannot get out of this box without going full tilt at Hezboallah.  

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