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26 February 2007

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PrahaPartizan

Ah, there's nothing quite like an elastic defense in depth. HB's probably dusting off those old Imperial German Army operational manuals to see how the original pros conducted a tough defense.

arbogast

Isn't the other side of this coin the increasing lack of interest in war that exists in the Israeli population?

Sure, the crazies "have the microphone" in the words of our President, but they are a small and getting smaller minority.

I don't see Israel attacking on the ground in force again. Air strikes? Oh, I would say those brave pilots are always ready to drop a few cluster bombs on civilians. It beats working. But Army grunts going into South Lebanon? I don't see it happening.

Of course, US Army shleppers could do it for them. Oh, wait. Nope, won't work. Otherwise engaged.

Chris Marlowe

Nasrallah talks in this posting about what he thinks is the US plan for the ME:

http://www.moonofalabama.org/2007/02/hersh_some_roug.html

D.Witt

I'd say this is a call to deal with the Shebaa Farms issue once and for all--Syria, Lebanon and Israel have been playing political football with it for years, so force a compromise and have the UN occupy and monitor it as a DMZ.

zanzibar

I am no military strategist but would not the approach to hardened and networked defenses be a significant ground force invasion? I am sure that would probably mean serious casualties. Is the IDF prepared for that? But probably they are counting on inside forces that would divert HA having to fight an advancing IDF as well as Hariri militias on the inside.

What is disconcerting about all these stories are all sides are preparing and girding for major conflict and not descalating. As was reported on SST some time ago the Israel-US-Saudi alliance is funding and arming Sunni militias in Lebanon. Now the corporate media is catching on to it and even alluding that some of these "militias" may have ties to AQ.

It seems the anti-Shia alliance is being armed to "reshape" the Middle East now that the Decider and Darth reshaped it to the benefit of Iran and their Shia allies in Iraq and removed the Taliban another thorn for Iran in Afghanistan. Then our ally in the GWOT Pakistan has been providing sanctuary and possibly funding/arms through ISI to AQ and Taliban forces who are regrouping.

The bottom line to me is that what we have is a more destabilized Middle East, resurgent Jihadists who now have better training and real battle experience and Darth's new covert strategy that could backfire even worse. Its amazing that Darth with his poor judgment and utter failure in all his national security policy strategies over the past few years is still the captain of the ship. Are there any life rafts??

Leila

So does this mean that the Israelis/Americans are going to use nuclear bunker busters on Hizbullah? At this point I am willing to believe my government is capable of almost anything. God help us all.

David Habakkuk

Last August, Ray Close pointed out that the availability to Hizballah of missiles of increasing range from Iran would render the relevance of the area south of the Litani as a buffer zone questionable. The increasing sophistication and cheapness of guidance technology in all kinds of fields is very evident, so one would expect a steady increase in the accuracy of missiles available to Hizballah. Does this mean that Hizbullah, left unchecked, is going to be able in the relatively near future to acquire a very powerful ‘counter-deterrent’ to Israel; and if so, does that work as a ‘counter-deterrent’ on behalf of Iran, and even in some circumstances to the United States? (If this is so, what likely timescale are we talking about?)

Ray Close also suggested that ‘it was only the absence of a reliable guidance system that prevented massive killing of Israeli civilians by thousands of Katyusha rockets --- a technological gap that can and will be filled in a very short time, no doubt’: but presumably here the limitations of range are more important?

If indeed there is the kind of concerted effort Hizbullah believes is underway, involving the US, Israel, and the Saudis, to neutralise its political power (and thus the eventual threat to Israel) does this have any realistic prospects of success? If not, are the Israelis likely to believe that their only prospect of long-term security lies in dealing decisively with Iran before it is too late?

Ray Close ended the piece suggesting that the ‘bombastic and posturing style of “diplomacy”’ pursued by the Bush Administration was going to ‘lead inescapably’ either to ‘War with Iran (with negative consequences beyond anyone's ability to imagine’ or ‘Another humiliating demonstration of impotence.'

All this does rather have a summer of 1914 feel to it!

still working it out

Do you think that Hezbollah will have figured out how to keep the medium range rockets operational in the face of Israeli air power? And will they use them if they have ?

Mo

Col,
In regards to the Times report, I would be wary. The writer, Nick Blanford, has been based in Lebanon for a long time and writes locally for the English language Daily Star; a very pro-Saudi, pro-govt. anti-Hizbollah paper.

In regards to the dual approach, I think the situation is more complex than stated.

Locally, there is a push for a greater share of power. This push is causing a political stalemate and has put the country in limbo. The big fear though for Western powers is not so much they getting increased power but the demanded changes in electoral law. A change from a non-secterian system would most likely deliver them even greater power.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is perplexing many observers with its actions. On the one hand they are saying all the right things and making all the right anti-Iranian noises, and Bandar seems to be the defacto head of the Saudi regional team and his Western leanings are well documented. On the other hand their recent actions do not seem so wedded to the Amercan cause. The Mecca deal between the Palestinians was a major shock and seemed to have rather put Ms Rices' nose out of joint. And now there are rumours that they are pressuring the Hariri clan to accept the opposition demands and it is only Jumblat and Geagea, the leaders of the Druze and Lebanese Forcees respectively, who oppose the plans, most likely because they, being the most minor members, have the most to lose.
Is there a Bandar strategy and an Abdullah strategy and are they competing or playing both sides of the street?
That the US and Israel are working against Hizbollah is no secret and certainly nothing new. Since the end of the civil war, the US has been happy to let Israel do the dirty work in Lebanon. The worry for most Lebanese, from what I hear, is not so much another Israeli attack on the country but the consequences (intended or not) of the US undertaking its own black hat operations in the country. Hizbollah always expects an attack from the South; It does after all happen on a regular basis.
I really don't see how Hizbollahs power in Lebanon should confer greater influence for Iran in the wider ME. Yes, Hizbollah was and is incredibly popular, even among Sunnis, and if they were to attain greater power in Lebanon, it is assumed that corruption would all but disappear. However, they cannot rule alone or even in a great majority as a single party; And while their military and intelligence abilities have been proved beyond doubt, there is no reason to believe that they could do or want to run a country.

On the second point, Im not sure if by a "new line" you mean they have moved the line they will defend northwards or are implementing a second line. The front line is the front line not by choice but by the fact that those border villages such as Maroun Al-Ras, Bint Jbeil and so on are where these guys live. Therefore this will always be the front line and the first line of defense. The line North of the Litani was supposed to be where the Hizbollah regulars were to fight the Israelis. From what I understand, the ability of the guys in the villages to hold off the Israeli ground forces was as much of a surprise to the Hizbollah leadership as it was to the Israelis. If there is any fortification going on north of the Litani it is, I propose, based on the fact that the Litani is the Israeli pay-off. Before the US-Israeli plans drawn uplast year to "take out" Hizbollah, the Israelis were content with the status quo; Hizbollah were nothing but an irratant. They posed no "existential" threat and never will, no matter how powerful they get. Therefore any attack on Lebanon would have required some sort of pay-off for the Israelis (keeping in mind that the plans were drawn up before the capture of the 2 soldiers gave them an excuse). That pay off, for a country that is 5-10 years away from not having enough water supply for its population, that is poisoning the current supplies and aquifers at an alarming rate, is the Litani: the only body of water in the ME that begins and ends in the same country. That is also why the Israelis will never give up the Shebaa or the Golan.

One final twist to the whole environment is the recent involvement of the Lebanese army in clashes with the Israelis. It seems that Hizbollah are happy now to allow the Army to do the active defense of the border. It also means that if another Israeli onslaught starts and the Lebanese army is the first to confront it, then Hizbollah and its arms will, once it is involved, be seen as even more legitimate and its support will only increase.


Im not sure about the anti-aircraft capability. I sincerely hope they have managed to bring in some meaningful anti-air stuff. If they manage to minimise or nuetralise the aerial threat Israel will be well and truly humbled.

confusedponderer

I progressed in Scheuer's 'Through our Enemies' Eyes' and I found it interesting he mentioned that Bin Laden's greatest practical contribution to the Afghan Jihad -- funding, organising and training trigger happy Arab volunteers into disciplined formidable fighters aside -- was combat engeneering and building fortified positions and underground facilities.

The step to better harden and better camouflage positions in response to superior enemy firepower is natural and sensible. That's what the German army did during WW-II in Italy's mountains when the allies approached. That's what Hezbollah did in last summer's war.
And it seems Hezbollah took the German fortification rule to heart: 'effect before protection', and regard fortifications as a means to an end, not vice versa. Hezbollah was impressive in actually displaying not only discipline but 'fire discipline'. No spray and pray there.

It seems that is a lesson that eventually has sunk in among Arab quasi-regulars -- that harened fighting positions are imperative to deal with the high precision firepower opponents like Israel and the US can bring to bear, and that from such positions you can fight successful and decisive, even be victorious. I think we can expect to see more of that.

dan

Mo

There is one banker lesson from the war last summer and it is that the IDF had no obvious plan for the war at all ( unless it was some double-super-secret head-fake ), had done little, if any, contingency preparation, and had no strategy beyond aerial bombing and hoping that it would achieve some kind of result.

At the start of the war Olmert outlined a series of maximalist objectives - none of which were fulfilled, the aerial campaign backfired politically and failed tactically to stem the firing of rockets across the border to the extent that the last 24 hours of the conflict saw the largest Hizbullah barrage of the conflict.

A British defence analyst, Robert Fox, made an interesting observation right at the beginning of the war: that what the Israelis were doing was all tactics and no strategy.

Given the number of Israeli aviation losses - at least 7 that I'm aware of - and the apparent unwillingness to use attack helicopters over South Lebanon, it is likely that Hizbullah had some air defense assets from the get-go.

The current facts on the ground make it extraordinarily difficult for the Israelis to intervene militarily in South Lebanon absent a Hizbullah offensive. This, I suspect, is the reason behind the second-track of arming Sunni militants as part of the domestic Lebanese opposition to Hizbullah. Hizbullah are quite happy for the Lebanese army to take some of the strain - it's a no-lose position at present: if the army is incompetent, unwilling or incapable then HA win, if the army stands and fights - with Hizbullah - the resistance becomes further entrenched and "nationalised".

James

Col. Lang,

While I too, am not a military strategist, it would seem to me that HB's defense tactics make perfect sense - maximizes their strengths (terrain, local support, protection from air attacks, concentrates thier limited firepower, etc.) and minimizes their disadvantages (being out gunned, out manned).

Given Sy Hersh's most recent New Yorker article where he describes the attempts to isolate HB as part fo a larger Shia/Sunni conflict, your other comments alos make perfect sense. I think we all would like to hear your take on the other points made in the article - clandestine ops, support for Sunni groups linked to al-Queda, Negroponte's resignation, and the DoD taking over covert ops so that they are removed from Congressional oversight.

JfM

Mo, your observations on the underlying water issues are spot on! Over the years the Israeli government has successfully cloaked their continued interest in South Lebanon in terms of security. But, for those who have been really paying attention, the bigger issue has always been about water. Jerusalem’s sustained vitality coupled with the Israelis’ continued encroachment of Palestinian land depends at the most basic level on future water access. Thus the attraction of South Lebanon, the Litani River and finally the retention of the Golan.

For a couple months in 1979-80 I was an unarmed military observer assigned to the multinational UN observer group assisting the recently-deployed, larger, and armed UN force in South Lebanon, UNIFIL. One of our priority patrol tasks as we cruised around the hard rock hills within the UN security zone was reporting on suspected or possible Israeli water diversion efforts. When I returned some six years later as the then chief of the same UN observer group in South Lebanon, the important patrol tasks again focused on protecting Lebanon’s water resources. Discussion of what the UN then knew regarding Israel’s water diversion and encroachments remain contentious even today and probably best not tabled here.

An interesting aside was the rather dramatic shift in the population within the UN area of operation largely as a result of the Israeli incursion during the intervening years. Simplistically the security challenge we confronted in 1979-80 was protecting the native Lebanese Shia from the fairly pervasive and certainly better armed Palestinian crowd who’d moved in having been displaced from Jordan during the dark days of September 1970, Black September. By my 1986 return the Palestinians were largely corralled and the restive native Shia were getting ever more militant with the oppressive Israeli occupation. I want to be clear: Israel’s ham-handed conduct in their illegal protracted occupation contributed significantly to the Shia threat now faced.

Watching last summer’s dust-up with the latest Israelis move North was simultaneously remarkable and tragic. I noted how few factors had changed and how many more had simply stayed unmoved. I was mildly impressed (although hardly surprised) with HB’s ability to hand the IDF their kosher backside more than once. One great leveler to IDF superiority remains the inhospitable terrain found almost immediately across the ADL. Fighting success in South Lebanon demands dismounted infantry; the most inimical form of combat for the Israelis population. I did reaffirm my previous conviction that HB has broken the code on success against Israel.

Another outcome of this past summer’s shoot-em-up should have been the definitive debunking of the outside world’s long-held myth of the seeming invincibility of IDF prowess. Israel’s key defense is their air force. Unfortunately what drew world opprobrium was use of their use of that force. The IAF’s core competency of air-to-air superiority will probably never be tested again and bombing housing areas simply is no longer acceptable. The IDF is a good ground force made better by usually fighting an ill-organized group of rock throwing kids in the occupied areas. Up against a better armed more conventional opponent, the IDF is seen as no great shakes. An analogous NATO force, for example the Norwegians, would go through them like corn thru a goose. The IDF should thank God they have Arabs for enemies.

Further my conclusions of living within the Promised Land on three occasions remain constant: specifically that Israel must sustain external enemies for their own purposes. The central theme of Israel’s very existence has always been “the enemy at the gates”. The worst of all outcomes for Tel Aviv would have to respond to the outbreak of general regional peace. Inflation could not longer be rationalized by maintaining a marshal posture. US support in the form of our vital security assistance may well dry up. Public clamor to end conscription would result in spikes of unemployment, and the ingrained glue of being “besieged” which holds the diverse tribe together may quickly melt. No, Israel needs turmoil and regional conflict to breathe.

Will

have another looksee

"TheTabouleh Line

He identified the Hizbollah defense not as classic guerilla tactics but as a defensive "belt" which he calls the Tabouleh Line. These were linked and fortified defensive positions integrated with the terrain and sited for mutual support. He had previously explored that concept in a paper written during the Cold War.[4] Lang has also applied an analytical criterion to determine who won the conflict:

"A basic lesson of history is that one must win on the battlefield to dictate the peace. A proof of winning on the battlefield has always been possession of that battlefield when the shooting stops. Those who remain on the field are just about always believed to have been victorious. Those who leave the field are believed to be the defeated."[5]

He believes that Hezbollah is building a new Tabouleh line north of the Litani River on high ground just outside the UNIFIL zone.[5] "
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Patrick_Lang#Blog_and_punditry

i think the rockets will still be fired from the old area. they were set off by regular farmers and contract laboreres. Mostly from orange orchards and farms from prepared sites. Not from trucks or houses. thermal blankets were then thrown over the pods to hide the thermal signature, so reported Z. Schiff in Haaretz.

the new seymour hersh article is scary. Cheney-bandar-bolton is throwing in their lot w/ Salafists-Al-Qaida in Lebanon just to recruit muscle against HA. Have they learned nothing from UBL/OBL

backsdrummer

Often the best way to attack a prepared defense is to surprise the defenders, breaking into their defenses before they are fully ready to resist.

So the first question for me, if a future conflict should arise, is could Hizbollah concentrate its fighters in the new positions before the area is occupied by Israeli ground forces? It would appear Hizbollah relies heavily on irregulars, many/most must of traveled from their homes and workplaces to the hidden armories in the last conflict before they could be issued heavy equipment and integrated into the defense. In the last conflict, the long air-bombardment gave them plenty of time for this. They may not be given that luxury of time again.

Now if the article is correct, the Lebanese Army and the Multi-nationals end up inadvertenly providing Hizbollah's new defenses a security screen/buffer zone that will help prevent an Israeli surprise ground attack and also help uncover the main axis of advance of any future ground attack. Now there's an unexpected consequence.

So my second question would be, should the Israeli Army decide on a surprise ground attack, how would they deal with the "peace-keepers"? You got to figure any deal made to get them to step aside will take time and also will not remain a secret from Hizbollah. Bullying their way through would still take some time and likely produce some very ugly incidents, that could overshadow any military victory.

I don't see any good Israeli options. My guess is they will settle on a proxy war, but you just never know.

Marcello

"it was only the absence of a reliable guidance system that prevented massive killing of Israeli civilians by thousands of Katyusha rockets --- a technological gap that can and will be filled in a very short time, no doubt’"

Not so fast. What they used were essentially unguided, fin and spin stabilized artillery rockets. Such weapons are simple and easy to manufacture, if inaccurate.
A guidance system means adding powered control surfaces with the associated mechanisms as well as electronics capable of getting the missile where it is supposed to go. And while it is possible to build a reasonabley cheap system using a GPS receiver such teqnique is susceptible to the obvious US countermeasure of degrading the GPS signal available in a given area.
The others options rely on scanning the terrain and matching it with memorized maps. Such systems are very complicate and expensive and this is the reason why very few countries have long range missiles with accurate land attack capabilities.

Will

Zounds. Blowback to the NeoKon line.

Times has its ear to the pulsebeat on more than HA.

"A British defence source confirmed that there were deep misgivings inside the Pentagon about a military strike. “All the generals are perfectly clear that they don’t have the military capacity to take Iran on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it and it would be a matter of conscience for them.

“There are enough people who feel this would be an error of judgment too far for there to be resignations.”

A generals’ revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented. “American generals usually stay and fight until they get fired,” said a Pentagon source. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, has repeatedly warned against striking Iran and is believed to represent the view of his senior commanders "

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/iraq/article1434540.ece

DL

Colonel:

Last summer I read here about Lebanon closely, and was really impressed by your postings, and by the quality of the commentary generally.

Lebanon was the first time in my lifetime that I saw good armor and armored infantry thwarted for a significant period of time by irregular light infantry operating from well-prepared positions.

As a naif, I was pretty impressed.

Questions:

1.How important was this event to serious military thinkers and writers--How important was the "lesson" in the grand scheme of things?

2.And if you have some practical manuals and other types of writings or links that further describe this defensive technique and its limitations/advantages, perhaps post them over at the Athenaeum, if you get a chance.

I'd like to read more. I imagine others might too.


Thanks

ali

"The system of defenses were well sited for mutual support and cleverly integrated into the natural terrain and in the built up areas of the mountain villages where the roads ran through the villages."

I'm not doubting the cunning of the engineering but aren't we talking about essentially village by village defense by Hez reserves? They were skilled,highly motivated in defense of their homes and degraded the IDF down to positional warfare. The use of concealed Katyusha tubes is was remarkable but in the end not much more than a firework display.

I have some doubts that an IDF blitzkrieg will be as easily confused by a low rent maginot line next time. The Israelis will learn from such hard tutoring.

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/pubPDFs/PolicyFocus63.pdf

"Also, though Hizballah’s small units displayed a great deal
of mobility within their villages and individual areas
of operations, Hizballah’s decentralized organization
forced them to fight a more or less static defense. There
was no question of units retreating or moving forward
to support another unit because the Israeli Air Force
(IAF) had successfully isolated the villages and fortifications
from which they were fighting."

W. Patrick Lang

All

I think the right analogy for this defense type is Okinawa in the Shuri Line.

Sure. Israel can break through such defenses, but will they want to pay the price?

Surprise? There will be no surprise and Lebanon is a small country. It does not take long to mobilize on position. pl

Mo

Dan, what ever strategy had been developed was ripped up in the first 2 days. Much unreported in the Western media is that the Israeli ground offensive started in the second day. They recieved such a beating that the ground offensive ended on the third day. They then resorted to the air campaign, hoping that by obliterating all access routes and destroying all known bases of operation they could weaken Hizbollah and hopefully turn the Lebanese against them.
Yes, the SAMs they had seemed to put the Israelis off using Helicopters but obviously its the planes that are the problem. It was the damage that the planes were doing to the country that made Hizbollah agree to the ceasefire.

The current facts on the ground do make it difficult for the Israelis. But do not understimate, a. their arrogance and b. their indifference to killing UN soldiers. The only unknown for them would be how much this "beefed up" UNIFIL would be willing to take them on.
In terms of arming their Lebanese opponents, I would say the arming of Geageas Lebanese Forces is by far the greater threat to the country than any Sunni forces.

Jfm,
Your experiences make for a very interesting read. Have you been back in Lebanon since 86? You will find a very different country to the one you saw (some for the better, some for the worse). I agree, Israel needs enemies to continue to rake in the support. But, as long as water is a problem, time is its biggest enemy.

Marcello,
"such teqnique is susceptible to the obvious US countermeasure of degrading the GPS signal available in a given area."

Would that not also make Israeli hardware also useless? And considering their no1 tool last summer ,the "UM Kamel", or drone plane, relies on GPS, would they want this countermeasure used?

Ali, the defense was village by village; the lines of communication were not. And defense is only static if you are not pushing your enemy back. The Israelis were pushed back on most occassions and a reliable source told me that on one occasion the Hizbollah fighters had to stop themselves advancing as they realised they were about to enter Israel itself.

Tom S

Interesting that the examples cited by posters of the construction of static defences in depth are all by the side that ultimately lost.

I think Hezbollah is making a major mistake by relying on fixed fortifications to protect themselves from Israel. They do not appear to have figured out that their success was due to Israeli incompetence on the intelligence front and in carrying out the ground offensive. Unless the IDF is even more incompetent than they seemed last year, the strength of Hezbollah's fortifications will not be a suprise, and the IDF will have devised methods of dealing with the defenses. Hezbollah is getting awfully close to trying to fight Israel on Israel's terms. If Israel decides that it must pay the price in casualties to winkle Hezbollah out of its fortifications, the result will be a disasterous, possibly permanent, defeat for Hezbollah.

Leila

Who wrote above "bombing housing areas simply is no longer acceptable."

That's wishful thinking. The US is bombing housing areas under our putative control in Baghdad right now. (See Juan Cole from this past weekend 2/25/07) Israel has been bombing housing areas in Lebanese territory for 35 years - they're Palestinians, so they're "terrorists" and it doesn't matter to Israel or its ally, America.

In fact, I saw very little real complaint in the USA against the Israelis for bombing housing areas in Lebanon. Lefties complained, yes, but no real complaint in the mainstream media. Certainly not from government.

On what basis do you make the claim that bombing housing areas is no longer viable because no longer acceptable to the public?

It's unacceptable to me, of course, but I feel myself in a distinct minority outside of a few very liberal enclaves in the USA.

still working it out

"The others options rely on scanning the terrain and matching it with memorized maps. Such systems are very complicate and expensive and this is the reason why very few countries have long range missiles with accurate land attack capabilities."

It might not be long before that all changes. With digital camera's now dirt cheap, digitised maps easily available and pretty good image processing software now practical on cheap computers it will not be very hard to combine them into a crude terrain guided system. It will be beyond the capabilities of HB. But a smart medium sized state could probably acheieve it.

On top of this inertial guidance systems that in the past were prohibitively expensive are now relatively cheap. The Nintendo Wii has a controller that can sense its motion quite accurately using a chip that costs only a few dollars with a built in inertia sensor.

You would only need a team of a few dozen capable people to turn any one of the above two technologies into a guidance system that would be free of GPS dependence, very accurate and pretty cheap as well. If you could combine them you could get capabilities as good as early generation precision systems which would be plenty considering the relatively short range they will have to operate across.

David Habakkuk

Marcello points out that the cost-effective method of increasing the precision of Hizballah missiles, GPS, is 'susceptible to the obvious US countermeasure of degrading the GPS signal available in a given area.'

Mo points out that such degrading might also create problems for the Israelis.

Looking medium term, do either the European Galileo or the Russian Glonass systems provide alternatives to GPS? Are they technically suited for missile guidance? And could it be expected that their political controllers would disable them in time of war?

My curiosity is only partly related to the Lebanon. It seems to me that the question of how far precision-guided missile technology becomes more widely available has major implications in all kinds of areas.

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