L’ultima analisi della Stratfor
Geopolitical Diary: A War Measured in Half-Miles
August 07, 2006 09 10 GMT
The war in Lebanon continues. Israel continued to send confusing signals during the weekend, with the Jerusalem Post reporting that the Israelis do not intend to go as far north as the Litani and the Syrians saying that they would join the war if the Israelis bomb Syrian territory. The United States and France offered a cease-fire proposal that was rejected by the Lebanese and the Syrians, but not by Hezbollah, and the United Nations proceeded at its own stately and inefficient pace. The war appears to be moving forward at a pace as slow as molasses, as the saying goes.
This view is, in fact, deceptive. The war is going as quickly as it can under the circumstances. Hezbollah is clearly well armed, well motivated and, above all, well dug-in. The Israelis do not plan to take any more casualties than are needed. That means extremely slow going, as strong point after strong point is systematically attacked while the Israelis try to avoid tactical mistakes. That sort of careful, meticulous attack against competent forces takes a long time.
Hezbollah has the advantage of the defense. It also is configured that Hezbollah is, in any reasonable time frame, immune to Israel’s favorite mobile tactics. They are not dependent on lines of supply or communication. This is also Hezbollah’s disadvantage: They will not be re-supplied or reinforced, nor will they be able to move to the offensive. Israeli firepower and its concentration of force are too great for that. But it is clear that Hezbollah’s bunkers are also its launch sites, or that the two are collocated. That means that the Israelis cannot simply ignore the bunkers. They must systematically and in detail destroy them, and do so with minimal exposure to Hezbollah fire.
That is a war that takes a long time. A great deal is happening, but all of it measured tactically and strategically in half-miles, not in dozens of miles. If the Israelis are going to eliminate the threat in southern Lebanon, it must be eliminated in very small steps, which is why the war appears to be at a standstill. But it is at a standstill only from the outside. Inside it is a slow, brutal meat-grinder, and it will take as long as it takes.
But in the end, even if the Israelis do go to the Litani, they will not have solved their strategic problem. As we have discussed, to the point that we are as bored with it as you, the rocket threat does not stop at the Litani. Nor does the existence of Hezbollah depend on south Lebanon alone. In fact, if Hezbollah units are defeated in south Lebanon after weeks of fighting and other units survive in the Bekaa Valley and around Beirut, Hezbollah will have won a singular victory — having fought and, as a group, survived a battle with the Israelis.
Israel has the force to defeat Hezbollah if it is prepared to expend the time and casualties needed to do so. What the Israelis cannot do — or more precisely, what Hezbollah has made impossible — is the kind of rapid victory that it has always been able to claim before. Hezbollah has learned the lessons of the past and is not giving the Israelis the kind of centralized command structure and complex lines of supply needed for sudden victory.
Israel appears to be faced with the choice of a war that could last months or a political settlement with Hezbollah that brings in a peacekeeping force. It can be papered over as a U.N. cease-fire resolution or a U.S.-French proposal or a Confucian paradox. What it comes down to is indirect negotiations between Israel and Hezbollah, an agreement and a cease-fire, which means that Hezbollah retains its military capability.
We assume that what Israel wants to do is to reach a point where Hezbollah will agree to disarm or the Lebanese government agrees to disarm Hezbollah. We doubt that Hezbollah will disarm of its own accord, and we doubt that the Lebanese government can disarm them when the Israelis cannot defeat them. Even if they disarmed, so long as they exist, they can re-arm. Therefore, in the end, it will be a negotiated settlement on terms to be determined.
Or the Israelis will pull a rabbit out of the hat and suddenly crush them. But we suspect that if the Israelis had any rabbits, they would have appeared before now. The Israelis may well choose to fight for as long as it takes and go as deep as needed to destroy Hezbollah. Given time and effort, we suspect Israel can do this. No one seems in a hurry to end the fighting, so this may be what is being considered. But it seems to come down to that or negotiating. And a cease-fire agreement that leaves Hezbollah in place will be a victory for Hezbollah.