CNN Situation Room 20 July, 2006

"And joining us now to talk a little bit about Israel’s military strategy is retired U.S. Army Colonel Pat Lang. He was headed a key Pentagon intelligence service and was the top DIA officer dealing with the Middle East for seven years.

Pat, thanks very much for coming in.

Can this Israeli military strategy of trying to deliver a knockout punch to Hezbollah work?

COL. PAT LANG, U.S. ARMY (RET.): It doesn’t make any sense to me. As you know, I’ve worked in all of these countries and with the IDF a lot, and studied it forever. And this just doesn’t make any sense to me what they’re doing, because as this Israeli air force major said, it’s impossible to go around in a kind of hunt for all of these rocket launchers everywhere.

Hezbollah is a numerous, well organized, disciplined guerrilla army. They have reserves in depth of people among the Shia people of Lebanon.

They’ve been organizing this ground for five or six years. There are all kinds of tank traps and ambush positions. All kinds of things like this.

It’s a murderous place to go fight. And the idea that you can root people like that out who are Islamic zealots and cause them to quit and run away with air power and artillery and some small- scale operations, it’s just — it’s just not on.

BLITZER: So what do you see the Israeli military strategy — I mean, I assume they appreciate the same factors that you appreciate.

LANG: I don’t understand it. I can’t understand it. The only way you can stop Hezbollah from shooting into north Lebanon is to move…

BLITZER: Into north Israel.

LANG: Into north Israel is to move their gun line back to the north far enough so that, in fact, they can’t reach you.

The only way to do that, in my opinion, is with ground troops. Now, I know the IDF does not want to occupy part of Lebanon again, but they’ve somehow gotten themselves in a position in which there may be no other choice. And from what I understand, they’re mobilizing large numbers of people and they’re probably thinking it over.

The other part of their strategy…

BLITZER: Because they tried that invasion for, what, 18 years, and it turned out to not such a great experience.

LANG: It was a terrible experience. The Lebanese lined up to fight them all over the place. It was a continual dribble of casualties all the time which finally politically caused Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon.

And the other part of this, which is to — to cause the Lebanese government to be something that it is not, a unified government that has an army that’s a real army, instead of symbol of national unity who will act against Hezbollah, that’s just not on. The Lebanese don’t have that in them to do it.

BLITZER: The brigadier general, Alon Friedman, of the IDF, the Israeli defense forces, was quoted yesterday as saying, "Israeli strikes have destroyed about 50 percent of Hezbollah’s arsenal. It will take us time to destroy what is left."

Does that sound credible, that half of the rockets, half of the arsenal over the past nine days has been destroyed?

LANG: Well, there’s no way for me to know and there’s no way for them to know either, in any way. I mean, you know, I’ve fought this kind of war against guerillas in various places before, and you never really know until you get to talk to the people who were defeated afterwards to find out how many people you actually bagged.

The only way you know how much you have worn them down by attrition is when the fire that comes into northern Israel starts to fall off and you run into less resistance when you go in on the ground.

BLITZER: I don’t think he meant that they killed half of Hezbollah. I think what he said — he meant they destroyed half of their rockets, let’s say.

LANG: I don’t think there’s any way to know that. As I said, the only way you can know if those deep bunkers of rockets all over southern Lebanon have been emptied is if the fire into northern Israel starts to diminish. That’s the only way you’ll know.

BLITZER: All right. So put on your advice cap. You used to give advice to defense secretaries and top U.S. officials.

If you were advising the Israeli government right now, the Israeli military, they’ve got rockets coming in from south Lebanon, they’ve got Hezbollah crossing the border, killing and kidnapping Israeli soldiers, this is a U.N. recognized border, what would you do if you were the Israeli military?

COL. PAT LANG, FORMER PENTAGON MIDEAST INTEL. CHIEF: I would have advised them to take specific punitive action on the people who hurt them with the death of these soldiers and to negotiate an outcome with that.

BLITZER: What does that mean exactly, spell it out?

LANG: Well they’ve done this before. They’ve worked with the Germans and other people for the return of captured soldiers, things of that kind.

BLITZER: To do a prisoner swap?

LANG: That kind of thing.

BLITZER: But doesn’t that encourage further terrorism down the road?

LANG: Well in this, as in many situations in war and politics, in fact you often have to choose between two bad alternatives. Now having done what they have done now, they are now in a position in which in four, five, six days, a week, two weeks, whatever it is, they’re going to decide that they have no choice but to put a large force into southern Lebanon. And that’s going to hurt them badly for a long time. In a lot of these things, once you start down the road, having made a bad decision, you’re just stuck.

BLITZER: Pat Lang, U.S. Army colonel, retired. Thanks very much for coming in.

LANG: Good to see you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you Pat.

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22 Responses to CNN Situation Room 20 July, 2006

  1. Mac Nayeri says:

    Looking good PL.

  2. ih8bushco says:

    Thank you for telling it like it is, Col. Lang. With so many BushCo sycophants and neocon chickenhawks filling the airwaves, it’s good to see your trusted face on CNN. This is the first time I’ve commented but I read your stuff everyday.

  3. zanzibar says:

    PL, impressive interview!
    I am surprised Blitzer had you on with your very credible common sense opinions. It seems all we see on TV are the Billy Kristol neocons and “doublespeak”.
    “The air force’s limited success and the continued rocket attacks against northern Israel have drawn the IDF into Lebanon, where it is confronted by a well-organized, well trained and highly motivated Hezbollah force.”
    It seems the Israeli ground operation has begun in southern Lebanon

  4. b says:

    Good interview!
    The Israeli strategy might make sense when looking at the bigger picture.
    An attack on Iran, coming in my view, would result in Hezbollah hitting at Israel with all power. To prepare for the attack on Iran, Israel needs to cover its northern flank.
    If that is more or less secured, in the case of an attack on Iran by US and/or Israeli forces, the IAF is then free to take on any other threat.
    For the same preparation reason I do expect an attack on Syria before Iran is hit.
    Deminish the proxies before taking on the “real issue” could be a sound strategy.

  5. canuck says:

    I don’t see it that way. And am more inclined to the opinions expressed in that article.
    If Hizbollah made a dreadful tactical mistake, than Israel has committed an even bigger blunder by direct engagement of Hizbollah’s forces.
    There is no military solution to be found in the Middle East, only a political one that needs to negotiated. Dialogue has to be established between the factions. The influence of Hizbollah is destined to grow. It was established in reaction to the Israel 1982 invasion and long occupation. The new invasion of Lebanon by Israel guarantees the resistance will multiply. Every bomb that is dropped fuels more dissension and determination on the part of the resistance they will survive.
    Israel must recognize Arabs have as much right to land, free movement, markets and a way they can make their living. At the curernt birthrate and low immigration into Israel, their prospects look very bleak. They need to concentrate on how to reverse and increase those figures so they can survive. No one will be attracted to their lands ‘til hostilities cease. In times past, Jews and Arabs were able to live together and prosper. A long term peace has to be restored. Otherwise only death and destruction will be Israel’s future. That is what the United States must broker and make Arab nations understand and sign agreements toward.
    The model to strive for is Egypt, Israel and Jordan. Economic, legal and social agreements will follow signed with those three nations and with Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Yemen, and the UAE. When the threat of violence is removed, Iran and Syria won’t need nuclear weapons and the influence of Hizbollah and Hamas will dissolve.
    I can but dream it will come to reality in my time. The insanity of the Middle East has to be replaced with peace or …
    Great article Colonel Lang as usual, it stimulates the brain and the imagination.

  6. b says:

    @chanuk – the article you pointed to includes the same perspective I did express:
    “But strong criticism from Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia underlines that it behaved recklessly, and in doing so provided an excuse for Israel to launch a war that it has long prepared to fight. If Israeli generals delight in the prospect of cutting Hizbullah down to size, the more important dimension of Israel’s new war is preparing the battlefield vis-à-vis Iran. Israeli generals have already asserted an Iranian role in the firing of a missile that disabled an Israeli naval ship, killing four sailors. If Hizbullah’s capacity to bombard Israel is even significantly reduced, then it will be easier for Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear sites later. Israel has obviously been preparing for such an attack for several years, and if the US and the other players in the so-called “Five plus One” fail in their efforts to temper Iran’s nuclear programs, Israel will most likely move against Iran”
    The “big game” is not about Hezbollah or Lebanon.

  7. b says:

    @canuck – sorry for the typo in your screen name.

  8. Dr Slop says:

    Sterling stuff – thank God some reality is reaching mainstream media.
    Stepping back a bit – do we have a view on Mr Scheuer’s latest – “Doing bin Laden’s Work for Him” at
    Such as: “The battle raging in the Levant has fixed the attention of the world’s eight most powerful leaders, each of whom foolishly thinks that the Arab-Israeli conflict is solely about Israel’s security, and willfully ignores the fact that it fuels the much more dangerous bin Laden-led war against America and the West. Their long-standing aversion to this reality can be seen in the failure of even one of these leaders – or anyone in the mainstream media, for that matter – to note that Israel and its Western supporters are doing bin Laden’s work for him, thereby undercutting their own security to an extent Hezbollah could never even dream of.”

  9. jonst says:

    I would suggest that Israel does not have the capability to attack Iran, and successfully achieve its strategic and tactical goals. Unless said “goals” are to draw the US into it. The Iranian nuclear sites are, I would suggest, too dispersed, too harden. Iran is not Iraq. It’s a long way from Israel. You have to fly over hostile territory. You have lost the element of surprise.
    How would they do it? What kind of payloads could they deliver? What is the price of a failed attack?

  10. searp says:

    It is the Israelis that have made the mistake. Hizbollah isn’t hurt by this, it has probably greatly improved recruiting. Weapons are in copious supply and easily replaced.
    The Israelis can’t even force Hizbollah north of the Litani unless they plan on occupying South Lebanon. Once they leave, Hizbollah will return.
    Nope, this is a serious mistake.
    (1) Our unsuccessful Mideast policy is completely blown to smithereens, although in retrospect that may have been inevitable.
    (2) Israel’s long-term security is compromised, because Hizbollah’s prestige and recruiting power is greatly enhanced.
    (3) Our willingness to fly cover for such a patently misguided Israeli policy destroys any ability of the US to act as an interlocutor. We are now obviously hostage to our relationship with Israel, and I cannot imagine Arab entities trusting us at all.

  11. John Howley says:

    Col Lang rightly points out that the Israeli-Arab conflict cannot be solved militarily. However, it is also true that Israel and its neighbors cannot negotiate effectively without a mediator. The only power capable of mediating was the United States. However, the strong U.S. tilt towards the Israeli government position means that the U.S. can no longer play that role. So, no negotiated solution is possible?
    I certainly hope I’m wrong but I have learned from Col Lang that wishful thinking is no basis for policy.
    Then what?

  12. Babak Makkinejad says:

    John Howley:
    A prolonged war of attrition in the Levant and the Persian Gulf are in the national interests of Russia and China.

  13. zanzibar says:

    “A prolonged war of attrition in the Levant and the Persian Gulf are in the national interests of Russia and China.” – Babak
    I can see Russia benefiting as their economy booms with higher oil and gas and other commodity prices. If ME gas supplies do get actually constrained from current levels, it would mean western europe is completely dependent on Russian gas. Putin has effectively consolidated all power and has quasi-nationalized the oil and gas resources. Russia is now utilizing it’s excess reserves to modernize it’s military.
    China on the other hand will be adversely affected with higher oil prices and even worse with supply disruptions as they need growing supplies to keep their economy going unless they can get the Russian’s to be their swing supplier. Note that China has a sub-surface domestic problem due to the fact that their development is concentrated on the coast and their rural population is continuing to migrate to the cities. They have to continue to generate employment growth as their state-owned enterprises start to shut down. Additionally, their domestic banking system is saddled with NPLs that today get papered over. Another point is that their economy is fundamentally based on trade. They import machinery and raw materials and semi-finished goods and do the final assembly and export. Any disruptions to global trade flows will disproportionately impact them.

  14. The Agonist says:

    Middle East Crisis Open Thread IV

    This is the Middle East Crisis IV open-thread. We all hope this doesn’t turn into the July War, but these days? Please post all developments, news stories, comments, links, theories, ideas, etc. here in this thread. The earlier threads can be found here a

  15. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I disagree becuase I am not looking at this from a purely economic point of view.
    The point I was hoping to make was the interest that both those states (among many others) have to see the present unipolar moment come to an end.
    I am certain that there are strategists sitting there in Moscow, Peking (and elsewhere) saying: “Thank you Hizboallah, thank you Israel,…”
    Hizbollah & Israel just destroyed US policy in the Levant. And we have not yet seen the end of this.

  16. zanzibar says:

    I agree that many in world today would like to see the end of the unipolar world with US dominance. However, in each country’s calculation economics will play a major role.

  17. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I am with you on that.
    But I also would like to point out that the end of the unipolar moment, just like any other change, will have winners and loosers. Strategic wins by states have often been translated into economic gains.

  18. ali says:

    There is a momentum to these things; the Israelis overreacted in Gaza and now they’ve escalated the simmering conflict on their northern border. They have bitten on Hezbollah’s opportunistically offered lure and are being teased into a ground invasion of Lebanon by a ruthless and very resilient enemy.
    Those thinking that this is a smart move by Tel Aviv should consider how favorable this looks in terms of radicalizing the entire Shi’a Crescent. We’ll have what is likely to be another long ineffectual occupation of Muslim (in particular Shi’a lands) by what they see as the hated forces of Zionism.
    It’s not Bin Laden’s work the IDF are doing; they serve the cause of a far more dangerous enemy: revolutionary Iran. I suspect it is by luck rather than stratagem but Tehran is moving closer to checkmate in the Persian Gulf.

  19. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Israeli’s are not cold realists; just brutal.
    If they were cold realists, they would have taken Kissinger’s initiative on Jericho in 1975-but no; God they coveted the West Bank!

  20. zanzibar says:

    What was the Kissinger Jericho proposition?

  21. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Kissinger was suggesting setting up an autonomous Palestinian Government in the West Bank & Gaza Strip starting with the City of Jericho (and within the framework of the Camp David Peace Accords.)

  22. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Made a mistake- It did not have anything to to with Camp David Peace Accords but it would have dove-tailed nicely with it.

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