“Israeli Defense Forces – all they can be?”

So far, Israel’s performance in this war has not been impressive. Its air and artillery fire has not hindered Hizbullah’s ability to fire rockets into Israel. The heliborne raid on Baalbec this week signals Israel’s intent to change to a more aggressive use of ground combat power. But it is another fair question to ask how much damage that poor performance in the early stages of this campaign has done to effective deterrence, which the fear of Israeli and US forces has exerted until now.

Israel has now announced that it is going to "campaign" to the Litani River line and then wait to be "relieved" by an international intervention force. If there is not a cease-fire in place, that force may never arrive, but what is almost certain to arrive is an ever-growing number of international Islamic "volunteers" to fight with Hizbullah. "  Lang in the Christian Science Monitor


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24 Responses to “Israeli Defense Forces – all they can be?”

  1. The Agonist says:

    Israeli-Hezbollah Conflict Open Thread X

    This is the Tenth Middle East Crisis open-thread. Please post all developments, news stories, comments, links, theories, ideas, etc. . . here in this thread. The earlier threads by number are I – II – III – IV – V – VI – VII – VII – IX. If you post commen

  2. Glen says:

    Read an interesting comment today in the War and Piece blog:
    “From a colleague covering the conflict in Israel: “Almost everyone I talk to here is now saying the Iraq war has presented one of the most significant threats to Israel in its history.” Namely because it has so empowered Iran, and reduced US ability to deal with Iran now.”

  3. Happy Jack says:

    Those volunteers might already be on their way.
    At least, according to this.

  4. taters says:

    Thank you Col.

  5. The Wanderer says:

    Since Israel has begun air strikes against northern Beirut targets, I expect to start seeing Maronite Christians expressing support for Hizbollah.

  6. W. Patrick Lang says:

    If HA can hit something, anything as far south as Tel Aviv it will give a whole new spin to the Iranian nuclear argument. pl

  7. Pan says:

    Pat, I certainly can see the Islamic world uniting behind the Iranian nuclear program as the ONLY deterrent to Israel’s nuclear program. Funny how people forget about Pakistan’s bomb.

  8. Mo says:

    Lebanon is very different to Iraq. Its too small for fighters to just come in, pitch a tent and go on an insurgency night out. Any fighter coming in is going to have to a: Fight on their own or b:join Hizbollah. If they pick (a) they’re going to be cannon fodder. Trying to just join Hizbollah is like me turning up in Virginia and saying Im here to join the CIA. Part of their success and why the Israelis have so little data is their obsession with secrecy. Any johnny-come-lately fighters would be given very short shrift and told to go home.

  9. W. Patrick Lang says:

    What if they are invited? pl

  10. zanzibar says:

    There is a premise in the US/Israel strategy that Hizbullah is a finite fighting force with definite contours and as a result they can be defeated and will go away as a threat.
    But what if Hizbullah is an organic force that represents the political sentiment of the Shia in the southern Lebanon and is a resistance force? What if in that role they garner even broader support in Lebanese society and the larger “islamic” society?
    Can they really be defeated in conventional terms? Isn’t this just a repeat of the 18 year occupation of southern Lebanon with a continuous casualty rate for the IDF occupation force?
    The Lebanese Shia are not going away. And as technology gets more democratized they will get access to more sophisticated and longer range rockets and at some point even guided missiles. The value of overwhelming military response as a deterrence will likely decline. The only real deterrence would be a political settlement.

  11. Mo says:

    There are a few arguments against that in my opinion: First, the secrecy issue crops up again. The “enrolement” process they have is pretty stiff. It wasn’t until ’97 that they even allowed non-shi’te Lebanese into the resistance for fear of collaborators. Having alien fighters in their midsts could as easily hamper their operations as help them.
    Secondly, their entire system of training is based around defending Lebanon and using the terrain to their advantage. Foreign fighters will again just as likely get in the way.
    Thirdly, contrary to many reports I’ve read, they are not just 100% Lebanese but the the vast majority,both shi’ite and not, are born and bred in the South of Lebanon and therefore the camaradrie is very strong.
    Saying all of that I guess the most important thing is that they are effectively ‘winning’ on the ground and don’t actually need the help and for all the talk of Iranian and Syrian influence they are very proud of being seen as the “Lebanese Resistance” and foreign fighters would only dilute that image.
    I’ve always wondered and considering your distinguished and extensive background you’re a great guy to ask; Does the US military really consider Hizbollah as terrorists or is this a political sop to influential lobbies?

  12. What the IDF is up to?
    Deep operations
    “The objective of Deep Operations was to attack the enemy simultaneously throughout the depth of his ground force to induce a catastrophic failure in his defensive system. Highly mobile formations would then exploit this failure by breaking into the deep rear of the enemy and destroying his ability to rebuild his defenses.”

  13. Mo says:

    Zanzibar, I totally agree and I think the whole “destruction of Israel” thing has been blown out of proportion. Hizbollah know they are never going to invade Israel, in fact none of their ground operations have ever been in Israel proper (which makes me question the whole soldiers captured on Israeli side issue). Their demands for disarmament have always been clear and would have cost the US/Israel not a whole lot to implement.

  14. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Mo (short for –?)
    1- All the niceties go out the window when you are “hard up’ enough. That will come as HA gets desperate or during the subsequent Israel re-occupation.
    2- You know very well that the goal of HA is the destruction of the Israeli state. pl

  15. zanzibar says:

    goal of HA is the destruction of the Israeli state. pl
    This is the fundamental problem. Utopian ideas with no basis in reality. And all sides to the equation can’t seem to get out of their own way!
    Will realism ever hit these guys or is the best a multi-generational “truce”??

  16. “Does the US military really consider Hizbollah as terrorists or is this a political sop to influential lobbies?”
    Some facts to think about:
    “Among other crimes, Hezbollah is responsible for kidnapping and torturing to death United States Marine Colonel William R. Higgins and Beirut CIA station chief William Francis Buckley. That was in 1982. Hezbollah also kidnapped at least 30 other Westerners between 1982 and 1992, including US journalist Terry Anderson, British journalist John McCarthy, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special envoy Terry Waite and Irish citizen Brian Keenan.
    In April, 1983, Hezbollah was responsible for the bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut that killed 63 people. Hezbollah was also behind the October, 1983 suicide truck bombing that killed 241 US marines in their barracks in Beirut.
    On September 20, 1984, Hezbollah bombed the replacement US Embassy in East Beirut. The attack killed 20 Lebanese and two US soldiers.
    In 1985, Hezbollah carried out the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 en route from Athens to Rome.
    In the early 1990s, Hezbollah carried out two Argentine terrorist attacks: the 1992 Israeli Embassy bombing in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 people, and an attack two years later on a Jewish community center there that killed 85 people.
    On July 26, 1994, eight days after the community center bombing, the Israeli Embassy in London was car-bombed by two Palestinians. It is now known that Hezbollah was responsible for the bombing.”

  17. Mo says:

    Mr Lang,
    Mo is short for Mohamed (unsurprisingly).
    1- It doesnt take too much tactical awareness to realise they don’t need to ever get ‘hard up’ enough. They are currently facing the IDF in a pretty conventional manner but the fact is their whole set up means that if things ever got tough enough they could easily revert to a purely guerilla strategy. A full Israeli re-occupation would only make life easier for them, especially if you take the whole ‘guerillas only need to not lose in order to win’ idea. A full re-occupation would just mean more and softer targets as re-occupation means supply chains, logistical units etc.
    2- I didn’t say it wasn’t their goal. What I said was that they are intelligent enough to know that while they can give anyone a good fight on Lebanese soil, taking the fight beyond that would be suicide. Furthermore, Nasrallah has on more than one occasion made it clear that any solution accepted by the Palestinians would also be accpted by them; And the one thing both those that hate him and those that love him agree on is that the man keeps his word.
    The one thing in your statement I take issue with is the word destruction. It has certain connotations that I don’t believe apply either to Hizbollah or for that matter Hamas. Many Americans seem to believe that Arab opposition to Israel is based on a hate of Jews and given the chance people like Hizbollah would kill every Jew in Israel(if not the world).

  18. Mo says:

    Not intended for posting but I realised after posting that my comment about tactical awareness may have come across as slur on you. I want to point out that I meant it in reference to me and the fact that I may have little or none.

  19. W. Patrick Lang says:

    No offense taken. welcome. pl

  20. Mo says:

    Not an incredibly long list considering they were the No.1 terrorist organisation pre 9-11. However, the list is actually even shorter – Hizbollah has never been known to deny anything it has done, after all why should it?
    Working backwards through your list:
    Any accusation that starts with “it is known” means we have no evidence but we’re pinning it on you.
    Hizbollah has always denied any link with the Argentine bombings and all the evidence still only allows investigators there to say they think it was them.
    The TWA hijacking was so well known in Lebanon to be the work of Amal (another Shi’te group in Lebanon) that the running joke at the time was that TWA now stood for Travel With Amal
    Now, the famous attacks on American targets. (we’ll ignore the whole how does an attack on a military target become a terrorist act question)
    First lets put those attacks into context. Critics always remember the attacks but never seem to remember that A: The US was there as a part of a multi-national force sent to support a Lebanese governement installed by the recently invading Israelis and that B:The USS New Jersey had been busy shelling many civilian areas before the attack.
    But saying all that, those attacks along with the attacks on the embassies and the kidnappings were part of a very different Hizbollah than the one today.
    In 1982 when it is said to have been formed, it was an amalgam of many groups with many different methods but who all shared the goal of defending the Shi’tes of Lebanon in the civil war. It wasn’t until ’85 that this union was ‘officialy’ formed with a charter and modus operendi. However, even then there were 2 distinct groups. One group, considered to be the extremists, and were at the time also operating under the name Islamic Jihad ( even in US Intelligence circles they are the ones also cited in the embassy and barracks attacks) wanted to turn Lebanon into an Islamic state and believed in hostage taking. The other, led by Nasrallahs predecessor and mentor, Musawi, wanted Hizbollah to become more mainstream, give up the extremist ideology and concentrate on fighting Israel and providing the Shi’tes social services. It wasn’t until ’89-’90 that the schism came to a head, leading to the expulsion of the extremist elements, and leaving asn organisation which today is an organisation that regards 9-11 and the acts of al-qaida as criminal.
    Hence the reason I asked the Colonel the question. I don’t expect most people to have detailed knowledge on the history of Hizbollah but I suspect that the Colonels would probably be better even than most Lebanese!

  21. ali says:

    Hezbollah like the most effective parts of PIRA has always relied on recruiting in kinship networks. As the Jihadis arrive will they spurn them?
    No. They’ll put them in a safe house and strap them into a truck bomb when a target presents. The “volunteers” will be “ordinance” rather than a security problem that’s a lesson well learnt in Iraq.

  22. Montag says:

    An interesting take on the hostage-taking was from one of the hostages, whose name I didn’t get. He said that just before he was due to be released his captors admitted that they had also been HIS hostages. They said something along the lines, “We thought the hostages would bring our grievances out into the open for the world’s consideration, but it was a cruel joke. All the world wanted to consider was the hostages, hostages, hostages, to the exclusion of everything else. And what’s worse, taking hostages made US–the real victims–into bad guys in the eyes of the world! The whole hostage operation has been an unmitigated fiasco for us. We have decided to quit taking them because you are more trouble than you are worth.”
    Well, better late than never.

  23. BadTux says:

    Hizballah lacks an air force (the #1 necessity for offensive operations outside of one’s own territory in the modern era), thus is no existential threat to Israel.
    I’m rather dubious about the whole “destruction of Israel” meme, personally. Translators have much latitude to mis-translate for propaganda purposes, and I’ve heard “destruction of the Zionist regime” as a much more common translation of Hizballah’s aims. Since this would be easily accomplished merely by giving all people within the geographical boundaries controlled by Israel the right to vote (which would automatically mean that the Jewish population became the minority), it’s unclear whether Hizballah views military action or political action as the means via which this would be accomplished.
    One thing which renders this particularly frightening to the Jewish population of Israel is that when they hear “Israel” they think “Jews” — i.e., that Hizballah wants to destroy Jews. While Jews prior to the founding of the state of Israel were discriminated against in the Muslim states, there is no large-scale history of state-supported genocides against Jews by Muslims. I have never heard a single Arab leader ever state that Jews should be destroyed. Typically, it is the “Zionist regime” (i.e., the government of Israel) that they rail against, much in the same way that I rail against the evils of the Bushevik regime (or against its sheer stupidity, in any event).
    Indeed, it is Christians who seem to be the biggest perpetrators of state-supported genocides against Jews — the Crusaders broke into the synagogues of a Jeruselem that had previously been occupied by Muslims for over 500 years and slaughtered the Jewish population to the very last child, for example.
    But I suppose there is always a first time… given the actions of the state of Israel against Muslims, I suppose the Jewish population there is right to fear what would happen if Muslims regained control of that land.

  24. canuck says:

    This will go under the category of, “Believe It or Not!”
    The change of command was decided by army chief General Dan Halutz, who assumed his post last year. Israel names new war commander. It’s because of Halutz and his dependency on airpower that Israel is in the mess it is.
    Caveat with that statement…that would, of course, depend on ‘if’ Israel is willing to commit enough ground forces to achieve the advantage. So far with only 10,000 committed, it doesn’t appear they are which becomes a catch 22. ‘Bring about a victory for Israel without the loss of lives to their ‘small’ ground force which would dissapoint and anger the Israeli voters.’
    It’s difficult to believe this is the mighty Israeli army who won so many battles in the past. With Halutz at the helm, they won’t be winning any now and if they don’t get better military and political leaders, they won’t be winning any in the future either. What’s wrong with Olmert that he can’t see he’s being hookwinked? Or is it Olmert that is in too far over his head and believes Halutz when he shouldn’t. Crickey, I’m not a military commander, but it’s obvious to me the strategy up to now hasn’t worked.

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