Monday, July 31, 2006

A Weekend in Northern Israel

If you haven't been keeping up with The Muqata, better check it out now. Jameel's got a great post from a weekend at the front.

Got to love a guy who takes a break in the middle of this to keep us posted, and share his honest feelings and observations, at the risk of inciting all the crazies out there. Something of David in all that.

- Sir Chuck


  1. I do hope the Israelis do get on with it. Having a three week long artillery duel is harder on civilians then an actual invasion would be and has less purpose.

    This is what has to say:

    The Phony War
    July 31, 2006: The Hizbollah tactic of firing rockets from residential areas, and forcing civilians to stick around when the rockets are fired, has paid off. One rocket launching site in a large building in southern Lebanon, for which Israel released video of rockets being launched, before bombing the building, turned out to contain over fifty women and children. The civilians know that the Israelis bomb any place where rockets are fired from, but Hizbollah gunmen will force the civilians to stay. This has caused many Lebanese, even Shia in the south, to turn against Hizbollah. Some journalists have even been able to get out of Lebanon with pictures of this, but most of the world media prefers to call Israeli response to Hizbollah attacks a war crime and leave it at that. This is going to be one of those situations where, down the road, historians are going to wonder just what the world was thinking during all this.

    While Hizbollah is good at getting Lebanese civilians killed, they are not very effective at hurting Israelis. Engineer and intelligence troops have identified less than a hundred rockets landing in Israel each day so far. This is done by collecting and identifying fragments. But as time goes by, more rocket hits are discovered in unpopulated areas of northern Israel. Apparently more than a hundred rockets are landing in northern Israel each day, but on many days, only a few dozen land anywhere near residential areas. Many of the rocket salvos (two dozen or more 122mm rockets are being fired at a time) are not aimed very well at all, and don't come down anywhere near to an Israeli settlement. This is why there has been less than one Israeli casualty per rocket fired. This casualty rate has been coming down. One recent barrage of 25 122mm rockets landed in an Israeli town and caused no casualties at all (but damaged several buildings).

    The Israelis keep civilian casualties down by having better bomb shelters, using them more effectively and evacuating many of the more exposed towns in northern Israel. Since Israel is a democracy, the government has to do all it can to minimize its civilian casualties. Hizbollah is not a democracy, but a religious dictatorship (trying to bring that form of government to Lebanon, and then the world.) Hizbollah considers itself on a mission from God, and within its rights to kill anyone, and do anything, to complete its mission. Thus the policy of getting the maximum number of Lebanese civilians killed. European and Moslem media have taken the bait, and are calling Israeli responses, to Hizbollah attacks, "war crimes."

    Israeli ground operations appear to be using paratroopers and other elite infantry to hunt down and kill Hizbollah rocket launching teams. Hizbollah has not got a lot of trained people. Kill them, and they are hard to replace. There are only so many rocket launcher teams. Kill them, and no one will be available to take the rockets out of their hiding places and launch them. Right now, this battle is being won by the Israelis, because Hizbollah has not been able to launch many longer (over 20 kilometers) rockets at more densely populated areas deeper in Israel. Most of the rockets are short range ones. The Israeli attack on the transportation system in southern Lebanon has made it difficult to move large objects, like big rockets, into position for launch.

    Israel agreed to a 40 hour halt to air attacks on the 30th, to provide time to investigate the bombing the day before that killed over fifty civilians at a Hizbollah launching site. This is supposed to give Hizbollah an opportunity to reciprocate. But Hizbollah has more pressing problems. While the Lebanese media won't discuss it much, most Lebanese are quite angry with Hizbollah. The stories, of how Hizbollah forces civilians to stay around rocket launch sites, are now widely known. Israeli intelligence agents in Lebanon are getting more good tips on Hizbollah activity, especially within Christian areas. The Lebanese Christians know they are considered eventual targets (as infidels) of Hizbollah, and have noted Hizbollah men joking about getting the "Jews to do our work for us" (killing Lebanese Christians.)

    The main problem in Lebanon is, and always has been, that the civil war never really ended in 1990, especially not for the Shia faction represented by Hizbollah. Iran accepted the 1990 ceasefire in Lebanon under pressure from the rest of the Moslem world. But while Hizbollah entered Lebanese politics in the 1990s, they never disarmed their militia, supported the continued Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and did not recognize the authority of the Lebanese government, in portions of southern Lebanon that Hizbollah controlled.

    Israel is not giving detailed briefings on its tactics and exactly what its forces have accomplished so far. That's because this war is largely a psychological one. It's also an Information War, where the manipulation of the media is an important aspect of the fight. In this respect, Hizbollah has an edge, because most of the Moslem and European media will automatically side with them against Israel. That said, the Israeli strategy appears to be the destruction of people and material that Hizbollah will have the most difficulty replacing, and weakening Hizbollah enough so that the majority of Lebanese, and the Lebanese government, can regain control of southern Lebanon (and Hizbollah controlled Beirut neighborhoods), that Hizbollah has controlled for decades. If Lebanon can put itself back together, Hizbollah will be much less of a threat. Because this conflict is also seen as another battle in the thousand year old war between Sunni and Shia, most Arabs, while cheering for Hizbollah, because they are armed Arabs who did not go down before the Israeli in the first round, will not be terribly upset if Hizbollah ultimately loses and disappears.

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    It is a parodox of war that overcaution can sometimes cause more suffering. Also it gives me a slight dissappointment that Israel seems to be "losing it's martial magic". I am of course describing an emotional impact not an actual circumstance. I had the feeling that when all the rest of the West were becoming "whine-ocracys" at least Israel was still-Israel.
    Be that as it may, Israel does seem to be playing a pecuiliarly cautious game. More in another comment

  2. The Plan Unfolds
    July 21, 2006: The Israeli attacks on Hizbollah military facilities are having an effect, with rocket Hizbollah launches down by more than half (to about 40 today). Israel has several thousand troops in southern Lebanon, and they are going after the Hizbollah rocket launching teams. The Israelis have found that their tactic of dropping leaflets warning civilians to stay away from residential areas used to store weapons, and especially rockets, has worked. Despite Hizbollah efforts for force civilians to stay in their homes, the the vast majority of civilians fled villages and neighborhoods where it was known Hizbollah was storing rockets. Thus most of the Israeli bombs destroyed rockets and housing, not people. The UN has not accepted this, but has bowed to media spin and pro-Hizbollah propaganda, to get behind the terrorists, and accuse Israel of using "disproportionate force." The UN is demanding a cease fire (which, to Hizbollah, is interpreted as a pause before the next round of attacks on Israel). Despite frequent UN rhetoric about the benefits of democracy, they appear to have an imperfect grasp of how it actually works. For example, if a terrorist group were to fire a thousand rockets into any democracy, the citizens of said democracy would demand military action against the attackers, not a cease fire and avoidance of "disproportionate response."

    Israel is now moving into the second week of a three week military operation. The first week was mainly a bombing campaign to cripple Hizbollah's ability to easily move men and munitions around, and to destroy Hizbollah facilities, particularly rocket storage sites. The air campaign has hit about 1,200 targets so far, including some 200 rocket storage sites. There have been about a thousand Lebanese casualties, less than one per air strike.

    The second week has small groups of ground troops going into southern Lebanon to investigate suspected rocket storage sites. This tactic has uncovered those storage sites Hizbollah was able to build and hide from Israeli air and satellite reconnaissance. So far, about half the Hizbollah stocks of rockets have been destroyed, while about a thousands of the rockets have been fired into Israel. It's currently estimated that Hizbollah had some 14,000 rockets, mostly smaller (122mm) ones.

    Hizbollah had also trained several dozen teams of men to get the rockets out of their storage sites and launch them into northern Israel. In the third week of the Israeli military plan, more troops will go into southern Lebanon, and Hizbollah fighters killed or driven out. At that point, Lebanon or the UN can be invited to come in and take charge of the area, with some guarantees (a big sticking point) that Hizbollah will not move back. If that doesn't work, Israel has the option of creating a 30-40 kilometer deep neutral zone in southern Lebanon. Several hundred thousand Lebanese civilians have already fled that zone, and may not be allowed back in until something is done about Hizbollah.

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  3. Let's Check the Track Records
    July 23, 2006: Hizbollah's rocket offensive is faltering. While up to a hundred rockets were launched into northern Israel on some days last week, the number has fallen to about 40 a day. Fewer of them are the longer range (up to 40 kilometers, or more). Most are the 122mm rockets, with a range of about 20 kilometers. These have shut down most economic activity in many parts of northern Israel, and killed or injured over a hundred Israelis. This has caused some 80 percent of Israeli voters to back the operations against Lebanon.

    Israel's Northern Command can mobilize over 180,000 troops. The Lebanese army has only 70,000 soldiers, so a battle with the Lebanese army is unlikely, despite Lebanese promises to send troops to the assistance of Hizbollah. In addition to its guerrilla fighters, Hizbollah has a couple of brigades armed and trained for conventional operations. These may be the best trained "regular" troops in the region, barring those that Israel isn't likely to fight (Jordan, Egypt, Turkey), and it's believed that Hizbollah hopes that they could take on Israeli troops in a conventional battle. To that end, sending Israeli ground forces into southern Lebanon is intended to draw Hizbollah's conventional forces out, in anticipation of an invasion. In that way, Hizbollah might lay its conventional forces open to air and artillery attack, and probably selective ground and commando action.

    The Lebanese Christians are probably more enthusiastic about fighting Hizbollah, than Israelis, and the Sunnis probably not much less so. But Israel has to be careful to avoid open clashed with Lebanese regular troops. Israel has always maintained communication with the various factions in Lebanon, either directly (as with the Christians) or indirectly. In this way, discussions, sometimes heated, have taken place over what to do with Hizbollah. It breaks down like this. To most Lebanese, the Shia (about 35 percent of the population), sold out to foreigners (Syria and Iran) in order to increase Shia power in Lebanon. The Shia had long constituted the poorest segment of Lebanese society, but this has changed since Syrian troops moved in during the 1980s, and assisted in the establishment of Hizbollah. This turned the Lebanese civil war (which began in 1975) into a deadlock, and led to a peace deal in 1990. But that didn't end the civil war, it just brought about a cease fire. The Christian and Sunni majority put up with the Syrian occupation of the country until last year, when a popular uprising led to the Syrian withdrawal of their troops. But Hizbollah, which was supposed to disarm as part of the 1990 "peace" deal, continued to control the southern third of the country. Worse, many in Hizbollah, inspired by their Iranian patrons, talked about how great it would be if all of Lebanon were an Islamic republic, just like Iran.

    Many Lebanese see the Hizbollah attack on Israel as a way for the Lebanese Shia to avoid a resumption of the civil war, over the disarmament of Hizbollah. Lebanese Shia remember what it was like to be at the bottom of the economic and social pecking order, and don't want to return to the bad old days. Hizbollah (which got over $100 million a year from Iran) brought lots of jobs, as did the Syrian army of occupation. The Lebanese Shia see all that slipping away. By causing a war with Israel, the Lebanese Shia see an opportunity to unite all Lebanese behind them. Unfortunately, the Christian and Sunni Lebanese, while angry with the Israeli air campaign, are not enthusiastic about dying to maintain Hizbollah power. Israeli negotiations with the Lebanese agree on one thing; Hizbollah has to go. Lebanon cannot be free as long as Hizbollah maintains its own army, and controls a third of the country. The expulsion of the Syrian army last year was wildly popular, except among the Shia. The Israelis are waiting for public opinion among the Lebanese Christians and Sunnis to go against Hizbollah. This is why there has been no large scale movement of Israeli troops into southern Lebanon. Small units (no more than battalion strength, under a thousand troops) are going in to destroy Hizbollah bunker complexes that cannon be destroyed from the air.

    To that end, Israeli orders for American deep penetrators (bunker buster bombs) have been speeded up, and those bombs are being delivered now. Israel already had several hundred of the GBU-24 penetrators, but last year ordered a hundred of the larger (2.5 ton) GBU-28. The GBU-28 can penetrate 100 feet of earth, or 20 feet of concrete. The lighter GBU-24 can manage less than half that.

    Israel has watched (from the air, and via spies on the ground) as Hizbollah used lots of its Iranian money to build underground bunkers in the areas of southern Lebanon that Israel withdrew from in 2000. Hizbollah knew about the capabilities of the GBU-24 and 28, and built accordingly. That doesn't make the Hizbollah bunkers invulnerable. The entrances can be destroyed, and if you can get all the access tunnels, you turn the bunker into a tomb. But with some of the bunkers, not all the access tunnels were known. There's only so much that spies and air reconnaissance will tell you. However, the Israelis have had over six years to plan for this sort of operation. Based on past performance, you can expect some clever ideas. It's not smart to underestimate the Israelis. For example, Israel shut down the Palestinian terrorists over the last few years. The pundits had declared this to be impossible. So was the Six Day war, and the creation of Israel itself. So, before you pick a probable outcome here, check the track records of the contenders. On the other side, you have radical Islam, which has accomplished very little. Terror is the tactic of the weak, or those short of better ideas. The Palestinian leadership has a long record of bad decisions and inept performance. Hizbollah succeeded via powerful backers (Iranian cash and the Syrian army). Now the Syrians are gone, and Hizbollah is caught between angry Israelis, and Lebanese fans, most of whom (the Christians and Sunnis) are cheering on Hizbollah through clenched teeth and forced smiles. Most Lebanese are content to see Hizbollah and Israel fight it out. But the Israeli war plan recognizes that, without some cooperation from the Lebanese Christians and Sunnis, Hizbollah will just keep it up. The Lebanese have to decide if they want a future with, or without, Hizbollah. While the Lebanese media speaks of Lebanese unity against Israeli aggression, private discussions in northern Lebanon are more about how to make the most of this opportunity to eliminate Hizbollah.

    July 22, 2006: Europeans are talking about ceasefire and the establishment of a "neutral zone" in southern Lebanon. The UN won't be able to do it, as they have a dreadful track record in this department. The current UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon only has about 2000 troops and 500 cops and civilian staff – hardly sufficient to cope with Hezbollah, even if their Rules of Engagement (ROE) allowed it. UNIFIL is supposed to monitor the border, and has regularly failed at that. So the neutral zone would have to be patrolled by European troops, operating under a "shoot-to-kill" ROE. Most Lebanese (but not the Shia, who back Hizbollah) would support this. The Europeans are pressuring the Christian and Sunni Lebanese to say publicly, what they have been saying privately for decades; Hizbollah has to go.

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  4. Sir Jason: We're get bombed big time today. Forty Katyushas in the past 30 minutes, 6 killed...over a dozen wounded.

  5. Keep your head down and spirits up, Jameel. It cannot be very long before all our prayers are answered.

    IN a very short time, will not Lebanon be turned into a fertile field and the fertile field seem like a forest? In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of the gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see. Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD, the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. The ruthless will vanish, the mockers will disappear, and all who have an eye for evil will be cut down... Isaiah 29:17-20

    May GOD fulfill this promise once again...

    Sir Chuck, with eye and heart toward Israel and The Muqata

  6. Keep up the good work Jameel-I don't know what else to say. God bless you.

    Sir Jason