Saturday, July 22, 2006
Lebanon: Ground War Is On UPDATED
The Ground War Has Begun-- Officially
Al Jazeera says about 2,000 Israeli troops have crossed over into Lebanon, and that 3 Israeli tanks were knocked out. Israeli media citing I.D.F. sources, confirm they have taken a town of
The Meron A-Ras area, killing 30 militiamen, and since the incursion began, they found underground bunkers, tunnels, cannon, rockets, Katyusha missle launchers - one even hidden in the city mosque. Israpundit links to pro-Israeli site DEBKAfile, citing its own I.D.F. sources, claims Israel is bombing orange groves around Tyre where Hizbullah has set up Katyusha launchers to fire on Israeli territory. The same account claims that Israeli commando's have been inserted into areas deeper inside Hizbulah-controlled Lebanon trying to flush out Hizbullah fighters and clear out launch sites.
I can not vouch for all of these sources, but they do hint at the many difficulties facing Israel in Southern Lebanon and every other Hizbullah-controlled area.
Israel first of all needs to destroy the offensive capabilities of Hizbullah, namely the rocket launchers that have been firing Katyusha's against Israel itself, and launch sites for the more sophisticated guided missles that the militia has.
Hizbullah's weapons are pretty well set up. They spent six years building bunkers on the high ground, dragging in rocket launchers and rockets targeting Israel, spread across the entire border area.This map of Lebanon shows the hilly terrain, and size of the border area that Israel has to deal with. And even after 10 days of pounding and 1,800 targets hit by Israel's air force, Hizbulla still managed to launch more than 50 rockets at Israel in one day.
The smartest thing for an insurgent group to do is leave launchers pre-sighted and loaded, so they could fire-and go. All you need is a car battery to launch a Kastyusha, a few guys can fire and get the hell out before the response comes. They do not even have to be present: multiple launchers can be controlled with timers or even by remote control with a laptop, using techology needed to run a complicated HO train set. In addition, these launchers are highly mobile, you can run them around camouflaged in buses - which to the air looks like civilian evaquees- if need be.
Given the launch flash and rockets trajectory, Hizbullah fighters know that as soon as rockets are fired that counter-battery fire or bombs are inevitable. But that ironically gives Hizbullah a further advantage. Once a site is detected, the attacker does not know if it is a launch-and-go site, intended to be abandoned, or a hardened launch site, with dug in defenders and launchers which can withstand the surface bombardment, and replace and re-arm launchers destroyed on the surface. That means every single bunker detected has to be cleared out with ground troops, so the defenders have already created an advantage by creating uncertainty and adding to the area which has to covered.
And ultimately, if Israeli soldiers go after these launchers, they have to put troops on the ground, and confront whatever dug-in troops are there. In hilly areas, holding the high ground you create perfect defensive situations, specially with tunnels. The Japanese on Iwo Jima, and the Vietnamese Communists on Hamburger Hill, employed fortified bunkers and tunnels to defend from overwhelming firepower and were able to inflict heavy casualties on the attackers. At Iwo Jima the Japanese built a sophisticated system of 360 fortified bunkers with tunnels connecting them in six months in an area 8 miles square, and it took almost a month of ferocious combat by U.S. Marines to take the island.
Just like they dispersed launch sites, the Hizbullah had time to prepare elaborate defenses, clustered around launch sites or in key areas where they expect Israeli forces to pass through. They are local, so they know the territory well. And they have the advantage that they are not expected to defend and hold territory for too long. So they can pick and choose what areas to fortify, and set ambush points at. As Iraq has proven small groups of insurgents using I.E.D.'s can hinder the movement of ground troops. And small numbers of well dug in defenders can hold off superior forces. Shiite fighters have proven to be tough and can match the suicidal fervor of the Japanese defenders on Iwo Jima. Basically the IDF is going to have to clear the enemy bunker to bunker, in some really vicious fighting.
Hizbullah can keep a minimum of fighters in the South, and still make life impossible for Israel, since the burden is on Israel to clear the area. Indeed it is possible that most of their troops left already. As a paramilitary force, they could have got combatants in civilian clothes and out of the area of conflict.
Lastly, the very nature of Hizbullah makes it very hard to completely destroy. As I pointed out earlier they are also a political party that has won elections, rules local municipalities, and delivers all the services to the population that a nation-state does, and has also created clientilistic relationships by providing charity and rebuilding housing. They have elected representation in Lebanon's national government, and become a legitimate political force outside of their areas of support. By Political Science 101 terms, they are the legitimate government to hundreds of thousands of Shia in the south of Lebanon. Even getting rid of many militiamen, will not take away the political networks and ties built within the population. Ultimately, it is this kind of political force, that even if its military wing is destroyed, has the organization necessary to go underground again and re-group as an insurgent army again, much like the Baath in Iraq did.
And of course, the main question for Lebanon's Shiia is why go through all the trouble. They seemed to be able to govern their territory effectively and had a formidable set of defenses which was a deterrent from Israeli attack. No matter how much they bloody Israel now, they are going to lose their military deterrent and their political infraestructure in the South. And if they really are dumb, they are going to send their main body of troops to fight.