Published by The Freeman Center
The Maccabean Online
Political Analysis and Commentary
Red Alert: The Battle Joined
Stratfor: Alerts - July 21, 2006
The ground war has begun. Several Israeli brigades now appear to be
operating between the Lebanese border and the Litani River.
According to reports, Hezbollah forces are dispersed in multiple
bunker complexes and are launching rockets from these and other
Hezbollah\'s strategy appears to be threefold. First, force Israel
into costly attacks against prepared fortifications. Second, draw
Israeli troops as deeply into Lebanon as possible, forcing them to
fight on extended supply lines. Third, move into an Iraqi-style
insurgency from which Israel -- out of fear of a resumption of
rocket attacks -- cannot withdraw, but which the Israelis also
cannot endure because of extended long-term casualties. This
appears to have been a carefully planned strategy, built around a
threat to Israeli cities that Israel can\'t afford. The war has
begun at Hezbollah\'s time and choosing.
Israel is caught between three strategic imperatives. First, it
must end the threat to Israeli cities, which must involve the
destruction of Hezbollah\'s launch capabilities south of the Litani
River. Second, it must try to destroy Hezbollah\'s infrastructure,
which means it must move into the Bekaa Valley and as far as the
southern suburbs of Beirut. Third, it must do so in such a way that
it is not dragged into a long-term, unsustainable occupation
against a capable insurgency.
Hezbollah has implemented its strategy by turning southern Lebanon
into a military stronghold, consisting of well-designed bunkers
that serve both as fire bases and launch facilities for rockets.
The militants appear to be armed with anti-tank weapons and
probably anti-aircraft weapons, some of which appear to be of
American origin, raising the question of how they were acquired.
Hezbollah wants to draw Israel into protracted fighting in this
area in order to inflict maximum casualties and to change the
psychological equation for both military and political reasons.
Israelis historically do not like to fight positional warfare.
Their tendency has been to bypass fortified areas, pushing the
fight to the rear in order to disrupt logistics, isolate
fortifications and wait for capitulation. This has worked in the
past. It is not clear that it will work here. The great unknown is
the resilience of Hezbollah\'s fighters. To this point, there is no
reason to doubt it. Israel could be fighting the most resilient
and well-motivated opposition force in its history. But the truth
is that neither Israel nor Hezbollah really knows what performance
will be like under pressure.
Simply occupying the border-Litani area will not achieve any of
Israel\'s strategic goals. Hezbollah still would be able to use
rockets against Israel. And even if, for Hezbollah, this area is
lost, its capabilities in the Bekaa Valley and southern Beirut will
remain intact. Therefore, a battle that focuses solely on the south
is not an option for Israel, unless the Israelis feel a defeat here
will sap Hezbollah\'s will to resist. We doubt this to be the case.
The key to the campaign is to understand that Hezbollah has made
its strategic decisions. It will not be fighting a mobile war.
Israel has lost the strategic initiative: It must fight when
Hezbollah has chosen and deal with Hezbollah\'s challenge. However,
given this, Israel does have an operational choice. It can move in
a sequential fashion, dealing first with southern Lebanon and then
with other issues. It can bypass southern Lebanon and move into the
rear areas, returning to southern Lebanon when it is ready. It can
attempt to deal with southern Lebanon in detail, while mounting
mobile operations in the Bekaa Valley, in the coastal regions and
toward south Beirut, or both at the same time.
There are resource and logistical issues involved. Moving
simultaneously on all three fronts will put substantial strains on
Israel\'s logistical capability. An encirclement westward on the
north side of the Litani, followed by a move toward Beirut while
the southern side of the Litani is not secured, poses a serious
challenge in re-supply. Moving into the Bekaa means leaving a flank
open to the Syrians. We doubt Syria will hit that flank, but then,
we don\'t have to live with the consequences of an intelligence
failure. Israel will be sending a lot of force on that line if it
chooses that method. Again, since many roads in south Lebanon will
not be secure, that limits logistics.
Israel is caught on the horns of a dilemma. Hezbollah has created a
situation in which Israel must fight the kind of war it likes the
least -- attritional, tactical operations against prepared forces
-- or go to the war it prefers, mobile operations, with logistical
constraints that make these operations more difficult and
dangerous. Moreover, if it does this, it increases the time during
which Israeli cities remain under threat. Given clear failures in
appreciating Hezbollah\'s capabilities, Israel must take seriously
the possibility that Hezbollah has longer-ranged, anti-personnel
rockets that it will use while under attack.
Israel has been trying to break the back of Hezbollah resistance in
the south through air attack, special operations and probing
attacks. This clearly hasn\'t worked thus far. That does not mean it
won\'t work, as Israel applies more force to the problem and starts
to master the architecture of Hezbollah\'s tactical and operational
structure; however, Israel can\'t count on a rapid resolution of
The Israelis have by now thought the problem through. They don\'t
like operational compromises -- preferring highly focused solutions
at the center of gravity of an enemy. Hezbollah has tried to deny
Israel a center of gravity and may have succeeded, forcing Israel
into a compromise position. Repeated assaults against prepared
positions are simply not something the Israelis can do, because
they cannot afford casualties. They always have preferred mobile
encirclement or attacks at the center of gravity of a defensive
position. But at this moment, viewed from the outside, this is not
An extended engagement in southern Lebanon is the least likely
path, in our opinion. More likely -- and this is a guess -- is a
1. Insert airmobile and airborne forces north of the Litani to
seal the rear of Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon. Apply air
power and engineering forces to reduce the fortifications, and
infantry to attack forces not in fortified positions. Bottle them
up, and systematically reduce the force with limited exposure to
2. Secure roads along the eastern flank for an armored thrust deep
into the Bekaa Valley to engage the main Hezbollah force and
infrastructure there. This would involve a move from Qiryat Shimona
north into the Bekaa, bypassing the Litani to the west, and would
probably require sending airmobile and special forces to secure the
high ground. It also would leave the right flank exposed to Syria.
3. Use air power and special forces to undermine Hezbollah
capabilities in the southern Beirut area. The Israelis would
consider a move into this area after roads through southern Lebanon
are cleared and Bekaa relatively secured, moving into the area,
only if absolutely necessary, on two axes of attack.
4. Having defeated Hezbollah in detail, withdraw under a political
settlement shifting defense responsibility to the Lebanese
5. Do all of this while the United States is still able to provide
top cover against diplomatic initiatives that will create an
increasingly difficult international environment.
There can be many variations on this theme, but these elements are
1. Hezbollah cannot be defeated without entering the Bekaa Valley,
at the very least.
2. At some point, resistance in southern Lebanon must be dealt
with, regardless of the cost.
3. Rocket attacks against northern Israel and even Tel Aviv must
be accepted while the campaign unfolds.
4. The real challenge will come when Israel tries to withdraw.
No. 4 is the real challenge. Destruction of Hezbollah\'s
infrastructure does not mean annihilation of the force. If Israel
withdraws, Hezbollah or a successor organization will regroup. If
Israel remains, it can wind up in the position the United States is
in Iraq. This is exactly what Hezbollah wants. So, Israel can buy
time, or Israel can occupy and pay the cost. One or the other.
The other solution is to shift the occupational burden to another
power that is motivated to prevent the re-emergence of an
anti-Israeli military force -- as that is what Hezbollah has
become. The Lebanese government is the only possible alternative,
but not a particularly capable one, reflecting the deep rifts in
Israel has one other choice, which is to extend the campaign to
defeat Syria as well. Israel can do this, but the successor regime
to Syrian President Bashar al Assad likely would be much worse for
Israel than al Assad has been. Israel can imagine occupying Syria;
it can\'t do it. Syria is too big and the Arabs have learned from
the Iraqis how to deal with an occupation. Israel cannot live with
a successor to al Assad and it cannot take control of Syria. It
will have to live with al Assad. And that means an occupation of
Lebanon would always be hostage to Syrian support for insurgents.
Hezbollah has dealt Israel a difficult hand. It has thought through
the battle problem as well as the political dimension carefully.
Somewhere in this, there has been either an Israeli intelligence
failure or a political failure to listen to intelligence.
Hezbollah\'s capabilities have posed a problem for Israel that
allowed Hezbollah to start a war at a time and in a way of its
choosing. The inquest will come later in Israel. And Hezbollah will
likely be shattered regardless of its planning. The correlation of
forces does not favor it. But if it forces Israel not only to
defeat its main force but also to occupy, Hezbollah will have
achieved its goals.
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