Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Next Israel-Hezbollah War--And What It May Look Like

Jeffrey White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has come out with a new report If War Comes: Israel vs. Hizballah and Its Allies

At a luncheon White discussed his paper and outlined the different nature of such a war in terms of strategy and the players who may be drawn into it:
...All potential participants have been preparing for war. Israel is preparing its ground forces for action in Lebanon, bolstering its intelligence apparatus, and strengthening its defenses against expected strikes by Hizballah rockets and missiles. In a conflict, Israel's strategy will be essentially offensive, with its ground forces likely crossing the Litani River and driving into the Beqa Valley, its air force conducting offensive operations over Lebanon and probably Syria, and its navy operating aggressively off the coast of Lebanon. And while the Israeli military will take measures to reduce civilian losses, Hizballah's defensive concept and the nature of the fighting will result in civilian casualties among the Lebanese population.

Hizballah has also been preparing for war. It has built up its rocket and missile forces and air defenses, and now has four times as many rockets and more accurate missiles than in 2006. In a new war, the group would likely conduct heavy and sustained rocket and missile attacks on both military and civilian targets in northern and central Israel, attacks that will have implications for how Israel fights the war, especially regarding offensive operations deep in Lebanon. Hizballah has also organized its forces to defend southern Lebanon -- its political base and primary rocket launching area -- and to prevent the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from pushing deep into Lebanon. In doing so, it has emphasized the importance of fighting in urban areas and villages. Hizballah will not easily cede ground in southern Lebanon and will likely try to make a stand there.

Syria and Iran are both prepared for war, though it is unclear whether they will provide Hizballah with more than communications, command, control, and intelligence assistance. If Hizballah appears to be losing, Syria and Iran may feel pressure to assist the group in order to keep it in the fight.

If Hamas joins the fighting, the Israeli military will likely take control of most, if not all, of Gaza following the conclusion of major combat operations in Lebanon. Such an occupation would entail "finishing the job" started by the IDF during the 2008-2009 war in Gaza

...At the war's end, the IDF will most likely control southern Lebanon and perhaps, as suggested earlier, all of Gaza, an outcome that is likely to involve heavy civilian casualties, political crises, and an urgent need for stabilization measures in Lebanon, Gaza, and possibly Syria. The war will be costly for all involved and could have a transformational effect on the politics of the region...
At the luncheon, White was joined by Andrew Exum, a former U.S. Army officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He cautioned:
It is unclear how another war will secure for Israel a better peace than the one it currently enjoys along a tense, but largely pacific, border with Lebanon. No matter how bloodied Hizballah might be at the end of a protracted campaign, a future in which Israel once again occupies a large portion of Lebanon would be a strategic nightmare.

...Israel is unlikely to break Hizballah as a military actor in Lebanon or weaken it politically. It is hard to envision an outcome in which Hizballah ceases to be the preeminent military actor in Lebanon, or in which its standing among its core Shiite constituency is in any way threatened. We might also note that previous Israeli punishment campaigns actually galvanized popular support for Hizballah's armed efforts.

A massive ground war waged in Lebanon might further isolate Israel internationally. Lebanon is not Gaza and it cannot be sealed off from Western and Arabic-language media. Furthermore, Israel is held to a higher humanitarian standard by the international community than even the United States. The inevitable deaths of civilians and UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeepers, of which there are six times as many in southern Lebanon today as there were before 2006, could further undermine Israel's media image and its international standing. The Lebanese military will also sustain many more casualties because it will likely participate in the fighting, since the units deployed in the South consist largely of residents from that region who have a vested interest in defending their homes and villages.

Israel has two alternatives. The first is to maintain the status quo. Deterrence is a strategy for peace, and though Hizballah may not seek peace over the long term, the group is clearly trying to dissuade Israel from attacking Lebanon through the credible threat of force. Israel is doing much the same with regard to its own territory.

...If war does occur, Israel should show restraint and pursue achievable objectives. This may mean a smaller, shorter war to degrade, rather than wipe out, Hizballah's military capabilities. A large war would not be good for Israel, Lebanon, or the United States -- but that may indeed be where the region is headed.
On the page summarizing their comments, There is a link on the page ("Listen to audio") to listen to the audio of their comments as well as a question and answer session that followed.

There were predictions that the summer would see another war between Israel and Hezbollah. We've made it this far without another war breaking out--but if it does, it does appear that the scale will dwarf what was encountered the last time, and the outcome is unclear.

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