Sunday, July 30, 2006

Routinization and Strategy

Stratfor's latest analysis of the Lebanon conflict concludes that the war is becoming routinized:
Israeli aircraft fly daily air strikes in Lebanon. Hezbollah rockets strike at Israel. Ground combat takes place among small units just north of the Israeli-Lebanese border. It is a situation that appears, on the surface, to have settled into a sustainable routine. Neither side is clearly making military progress; neither side is under military compulsion to end hostilities; neither side appears to be changing the military equation. Such a war can continue for a long time from a military standpoint. The political dimension determines what happens next. That can range from indefinite continuation of the current pattern of conflict, to an attempt by one side to change the pattern in some decisive way, or the suspension of conflict by means of a political resolution.
Continuing some reflections from earlier reports, the analysis considers that an unconditional cease-fire - also now sought by the Lebanese government - would suit the forces of Hizbullah, which "can't do better than it is doing now", though it will not invade Israel and will at some point be worn down by the continuous Israeli air attacks. Israel, on the other hand, has not achieved its strategic goals in the conflict, and has suffered some political losses. There appears to be some uncertainty about the effectiveness of the air campaign, and an ambivalence shown in the mobilization of ground reserves coupled with official assertions that no ground campaign is planned. Whether the uncertainty is due to an intelligence failure, to correct intelligence of the enemy's capabilities, or to apprehensions about the costs of an occupation of Lebanon, there is little doubt that the current situation, in which Hizbullah has achieved a military draw and a certain political advantage, cannot be allowed to continue.

A perception is gaining sway in the Arab world that the IDF may after all not be invincible - this, in the aftermath of Israeli withdrawals after relatively large casualties were sustained by Israeli troops. If this perception gains wider credibility, it will profoundly affect the political landscape in the Middle East. Israel needs to go on fighting, for any cease-fire now would be immensely damaging to it politically. Given the fact that a widening of the war is simply not an option, and that Israel has neither the reach for Iran nor the will to occupy Syria, Israel
must, given its options, try to inflict a decisive defeat on Hezbollah, and a cease-fire would deny Israel that opportunity. The political effect on the region would be dramatic. It may well be that the Israelis have no appetite for casualties or counterinsurgency. It may be that their view of Hezbollah is that it is more an irritant than a threat. Nevertheless, the current evolution of this conflict forces them to make some dramatic decisions.

We note that the war is routinized. That should not be taken as proof that more dramatic events are not being planned. If it turns out that Israel declines major ground operations and accepts a cease-fire, the political map of the region -- geographically and psychologically -- would change decisively and to Israel's massive disadvantage. Thus we must assume that with cease-fires approaching and no decision on the ground, Israel will shift its strategy.
This latest Stratfor report was, of course, issued before today's cancellation by the Lebanese government of Secretary of State Rice's visit to Beirut.
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