Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Ground Offensive

Stratfor's latest special report by George Friedman on the progress of the Israeli ground offensive in Lebanon, which is now well underway, concentrates on outlining Hizballah's tactics and strategy, which Friedman characterizes as "more like the way the Japanese defended Pacific islands against the U.S. Marines during World War II than anything else." This, Friedman suggests, is the war that Hizballah wanted and has prepared for, involving a broad dispersion of forces and a system of dug-in bunkers, with a decentralized command - the main aim being to withstand artillery and air strikes and compelling the Israeli forces to engage at close quarters. Like the Japanese, the Hizballah forces do not necessarily expect to survive the battles - theirs is a suicide tactic, aimed at the inflicting of maximum casualties, thus laying the groundwork for a political settlement which will drive the Israelis into counterinsurgency. Using an operational map, Friedman charts the IDF's objectives, showing that in order to secure an end to Hizballah rocket attacks, Israel will have to push back the terrorist forces to Riyaq in order to terminate the threat from the Zelzal-2s, to Baalbek to protect Tel Aviv, and to Hermel to protect Haifa. (See the maximum Hizballah rocket strike range map). This will have to be done on the ground, as intelligence from the air is less reliable than on-the-spot reconnaissance.

So Israel will have to drive deep into Lebanon, moving north-east into the Bekaa Valley, and also north along the coast, and then deal with intense fighting in the south of the country along the Litani. There is also the question of whether the fighting may not also be equally intense in the more northern areas, where Hizballah may be just as prepared as in the south.

With Gen. Dan Halutz, IDF chief of staff and planner of the air campaign, currently in hospital, his place has been taken by Maj. Gen Moshe Kaplinsky. Friedman notes that
Kaplinsky is drawn from army, having commanded the Golani Brigade, with long experience in Lebanon. This brings expertise on ground warfare to the top spot in the IDF, particularly in combined infantry-armored operations in Lebanon. Israel has focused down on the main battle now. Hezbollah has been focused for a while. As the cliche goes, the outcome is in doubt, in large part because like all wars, the end of this one is political -- and the intersection of the political with the military complicates the war enormously.
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