Sunday, July 23, 2006

No massive escalation = little chance for victory.

Since Hezbollah positions are heavily fortified all over south Lebanon there is no chance to take them out from the air. This has been shown over the past 12 days by the fact that the Hezbollah is still capable of sending 80-150 missiles per day into northern Israel despite the attempts of the IAF to knock out the launchers.

The following are the victory conditions for the various parties:
Israel
- Unconditional return of captured soldiers
- Forced end to rocket/missile attacks on Israel
- Destruction of Hezbollah military capabilities
- Elimination of Hezbollah leadership
- Recreation of deterrence vis-a-vis the northern border.

Hezbollah
- Trade of captured soldiers for prisoners held by Israel.
- Maintenance of capability to keep hitting Israel with rockets.
- Maintenance of organized ability to operate within south Lebanon.
- Keep Hassan Nasrallah alive
- Maintenance of deterrence vis-a-vis Israel.

Syria
- Ability to maintain resupply lines to friendly Lebanese parties.
- Prevent any arrangement that doesn't take Syria into account.

Clearly the Israelis have been unable to obtain any of their goals except for the last one. I would assume that some element of deterrence has been established by the massive damage inflicted on Lebanese infrastructure. Whether this will be enough to prevent a future outbreak of violence depends on how much restraint the rest of the Lebanese actors can force upon the Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has proven itself highly effective. It has been hitting Israel with rockets for 12 days. Israeli airstrikes have been unable to stop them. Israeli limited ground attacks have encountered heavy resistance resulting in Israeli military losses. Nasrallah is the visible symbol of Hezbollah's leadership, and he is still appearing every couple of days on Arab TV stations. While he is alive and missiles/rockets are hitting Israel, any and all Israeli damage inflicted on Hezbollah has minimal value.

Syria can talk to both Hezbollah and Iran. It can resupply Hezbollah. It is trying to deter Israel from a full invasion of Lebanon. It will have to be consulted in any agreement.

As it stands now Hezbollah has fought Israel to a standstill. The following possible steps for Israel are ALL problematic.
1) Invasion of south Lebanon and recreation of security border zone.
- The optimistic idea behind this is that once this zone is created some agreement can be reached relatively quickly with the Lebanese government, the Syrians, the Europeans and the US to hand the border zone over to the Lebanese government and an international force. First there will be heavy casualties from fighting in the rugged terrain of Lebanon against the Hezbollah. This is also problematic because once Israel invades South Lebanon it is in a bind. It needs desperately to obtain an agreement so that it can leave and declare victory. In this situation the Syrians and Iranians are in no way interested in a fast agreement. The Hezbollah, Syrians, Iranians would once again try to inflict damage on the occupying Israeli forces and to deny the chance for any arrangement. Over time Hezbollah gets more support from within Lebanon and the refugee/humanitarian situation that is created in Lebanon by an Israeli invasion works consistently against Israel. Israel is denied victory.

2) No ground invasion of Lebanon. Provocations (airstrikes inside Syria) against Syria in order to threaten escalation and signal readiness to attack Syria.
- If the Syrians don't back down this is a war. Who knows if the Iranians do anything stupid. In any case, provocation towards Syria will increase international pressure on Israel to cease the fighting. If the Syrians do back down there is a chance that Hezbollah will stop shooting missiles and that some sort of agreement can be reached to put in a temporary international force in south Lebanon. Once things quiet down the Syrians will again destabilize Lebanon by funding/supplying Hezbollah or a different proxy that will threaten northern Israel and force the international force out or into inaction.

3) Refuse ceasefire and continue limited ground operations in order
to try to weaken Hezbollah.
- This increases pressure in the short-term on Israel to sign a ceasefire and seems unlikely to be able to force an end to all Hezbollah rocket fire at Israel. In the longer-term the continuation of low-intensity fighting with no chance for escalation on the north border can decrease the international pressure on Syria/Hezbollah for an agreement, while at the same time maintaining a situation of uncertainty/constant threat on the northern 1/3 of Israel.

4) Agree to a ceasefire and start negotiating. The ceasefire will function as a bandaid. The urgency for an agreement will decrease significantly, which means that international pressure for such an agreement will quickly dissipate. The ability of Israel to restart military operations in Lebanon will be limited. Effectively this is a return to status quo ante.

5) Invasion of Lebanon with no intention of creating a security zone. Take Lebanon up to the Litani, clearing Hezbollah and destroying its infrastructure within the area. This must be followed by an immediate unilateral withdrawal back into Israel, while using special forces and airstrikes to disrupt Hezbollah's ability to reestablish its positions in south Lebanon. This weakens Hezbollah, provokes Syria and eliminates most of the rocket/missile threat from northern Israel. The military steps allow the declaration of victory. The political result creates the conditions for at least a temporary agreement. However, there are risks involved here. First Hezbollah might fire long-range missiles from north of the Litani, which might suck Israeli forces into fighting north of the Litani. Second the Syrians might join the fight in Lebanon. Third the Lebanese army might join the fight against Israel. Fourth this might result in many Israeli casualties during fighting against the Hezbollah. Despite these problems this might be the most reasonable option.

These are all bad, its just a question of picking the best of the worst options. I am sure there are other options, but I don't see them.

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