Israel: The Phony War

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July 31, 2006: The Hizbollah tactic of firing rockets from residential areas, and forcing civilians to stick around when the rockets are fired, has paid off. One rocket launching site in a large building in southern Lebanon, for which Israel released video of rockets being launched, before bombing the building, turned out to contain over fifty women and children. The civilians know that the Israelis bomb any place where rockets are fired from, but Hizbollah gunmen will force the civilians to stay. This has caused many Lebanese, even Shia in the south, to turn against Hizbollah. Some journalists have even been able to get out of Lebanon with pictures of this, but most of the world media prefers to call Israeli response to Hizbollah attacks a war crime and leave it at that. This is going to be one of those situations where, down the road, historians are going to wonder just what the world was thinking during all this.

While Hizbollah is good at getting Lebanese civilians killed, they are not very effective at hurting Israelis. Engineer and intelligence troops have identified less than a hundred rockets landing in Israel each day so far. This is done by collecting and identifying fragments. But as time goes by, more rocket hits are discovered in unpopulated areas of northern Israel. Apparently more than a hundred rockets are landing in northern Israel each day, but on many days, only a few dozen land anywhere near residential areas. Many of the rocket salvos (two dozen or more 122mm rockets are being fired at a time) are not aimed very well at all, and don't come down anywhere near to an Israeli settlement. This is why there has been less than one Israeli casualty per rocket fired. This casualty rate has been coming down. One recent barrage of 25 122mm rockets landed in an Israeli town and caused no casualties at all (but damaged several buildings).

The Israelis keep civilian casualties down by having better bomb shelters, using them more effectively and evacuating many of the more exposed towns in northern Israel. Since Israel is a democracy, the government has to do all it can to minimize its civilian casualties. Hizbollah is not a democracy, but a religious dictatorship (trying to bring that form of government to Lebanon, and then the world.) Hizbollah considers itself on a mission from God, and within its rights to kill anyone, and do anything, to complete its mission. Thus the policy of getting the maximum number of Lebanese civilians killed. European and Moslem media have taken the bait, and are calling Israeli responses, to Hizbollah attacks, "war crimes."

Israeli ground operations appear to be using paratroopers and other elite infantry to hunt down and kill Hizbollah rocket launching teams. Hizbollah has not got a lot of trained people. Kill them, and they are hard to replace. There are only so many rocket launcher teams. Kill them, and no one will be available to take the rockets out of their hiding places and launch them. Right now, this battle is being won by the Israelis, because Hizbollah has not been able to launch many longer (over 20 kilometers) rockets at more densely populated areas deeper in Israel. Most of the rockets are short range ones. The Israeli attack on the transportation system in southern Lebanon has made it difficult to move large objects, like big rockets, into position for launch.

Israel agreed to a 40 hour halt to air attacks on the 30th, to provide time to investigate the bombing the day before that killed over fifty civilians at a Hizbollah launching site. This is supposed to give Hizbollah an opportunity to reciprocate. But Hizbollah has more pressing problems. While the Lebanese media won't discuss it much, most Lebanese are quite angry with Hizbollah. The stories, of how Hizbollah forces civilians to stay around rocket launch sites, are now widely known. Israeli intelligence agents in Lebanon are getting more good tips on Hizbollah activity, especially within Christian areas. The Lebanese Christians know they are considered eventual targets (as infidels) of Hizbollah, and have noted Hizbollah men joking about getting the "Jews to do our work for us" (killing Lebanese Christians.)

The main problem in Lebanon is, and always has been, that the civil war never really ended in 1990, especially not for the Shia faction represented by Hizbollah. Iran accepted the 1990 ceasefire in Lebanon under pressure from the rest of the Moslem world. But while Hizbollah entered Lebanese politics in the 1990s, they never disarmed their militia, supported the continued Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and did not recognize the authority of the Lebanese government, in portions of southern Lebanon that Hizbollah controlled.

Israel is not giving detailed briefings on its tactics and exactly what its forces have accomplished so far. That's because this war is largely a psychological one. It's also an Information War, where the manipulation of the media is an important aspect of the fight. In this respect, Hizbollah has an edge, because most of the Moslem and European media will automatically side with them against Israel. That said, the Israeli strategy appears to be the destruction of people and material that Hizbollah will have the most difficulty replacing, and weakening Hizbollah enough so that the majority of Lebanese, and the Lebanese government, can regain control of southern Lebanon (and Hizbollah controlled Beirut neighborhoods), that Hizbollah has controlled for decades. If Lebanon can put itself back together, Hizbollah will be much less of a threat. Because this conflict is also seen as another battle in the thousand year old war between Sunni and Shia, most Arabs, while cheering for Hizbollah, because they are armed Arabs who did not go down before the Israeli in the first round, will not be terribly upset if Hizbollah ultimately loses and disappears.