July 24, 2006
Skillful Asymmetry & Spin (Israel-Lebanon Land War)
In the twilight realm that is the competing spin on the Israeli-Leb crisis, it is hard even to know where to begin, when our own yellow satire barely outdoes actual American commentary justifying civilian massacres.
However, I would suggest that the Superpower's bizarro-world approach to the crisis, infected as it is with utterly magical thinking as it reportedly is shopping for a 'coalition of the willing' [my term my dears] to "disarm" Hizbullah, and uniquely confirm its own allies as Quislings... [link restored]
The Financial Times, with fine understatement reports this evening that Rice ideas for peace disappoint in Beirut, although that may be about as much news as Israeli and Arab leaders don't see eye to eye.
However, it would strike me that (the following from the FT) Rice's “sustainable ceasefire” conditions are among the most surreal, along with the bizarre fiction of supporting Siniora at the same time supporting a complete free hand for Israel's peculiar air war. Her statement that "We have absolutely the same goal” particularly stands out as diplo-lang that simply lacks enough connexion with reality to even qualify as intelligent spin.
Let me quote the difference:
Political sources in Beirut said Ms Rice’s proposals fell short of what the government was expecting. The US is advocating deployment of an international force, along with the Lebanese army, south of the Litani river, the region Israel has invaded to try to stop Hizbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel.
Mr Siniora, however, wants a more comprehensive deal, addressing all disputes between Lebanon and Israel. His government says it needs cards in its hands – including an Israeli willingness to withdraw from the occupied Shebaa farms, which Beirut claims sovereignty over, and an exchange of prisoners – if it is to have a chance of persuading Hizbollah to compromise.
Ms Rice on Monday insisted that any ceasefire must be with the Lebanese government rather than with Hizbollah. The US administration says it wants a long-lasting peace that would remove the Hizbollah rocket threat to Israel.
The US has been criticised, even by some allies, for allowing Israel a free hand to pursue its war aims in Lebanon. Yossi Ben-Ari, former Israel intelligence officer, said: “Israel has never enjoyed such broad American support for both its policies and military actions as it does today.
Effectively the US position is Israel gets what it wants and the Lebs can suck eggs, all in the interest of "durable" peace.
The amazing portion of this type of approach is that someone like Rice might well have once studied something called Versailles Peace.
There may be some value in this, as in Iraq, in proving the unbounded fantasies of achieving political transformation by force that the Neo-Bolshy Right in America likes to enterain will be deflated, although given their immunity to even the basics of reason.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces are pursuing Leb Land Invasion 82 bis.
I would add that I have to say Nasrallah is gaining my respect in terms of SpinMeisterness:
Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah leader, whose forces continued to rain rocket fire on northern Israel yesterday, dismissed the loss of Maroun al-Ras and the impact of the Israeli offensive. “The Israeli media speaks of Maroun al-Ras as if it were the battle of Stalingrad,” he told Lebanese daily as-Safir.
Amusing if nothing else.
I may add in the tradition of 82 as well as the new Neo Bolshy radical loons, we have also this looney arty by Amir "Make Up Stories re hated Isl. Rep. guv" Taheri claiming that Hizbullah is a forward strategy to rule MENA, which makes sense in a 82 spin, but now...
However, returning to the 82-00 theme, an interesting article in The Sunday Times re Israel faces the dangers of an 'asymmetric war' containing a number of rich observations:
The crisis began as two uncoordinated kidnappings of Israeli soldiers. Now foreigners flee Beirut, Israeli troops move into southern Lebanon and it has become a small war. It is a typical asymmetric war — of the guerrilla army against a state, the politically cunning against an exasperated government — with a natural tendency to spin out of anyone’s control.
On one side Hezbollah mixes the tactics of the terrorist, the guerrilla and the victim. The overall strategy is political: to provoke the Israelis into overreaction, to cement local support and international condemnation for their attackers and to be nimble enough to survive the onslaught.
So Hezbollah launches hundreds of Katyusha and Fajr-3 rockets into Israel, as far south as Haifa and Nazareth, killing more than 30 civilians and soldiers, and provoking Israel to hit some 1,200 targets in Lebanon, killing more than 300.
This grisly 1:10 casualty ratio generates exactly the international reaction that Hezbollah wants. A guerrilla army will never beat a good conventional army, but it can prevent the conventional force from winning on the battlefield while its government is beaten politically in capitals around the world.
This is what happened during 18 years of Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon which ended in 2000. Hezbollah is confident that it can make that happen again if the Israelis try to stay in Lebanon. They are always in danger of overplaying it, of course, making the Lebanese weary of devastation. But so far there are few indications of that.
In short, 82 repeated, 82 bis.
Only more like the post 90 period.
Why has Israel been sucked into this asymmetric war? One reason is that Israeli military and intelligence services have been achieving real successes targeting Hamas terrorist leaders in Gaza and the West Bank. .... The Israelis felt confident that at last they were making a success of it against Hamas and have taken the fight directly to them. They might have felt they could extend this success to their Hezbollah enemies in the north.
They knew where rocket sites were, knew the location of some stockpiles and transit routes and knew a lot of what went on in the Haret Hreik district of south Beirut where Hezbollah had its headquarters.
However, not much has been achieved in 12 days of fighting and now the Israelis are drawn into deep “search and destroy” operations on the ground in Lebanon. The dynamics of the fighting may overtake the strategic calculations behind it.
Tactical considerations begin to drive rather than strategic.
(This discussion on The Middle East War: What Would Sun Tzu Do? is very useful for making this kind of point.)
Nevertheless, Israel is having trouble convincing the rest of the world that it is manning a front line in some grand civil war raging across the Islamic Middle East. It is actually facing the old military conundrum: that there is no silver bullet for governments facing a skilful asymmetric opponent.
And it has likely chosen the wrong kind of war.
And the US, writing a black cheque to its Austrian (sorry Israeli) ally, has engaged in the wrong war to win its vision of the "Cedar Revolution" Lebanon it is envisoning...
Unless it has a magic wand way to change Lebanese demographics.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Your "Coalition of the Willing" quote link is self-referential, in that it leads back to itself. (Unless my synapses have stopped firing for the night, which admittedly is a distinct possibility.)
US rhetoric gets increasingly surreal - the US has announced a humanitarian aid package to Lebanon even as it insists that a ceasefire now would be detrimental to a lasting piece - I wonder if the missiles they are rushing to Israel will reach the Lebanese people before the humanitarian aid?
White House spokesperson Tony Snow declared that the US was "first on the ground" with humanitarian aid - even as a clearly marked Red Cross ambulance was bombed by Israel this evening, and the Red Crescent and UN had begged for a humanitarian corridor to do their relief work.
Posted by: SP at July 24, 2006 10:13 PM
Eva: I removed the link, tag had no URL
Posted by: eerie at July 25, 2006 12:05 AM
re US, reminds of something a soldier said in the Vietnam war about US pacification: blow them up, then put a band-aid on them.
Blair may have made a huge blunder in following Bush into Iraq, but I think the British troops have actually been a positive contribution during their stay.
The problem with US peacekeeping/making is that USA is a trigger-happy nation, so naturally it has a trigger-happy army. Congress can talk all they want about shifting emphasis to reconstruction, but they can't change the mindset of their own nation.
Posted by: Klaus at July 25, 2006 06:52 AM
Mm. Tactical tunnel vision.
For some reason I keep thinking of the infamous "Battle of the Crater" from the US Civil War. For those who don't recall, that's where the two armies were stalemated in trench warfare, so the Union dug a tunnel under the Confederate lines and touched off explosives from underneath. Except the Union army then attacked into the crater and got massacred trying to climb out.
Granted, a highly metaphoric comparison...
Posted by: blue92 at July 25, 2006 09:02 AM
Fun analogy, any old way.
I've always thought that bit of the Civil War - am I right in assuming it was during the Wilderness campaign? - was a very interesting precursor to the trench warfare of WWI.
Posted by: pantom at July 25, 2006 09:33 PM
You could look at it that way, though I get the impression some historians divide the Wilderness (or "Overland") Campaign as one stage and the siege as the subsequent result.
The crater battle was about three months after Wilderness. Grant kept pushing Lee toward Richmond, ever trying to outflank. Grant fought all the way around the capital and had wound up entrenched in Petersburg, east and south of Richmond.
There they stayed until Lee was forced to abandon the city nine months later--and surrendered shortly thereafter...
Posted by: blue92 at July 25, 2006 10:01 PM
I think you are misreading Alan Dershowitz's brilliant essay on the "Continuum of Civilianality," which I have also blogged about. He is not justifying all civilian massacres; rather, he is saying that some civilian massacres are better than others.
Posted by: Jon Swift at July 26, 2006 03:20 AM
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 26, 2006 07:15 AM