The drums of war beat their rhythm ever louder… Having just read this (once again) very interesting piece by Caroline Glick about Ahmadinejad’s forthcoming visit to Lebanon, I will summarise her conclusions here and develop these further:
1. Ahmadinejad is publicly demonstrating Iranian dominance over the other factions in Lebanon through ownership of Hezbollah.
2. The demands made by Hezbollah and Syria demonstrate the desire to finally extinguish the March 14th revolution. These demands include arrest of the key political figures in the Hariri tribunal and anti-Syrian/Hezbollah in the Lebanese cabinet etc.
3. There is no longer any reason to invest in the myth of the independent status of Hezbollah.
4. The March 14th factions are not going to be able to survive the joint attack of Hezbollah, Syria and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who are openly operating in Lebanon.
5. The March 14th factions have appealed to other Arab states for support and arms but this is not forthcoming.
6. The lack of Arab support is directly attributable to the temporising manner of the Obama administration towards Syria, the continued arming of the Lebanese Army (heavily infiltrated by Hezbollah, where units are not openly pro-Syrian).
7. The US government cannot be counted on as the administration persists in treating Hezbollah as moderate and independent of Iran in the face of intelligence assessments indicating otherwise.
8. Iran is committed to using Lebanon and Hezbollah to provoke another full war with Israel in order to gain a strategic political victory.
9. Israel must prepare for a war with Lebanon with the strategic aims of defeating Hezbollah as a fighting force and crippling Syria.
I would disagree with none of these conclusions. My thoughts on these matters are below.
1. The Obama administration is so lost in its doctrinaire fantasies that it cannot recognise the imminent danger of both a nuclear armed Iran and the subjugation of Lebanon to the will of the two ideologically terroristic regimes in the Middle East. This is partly because the US president is intellectually committed to a leftist view of International Relations in which the prime actors are the Western powers and Israel is viewed as a colonial outpost of the old Western empires. The implications of this are as follows:
a. The US will not intervene to protect Israel in more than a neutral or “even-handed” fashion in the event of war.
b. There is a danger that the US will attempt to “restrain” Israel by withholding credits, arms or even supporting UN Security Council resolutions against Israel.
c. For Israel and the West, at present the US is, and will be, the “missing” ally.
2. For the Middle East, the implications of the unreliability of the US (amply demonstrated during the Russian invasion of Georgia) are that the Gulf Emirates are either hastening to ally with the Iranian-Syrian axis or are anxiously sitting on the sidelines and hoping not to get to get caught up with the coming conflagration. This is also in part a consequence of the failure of the regional states with regards to anti-zionist and antisemitic propaganda and exhortation. The more moderate states such as Dubai or Qatar have failed to curb or challenge the antisemitic incitement of the Arab media, while the less moderate have either ignored or more often encouraged such beliefs.
At this time when the Arab states need allies to stand up to the Iranian sponsored-movements within their borders and Iranian aggression abroad, the governments have painted themselves into a corner and have cut themselves off from any open alliance or understanding with the one state in the region able to take on the Iranian-Syrian axis – Israel. Between the Arab states and Israel, a clear coincidence of interests exists in countering the baleful influence of Iran on the region but the policies of these states in this context mean that they cannot openly approach Israel without the danger of domestic disturbances.
There is a further danger which will be explored later.
3. If the Iranian-Syrian axis gain complete control of Lebanon, then a number of outcomes are guaranteed.
a. The regimes of both countries will be emboldened by the strengthening of the joint strategic position.
b. The pseudo-independence of Lebanon (as ruled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards) will extraordinarily advantageous for these regimes: Lebanon can be used as a delivery point for weapons (marked for the Lebanese Army, transferred to Iran or Syria), will act as a outlet to escape further sanctions in the expansion of Syrian trade, and it will structurally enhance the capability of Hezbollah and the IRG to export terrorist networks, training and equipment into Europe and the Arab states of the Mediterranean.
c. With regards to the strategic struggle against Israel, the position first confirmed in 2006 with the Second Lebanon War will be consolidated and formalised: Lebanon as the third front against Israel, in addition to Syria and “Palestine”.
d. The nature and structure of the Lebanese state will be overhauled, most probably by plebiscite to continue the illusion of democracy to formally incorporate Hezbollah into the state, transform Lebanon into an Islamist state like Iran and Gaza and to place pressure on the non-Muslim minorities to convert, emigrate or cooperate with the new state.
e. The UN force that is supposed to be guaranteeing the ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon (Hezbollah) will likely be retained for a short time as diplomatic hostages during the formal hijacking of the Lebanese constitution and state, then either will be ordered to leave or attacked by “rogue” terrorist elements in order to provoke the constituent governments into withdrawing their contingents to UNIFIL. Once these have withdrawn, the path will then be clear to launch terror raids into northern Israel and fully prepare a war of attrition with Israel.
f. Once this war comes, the Lebanese population will be held as hostages and human shields as the Iranian-Syrian axis does not care for human lives and will use these to bring political defeat to Israel.
4. Israel’s options are fortunately more open and less bleak than previously estimated due to the Stuxnet attack on Iran and the nuclear development programme in particular. Nonetheless as I’ve indicated in my title and opening paragraph to this piece, a war is approaching and Israel must have its game prepared.
a. This will be a much broader war than the last two in 2006 and 2008/2009.
Hamas can be expected to resume terrorist attacks from Gaza; Fatah may resume terrorist activity in Judea and Samaria and attempt together with Hamas and the other factions to export these attacks into Israel as well as East Jerusalem and the settlement blocks.
Israel will have to plan to meet these attacks. Fatah can be neutralised by the deployment of two brigades to resume day to day control of Palestinian areas. Gaza will have to be held in check rather than fully tackled in the early stages as the crisis will emerge in the north, not the south. If the war in the north goes according to the best case scenario, then a reckoning can be had with Gaza.
Syria can be expected to join or jointly lead any assault on Northern Israel. The most likely course of action will be long range bombardment of northern and central Israel by artillery, rocket and long range rocket fire; the possibility also remains that Syria may use chemical warheads, which would necessitate Israeli nuclear counter-bombardment. Less likely but within the realm of possibility is a simultaneous conventional assault on the Golan Heights, though if an assault on the heights were to transpire, it is more likely that this occur due to Israeli military pressure on Hezbollah. It is more likely in the broader scenario that Syria directly intervenes through the Bekaa Valley as in 1982 in order to provide Hezbollah forces with a safe route of retreat and sanctuary if the Israeli assault looks likely to inflict a serious defeat on Hezbollah.
Syria can be expected to shelter and continue to supply and support Hezbollah throughout any conflict, so it may be necessary for Israel to first defeat Hezbollah and then invade Syria with the aim of knocking Syria out of the war. If so, then the best direction for this attack into Syria may come though the Bekaa Valley as this will bypass the fortifications facing the Golan Heights.
In any event of war, the Lebanese Army will fall into two categories of response, neither being mutually exclusive, the first being to attempt to remain neutral and the second to actively engage in combat with Israeli forces. This will be determined on a unit by unit basis, dependent on the degree of Hezbollah infiltration, the ideology of the unit commanders, Iranian-Syrian subversion (not everything goes through Hezbollah) and to what the degree Lebanon has been wholly captured by the Islamists and their backers. Israel should disarm the Lebanese Army units encountered if these remain neutral, and defeat in combat those which engage in hostilities.
The UNIFIL force remains a problem. There is a danger that the UNIFIL forces will engage in “self-protective” combat with the IDF when the invasion comes, yet a parallel danger is the hostage status of the 15,000 strong force. Israel may well have to order UNIFIL forces to leave or remain in barracks during any military activity or be considered hostile, which in turn brings the probability of international involvement. UNIFIL forces could by their presence harm IDF chances of a surprise attack into Lebanon, once again due to the sensitive status of those units.
The combat units of Hezbollah are expected to fight from fortified positions, use ambush and booby-trapped terrain in order to create killing zones in which to trap IDF units and to overall fight from within civilian areas in order to maximise civilian casualties. Expect Hezbollah fighters to wear civilian garb in order to identified as civilian both on the battlefield and in the casualty lists. Hezbollah can be expected to utilise mass-bombardment of both northern and central Israel and also of IDF positions. The IDF operational plan should emphasise the seizing of terrain in order to force the Hezbollah units to stand and fight in order to destroy these and weaken the morale of other Hezbollah or sympathetic units. Strategic priority should be given to seizing the Bekaa Valley in order to cut off support from Syria as well as to locate, examine and destroy all Hezbollah infrastructure in the area as the valley is believed to be the heartland of the Hezbollah logistics and political support.
In the event of complete success, Israel should not be afraid of reshaping Lebanese politics by turning the March 14th factions into an anti-Syrian alliance. This will require the disbanding of the Lebanese Army and the formation of a new national armed force incorporating the militias and focused on fighting Iranian-Syrian terrorism and political aims. It is probable that if well handled, the Christian and Druze (and possibly the Sunni) factions in Lebanon can be wielded together to form an anti-Syrian constituency and prevent future attacks on Israel as well as guaranteeing Lebanese independence.
Whether or not the expected long-range air attack on Iranian nuclear facilities actually emerges, Iran will remain a player in this future conflict and is likely to attempt to disrupt Iraq and reactivate its terrorist cells in that country. Iran may attempt to fly reinforcements to Syria in the event of an Israeli assault on either Lebanon or Syria.
The Arab states:
The likelyhood of Arab military intervention in this future conflict is slight but must be considered. The most powerful Arab force remains as in the past, Egypt, which has been lavishly re-equipped by the United States. With a total force of nearly three quarters of a million soldiers, military intervention by Egypt is a dangerous prospect, especially given the lack of strategic depth for Israel. Jordan is not likely to intervene but may do so. Like Egypt, the Jordanian armed forces are well equipped and probably better trained.
A possibility remains that these states will not intervene, preferring to see the Iranian-Syrian axis defeated than suffer the consequences of an Israeli defeat. Given the possibility of civil unrest in these states during an Israeli-Iranian/Syrian conflict, the armed and security forces may be more concerned with suppression of disorder and dissent than external aggression.
Under certain circumstances, such as a near total Syrian defeat, the Turkish Islamist government may attempt to enter the war. Turkey poses a danger as its military is large, well equipped and relatively well trained. The Turkish general staff cannot be counted on with any certainty as a restraining force on the Turkish government and may commit to such a campaign to gain favour with an increasingly dictatorial government.
Problems may be encountered internally in the Israeli Arab population and with left-wing “peace groups”. This may extend from civil disobedience and civil rioting, to the possibility of the initiation of terrorist activities.
In preparing for this war, Israel must include in its calculations, the possibility of a long war and consequently will require the following to prepare against such an instance.
1. Heavy logistical preparation, including the building of a very large ammunition, fuel and spare parts reserve. There is the distinct likelihood of international embargoes on military supplies as well as oil and gas. The existence of such a reserve would give the IDF and Israel more breadth and depth in military options.
2. Diplomatic preparation, especially of the US government. It should be emphasised that the war was forced on Israel by long-term trends that fundamentally threaten the state of Israel and international peace. Support should be sought for the aim of the complete destruction of Hezbollah and the extermination of the IRG support group in Lebanon. The necessity of invading Syria and if necessary, toppling the regime should be noted. The same goes for a possible reoccupation of the Gaza Strip.
3. Preparation of the Israeli government and public to withstand the inevitable international pressure on Israel to cease fighting etc.
4. Preparation of a counter-propaganda campaign against the inevitably biased international media. An option to be explored should be the embedding of journalists in IDF combat units in order to provide a counter-narrative to the Arab and independent media. As seen in both recent conflicts, the media is very prone to a: interpret events through a hostile perspective, and b: uncritically accept fraudulent narratives from third party sources. Media parties should be expelled from Israel if deemed to pose a risk to operational security or to present a risk to life of IDF personnel or Israeli citizens.
5. Within Israel, preparations should also be made to deal with the likelihood of Israeli Arab unrest. The Israeli Police will have to be expected to tackle with full force any attempts at rioting or sabotage.
6. In the event of Hezbollah facilities being overrun, maximum media attention should be focused on the kidnap centres, torture chambers and on any incriminating documents or records recovered. The extent of Hezbollah preparations should be explored and presented to the Western media after the war in order to demonstrate the nature of the enemy faced.
The overall conclusions to draw from this study are therefore:
1. War is coming.
2. The likely minimum theatre is going to be south Lebanon.
3. The IDF minimal objective must be the destruction of Hezbollah and the neutralisation of Syria.
4. Extensive preparation is necessary, both in diplomatic, military, political and civic fields.
5. Surprise is of paramount importance. The conduct of operations will be smoother if Iranian-Syrian forces are unable to respond in a timely manner.
6. A wider plan should be developed for the conduct of Lebanese politics in the context of a medium term Israeli occupation. A realignment of Lebanon towards Israel will prove to be a major strategic defeat for the Islamists in the Middle East.
7. Covert understandings should be sought with Arab states but these must remain a secret in order to avoid compromising those governments.
8. Planning should be undertaken to consider hostile Turkish intervention.