Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lebanon: waiting for the other shoe to drop

I've been watching the news over the past few days with mixed feelings. On one side, I feel the Israeli reaction to the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was a major overreaction: rather like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer or killing an ant with a 155mm howitzer. Israel should realize that Hamas and the Palestinian people do not speak with one voice, and the Palestinian cabinet ministers they took prisoner and the people who work in the offices they bombed likely had no advance knowledge of the assault.

On the other hand, I do think Israel's response to the attack from Lebanon has thus far been fairly restrained. I was alarmed last week when I first heard the rhretoric from Israeli politicians threatening to "turn back the clock 20 years in Lebanon", but I am glad that the attacks in Lebanon thus far have exercised a lot more restraint than this:

  • The attacks on Beirut's airport punched holes in the runway and took out the fuel depot. The apparent goals of these attacks were to prevent Hizballah from resupplying, and to prevent Hisballah from transporting the two captured soldiers outside Lebanon - since according to news reports, Israel had intelligence that Hizballah was planning to transport the captured soldiers to Iran. Punching holes in the runways and blowing up the fuel depots effectively shut down the airport, but are the least expensive components to repair (certainly less expensive than if they'd bombed the terminal).
  • The attacks on Beirut's airport appear to have been done using precision munitions that prevented damage to more expensive items there: the terminals, and various commercial aircraft sitting on the tarmac. Consider this picture below (source): note the holes punched in the runways, but the undamaged $150 million terminal building and the undamaged aircraft owned by various airlines (each of which are worth tens of millions of dollars), and undamaged houses beside the airport.

  • The bombing of an airport runway on a Lebanese military base seems to have been for the same purpose.
  • The bombing of bridges and the road from Syria to Lebanon seemed a continuation of the dual goals of preventing Hizballah from resupplying, and to prevent them from transporting the captive soldiers out of the country.
  • From news reports, the bombings in Lebanon have been concentrated in Hizballah strongholds, including Hizballah buildings in southern Beirut.

Israelis should be intelligent enough to realize that Lebanon is not their real enemy here. The enemy is Hizballah. Hizballah is like a cancerous tumor that has grown within Lebanon for the past few decades. Like other tumors, Hizballah may be contained within the victim, and may be made up from parts of its victim, but does not act in the interests of the victim. And, like other tumors, Hizballah may lie benign for many years, and suddenly turn malignant, as it seems to have now. Like other cancer victims, many in Lebanon may wish for Hizballah to be gone, but have thus far been unable to effect this desire.

Despite the initial rhetoric of the Israeli government against Lebanon, they seem to have realized that Lebanon is not their true enemy. The fact that Israeli officials have not repeated the "turn the clock back" rhetoric, and that Israel has not escalated to a wholesale destruction of Lebanese infrastructure (electrical grid, etc.) supports this suggestion.

Perhaps Israeli officials have realized that Hizballah's support comes more from the Syrian and Iranian government than from the Lebanese government. When Iranian-made rockets land in Haifa, it is logical to wonder how Hizballah got these advanced rockets to begin with. Likewise, when it is learned that Hizballah is using Syrian ammunition to attack Israel, Syria becomes implicated. And, when Israel has intelligence suggesting that Hizballah is planning to fly its captured soldiers to Iran, this strongly suggests the collusion of elements of the Iranian government.

Knowing this, one must wonder when the next shoe will drop in this fight. If Israel knows that Iran and Syria were behind Hizballah's attack on its territory, will they be content to sit idly by and pretend that they were not involved? This does not seem like Israel's style. Instead, I would expect Israel's attack on Syria and Iran to be fierce, and to be delivered with much less restraint than was exercised in Lebanon. Why hasn't Israel given any hint of this so far? Perhaps they are adhering to the words of the famed Chinese general Sun Tzu:

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.
Sun Tzu: "The Art of War"

If I were living in Syria or Iran right now, I would be worried. Very worried...