Judging from the reports on the 24 hour news channels and on the Internet, Israel is having a dominating impact on Hezbollah in the nearly two week long war in southern Lebanon. What we hear and what’s actually happening, though, may be two different things:
Israel is overstating the damage its air war has inflicted on the Hezbollah militia, which hides its weapons in tunnels and civilian neighborhoods throughout Lebanon, Bush administration and intelligence officials said yesterday.
Israeli assessments are “too large,” said one U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But he added, “We are not getting into numbers.”
Jerusalem military leaders have put out numbers such as “50 percent” and “one-third” to assess the damage its combat jets have done to Hezbollah’s arsenal of 13,000 rockets, and its mortars, launchers, vehicles and other military equipment.
Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Daniel Ayalon, told the Associated Press yesterday that bombing has destroyed more than 40 percent of Hezbollah’s arms.
None of this should be a surprise.
History shows us that air power’s ability to acheive strategic goals is limited. It failed to defeat an entrenched enemy in either the Persian Gulf War or the Iraq War. In both cases, it took massive ground forces to achieve the objective of removing the Iraqi Army from Kuwait (in one case) and defeating the regime of Saddam Hussein (in the other). Quite honestly, its a lesson that goes all the way back to World War II; the Allies unleashed tons of bombs on Germany and yet it still took two armies, one from the East and one from the West, to finally bring the Nazis to their knees.
If Israel truly wants to defeat Hezbollah, then it will need to launch a ground invasion of Lebanon and push the Hezbollah fighters from their trenchs and bunkers. Kevin makes a similar argument in this post at The Liberty Papers:
What I think Israel must do to reverse the course is to first and foremost launch a full-scale invasion of south Lebanon and if the Lebanese Army joins the fight on behalf of Hezbollah, the Israeli Defense Forces must be willing to hump the long and bloody road to Beirut and the Lebanese-Syrian border and bring the war to the Lebanese government. Second, Israel must be ready and willing and must bring this war to the tyrants Assad in Damascus and Ahmadinejad and Khamenei in Tehran and their respective regimes and support structures for those regimes for enabling and supporting this proxy war.
Instead, it appears this morning that Israel and the West may be willing to accept something less than total victory:
The United States, Israel, the United Nations and the European Union have reluctantly concluded that despite punishing military attacks, Hezbollah is likely to survive as a political player in Lebanon, and Israel now says it is willing to accept the organization if it sheds its military wing and abandons extremism, according to several key officials.
“To the extent that it remains a political group, it will be acceptable to Israel,” Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said yesterday in the strongest sign to date that the Israelis are rethinking the scope and ultimate goals of the campaign. “A political group means a party that is engaged in the political system in Lebanon, but without terrorism capabilities and fighting capabilities. That will be acceptable to Israel.”
In other words, Hezbollah could become a political actor in Lebanon as long as it renounces its private army. What happens, then, if the day comes when Hezbollah becomes the dominant party in Lebanon and, perhaps with the help of its Iranian and Syrian masters, takes control of the government ? Then Israel would have a terrorist state on its northern border, and would be in exactly the same position it was before this war started.
“Ultimately, the question of Hezbollah has to be dealt with politically,” a senior U.S. official said, speaking anonymously because of the new diplomatic effort. “If it disarms and abandons terrorism, it’s fundamentally a different group.”
“If we get rid of the missiles, then we have solved the problem of Israel,” a senior European official said, “and Hezbollah will continue to exist as a political force.”[
The question is, why should Israel trust a political party that has dedicated itself to the destruction of Israel ?
More thoughts from Rick Moran, who points out that Israel’s choices in this war may be more limited than we think.