How Hezbollah Defeated Israel: part 3 the political war

Part 3: The political war
By Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry

(For Part 1 in this three-part series, Winning the intelligence war, click here.
For Part 2, The ground war, please click here.)

In the wake of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, a public poll in Egypt asked a cross-section of that country’s citizenry to name the two political leaders they most admired. An overwhelming number named Hassan Nasrallah. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad finished second.

The poll was a clear repudiation not only of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who had made his views against Hezbollah known at the outset of the conflict, but of those Sunni leaders, including Saudi King Abdullah and Jordan’s Abdullah II, who criticized the Shi’ite group in an avowed attempt to turn the Sunni world away from support of Iran.

“By the end of the war these guys were scrambling for the exits,” one US diplomat from the region said in late August. “You haven’t heard much from them lately, have you?”

Mubarak and the two Abdullahs are not the only ones scrambling for the exits – the United States’ foreign policy in the region, even in light of its increasingly dire deployment in Iraq, is in a shambles. “What that means is that all the doors are closed to us, in Cairo, in Amman, in Saudi Arabia,” another diplomat averred. “Our access has been curtailed. No one will see us. When we call no one picks up the phone.”

A talisman of this collapse can be seen in the itinerary of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose inability to persuade President George W Bush to halt the fighting and her remark about the conflict as marking “the birth pangs” of a new Middle East in effect destroyed her credibility.

The US has made it clear that it will attempt to retrieve its position by backing a yet-to-be-announced Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, but America’s continued strangulation of the democratically constituted government of the Palestinian Authority has transformed that pledge into a stillborn political program. The reason for this is now eminently clear. In the midst of the war, a European official in Cairo had this to say about the emotions roiling the Egyptian political environment: “The Egyptian leadership is walking down one side of the street,” he said, “and the Egyptian people are walking down the other.”

The catastrophic failure of Israeli arms has buoyed Iran’s claim to leadership of the Muslim world in several critical areas.

First, the Hezbollah victory has shown that Israel – and any modern and technologically sophisticated Western military force – can be defeated in open battle, if the proper military tactics are employed and if they are sustained over a prolonged period. Hezbollah has provided the model for the defeat of a modern army. The tactics are simple: ride out the first wave of a Western air campaign, then deploy rocket forces targeting key military and economic assets of the enemy, then ride out a second and more critical air campaign, and then prolong the conflict for an extended period. At some point, as in the case of Israel’s attack on Hezbollah, the enemy will be forced to commit ground troops to accomplish what its air forces could not. It is in this last, and critical, phase that a dedicated, well-trained and well-led force can exact enormous pain on a modern military establishment and defeat it.

Second, the Hezbollah victory has shown the people of the Muslim world that the strategy employed by Western-allied Arab and Muslim governments – a policy of appeasing US interests in the hopes of gaining substantive political rewards (a recognition of Palestinian rights, fair pricing for Middle Eastern resources, non-interference in the region’s political structures, and free, fair and open elections) – cannot and will not work. The Hezbollah victory provides another and different model, of shattering US hegemony and destroying its stature in the region. Of the two most recent events in the Middle East, the invasion of Iraq and the Hezbollah victory over Israel, the latter is by far the most important. Even otherwise anti-Hezbollah groups, including those associated with revolutionary Sunni resistance movements who look on Shi’ites as apostates, have been humbled.

Third, the Hezbollah victory has had a shattering impact on America’s allies in the region. Israeli intelligence officials calculated that Hezbollah could carry on its war for upwards of three months after its end in the middle of August. Hezbollah’s calculations reflected Israel’s findings, with the caveat that neither the Hezbollah nor Iranian leadership could predict what course to follow after a Hezbollah victory. While Jordan’s intelligence services locked down any pro-Hezbollah demonstrations, Egypt’s intelligence services were struggling to monitor the growing public dismay over the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon.

Open support for Hezbollah across the Arab world (including, strangely, portraits of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah carried in the midst of Christian celebrations) has put those Arab rulers closest to the United States on notice: a further erosion in their status could loosen their hold on their own nations. It seems likely that as a result, Mubarak and the two Abdullahs are very unlikely to support any US program calling for economic, political or military pressures on Iran. A future war – perhaps a US military campaign against Iran’s nuclear sites – might not unseat the government in Tehran, but it could well unseat the governments of Egypt, Jordan and perhaps Saudi Arabia.

At a key point in the Israel-Hezbollah contest, toward the end of the war, Islamist party leaders in a number of countries wondered whether they would be able to continue their control over their movements or whether, as they feared, political action would be ceded to street captains and revolutionaries. The singular notion, now common in intelligence circles in the United States, is that it was Israel (and not Hezbollah) that, as of August 10, was looking for a way out of the conflict.

Fourth, the Hezbollah victory has dangerously weakened the Israeli government. In the wake of Israel’s last lost war, in 1973, prime minister Menachem Begin decided to accept a peace proposal from Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. The breakthrough was, in fact, rather modest – as both parties were allies of the United States. No such breakthrough will take place in the wake of the Israel-Hezbollah war.

Israel believes that it has lost its deterrent capabilities and that they must be retrieved. Some Israeli officials in Washington now confirm that it is not a matter of “if” but of “when” Israel goes to war again. Yet it is difficult to determine how Israel can do that. To fight and win against Hezbollah, Israel will need to retrain and refit its army. Like the United States after the Vietnam debacle, Israel will have to restructure its military leadership and rebuild its intelligence assets. That will take years, not months.

It may be that Israel will opt, in future operations, for the deployment of ever bigger weapons against ever larger targets. Considering its performance in Lebanon, such uses of ever larger weapons could spell an even more robust response. This is not out of the question. A US attack on Iranian nuclear installations would likely be answered by an Iranian missile attack on Israel’s nuclear installations – and on Israeli population centers. No one can predict how Israel would react to such an attack, but it is clear that (given Bush’s stance in the recent conflict) the United States would do nothing to stop it. The “glass house” of the Persian Gulf region, targeted by Iranian missiles, would then assuredly come crashing down.

Fifth, the Hezbollah victory spells the end of any hope of a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at least in the short and medium terms. Even normally “progressive” Israeli political figures undermined their political position with strident calls for more force, more troops and more bombs. In private meetings with his political allies, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas castigated those who cheered on Hezbollah’s victory, calling them “Hamas supporters” and “enemies of Israel”. Abbas is in a far more tenuous position than Mubarak or the two Abdullahs – his people’s support for Hamas continues, as does his slavish agreement with George W Bush, who told him on the sidelines of the United Nations Security Council meeting that he was to end all attempts to form a unity government with his fellow citizens.

Sixth, the Hezbollah victory has had the very unfortunate consequence of blinding Israel’s political leadership to the realities of their geostrategic position. In the midst of the war with Lebanon, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert adopted Bush’s language on the “war on terrorism”, reminding his citizenry that Hezbollah was a part of “the axis of evil”. His remarks have been reinforced by Bush, whose comments during his address before the UN General Assembly mentioned al-Qaeda once – and Hezbollah and Hamas five times each. The United States and Israel have now lumped Islamist groups willing to participate in the political processes in their own nations with those takfiris and Salafists who are bent on setting the region on fire.

Nor can Israel now count on its strongest US supporters, that network of neo-conservatives for whom Israel is an island of stability and democracy in the region. These neo-conservatives’ disapproval of Israel’s performance is almost palpable. With friends like these, who needs enemies? That is to say, the Israeli conflict in Lebanon reflects accurately those experts who see the Israel-Hezbollah conflict as a proxy war. Our colleague Jeff Aronson noted that “if it were up to the US, Israel would still be fighting”, and he added: “The United States will fight the war on terrorism to the last drop of Israeli blood.”

The continued weakness of the Israeli political leadership and the fact that it is in denial about the depth of its defeat should be a deep concern for the United States and for every Arab nation. Israel has proved that in times of crisis, it can shape a creative diplomatic strategy and maneuver deftly to retrieve its position. It has also proved that in the wake of a military defeat, it is capable of honest and transparent self-examination. Israel’s strength has always been its capacity for public debate, even if such debate questions the most sacrosanct institution – the Israel Defense Forces. At key moments in Israel’s history, defeat has led to reflection and not, as now seems likely, an increasingly escalating military offensive against Hamas – the red-headed stepchild of the Middle East – to show just how tough it is.

“The fact that the Middle East has been radicalized by the Hezbollah victory presents a good case for killing more of them,” one Israeli official recently said. That path will lead to disaster. In light of America’s inability to pull the levers of change in the Middle East, there is hope among some in Washington that Olmert will show the political courage to begin the long process of finding peace. That process will be painful, it will involve long and difficult discussions, it may mean a break with the US program for the region. But the US does not live in the region, and Israel does. While conducting a political dialogue with its neighbors might be painful, it will prove far less painful than losing a war in Lebanon.

Seventh, Hezbollah’s position in Lebanon has been immeasurably strengthened, as has the position of its most important ally. At the height of the conflict, Lebanese Christians took Hezbollah refugees into their homes. The Christian leader Michel Aoun openly supported Hezbollah’s fight. One Hezbollah leader said: “We will never forget what that man did for us, not for an entire generation.” Aoun’s position is celebrated among the Shi’ites, and his own political position has been enhanced.

The Sunni leadership, on the other hand, fatally undermined itself with its uncertain stance and its absentee landlord approach to its own community. In the first week of the war, Hezbollah’s actions were greeted with widespread skepticism. At the end of the war its support was solid and stretched across Lebanon’s political and sectarian divides. The Sunni leadership now has a choice: it can form a unity government with new leaders that will create a more representative government or they can stand for elections. It doesn’t take a political genius to understand which choice Saad Hariri, the majority leader in the Lebanese parliament, will make.

Eighth, Iran’s position in Iraq has been significantly enhanced. In the midst of the Lebanon conflict, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld privately worried that the Israeli offensive would have dire consequences for the US military in Iraq, who faced increasing hostility from Shi’ite political leaders and the Shi’ite population. Rice’s statement that the pro-Hezbollah demonstrations in Baghdad were planned by Tehran revealed her ignorance of the most fundamental political facts of the region. The US secretaries of state and of defense were simply and unaccountably unaware that the Sadrs of Baghdad bore any relationship to the Sadrs of Lebanon. That Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would not castigate Hezbollah and side with Israel during the conflict – and in the midst of an official visit to Washington – was viewed as shocking by Washington’s political establishment, even though “Hezbollah in Iraq” is one of the parties in the current Iraqi coalition government.

We have been told that neither the Pentagon nor the State Department understood how the war in Lebanon might effect America’s position in Iraq because neither the Pentagon nor the State Department asked for a briefing on the issue from the US intelligence services. The United States spends billions of dollars each year on its intelligence collection and analysis activities. It is money wasted.

Ninth, Syria’s position has been strengthened and the US-French program for Lebanon has failed. There is no prospect that Lebanon will form a government that is avowedly pro-American or anti-Syrian. That Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could, in the wake of the war, suggest a political arrangement with Israel shows his strength, not his weakness. That he might draw the correct conclusions from the conflict and believe that he too might successfully oppose Israel is also possible.

But aside from these possibilities, recent history shows that those thousands of students and Lebanese patriots who protested Syria’s involvement in Lebanon after the death of Rafiq Hariri found it ironic that they took refuge from the Israeli bombing in tent cities established by the Syrian government. Rice is correct on one thing: Syria’s willingness to provide refuge for Lebanese refugees was a pure act of political cynicism – and one that the United States seems incapable of replicating. Syria now is confident of its political position. In a previous era, such confidence allowed Israel to shape a political opening with its most intransigent political enemies.

Tenth, and perhaps most important, it now is clear that a US attack on Iranian nuclear installations would be met with little support in the Muslim world. It would also be met by a military response that would collapse the last vestiges of America’s political power in the region. What was thought to be a “given” just a few short weeks ago has been shown to be unlikely. Iran will not be cowed. If the United States launches a military campaign against the Tehran government, it is likely that America’s friends will fall by the wayside, the Gulf Arab states will tremble in fear, the 138,000 US soldiers in Iraq will be held hostage by an angered Shi’ite population, and Iran will respond by an attack on Israel. We would now dare say the obvious – if and when such an attack comes, the United States will be defeated.

Conclusion
The victory of Hezbollah in its recent conflict with Israel is far more significant than many analysts in the United States and Europe realize. The Hezbollah victory reverses the tide of 1967 – a shattering defeat of Egypt, Syria and Jordan that shifted the region’s political plates, putting in place regimes that were bent on recasting their own foreign policy to reflect Israeli and US power. That power now has been sullied and reversed, and a new leadership is emerging in the region.

The singular lesson of the conflict may well be lost on the upper echelons of Washington’s and London’s pro-Israel, pro-values, we-are-fighting-for-civilization political elites, but it is not lost in the streets of Cairo, Amman, Ramallah, Baghdad, Damascus or Tehran. It should not be lost among the Israeli political leadership in Jerusalem. The Arab armies of 1967 fought for six days and were defeated. The Hezbollah militia in Lebanon fought for 34 days and won. We saw this with our own eyes when we looked into the cafes of Cairo and Amman, where simple shopkeepers, farmers and workers gazed at television reports, sipped their tea, and silently mouthed the numbers to themselves: “seven”, “eight”, “nine” …

Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry are the co-directors of Conflicts Forum, a London-based group dedicated to providing an opening to political Islam. Crooke is the former Middle East adviser to European Union High Representative Javier Solana and served as a staff member of the Mitchell Commission investigating the causes of the second intifada. Perry is a Washington, DC-based political consultant, author of six books on US history, and a former personal adviser to Yasser Arafat.

How Hezbollah Defeated Israel: part 2 winning the ground war

Part 2: Winning the ground war
By Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry

(For Part 1 in this three-part series, Winning the intelligence war, click here.)

Israel’s decision to launch a ground war to accomplish what its air force had failed to do was made hesitantly and haphazardly. While Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) units had been making forays into southern Lebanon during the second week of the conflict, the Israeli military leadership remained undecided over when and where – even whether – to deploy their ground units.

In part, the army’s indecisiveness over when, where and whether
to deploy its major ground units was a function of the air force’s claims to victory. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) kept claiming that it would succeed from the air – in just one more day, and then another. This indecision was mirrored by the Western media’s uncertainty about when a ground campaign would take place – or whether in fact it had already occurred.

Senior Israeli officers continued to tell their press contacts that the timing of a ground offensive was a tightly kept secret when, in fact, they didn’t know themselves. The hesitation was also the result of the experience of small IDF units that had already penetrated beyond the border. Special IDF units operating in southern Lebanon were reporting to their commanders as early as July 18 that Hezbollah units were fighting tenaciously to hold their positions on the first ridgeline overlooking Israel.

At this point, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a political decision: he would deploy the full might of the IDF to defeat Hezbollah at the same time that his top aides signaled Israel’s willingness to accept a ceasefire and the deployment of an international force. Olmert determined that Israel should not tip its hand – it would accept the deployment of a United Nations force, but only as a last resort.

First, he decided, Israel would say that it would accept a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) force. In keeping with this strategy, Israeli reserve forces were called to the front on July 21. The surprise call-up (the IDF was to defeat Hezbollah first from the air, and then – if that failed – use its regular forces, with no reserve forces to be called) made the initial deployment of the reserves hurried and uncoordinated. (It is, to repeat, likely that Israel did not believe it would have to call on its reserves during the conflict, or it would have called them much earlier.)

Moreover, the decision to call the reserves took key senior reserve officers, usually the first to be notified of a pending call-up, by surprise. The reserve call-up was handled chaotically – with the reserve “tail” of logistical support lagging some 24-48 hours behind the deployment of reserve forces.

The July 21 call-up was a clear sign to military strategists in the Pentagon that Israel’s war was not going well. It also helps to explain why Israeli reserve troops arrived at the front without the necessary equipment, without a coherent battle plan, and without the munitions necessary to carry on the fight. (Throughout the conflict, Israel struggled to provide adequate support to its reserve forces: food, ammunition and even water supplies reached units a full 24-48 hours behind a unit’s appearance at its assigned northern deployment zones.)

The effect of this was immediately perceived by military observers. “Israeli troops looked unprepared, sloppy and demoralized,” one former senior US commander noted. “This wasn’t the vaunted IDF that we saw in previous wars.”

In keeping with Olmert’s political ploy, the IDF’s goal of the total destruction of Hezbollah was also being markedly scaled back. “There is one line between our military objectives and our political objectives,” Brigadier-General Ido Nehushtan, a member of Israel’s general staff, said on the day after the reserve call-up. “The goal is not necessarily to eliminate every Hezbollah rocket. What we must do is disrupt the military logic of Hezbollah. I would say that this is still not a matter of days away.”

This was a decidedly strange way of presenting a military strategy – to conduct a war to “disrupt the military logic” of an enemy. Nehushtan’s statement had a chilling effect on IDF ground commanders, who wondered exactly what the war’s goals were. But other IDF commanders were upbeat – while the IAF had failed to stop Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israeli cities, fewer rockets were fired at Israel from July 19-21 than at any other time (a very small number on July 19, perhaps as few as 40 on July 20 and 50 on July 22).

July 22 also marks the first time that the United States responded militarily to the conflict. Late on the day of the 21st, the White House received a request from Olmert and the IDF for the provision of large amounts of precision-guided munitions – another telltale sign that the IAF had failed in its mission to degrade Hezbollah military assets significantly during the opening rounds of the war.

The request was quickly approved and the munitions were shipped to Israel beginning on the morning of July 22. Senior Pentagon officials were dismayed by the shipment, as it meant that Israel had expended most of its munitions in the war’s first 10 days – an enormous targeting expenditure that suggested Israel had abandoned tactical bombing of Hezbollah assets and was poised for an onslaught on what remained of Lebanon’s infrastructure, a strategy that had not worked during World War II, when the United States and Britain destroyed Germany’s 66 major population centers without any discernable impact either on German morale or military capabilities.

But there was little grumbling in the Pentagon, though one former serving officer observed that the deployment of US munitions to Israel was reminiscent of a similar request made by Israel in 1973 – at the height of the Yom Kippur War. “This can only mean one thing,” this officer said at the time. “They’re on the ropes.”

In spite of its deep misgivings about the Israeli response (and the misgivings, though unreported, were deep and significant – and extended even into the upper echelons of the US Air Force), senior US military officers kept their views out of public view. And for good reason: criticism of Israel for requesting a shipment of arms during the 1973 war led to the resignation of then Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) chairman General George Brown. Brown was enraged that US weapons and munitions were being sent to Israel at the same time that American commanders in Vietnam were protesting a lack of supplies in their war in Southeast Asia.

The current JCS chairman, Peter Pace, who remained notably silent during the Israeli-Hezbollah war, understood history, saluted, and remained silent. But the JCS and senior military commanders were not the only US officials who were worried about Israel’s performance. While the new US munitions were winging their way to Israel (via Prestwick, Scotland), intelligence officials were conducting initial assessments of the war’s opening days, including one noting that in spite of the sustained Israeli air offensive, Al-Manar was still broadcasting in Beirut, though the IAF had destroyed the broadcast bands of Lebanon’s other major networks. (This would remain true throughout the war – Al-Manar never went off the air.) How effective could the Israeli air campaign have been if they couldn’t even knock out a television station’s transmissions?

The call-up of Israel’s reserves was meant to buttress forces already fighting in southern Lebanon, and to add weight to the ground assault. On July 22, Hezbollah units of the Nasr Brigade fought the IDF street-to-street in Maroun al-Ras. While the IDF claimed at the end of the day that it had taken the town, it had not. The fighting had been bloody, but Hezbollah fighters had not been dislodged. Many of the Nasr Brigade’s soldiers had spent countless days waiting for the Israeli assault and, because of Hezbollah’s ability to intercept IDF military communications, Israeli soldiers bumped up against units that were well entrenched.

IDF detachments continually failed to flank the defenders, meeting counterpunches toward the west of the city. Special three-man hunter-killer teams from the Nasr Brigade destroyed several Israeli armored vehicles during the fight with light man-made anti-tank missiles. “We knew they were going to do this,” Ilay Talmor, an exhausted Israeli second lieutenant, said at the time. “This is territory they say is theirs. We would do the same thing if someone came into our country.”

While the IDF continued to insist that its incursions would be “limited in scope”, despite the recall of thousands of reserve troops, IDF battalions began to form south of the border. “We are not preparing for an invasion of Lebanon,” said Avi Pazner, a senior Israeli government spokesman. The IDF then called Maroun al-Ras its “first foothold” in southern Lebanon. “A combination of air force, artillery and ground-force pressure will push Hezbollah out without arriving at the point where we have to invade and occupy,” Pazner said.

The difference between “pushing” out a force and invading and occupying a town was thereby set, another clear signal to US military experts that the IDF could enter a town but could not occupy it. One US officer schooled in US military history compared the IDF’s foray into southern Lebanon to Robert E Lee’s bloody attack on Union positions at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the American Civil War. “Oh I can get there, all right,” Lee’s lieutenant said during that war, “it’s staying there that’s the problem.”

After-battle reports of Hezbollah commanders now confirm that IDF troops never fully secured the border area and Maroun al-Ras was never fully taken. Nor did Hezbollah ever feel the need to call up its reserves, as Israel had done. “The entire war was fought by one Hezbollah brigade of 3,000 troops, and no more,” one military expert in the region said. “The Nasr Brigade fought the entire war. Hezbollah never felt the need to reinforce it.”

Reports from Lebanon underscore this point. Much to their surprise, Hezbollah commanders found that Israeli troops were poorly organized and disciplined. The only Israeli unit that performed up to standards was the Golani Brigade, according to Lebanese observers. The IDF was “a motley assortment”, one official with a deep knowledge of US slang reported. “But that’s what happens when you have spent four decades firing rubber bullets at women and children in the West Bank and Gaza.”

IDF commanders were also disturbed by the performance of their troops, noting a signal lack of discipline even among its best-trained regular soldiers. The reserves were worse, and IDF commanders hesitated to put them into battle.

On July 25, Olmert’s strategy of backing down from a claimed goal to destroy Hezbollah was in full force. The Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz was the bearer of these tidings, saying that Israel’s current goal was to create a “security zone” in southern Lebanon. His words were accompanied by a threat: “If there is not a multinational force that will get in to control the fences, we will continue to control with our fire towards anyone that gets close to the defined security zone, and they will know that they can be hurt.”

Gone quite suddenly was a claim that Israel would destroy Hezbollah; gone too was a claim that only NATO would be acceptable as a peacekeeping unit on the border. On July 25, Israel also reported that Abu Jaafar, a commander of Hezbollah’s “central sector” on the Lebanese border, was killed “in an exchange of fire” with Israeli troops near the border village of Maroun al-Ras – which had not yet been taken. The report was not true. Abu Jaafar made public comments after the end of the war.

Later on July 25, during US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Jerusalem, the Israeli military fought its way into Bint Jbeil, calling it “Hezbollah’s terror capital”. The fight for Bint Jbeil went on for nine days. But it remained in Hezbollah hands until the end of the conflict. By then, the town had been destroyed, as Hezbollah fighters were able to survive repeated air and artillery shellings, retreating into their bunkers during the worst of the air and artillery campaign, and only emerging when IDF troops in follow-on operations tried to claim the city.

The Hezbollah tactics were reminiscent of those followed by the North Vietnamese Army during the opening days of the Vietnam conflict – when NVA commanders told their troops that they needed to “ride out the bombs” and then fight the Americans in small unit actions. “You must grab them by their belt buckles,” a Vietnamese commander said in describing these tactics.

On July 24, as yet another sign of its looming failure in Lebanon, Israel deployed the first of thousands of cluster munitions against what it called “Hezbollah emplacements” in southern Lebanon. Cluster munitions are an effective, if vicious, combat tool and those nations that use them, including every single member of NATO (as well as Russia and China), have consistently refused to enter an international agreement banning their use.

The most responsible nation-states that use them, however, “double fuse” their munitions to cut down on the failure rate of the “bomblets” after they have been deployed. During the administration of US president Bill Clinton, defense secretary William Cohen agreed to the double-fusing of US cluster munitions and a phase-out of the “high dud rate” munitions in the US stockpile, which was intended to cut the failure rate of these munitions from 14% (some estimates are higher) to less than 3% (though some estimates are lower).

While investigations into Israel’s use of these munitions is not yet complete, it now appears that the IDF deployed single-fused munitions. Recent reports in the Israeli press indicate that artillery officers carpeted dozens of Lebanese villages with the bomblets – as close to the definition of the “indiscriminate” use of firepower as one can get.

The Israeli munitions may well have been purchased from aging US stockpiles that were not double-fused, making the United States complicit in this indiscriminate targeting. Such a conclusion seems to fit with the time-line of the resupply of munitions to Israel on July 22. The IDF may well have been able to offload these munitions and deploy them quickly enough to have created the cluster-munitions crisis in Lebanon that plagues that nation still – and that started on July 24.

On July 26, IDF officials conceded that the previous 24 hours in their fight for Bint Jbail was “the hardest day of fighting in southern Lebanon”. After failing to take the town from Hezbollah in the morning, IDF commanders decided to send in their elite Golani Brigade. In two hours in the afternoon, nine Golani Brigade soldiers were killed and 22 were wounded. Late in the afternoon, the IDF deployed its elite Paratroopers Brigade to Maroun al-Ras, where fighting with elements of the Nasr Brigade was in its third day.

On July 27, in response to the failure of its units to take these cities, the Israeli government agreed to a call-up of three more reserve divisions – a full 15,000 troops. By July 28, however, it was becoming clear just how severe the failure of the IAF had been in its attempts to stop Hezbollah rocket attacks. On that day, Hezbollah deployed a new rocket, the Khaibar-1, which hit Afula.

On July 28, the severity of Israel’s intelligence failures finally reached the Israeli public. On that day, Mossad officials leaked information that, by their estimate, Hezbollah had not suffered a significant degradation in its military capabilities, and that the organization might be able to carry on the conflict for several more months. The IDF disagreed, stating that Hezbollah had been severely damaged. The first cracks in the Israeli intelligence community were beginning to show.

Experts in the US were also beginning to question Israel’s strategy and capability. The conservative Brookings Institution published a commentary by Philip H Gordon (who blamed Hezbollah for the crisis) advising, “The issue is not whether Hezbollah is responsible for this crisis – it is – or whether Israel has the right to defend itself – it does – but whether this particular strategy [of a sustained air campaign] will work. It will not. It will not render Hezbollah powerless, because it is simply impossible to eliminate thousands of small, mobile, hidden and easily resupplied rockets via an air campaign.”

Gordan’s commentary reflected the views of an increasing number of military officers, who were scrambling to dust off their own air plans in the case of a White House order targeting Iranian nuclear sites. “There is a common misperception that the [US] Air Force was thrilled by the Israeli war against Lebanon,” one Middle East expert with access to senior Pentagon officials told us. “They were aghast. They well know the limits of their own power and they know how it can be abused.

“It seemed to them [USAF officers] that Israel threw away the book in Lebanon. This wasn’t surgical, it wasn’t precise, and it certainly wasn’t smart. You can’t just coat a country in iron and hope to win.”

The cold, harsh numbers of the war point up the fallacy of the Israeli air and ground campaign. Hezbollah had secreted upwards of 18,000 rockets in its arsenals prior to the conflict. These sites were hardened against Israeli air strikes and easily survived the air campaign. Hezbollah officials calculated that from the time of firing until the IAF was able to identify and deploy fighters to take out the mobile rockets was 90 seconds. Through years of diligent training, Hezbollah rocket teams had learned to deploy, fire and safely cover their mobile launchers in less than 60 seconds, with the result that IAF planes and helicopters (which Israel has in much fewer numbers than it boasts) could not stop Hezbollah’s continued rocket fire at Israel (”Israel is about three helicopters away from a total disaster,” one US military officer commented).

Hezbollah fired about 4,000 rockets at Israel (a more precise, though uncertain, figure calculates the firing of 4,180 rockets), bringing its stockpiles down to 14,000 rockets – enough to prosecute the war for at least three more months.

Moreover, and more significant, Hezbollah’s fighters proved to be dedicated and disciplined. Using intelligence assets to pinpoint Israeli infantry penetrations, they proved the equal of Israel’s best fighting units. In some cases, Israeli units were defeated on the field of battle, forced into sudden retreats or forced to rely on air cover to save elements from being overrun. Even toward the end of the war, on August 9, the IDF announced that 15 of its reserve soldiers were killed and 40 wounded in fighting in the villages of Marjayoun, Khiam and Kila – a stunning casualty rate for a marginal piece of real estate.

The robust Hezbollah defense was also taking its toll on Israeli armor. When Israel finally agreed to a ceasefire and began its withdrawal from the border area, it left behind upwards of 40 armored vehicles, nearly all of them destroyed by expertly deployed AT-3 “Sagger” anti-tank missiles – which is the NATO name for the Russian-made vehicle- or man-deployed, wire-guided, second-generation 9M14 Malyutka – or “Little Baby”.

With a range of 3 kilometers, the Sagger proved enormously successful in taking on Israeli tanks, a fact that must have given Israeli armor commanders fits, in large part because the Sagger missile deployed by Hezbollah is an older version (developed and deployed in 1973) of a more modern version that is more easily hidden and deployed and has a larger warhead. If the IDF could not protect its armor against the 1973 “second generation” version, IDF commanders must now be wondering how it can possibly protect itself against a version that is more modern, more sophisticated, and more deadly.

Prior to the implementation of the ceasefire, the Israeli political establishment decided that it would “clear drop” Israeli paratroopers in key areas along the Litani River. The decision was apparently made to convince the international community that the rules of engagement for a UN force should extend from the Litani south. Such a claim could not be made unless Israel could credibly claim to have cleared that part of Lebanon to the Litani.

A significant number of Israeli forces were airlifted into key areas just south of the Litani to accomplish this goal. The decision might well have led to a disaster. Most of the Israeli forces airlifted to these sites were immediately surrounded by Hezbollah units and may well have been decisively mauled had a ceasefire not gone into effect. The political decision angered retired IDF officers, one of whom accused Olmert of “spinning the military” – using the military for public relations purposes.

Perhaps the most telling sign of Israel’s military failure comes in counting the dead and wounded. Israel now claims that it killed about 400-500 Hezbollah fighters, while its own losses were significantly less. But a more precise accounting shows that Israeli and Hezbollah casualties were nearly even. It is impossible for Shi’ites (and Hezbollah) not to allow an honorable burial for its martyrs, so in this case it is simply a matter of counting funerals. Fewer than 180 funerals have been held for Hezbollah fighters – nearly equal to the number killed on the Israeli side. That number may be revised upward: our most recent information from Lebanon says the number of Shi’ite martyr funerals in the south can now be precisely tabulated at 184.

But by any accounting – whether in rockets, armored vehicles or numbers of dead and wounded – Hezbollah’s fight against Israel must be accorded a decisive military and political victory. Even if it were otherwise (and it is clearly not), the full impact of Hezbollah’s war with Israel over a period of 34 days in July and August has caused a political earthquake in the region.

Hezbollah’s military defeat of Israel was decisive, but its political defeat of the United States – which unquestioningly sided with Israel during the conflict and refused to bring it to an end – was catastrophic and has had a lasting impact on US prestige in the region.

Next: How Hezbollah won the political warAlastair Crooke and Mark Perry are the co-directors of Conflicts Forum, a London-based group dedicated to providing an opening to political Islam. Crooke is the former Middle East adviser to European Union High Representative Javier Solana and served as a staff member of the Mitchell Commission investigating the causes of the second intifada. Perry is a Washington, DC-based political consultant, author of six books on US history, and a former personal adviser to Yasser Arafat.

(Research for this article was provided by Madeleine Perry.)

The Age of Terror – Robert Fisk

extract – “And so on we go with the Middle East tragedy, telling the world that things are getting better when they are getting worse, that democracy is flourishing when it is swamped in blood, that freedom is not without “birth pangs” when the midwife is killing the baby.” 

Robert Fisk

October 9, 2006

From Z Net

A few days after Lebanon’s latest war came to an end, I went through many of the reporter’s notebooks I have used in my last 30 years in the Middle East. Some contained the names of dead colleagues, others the individual stories of the suffering of Arabs and Kurds and Christians and Jews. One, dated 1991, is even splashed with a dark and viscous substance, the oil that came raining down on us from the skies over the Kuwaiti desert after Saddam blew up the wells of the Emirate. It was only after a few minutes that I realised what I was looking for: some hint, back in the days of dangerous innocence, of what was going to happen on 11 September 2001.

And sure enough, in one notebook, part of a transcript of an interview I gave in Toronto in the late 1990s, I see myself trying to discourage the Middle East optimism of my host. “There is an explosion coming in the Middle East,” I tell him. What was this explosion I was talking about? I find myself writing almost the same thing a couple of years later in The Independent – I refer to “the explosion to come” without locating it in the Middle East at all. What was I talking about? And then, most disturbingly, I re-run parts of a film series I made with the late Michael Dutfield for Channel 4 and Discovery in 1993. Called From Beirut to Bosnia, it was billed as an attempt to record “Muslims growing anger towards the West.”

In one sequence, I walk into a destroyed mosque in a Bosnian village called Cela. And I hear my voice on the soundtrack, saying: “When I see things like this, I think of the place I work, the Middle East… I wonder what the Muslim world has in store for us… Maybe I should end each of my reports with the words: ‘Watch out!’ ” And when I checked back to my post-production notes, I find the dates of all our film sequences listed. I had walked into that Bosnian mosque, watched by Serb policemen, on 11 September 1993. My warning was exactly eight years too early.

I don’t like journalists who, in middle age, start to pontificate morbidly about the wickedness of a world that should be full of love, or who rummage through old notebooks in search of pessimism. So I own up at once. Surely we don’t have to be weighed down by the baggage of history, always looking backwards and holding up billboards with the “The End of the World is Nigh” written in black for readers too bored to look at the fine print. Yet when I sit on my seafront balcony today, I am waiting for the next explosion to come.

Beirut is a good place to reflect on the tragedy through which the Middle East is now inexorably moving. After all, the city has suffered so many horrors these past 31 years, it seems haunted by the mass graves that lie across the region, from Afghanistan to Iraq to “Palestine” and to Lebanon itself. And I look across the waters and see a German warship cruising past my home, part of Nato’s contribution to stop gun-running into Lebanon under UN Security Council Resolution 1701. And then, I ask myself what the Germans could possibly be doing when no guns have ever been run to the Hizbollah guerrilla army from the sea. The weapons came through Syria, and Syria has a land frontier with the country and is to the north and east of Lebanon, not on the other side of the Mediterranean.

And then when I call on my landlord to discuss this latest, hopeless demonstration of Western power, he turns to me in some anger and says, “Yes, why is the German navy cruising off my home?” And I see his point. For we Westerners are now spreading ourselves across the entire Muslim world. In one form or another, “we” – “us”, the West – are now in Khazakstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon. We are now trapped across this vast area of suffering, fiercely angry people, militarily far more deeply entrenched and entrapped than the 12th-century crusaders who faced defeat at the battle of Hittin, our massive forces fighting armies of Islamists, suicide bombers, warlords, drug barons, and militias. And losing. The latest UN army in Lebanon, with its French and Italian troops, is moving in ever greater numbers to the south, young men and women who have already been threatened by al-Qa’ida and who will, in three of four months, be hit by al-Qa’ida. Which is one reason why the French have been pallisading themselves into their barracks in southern Lebanon. There is no shortage of suicide bombers here, although it will be the Sunni—not the Hizbollah-Shiite variety—which will strike at the UN.

When will the bombers arrive? After further massacres in Iraq? After the Israelis cross the border again? After Israel – or the US – bombs Iran’s nuclear facilities in the coming months? After someone in the northern city of Tripoli, perhaps, or in the Palestinian camps outside Sidon, decides he has seen too many Western soldiers trampling the lands of southern Lebanon, too many German warships off the coast, or heard too many mendacious statements of optimism from George W Bush or Tony Blair or Condoleezza Rice. “There will be no ‘new’ Middle East, Miss Rice,” a new Hizbollah poster says south of Sidon. And the Hizbollah is right. The entire region is sinking deeper into bloodshed and all the time, over and over again, Bush and Blair tell us it is all getting much better, that we can all be heartened by the spread of non-existent democracies, that the dawn is rising on Condi’s “new” Middle East. Are they really hoping that they can distort the mirror of the world’s reality with their words? There is a kind of new dawn rising in the lands from the old Indian empire to the tides of the Mediterranean. The only trouble is that it is blood red.

It is as if the Bushes and Blairs do not live on this planet any more. As my colleague Patrick Cockburn wrote recently, the enraging thing about Blair’s constant optimism is that, to prove it all a pack of lies, a journalist has to have his throat cut amid the anarchy which Blair says does not exist. The Americans cannot protect themselves in Iraq, let alone the Iraqis, and the British have twice nearly been defeated in battles with the Taliban, and the Israeli army – counting it as part of the “West” for a moment—were soundly thrashed when they crossed the border to fight the Hizbollah, losing 40 men in 36 hours. Yet still Blair delayed a ceasefire in Lebanon. And still – be certain of this – when the fire strikes us again, in London or New York or wherever, Blair and Bush will say that the attack has nothing to do with the Middle East, that Britain’s enemies hate “our values” or our “way of life”.

I once mourned the lack of titans in the modern world, the Roosevelts and the Churchills, blood-drenched though their century was. Blair and Bush, posing as wartime leaders, threatening the midget Hitlers around them, appear to have gone through a kind of “stasis”, a psychological inability to grasp what they do not want to hear or what they do not want to be true. And they have lost the thread of history.

In the past, we – the “West” – could have post-war adventures abroad and feel safe at home. No North Korean tried to blow himself up on the London Tube in the 1950s. No Viet Cong ever arrived in Washington to assault the United States. We fought in Kenya and Malaya and Palestine and Suez and Yemen, but we felt safe in Gloucestershire. Perhaps the change came with the Algerian War of Independence when the bombers attacked in Paris and Lyons, or perhaps it came later when the IRA arrived to bomb London.

But it is a fact that “we” cannot take our armies and warships and tanks and helicopter gunships and para battalions for foreign wars and expect to be unhurt at home. This is the inescapable logic of history that Bush and Blair will not face, will not acknowledge, will not believe – will not even let us believe. All across the Middle East, we are locked in battle in our preposterous “war on terror” because “the world changed forever” on 11 September, even though I have said many times that we should not allow 19 murderers to change our world. So we live in a darker world of phone-taps and “terror plots” and underground CIA prisoners whose interrogators set about victims in secret, tearing to pieces the Geneva Conventions so painfully constructed after the Second World War.

And in a world betrayed. Remember all those promises we made to the Arabs about creating a wonderful new functioning democracy in Iraq whose example would be followed by other Middle East states? And remember our promise to honour the fledgling democracy of Lebanon, the famous “Cedars Revolution” – a title invented by the US State Department, so the Lebanese should have been suspicious – which brought the retreat of the Syrian army. Lebanon was then held up to be a future model for the Arab world. But once the Hizbollah crossed the frontier and seized two Israeli soldiers, killing three others on 12 July, we stood back and watched the Lebanese suffer. “If there is one thing this last war has convinced me of,” a young Lebanese woman put it to me this month, “it is that the Lebanese are on their own. I can never trust a foreign promise again.”

And this is true. For the direct result of the disastrous Israeli campaign has been to turn the Hizbollah into heroes of the Arab – indeed the Muslim – world, to break apart the fragile political stability established by the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, and to have Hizbollah’s leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, declare a “divine victory” and demand a “national unity” government which, if it comes about, will be pro-Syrian. The language now being used in Lebanon by the country’s political leaders is approaching the incendiary, lethal grammar of pre-civil war Lebanon.

Samir Geagea, the Christian ex-militia commander, brought out tens of thousands of supporters to jeer at Nasrallah. “They demand a strong state but how can a strong state be built with a statelet in its midst?” Geagea demanded to know after the Hizbollah suddenly announced that it has no intention of handing over its weapons. Indeed, Nasrallah is now boasting that he still has 20,000 missiles in southern Lebanon, a claim which led the Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, to abuse Nasrallah as a creature of Syria – there is speculation over the depth of his relationship with Damascus but his arms certainly come from Iran – and to say to him: “Sayed Nasrallah, rest your mind, I will not reach an agreement with you. When you separate yourself from the Syrian leadership, I will possibly hold a dialogue with you.” Thus two more paper-thin links – between Lebanon’s Druze community and the Christians and the larger population of Shiite Muslims – have been broken. And that is how civil wars start.

Had Bush – indeed Blair—denounced Israel’s claim that it held the Lebanese government responsible for the kidnapping and killing of its soldiers, and demanded an immediate ceasefire, then the disaster that is destroying Lebanon’s democracy would not have happened. But no, Bush and Blair let the bloodshed go on and postponed hopes of a ceasefire for the Lebanese upon whom they had lavished so much praise a year ago. Just last week, the Lebanese recovered the bodies of five more children under the rubble of the Sidon Vocational Training Centre in Tyre. Ali Alawiah identified his children Aya, Zeinab and Hussein and his nephews Battoul and Abbas. All would have been alive if even Blair and Margaret Beckett had demanded a ceasefire. But they are dead. And Blair and Beckett and Bush should have this on their conscience.

The fact they don’t speaks sorrowfully of our double standard of morality. Almost all Lebanon’s 1,300 dead – which comes close to half the total of the World Trade Centre murders – were civilians. But we don’t care for them as we do our own “kith and kin”. This is the same sickness that pervades our policies in Iraq where we never counted the number of civilians killed, only the tally of our precious soldiers who died there.

How did we come to be infected by this virus of negligence and betrayal? Does it really go back to the Crusades or the ramblings of Spanish Christians of the 15th century – whose portrayals of the Prophet Mohamed were infinitely more obscene than Denmark’s third-rate cartoonist – or to the vicious anti-Muslim ravings of long-forgotten Popes who seem to obsess the present incumbent of the Vatican? I am still uncertain what Benedict meant by his quotation of the old man of Byzantium – while I am equally suspicious of his almost equally insulting remarks at Auschwitz where he blamed Nazi Germany’s cruelty on a mere “gang of criminals”. But then again, this is a Pope – anti-divorce, anti-homosexual and, once, anti-aircraft – who has signally failed to follow John Paul II’s devotions on the need for the seed of Abraham to acknowledge the love they should show to each other.

This failure to see the Other as the same as “us” is now evident across the Middle East. Some months ago, I received letters originally written to his family by a young Marine officer in Iraq who was trying – eloquently, I have to add – to explain how frustrating his work with Iraqis had become. “There is something culturally childish in their understanding of Western governance and management that will require immeasurable education and probably several generations to overcome if they find it of any interest,” he wrote. “Our understanding of their tribal governance and its relationship to formal civil management is equally na?ve and charges our frustration… The reality is that they cannot, culturally, comprehend our altruism or believe our stated intentions… Liberation will compete with invasion as our legacy but locally we are ideologically irrelevant… I share the American fascination with action and it has consistently betrayed us in our foreign policy.”

The reality in Iraq is summed up by the same American Marine officer’s description of the building of the Ramadi glass factory, a story that shows just how vacuous all the stories of our “success” there are. “The Division has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a glass factory. It does not work. It will take millions of dollars to rehabilitate and modernise. There are supposed to be 2,500 Iraqis employed there but they have nothing to do and no more than 100 arrive on any given day to sit in their offices as new computers and furniture are delivered with our compliments… It is like walking through a fictional business that physically exists. It may be Kafka’s revenge. Most rooms are empty but are still preserved as they had been under a layer of dust. Some areas hold a man at a desk in a stark room too large for him. It is like Pompeii being slowly reoccupied, as if nothing had happened. I stood on a tall mound of broken glass outside. Shards of window panes shattered in the process of manufacturing them. The windows of the city were poured and cut here once… This glass was made from sand, desert made invisible until exposed by reflection. The bright sunlight makes little impression on the pile due to a dull coating of dust but the fragments fracture further and slide beneath my feet with the sound of ruin. Walking on windows and unable to see the ground.” Could there be a more Conradian description of the failure of the American empire in Iraq?

And does it not echo a remark that TE Lawrence – Lawrence of Arabia – made of Iraq in the 1920s: “Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly… Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work may not be as good as, perhaps, you think.”

A different kind of alienation, of course, is reflected in our dispute with Iran. “We” think that its government wants to make nuclear weapons – in six months, according to the Israelis; in 10 years, according to some nuclear analysts. But no one asks if “we” didn’t help to cause this “nuclear” crisis. For it was the Shah who commenced Iran’s nuclear power programme in 1973 and Western companies were shoulder-hopping each other in their desire to sell him nuclear reactors and enrichment technology. Siemens, for example, started to build the Bushehr reactor. And the Shah was regularly interviewed on Western television stations where he said that he didn’t see why Iran shouldn’t have nuclear weapons when America and the Soviets had them. And we had no objection to the ambitions of “our” Policeman of the Gulf.

And when Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution engulfed Iran, what did he do? He called the nuclear programme “the work of the devil” and closed it down. It was only when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran the following year and began showering Iran with missiles and chemical weapons – an invasion supported by “us” – that the clerical regime decided they may have to use nuclear weapons against Iraq and reopened the complex. In other words, it was the West which supported Iran’s original nuclear programme and it was closed by the chief divine of George Bush’s “axis of evil” and then reopened when the West stood behind Saddam (in the days when he was “our strongman” rather than our caged prisoner in a dying state).

The greater irony, of course, is that if we were really concerned about the spread of nuclear technology among Muslim states, we would be condemning Pakistan, most of whose cities are in a state of almost Iraqi anarchy and whose jolly dictator now says he was threatened with being “bombed back to the Stone Age” by the Americans if he didn’t sign up to the “war on terror”. Now it happens that Pakistan is infinitely more violent than Iran and it also happens that it was a close Pakistani friend of the Pakistani President- General Pervez Musharraf – a certain scientist called Abdul Qadeer Khan – who actually gave solid centrifuge components to Iran. But all that has been taken out of the story. And so they will remain out of the narrative because Pakistan already has a bomb and may use it if someone decided to create a new Stone Age in that former corner of the British empire.

But all this raises a more complex question. Are we really going to carry on arguing for years – for generation after generation of crisis – over who has or doesn’t have nuclear technology or the capacity to build a bomb? Are “we” forever going to decide who may have a bomb on the basis of his obedience to us – Mr Musharraf now being a loyal Pakistani shah – or his religion or how many turbans are worn by ministers in the government. Are we still going to be doing this in 2007 or 2107 or 3006?

What I suspect lies behind much of our hypocrisy in the Middle East is that Muslims have not lost their faith and we have. It’s not just that religion governs their lives, it is the fact that they have kept the faith – and that is why we try to hide that we have lost it by talking about Islam’s “difficulty with secularism”. We are the good liberals who wish to bestow the pleasures of our Enlightenment upon the rest of the world, although, to the Muslim nations, this sounds more like our desire to invade them with different cultures and traditions and – in some cases – different religions.

And Muslims have learnt to remember. I still recall an Iraqi friend, shaking his head at my naivety when I asked if there was not any cup of generosity to be bestowed on the West for ridding Iraqis of Saddam’s presence. “You supported him,” he replied. “You supported him when he invaded Iran and we died in our tens of thousands. Then, after the invasion of Kuwait, you imposed sanctions that killed tens of thousands of our children. And now you reduce Iraq to anarchy. And you want us to be grateful?”

And I recalled seeing a train load of gassed Iranian soldiers on the way to Tehran, coughing up mucus and blood into stained handkerchiefs and coughing up the gas too because I suddenly smelled a kind of dirty perfume and walked down the train opening all the windows. I saw their vast wobbling blisters upon which ever-smaller blisters would form, one on top of the other. And where did this filthy stuff come from, this real weapon of mass destruction Saddam was using? Components came from Germany and from the US. No wonder US Lieutenant Rick Francona noted indifferently in a report to the Pentagon that the Iraqis had drenched Fao in gas when he visited the battlefield during the war. So do we expect the Iranians to be grateful that we eventually toppled Saddam?

Needless to say, the division between Shias and Sunnis – especially in Iraq – can reach stages of cruelty not seen since the European Protestant-Catholic wars; nor, in this context, should we forget the conflict we are still trying to control in Northern Ireland. Islam as a society, rather than a religion, does have to face the “West”; it must find, in the words of that fine former Iranian president Mohamad Khatami, a “civil society”. And it is outrageous that Muslims have not condemned the slaughter in Darfur or, indeed, in Iraq and, one might add, on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war where one and a half million Muslims killed each other over almost eight years. Self-criticism is not in great supply across the Muslim world where, of course, our spirited Western political conflicts and elections sometimes look like self-flagellation.

As for our desire to award the Muslim Middle East with “our” democratic systems, it’s not just in Lebanon that we have proved to be much less enthusiastic about its existence in the Arab world. The former US ambassador to Iraq – once he realised the Shiites would join the Sunni resistance if they did not have elections, for democracy was originally not going to be America’s gift there – accepted a dominant role for Muslim clerics in the government, thus ensuring discrimination against women in marriage, divorce and inheritance.

When Daniel Fried, the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs visited Paris last year, he lectured European and Arab diplomats on what he called “the US-European imperative to support democratic reform and democratic reformers in the Middle East” – forgetting, it seems, that just such a man, Khatami, existed in Iran but had been snubbed by the US. His failure as a genuinely elected president produced his somewhat cracked successor. Fried, however, insisted that bringing democracy to the Middle East “is not for us a question of political theory, but of central strategic importance”, something that clearly didn’t matter less than a year later in Lebanon and certainly not when the Palestinians participated in genuine elections, of which more later.

Fried took the risky step of quoting the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville to back his claim that democracy, far from being a fragile flower, was “robust, and its applicability is potentially universal”. The former French foreign minister, Hubert V?drine, was invited to reply to respond to Fried’s words and he cynically spoke of “people who have historical experience, who have seen how past experiences turned out”, the subtext of which was: “You Americans have no sense of history.” V?drine spoke of meeting with Madeleine Albright when she was the US Foreign Secretary. “I told her we had no problem regarding the objective of democracy, but I asked whether it was a process, or a religious conversion, like Saint Paul on the road to Damascus.” And he quoted the Mexican writer, Octavio Pas: “Democracy is not like Nescaf?, you don’t just add water.” For historical reasons, V?drine told Fried, “Because of colonialism, the Middle East is the region of the world where external intervention is most at risk of being rejected.”

And when it is imposed, as America says it would like to do in Damascus, what will happen? A nice, flourishing electoral process to put Syrians in power or another descent into Iraqi-style horrors with a Sunni-Muslim regime in place in Damascus?

And so to “Palestine” – the inverted commas are more important than ever today – and its own act of democracy. Of course, the Palestinians elected the wrong people, Hamas, and had to suffer for it. Democratic Israel would not accept the results of Palestine’s democratic elections and the Europeans joined with America in placing sanctions against the newly elected government unless it recognised Israel and all agreements signed with Israel since the Camp David accords of the 1970s. Even when Ariel Sharon was staging his withdrawal of 8,500 settlers from Gaza last year, he was shifting 12,000 more settlers into the West Bank, and George W Bush had effectively accepted this illegality by talking of the “realities” of the Jewish settlements still being enlarged there. And that was the end of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 upon which the “peace process” was supposed to be based – Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, in return for the security of all states in the area.

One of the few honourable American statesmen to grasp what this portends is ex-President Jimmy Carter, who wrote after the Palestinian elections in May this year that “innocent Palestinian people are being treated like animals, with the presumption that they are guilty of some crime. Because they voted for candidates who are members of Hamas, the US government has become the driving force behind an apparently effective scheme of depriving the general public of income, access to the outside world and the necessities of life… The additional restraints imposed on the new government are a planned and deliberate catastrophe for the citizens of the occupied territories, in hopes that Hamas will yield to the economic pressure.” Oh, for the years of the Carter administration…

And now we have the wall – or the “fence” as too many journalists gutlessly call it. The Palestinians went to the International Court in the Hague to have it declared illegal because much of its course runs through their land. The court said it was illegal. And Israel ignored the court’s decision and, once more, the US supported Israel. Here was another lesson for the Palestinians. They went peacefully – without violence or “terrorism” – to our Western institutions to get justice. And we were powerless to help them because Israel rejected this symbol of Western freedoms.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister whose Lebanese bombardment was such a catastrophe, still says that the wall is only temporary, as if it might be shifted back to the original frontiers of Israel. But if it is only temporary, it can also be moved forward to take in more Jewish settlements on Arab land, colonies which, it must be noted, are illegal under international law. Olmert says he wants to draw “permanent borders” unilaterally – which is against the spirit of Camp David which Hamas is now supposed to abide by.

And how does US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice respond to this? Well, try this for wriggle room. “I wouldn’t on the face of it just say absolutely we don’t think there’s any value in what the Israelis are talking about.” And if the US does recognise – which it will – unilaterally fixed borders of the kind proposed by Olmert, it will sanction the permanent annexation of up to 10 per cent of the Arab territory seized in 1967, contrary to all previous US policy and to the International Court. All this, of course, is part of the new flouting of international laws which the US – and increasingly Israel – now regards as its right since the world “changed forever” on 11 September, 2001.

Remarkably, however, the US still believes that it is increasingly loathed in the Arab world not because of its policies but because its policies are not being presented fairly. It’s not a political problem, it’s a public-relations problem. Curiously, that is what Israel thought when accused of killing too many Lebanese during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. What we do is right. We’re just not selling it right. Hence, the appointment of Karen Hughes as US “Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy”. Her line is straight to the point. “I try to portray the facts in the best light for our country,” she said after her appointment. “Because I believe we’re a wonderful country and that we are doing things across the world.”

The columnist Roger Cohen placed her problem in a nutshell. The problem are the facts. And they include the fact that, in the 65-year period between 1941 and 2006, the US has been at war in some form or another for all but 14 of them. And people around the world have got tired of this. They got tired of America’s insatiable need for an enemy – and suspicious of all the talk of democracy, freedom and morality in which every war was cast. They stopped buying the US narrative. Hughes says that the vision followed by bin Laden’s followers “is a mission of destruction and death; ours a message of life and opportunity.” Well, yes. “If only it were that simple,” Cohen wrote.

At that Paris meeting with Fried, V?drine won almost all the arguments, not that Fried realised it. V?drine pleaded with the Americans to exercise caution in the Middle East. “We don’t know how things are going to turn out in Afghanistan, Iraq or Egypt,” he said presciently. “This is a high-risk process, like transporting nitroglycerine. You talk about an alliance; if there is an alliance, it must not be an ideological alliance, but an alliance of surgeons, of professionals, of chemists specialised in explosive substances. If we set out to do this, it will take 20 or 30 years, far longer than the second Bush administration.”

But the US Marines and the 82 Airborne are not surgeons or chemists. They are losing control of lands they thought they had conquered or “liberated”. Iraq is already out of control. So is much of Afghanistan. Palestine looks set to go the same way and Lebanon is in danger of freefall. A series of letters in The New York Times in April this year suggested that ordinary US citizens grasp the “democratic” argument better than their leaders. “Democracy cannot be easily imposed on people who are not prepared to accept it,” one wrote. “Democracy cannot be exported,” wrote another. “Changing a political culture happens only if the people embrace it. Iraqi society is too traumatised by the history of Saddam Hussein and the war to do more than survive both at this point.” Spot on.

It may well be that journalists in the “West” should feel a burden of guilt for much that has happened because they have, with their gullibility, helped to sell US actions much more effectively than Karen Hughes. Their constant references to a “fence” instead of a wall, to “settlements” or “neighbourhoods” instead of colonies, their description of the West Bank as “disputed” rather than occupied, has a bred a kind of slackness in reporting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just as it did in Iraq when so many reporters from the great Western newspapers and TV stations used US ambassador Bremer’s laughable description of the ferocious insurgents as “dead-enders” or “remnants” – the same phrase still being used by our colleagues in Kabul in reference to a distinctly resurgent Taliban which is being helped – despite General Musharraf’s denials – by the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI.

Much worse, however, is the failure to enquire into the real policies of governments. Why, for example, was there no front-page treatment of this year’s Herzliya conference, Israel’s most important policy-making jamboree? Most of the important figures in the Israeli government – they had yet to be elected – were in attendance. The conference was the place where Ehud Olmert first suggested handing over slices of the West Bank: “The choice between allowing Jews to live in all parts of the land of Israel” – the “land of Israel” in this context included the West Bank – “and living in a state with a Jewish majority mandate giving up part of the land of Israel. We cannot continue to control parts of the territories where most of the Palestinians live.”

However, most speakers agreed that the Palestinians would be given a state on whatever is left after the huge settlements had been included behind the wall. Benjamin Netanyahu even suggested the wall should be moved deeper into the West Bank. But the implications were obvious. A Palestinian state will be allowed, but it will not have a capital in east Jerusalem nor any connection between Gaza and the bits of the West Bank that are handed over. So there will be no peace, and the words “Palestinian” and “terrorist” will, again, be inextricably linked by Israel and the US.

There were articles in the Israeli press about Herzliya, including one by Sergio Della Pergola in which he warned of the “menace” to Israel of Palestinian birth rates and advised that “if the demographic tie doesn’t come in 2010, it will come in 2020.” Earlier conferences have discussed the possible need for the revoking of the citizenship rights of some Israeli Arabs. Already this year, Haaretz has reported an opinion poll in which 68 per cent of Israeli Jews said they would refuse to live in the same building as an Arab – 26 per cent would agree to do so – and 46 per cent of Israeli Jews said they would refuse to allow an Arab to visit their home. The inclination toward segregation rose as the income level of the respondents dropped – as might be expected – and there was no poll of Palestinian opinion, though the Palestinians might be able to point out that tens of thousands of Israelis already do live on their land in the huge colonies across the West Bank, most of which will remain, illegally, in Israeli hands.

All these details are available in the Arab press – and of course, the Israeli press, but are largely absent from our own. Why? Even when Norman Finkelstein wrote a damning academic report on the way Israel’s High Court of Justice “proved” the wall – deemed illegal by the Hague—was legal, it was virtually ignored in the West. So, for that matter, was the US academics’ report on the power of the Israeli lobby, until the usual taunts of “anti-Semitism” forced the American mainstream to write about it, albeit in a shifty, frightened way.

There are so many other examples of our fear of Middle Eastern truth. Our soft handling of Hosni Mubarak’s increasingly autocratic regime in Egypt is typical. So is reporting of Algeria now that British governments are prepared to deport refugees home on the grounds that they no longer face arrest and torture. But arrest and torture continue in Algeria. Its recent amnesty poll effectively immunises all members of the security services involved in torture and makes it a crime to oppose the amnesty.

Is this really the best that we journalists can do? Save for the indefatigable Seymour Hersh, there are still no truly investigative correspondents in the US press. But challenging authority should not be that difficult. No one is being asked to end the straightforward reporting of Arab tyrannies. We are still invited to ask – and should ask – why the Muslim world has produced so many dictatorships, most of them supported by “us”. But there are too many dark corners into which we will not look. Where, for example, are the CIA’s secret torture prisons? I know two reporters who are aware of the locations. But they are silent, no doubt in the interests of “national security”.

This reluctance to confront unpleasant truths diminishes the reader or viewer for whom Middle East reporting in the US media is almost incomprehensible to anyone who does not know the region. It also has its trickle-down effects even in theatres, universities and schools in America. The case of the play about Rachel Corrie – the young US activist twice run over by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes – taken off the New York stage was one of the more deplorable of these. I was also surprised in the Bronx to find that Fieldston, a private school in Riverdale – was forced to cancel a college meeting with two Palestinian lecturers when parents objected to the absence of an Israeli on the panel. The fact that Israeli speakers were to be invited later made no difference. The school’s principal later announced that the meeting would “not be appropriate given the sensitivity and complexity of the issue”. Complex problems are supposed to be explained. But this could not be explained because, well, it was too complex and – the truth – would upset the usual Israeli lobbyists.

So there we go again. Freedom of speech is a precious commodity but just how precious I found out for myself when I addressed the American University of Beirut after receiving an honorary degree there this summer. I made my usual points about the Bush administration and the growing dangers of the Middle East only to find that a US diplomat in Beirut was condemning me in front of Lebanese friends for being allowed to criticise the Bush administration in a college which receives US government money.

And so on we go with the Middle East tragedy, telling the world that things are getting better when they are getting worse, that democracy is flourishing when it is swamped in blood, that freedom is not without “birth pangs” when the midwife is killing the baby.

It’s always been my view that the people of this part of the Earth would like some of our democracy. They would like a few packets of human rights off our supermarket shelves. They want freedom. But they want another kind of freedom – freedom from us. And this we do not intend to give them. Which is why our Middle East presence is heading into further darkness. Which is why I sit on my balcony and wonder where the next explosion is going to be. For, be sure, it will happen. Bin Laden doesn’t matter any more, alive or dead. Because, like nuclear scientists, he has invented the bomb. You can arrest all of the world’s nuclear scientists but the bomb has been made. Bin Laden created al-Qa’ida amid the matchwood of the Middle East. It exists. His presence is no longer necessary.

And all around these lands are a legion of young men preparing to strike again, at us, at our symbols, at our history. And yes, maybe I should end all my reports with the words: Watch out!

__Robert Fisk’s book ‘The Great War for Civilization’ is published by Fourth Estate. His speaking tour runs until 12 October, visit http://www.seminars.ie for details.


Copyright 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

HOW HEZBOLLAH DEFEATED ISRAEL part 1

PART 1: Winning the intelligence war

12 October 2006 | Asia Times
By Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry

Introduction

Writing five years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, US military expert Anthony Cordesman published an account of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. “Preliminary Lessons of the Israeli-Hezbollah War” created enormous interest in the Pentagon, where it was studied by planners for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and passed hand-to-hand among military experts in Washington. Cordesman made no secret of his modest conclusions, rightly recognizing that his study was not only “preliminary”, but that it took no account of how Hezbollah fought the conflict or judged its results.

“This analysis is … limited,” Cordesman noted, “by the fact that no matching visit was made to Lebanon and to the Hezbollah.” Incomplete though it might have been, Cordesman’s study accomplished two goals: it provided a foundation for understanding the war from the Israeli point of view and it raised questions on how and how well Hezbollah fought. Nearly two months after the end of the Israeli-Hezbollah war, it is now possible to fill in some of the lines left blank by Cordesman.

The portrait that we give here is also limited. Hezbollah officials will neither speak publicly nor for the record on how they fought the conflict, will not detail their deployments, and will not discuss their future strategy. Even so, the lessons of the war from Hezbollah’s perspective are now beginning to emerge and some small lessons are being derived from it by US and Israeli strategic planners. Our conclusions are based on on-the-ground assessments conducted during the course of the war, on interviews with Israeli, American and European military experts, on emerging understandings of the conflict in discussions with military strategists, and on a network of senior officials in the Middle East who were intensively interested in the war’s outcome and with whom we have spoken.

Our overall conclusion contradicts the current point of view being retailed by some White House and Israeli officials: that Israel’s offensive in Lebanon significantly damaged Hezbollah’s ability to wage war, that Israel successfully degraded Hezbollah’s military ability to prevail in a future conflict, and that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), once deployed in large numbers in southern Lebanon, were able to prevail over their foes and dictate a settlement favorable to the Israeli political establishment.

Just the opposite is true. From the onset of the conflict to its last operations, Hezbollah commanders successfully penetrated Israel’s strategic and tactical decision-making cycle across a spectrum of intelligence, military and political operations, with the result that Hezbollah scored a decisive and complete victory in its war with Israel.

The intelligence war

In the wake of the conflict, Hezbollah general secretary Hassan Nasrallah admitted that Israel’s military response to the abduction of two of its soldiers and the killing of eight others at 9:04 on the morning of July 12 came as a surprise to the Hezbollah leadership.

Nasrallah’s comment ended press reports that Hezbollah set out purposely to provoke a war with Israel and that the abductions had been part of a plan approved by Hezbollah and Iran. While Hezbollah had made it clear over a period of years that it intended to abduct Israeli soldiers, there was good reason to suppose that it would not do so in the middle of the summer months – when large numbers of affluent Shi’ite families from the diaspora would be visiting Lebanon (and spending their money in the Shi’ite community), and when Gulf Arabs were expected to arrive in large numbers in the country.

Nor is it the case, as was initially reported, that Hezbollah coordinated its activities with Hamas. Hamas was taken by surprise by the abductions and, while the Hamas leadership defended Hezbollah actions, in hindsight it is easy to see why they might not have been pleased by them: over the course of the conflict Israel launched multiple military operations against Hamas in Gaza, killing dozens of fighters and scores of civilians. The offensive went largely unnoticed in the West, thereby resuscitating the adage that “when the Middle East burns, the Palestinians are forgotten”.

In truth, the abduction of the two Israeli soldiers and the killing of eight others took the Hezbollah leadership by surprise and was effected only because Hezbollah units on the Israeli border had standing orders to exploit Israeli military weaknesses. Nasrallah had himself long signaled Hezbollah’s intent to kidnap Israeli soldiers, after former prime minister Ariel Sharon reneged on fulfilling his agreement to release all Hezbollah prisoners – three in all – during the last Hezbollah-Israeli prisoner exchange.

The abductions were, in fact, all too easy: Israeli soldiers near the border apparently violated standing operational procedures, left their vehicles in sight of Hezbollah emplacements, and did so while out of contact with higher-echelon commanders and while out of sight of covering fire.

We note that while the Western media consistently misreported the events on the Israeli-Lebanon border, Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper substantially confirmed this account: “A force of tanks and armored personnel carriers was immediately sent into Lebanon in hot pursuit. It was during this pursuit, at about 11am … [a] Merkava tank drove over a powerful bomb, containing an estimated 200 to 300 kilograms of explosives, about 70 meters north of the border fence. The tank was almost completely destroyed, and all four crew members were killed instantly. Over the next several hours, IDF soldiers waged a fierce fight against Hezbollah gunmen … During the course of this battle, at about 3pm, another soldier was killed and two were lightly wounded.”

The abductions marked the beginning of a series of IDF blunders that were compounded by commanders who acted outside of their normal border procedures. Members of the patrol were on the last days of their deployment in the north and their guard was down. Nor is it the case that Hezbollah fighters killed the eight Israelis during their abduction of the two. The eight died when an IDF border commander, apparently embarrassed by his abrogation of standing procedures, ordered armored vehicles to pursue the kidnappers. The two armored vehicles ran into a network of Hezbollah anti-tank mines and were destroyed. The eight IDF soldiers died during this operation or as a result of combat actions that immediately followed it.

That an IDF unit could wander so close to the border without being covered by fire and could leave itself open to a Hezbollah attack has led Israeli officers to question whether the unit was acting outside the chain of command. An internal commission of inquiry was apparently convened by senior IDF commanders in the immediate aftermath of the incident to determine the facts in the matter and to review IDF procedures governing units acting along Israel’s northern border. The results of that commission’s findings have not yet been reported.

Despite being surprised by the Israeli response, Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon were placed on full alert within minutes of the kidnappings and arsenal commanders were alerted by their superiors. Hezbollah’s robust and hardened defenses were the result of six years of diligent work, beginning with the Israeli withdrawal from the region in 2000. Many of the command bunkers designed and built by Hezbollah engineers were fortified, and a few were even air-conditioned.

The digging of the arsenals over the previous years had been accompanied by a program of deception, with some bunkers being constructed in the open and often under the eyes of Israeli drone vehicles or under the observation of Lebanese citizens with close ties to the Israelis. With few exceptions, these bunkers were decoys. The building of other bunkers went forward in areas kept hidden from the Lebanese population. The most important command bunkers and weapons-arsenal bunkers were dug deeply into Lebanon’s rocky hills – to a depth of 40 meters. Nearly 600 separate ammunition and weapons bunkers were strategically placed in the region south of the Litani.

For security reasons, no single commander knew the location of each bunker and each distinct Hezbollah militia unit was assigned access to three bunkers only – a primary munitions bunker and two reserve bunkers, in case the primary bunker was destroyed. Separate primary and backup marshaling points were also designated for distinct combat units, which were tasked to arm and fight within specific combat areas. The security protocols for the marshaling of troops was diligently maintained. No single Hezbollah member had knowledge of the militia’s entire bunker structure.

Hezbollah’s primary arsenals and marshaling points were targeted by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) in the first 72 hours of the war. Israel’s commanders had identified these bunkers through a mix of intelligence reports – signals intercepts from Hezbollah communications, satellite-reconnaissance photos gleaned from cooperative arrangements with the US military, photos analyzed as a result of IAF overflights of the region, photos from drone aircraft deployed over southern Lebanon and, most important, a network of trusted human-intelligence sources recruited by Israeli intelligence officers living in southern Lebanon, including a large number of foreign (non-Lebanese) nationals registered as guest workers in the country.

The initial attack on Hezbollah’s marshaling points and major bunker complexes, which took place in the first 72 hours of the war, failed. On July 15, the IAF targeted Hezbollah’s leadership in Beirut. This attack also failed. At no point during the war was any major Hezbollah political figure killed, despite Israel’s constant insistence that the organization’s senior leadership had suffered losses.

According to one US official who observed the war closely, the IAF’s air offensive degraded “perhaps only 7%” of the total military resource assets available to Hezbollah’s fighters in the first three days of fighting and added that, in his opinion, Israeli air attacks on the Hezbollah leadership were “absolutely futile”.

Reports that the Hezbollah senior leadership had taken refuge in the Iranian Embassy in Beirut (untouched during Israel’s aerial offensive) are not true, though it is not known precisely where the Hezbollah leadership did take shelter. “Not even I knew where I was,” Hezbollah leader Nasrallah told one of his associates. Even with all of this, it is not the case that the Israeli military’s plans to destroy Lebanon’s infrastructure resulted from the IAF’s inability to degrade Hezbollah’s military capacity in the war’s first days.

The Israeli military’s plans called for an early and sustained bombardment of Lebanon’s major highways and ports in addition to its plans to destroy Hezbollah military and political assets. The Israeli government made no secret of its intent – to undercut Hezbollah’s support in the Christian, Sunni and Druze communities. That idea, to punish Lebanon for harboring Hezbollah and so turn the people against the militia, had been a part of Israel’s plan since the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.

While IDF officials confidently and publicly announced success in their offensive, their commanders recommended that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert approve increased air sorties against potential Hezbollah caches in marginal target areas at the end of the first week of the bombing. Olmert approved these attacks, while knowing that in making such a request his senior officers had all but admitted that their initial assessment of the damage inflicted on Hezbollah was exaggerated.

Qana was the result of Olmert’s agreement to “stretch the target envelope”. One US military expert who monitored the conflict closely had this to say of the Qana bombing: “This isn’t really that complicated. After the failure of the initial campaign, IAF planning officers went back through their target folders to see if they had missed anything. When they decided they hadn’t, someone probably stood up and went into the other room and returned with a set of new envelopes of targets in densely populated areas and said, ‘Hey, what about these target envelopes?’ And so they did it.” That is, the bombing of targets “close in” to southern Lebanon population areas was the result of Israel’s failure in the war – not its success.

The “target stretching” escalated throughout the conflict; frustrated by their inability to identify and destroy major Hezbollah military assets, the IAF began targeting schools, community centers and mosques – under the belief that their inability to identify and interdict Hezbollah bunkers signaled Hezbollah’s willingness to hide their major assets inside civilian centers.

IAF officers also argued that Hezbollah’s ability to continue its rocket attacks on Israel meant that its militia was being continually resupplied. Qana is a crossroads, the junction of five separate highways, and in the heart of Hezbollah territory. Interdicting the Qana supply chain provided the IAF the opportunity to prove that Hezbollah was only capable of sustaining its operations because of its supply-dependence on the crossroads town. In truth, however, IDF senior commanders knew that expanding the number of targets in Lebanon would probably do little to degrade Hezbollah capabilities because Hezbollah was maintaining its attacks without any hope of resupply and because of its dependence on weapons and rocket caches that had been hardened against Israeli interdiction. In the wake of Qana, in which 28 civilians were killed, Israel agreed to a 48-hour ceasefire.

The ceasefire provided the first evidence that Hezbollah had successfully withstood Israeli air attacks and was planning a sustained and prolonged defense of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah commanders honored the ceasefire at the orders of their political superiors. With one or two lone exceptions, no rockets were fired into Israel during this ceasefire period. While Hezbollah’s capacity actually to “cease fire” was otherwise ignored by Israeli and Western intelligence experts, Hezbollah’s ability to enforce discipline on its field commanders came as a distinctly unwanted shock to IDF senior commanders, who concluded that Hezbollah’s communication’s capabilities had survived Israel’s air onslaught, that the Hezbollah leadership was in touch with its commanders on the ground, and that those commanders were able to maintain a robust communications network despite Israeli interdiction.

More simply, Hezbollah’s ability to cease fire meant that Israel’s goal of separating Hezbollah fighters from their command structure (considered a necessity by modern armies in waging a war on a sophisticated technological battlefield) had failed. The IDF’s senior commanders could only come to one conclusion – its prewar information on Hezbollah military assets was, at best, woefully incomplete or, at worst, fatally wrong.

In fact, over a period of two years, Hezbollah intelligence officials had built a significant signals-counterintelligence capability. Throughout the war, Hezbollah commanders were able to predict when and where Israeli fighters and bombers would strike. Moreover, Hezbollah had identified key Israeli human-intelligence assets in Lebanon. One month prior to the abduction of the IDF border patrol and the subsequent Israeli attack, Lebanese intelligence officials had broken up an Israeli spy ring operating inside the country.

Lebanese (and Hezbollah) intelligence officials arrested at least 16 Israeli spies in Lebanon, though they failed to find or arrest the leader of the ring. Moreover, during two years from 2004 until the eve of the war, Hezbollah had successfully “turned” a number of Lebanese civilian assets reporting on the location of major Hezbollah military caches in southern Lebanon to Israeli intelligence officers. In some small number of crucially important cases, Hezbollah senior intelligence officials were able to “feed back” false information on their militia’s most important emplacements to Israel – with the result that Israel target folders identified key emplacements that did not, in fact, exist.

Finally, Hezbollah’s ability to intercept and “read” Israeli actions had a decisive impact on the coming ground war. Hezbollah intelligence officials had perfected their signals-intelligence capability to such an extent that they could intercept Israeli ground communications between Israeli military commanders. Israel, which depended on a highly sophisticated set of “frequency hopping” techniques that would allow their commanders to communicate with one another, underestimated Hezbollah’s ability to master counter-signals technology. The result would have a crucial impact on Israel’s calculation that surprise alone would provide the margin of victory for its soldiers.

It now is clear that the Israeli political establishment was shocked by the failure of its forces to accomplish its first military goals in the war – including the degradation of a significant number of Hezbollah arsenals and the destruction of Hezbollah’s command capabilities.

But the Israeli political establishment had done almost nothing to prepare for the worst: the first meeting of the Israeli security cabinet in the wake of the July 12 abduction lasted only three hours. And while Olmert and his security cabinet demanded minute details of the IDF’s plan for the first three days of the war, they failed to articulate clear political goals in the aftermath of the conflict or sketch out a political exit strategy should the offensive fail.

Olmert and the security cabinet violated the first principle of war – they showed contempt for their enemy. In many respects, Olmert and his cabinet were captives of an unquestioned belief in the efficacy of Israeli deterrence. Like the Israeli public, they viewed any questioning of IDF capabilities as sacrilege.

The Israeli intelligence failure during the conflict was catastrophic. It meant that, after the failure of Israel’s air campaign to degrade Hezbollah assets significantly in the first 72 hours of the war, Israel’s chance of winning a decisive victory against Hezbollah was increasingly, and highly, unlikely.

“Israel lost the war in the first three days,” one US military expert said. “If you have that kind of surprise and you have that kind of firepower, you had better win. Otherwise, you’re in for the long haul.”

IDF senior officers concluded that, given the failure of the air campaign, they had only one choice – to invade Lebanon with ground troops in the hopes of destroying Hezbollah’s will to prevail.

Next: Winning the ground war

Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry are the co-directors of Conflicts Forum, a London-based group dedicated to providing an opening to political Islam. Crooke is the former Middle East adviser to European Union High Representative Javier Solana and served as a staff member of the Mitchell Commission investigating the causes of the second intifada. Perry is a Washington, DC-based political consultant, author of six books on US history, and a former personal adviser to the late Yasser Arafat. (Research for this article was provided by Madeleine Perry.)

Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved.

Israel/Lebanon/Palestine cartoons – Latuff

Welcome to Latuff’s gallery!

See also: Latuff threatened: “ISRAELI RIGHT-WING PARTY THREATENS BRAZILIAN CARTOONIST,” September 2006



Hi-resolution versions of 2 Latuff cartoons about the Israeli attack on civilians in Gaza & Lebanon: Collective Punishment: Trademark of Israel | Lidice | Falling Bombs Sign – Lebanon | Norm Says, 2 | Bombs | Lebanon

More large printable Latuff posters:
“I Am Palestinian” series by Carlos Latuff of Brazil.

More of Latuff’s art:

http://latuff.deviantart.com/
http://latuff2.deviantart.com/
http://www.infoshop.org/graphics/latuff/
http://xm.gnostika.org/art/