Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Air might?

Might in the air will not defeat guerillas in this bitter conflict

Charles Heyman

Times 2 August 2006

AFTER Israeli forces withdrew from Lebanon under pressure from Hezbollah in 2000, there was a rethink at the Israeli Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv. It resulted in a counter-guerrilla doctrine called “the vulture and the snake”.
The air force became the offensive counter-guerrilla force (the vultures) that would destroy the guerrillas (the snakes), wherever they might be. Ground forces were to defend Israel’s territorial integrity and, if necessary, make incursions into enemy territory to destroy pockets of guerrillas that the air force might be struggling to neutralise. The ground forces would be “in and out” very quickly and there would be no attempt at occupation.

That is what has been happening in Lebanon for the past three weeks. Since the formation of an air force counter-guerrilla task force, the Israeli air force has been the lead service and the army has played a secondary role.
This doctrine appears to have failed. The Hezbollah guerrilla force is still intact. What the planners forgot is that Hezbollah would use hospitals, schools, apartment blocks and other civilian infrastructure as cover for its activities. Hezbollah knows that it would be suicide to fire rockets from open areas; it would be unlikely to last five minutes if it did. Using the civilian population as cover is an integral aspect of asymmetrical warfare, and it follows that innocent civilians will die in large numbers in air attacks. The attacker, in this case Israel, subsequently loses the all-important international public relations battle.
What we are now seeing is a move towards the more traditional Israeli policy of using the army to take ground inside Lebanon and to flush out Hezbollah’s guerrillas. On paper Israel has total superiority.
It has one of the world’s most efficient military — well trained, motivated and equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry. It has hundreds of aircraft and the most modern artillery systems, and thousands of armoured vehicles and missiles. Hezbollah’s arsenal consists mostly of rifles, machineguns, grenades, mortars and mines plus improvised explosive devices.
Its fighters’ real advantage is their knowledge of the terrain, long experience of operations against the Israeli Defence Forces, local leadership and a burning sense of grievance. Hezbollah fighters rarely stand and fight. If they do, they are usually destroyed. Their main tactic is attrition, causing whatever casualties they can, usually through ambushes or mines, and then melting away.
Artillery and air attacks are seldom successful against such tactics. Indeed, the great military question of our time is how do you defeat an asymmetric warfare grouping such as Hezbollah? The reality is that you are unlikely to defeat it on the battlefield, simply because its fighters will refuse to fight on the battlefield of your choosing. If they did, they would be destroyed by a military machine such as Israel’s.
Your counter-guerrilla doctrine has to be much smarter. For a start, think of a 20-year time frame — because there are no quick fixes. Be prepared to spend an ocean of money. Identify the political grievance at the heart of the problem and prepare a comprehensive policy embracing political, economic, social, media and military means that will address that grievance over a generation.
No matter what happens, proportionate, and where possible minimum, force is absolutely necessary. In this type of campaign, large body counts are never a sign of success; they are nearly always a sign of failure.
In the short term the Israeli Defence Forces will win its campaign in southern Lebanon. It will chip away at Hezbollah’s infrastructure until something that passes for control is imposed. There will be incessant patrolling by Israeli troops on the ground and drones in the sky, supported by good Israeli intelligence.
After about a month, southern Lebanon is unlikely to be an area where Hezbollah can operate at will and, apart from the occasional ambush, the IDF will have the upper hand.
But the long-term winners will almost certainly be Hezbollah. The Israelis will withdraw from southern Lebanon at some stage, because they cannot afford to keep large numbers of reservists on a war footing indefinitely. Hezbollah will move back, and any UN force that tries to disarm it will become part of the problem. Hezbollah will resist and, after extensive casualties, the UN will likely be forced to withdraw.
Hezbollah will also survive in the long term because the traumatised children fleeing today’s onslaught will become the fighters of tomorrow.

Major Charles Heyman is the former editor of Jane’s World Armies and editor of The Armed Forces of the United Kingdom.


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