Stratfor: Special Report - July 18, 2006
> Special Report: Situation Review
> By George Friedman
> We have been following developments in the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict
> closely for several days. At this writing, the air-rocket war
> continues to rage, but the Israeli ground offensive that we would have
> expected by now has not yet been launched. There is some speculation
> that it will not be launched -- that a combination of air operations
> and a diplomatic process will be sufficient, from Israel's point of
> view, to negate the need for a ground attack.
> While the various processes grind their way along, it is time to
> review the situation.
> The first point to bear in mind is that the crisis did not truly begin
> with the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. The kidnappings
> presented a serious problem for Israel, but could not, by themselves,
> define the geopolitical issue. That definition came when Hezbollah
> rockets struck Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, on July 13. There
> were also claims coming from Hezbollah, and confirmed by Israeli
> officials, that Hezbollah had missiles available that could reach Tel
> Aviv. Israel's population is concentrated in the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem
> corridor and in the Tel Aviv-Haifa corridor. In effect, Hezbollah had
> attained the ability to strike at the Israeli heartland. Hezbollah has
> been hitting the northern part of this heartland, as well as pounding
> Israel's northern frontier.
> The capture of two soldiers posed a symbolic challenge to Israel, but
> the rocket attacks posed a direct geopolitical threat. Israel had
> substantial room for maneuver regarding the captured troops.
> The threat to the heartland, however, could not be evaded. To the
> extent possible, Israel had to stop the missile attacks. As important,
> it also had to eliminate Hezbollah's ability to resume such attacks.
> The Israelis can tolerate these strikes for a certain period of time,
> so long as the outcome is a final cessation. What was not an option
> for Israel was to engage in temporary solutions that would allow
> Hezbollah to attack the heartland regularly, at its discretion.
> Hezbollah has posed a problem that Israel cannot choose to ignore.
> Hezbollah's reasons for doing so at this time are not altogether clear.
> It certainly has to do with the crisis in Palestinian
> politics: Hezbollah wants to stake a place for itself as Palestine
> redefines itself. It also has to do with the vacuum created by the
> withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon and freedom of action for
> Hezbollah that previously has been denied it by the Syrians.
> Finally, it is clear that Iranian and Shiite politics within the wider
> Islamic world have made Hezbollah action at this time attractive for
> the group's Iranian patrons.
> However complex Hezbollah's motives might be, the consequences of its
> actions are crystal-clear: From the Israeli perspective, it is
> imperative that the rocket attacks must be shut down.
> Israel's Imperfect Options
> Israel has three tools at its disposal.
> One is diplomacy. There is a general consensus, even among many in
> Lebanon and Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, that Hezbollah's
> actions have been unreasonable and undesirable. It would not be too
> difficult, we would think, to create a circumstance in which the two
> Israeli soldiers are released, a cease-fire is declared and an
> international monitoring team inserted into the region. That is what
> the French, for example, have proposed, and what is being discussed now.
> The problem with this option, from the Israeli point of view, is that
> it puts off a solution to the deeper problem posed by Hezbollah to a
> later day
> -- one that might not be so advantageous for Israel. Israel has a
> built-in distrust of international peacekeeping operations -- dating
> back to May 1967, when the United Nations, without consulting Israel,
> withdrew peacekeepers from Sinai at the behest of the Egyptians. This
> cultural bias against peacekeepers is reinforced by the fact that
> Hezbollah could rearm itself behind the peacekeeping shield. Whether
> the peacekeepers would conduct operations to prevent this -- in
> effect, carrying out counterinsurgency operations in Lebanon in
> support of Israel's goals -- is doubtful in the extreme. Instead, the
> presence of a peacekeeping force might facilitate a more substantial
> Hezbollah capability down the road. This is, at least, how the
> Israelis think of it, and their position therefore has been
> consistent: The outcome of this conflict must be the destruction of
> Hezbollah, or at least its offensive capability, for an extended period of time.
> That leads to Israel's other two options, both of which would be
> carried out with military force.
> The first step has been the Israeli air campaign. All modern military
> operations by advanced powers begin with air campaigns.
> Their purpose is to prepare the battlefield for land attack and, in
> some cases, to force a political settlement. In Kosovo, for example,
> air attacks alone were sufficient to convince the Yugoslav government
> to concede its control over Kosovo. In the case of Desert Storm, the
> air campaign came in preparation for a ground attack.
> Air forces around the world like to make extravagant claims as to what
> air power can do; the Israeli air force is no exception.
> However, while an air campaign can severely hamper Hezbollah --
> particularly by attacking launch sites and storage facilities, and
> generally making launches difficult -- the likelihood that air power
> can, by itself, eliminate the threat is unlikely.
> To reiterate a key point, the nature of the threat is continual
> attacks on Israel's geopolitical heartland. Now, it is possible that
> Israeli air operations could force some sort of political settlement,
> but again, as with the diplomatic option, it is difficult to conceive
> of a political settlement that guarantees what Israel wants. Even a
> Hezbollah withdrawal from southern Lebanon, coupled with occupation of
> the area by the Lebanese army, does not solve the problem. This
> solution assumes that the Lebanese army has the will and ability to
> prevent Hezbollah's return. For this to work, the Lebanese army would
> have to agree to dismantle Hezbollah's infrastructure, and Hezbollah
> would have to agree to let them do so -- and Israel would have to
> place its faith in both Hezbollah and the Lebanese army and
> government. It is difficult to imagine a situation in which the
> Israelis can reach a satisfactory political settlement. The air
> campaign as a political tool suffers from the same defect as the
> diplomatic track: It is of value only if Israel is prepared to accept
> a solution that does not guarantee a complete end to the threat posed
> by Hezbollah -- and potentially might leave the Israelis in a worse position, militarily, down the road.
> There is an additional political fact and problem. Obviously, any
> threat to a heartland generates a unique political response. In
> Israel, the Olmert government is heir to Ariel Sharon's quest for an
> imposed political settlement on the Palestinians. This is a strategy
> opposed from the right, by Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud, who argues
> that any settlement that leaves military options in the hands of the
> Palestinians is unsustainable. The Hezbollah issue is the Palestinian
> issue on steroids. If Olmert were to agree to any settlement that does
> not include dismantling Hezbollah's capabilities or that relies on a
> third party to police that dismantling, Netanyahu would attack hard --
> and we suspect that enough of Olmert's coalition would defect to force
> a political crisis in Israel.
> There has been no attack from Netanyahu, however. This can be partly
> explained by the Israeli tradition that politics stops when war begins.
> But we suspect this goes deeper than that. Olmert is keeping Netanyahu
> informed as to his intentions and Netanyahu is content with the course
> being pursued, making it clear in public that his support depends on
> the government faithfully pursuing that course -- meaning the
> destruction of Hezbollah as an organized entity. Olmert does not have
> much room for maneuver on this, nor is it apparent that he wants any.
> The goal is the destruction of Hezbollah; anything less would not
> work, on any level, for Israel.
> The Logic for a Ground Offensive
> From this, we must conclude that the air campaign comes in preparation
> for what is Israel's third option: a ground offensive.
> If Israel's goal is the destruction of Hezbollah's ability to strike
> the Israeli heartland for an extended period of time, the only way to
> hope to achieve this is from the ground. Those conducting air
> operations can see only what can be seen from the air. And even if
> they can hit whatever they see, eliminating the threat requires a ground presence.
> Therefore, we continue to believe that logic and evidence argue for an
> Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon -- and that any possible
> diplomatic or political resolution, however tempting, ultimately could
> not satisfy Israel's security requirements.
> When we say invasion, we do not mean occupation. Israel has had its
> fill of counterinsurgency operations in Lebanon. This would be a raid
> in force. A large force would push into Lebanon, with two
> missions: the destruction of Hezbollah as an army and the location and
> destruction of all heavy weaponry. This solution would not be
> permanent, but it would achieve two ends. First, it would mean that
> for Hezbollah or a successor organization to regroup would take years.
> Second, it would leave no third party shielding Hezbollah while it
> regrouped. This strategy gives Israel what it wants now and options in the future.
> Three more Israeli battalions were mobilized today. The United States,
> which certainly knows Israel's intentions, is now extracting U.S.
> citizens from Beirut. Israeli aircraft are working over Hezbollah
> positions in the Bekaa Valley. The United States, Israel's patron, is
> clearly in favor of the destruction of Hezbollah and there is no
> broad-based opposition to an Israeli offensive internationally. It is
> a window of opportunity that Israel will not pass up. The very thing
> that makes diplomatic solutions possible also makes invasion, for the
> Israelis, attractive.
> Our analysis therefore runs as follows:
> 1. Only an invasion on the ground can provide Israel with the solution
> it wants to the threat Hezbollah has posed.
> 2. A diplomatic or political settlement not only cannot guarantee this
> outcome, but it would make later Israeli responses to Hezbollah even
> more difficult. Israel has more room for maneuver internationally now
> than it will have later.
> 3. The internal politics of Israel will make it very difficult for
> Olmert to come out of this with a less-than-definitive outcome.
> 4. Israel will seek to deal with Hezbollah without undertaking
> counterinsurgency operations in the long term. This means attack,
> sterilization of the threat, and withdrawal.
> There has been much speculation about diplomatic solutions, the
> possibility that there will not be an invasion, and so on. But when we
> ignore the rhetoric and look at the chessboard, it is difficult to see
> how this conflict ends without some action on the ground.
> When we examine the behavior of the Israelis, they are taking the
> steps that would be needed for an invasion. Obviously we could be
> wrong, and clearly the invasion has not come at the earliest possible
> moment, as we had predicted. Nevertheless, when we step through the
> logic, we keep coming out with the same answer: