Washington Expected an IDF Grand Slam to Dispose of Hizballah
US officials are not yet saying so out loud, but in private and “on condition of anonymity,” White House circles are signaling disappointment.
It arises from the expectation that the Israeli Defense Forces, the most effective Middle East army, would dispose of Hassan Nasrallah and his Hizballah in a few days, presenting the Bush administration and Sunni Muslim Arab rulers with a dearly hoped-for smash victory against Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. Now, after 12 days of Israeli air, sea and ground assaults, it is beginning to look as though it will take a long, sustained effort to break Hizballah.
Therefore, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice is coming to the Middle East Monday, July 24, brandishing a whip in the form of an implied deadline. She will assess the situation at close hand, talk to allies in Rome Wednesday and go back to Washington after setting a date to return in the week beginning July 30.
A really quick, crushing victory over the Hizballah could be achieved by the landing of American forces in northern Lebanon – at the invitation of the Beirut government. Nasrallah’s forces could then be strangled between US forces and the Israeli army coming up from the south.
But this is not on the cards for the simple reason that America is willing to fight in Lebanon to the last Israeli soldier, just as Iran is ready to fight to the last Hizballah combatant. Israel must beware of being hustled into taking imprudent steps by the proxy contest between the Washington and Tehran. Israel and its armed forces must pursue their own national agenda which is to cripple the Hizballah and inflict a defeat on Tehran, both of whom are sworn to destroy the Jewish state. It is necessary for Israeli commanders to proceed cautiously and set a pace that is commensurate with their military capabilities. Their best fighting men must not be place needlessly in harm’s way and Lebanese civilian casualties have to be avoided as far as possible in a situation in which Hizballah stores its men and weapons in domestic cellars, kitchens and banana groves. Above all, Israel must beware of being drawn into tailoring its arduous and dangerous campaign to the pressures of Washington’s disappointment. After four years in Iraq, US forces know the score and understand the challenges besetting Israel.
On Day Twelve of the war, Israel faces two major tactical difficulties:
1. The enemy the IDF is pursuing is not a regular army which moves divisions around, but a small militia of 4,000 hardened, highly trained jihadist guerrillas, who have reduced their offensive against Israel to two simple tactics: shooting rockets at population centers and lying in wait for a chance to take Israeli troops unawares.
It therefore behooves Israeli forces, which Saturday, July 22, launched a large-scale offensive to sanitize South Lebanon, to beat Hizballah at the game of catching the opposition unawares. There is no doubt that the Israeli army is badly in need of a success – and not only to impress the Americans. Israel’s home front, though solidly behind its servicemen, needs to be assured that the war is on course and will be fought “until the job is finished.” This is the mantra heard up and down Israel, most insistently from the one-third of the population taking the punishment of lives lost or disrupted and homes destroyed by daily rocket attacks, with very little complaint.
This assurance is beginning to wear thin as the Hizballah rocket blitz intensifies day by day. Saturday, they shot a record 160 rockets at dozens of towns and communities. Sunday, July 23, the ball bearings packed in the Katyusha warheads punched hundreds of holes in a car and a workshop, killing two men on the spot. Sirens were heard for the first time in Binyamina, Zichron Yaacov and Kfar Ada, 70 km from the Lebanese border and the deepest south yet. The buildings of Israel’s third largest city, Haifa, and many other towns of northern Israel, are severely battered and bear the scars of blasts which scatter the metal balls designed to maximize human injuries.
The week’s grace that Rice appears to be granting the Israeli government and armed forces for bringing the war to a successful conclusion is also a boon for Tehran, Syria and Hizballlah. It gives them time to engineer a nasty surprise to greet the US secretary’s second visit, hitting Israel at the very moment that the diplomats weigh in to start the process for ending hostilities. Israel will then be told to hold back on reprisals. This dead-end maneuver will be painfully familiar to the many peacemakers who tried their luck with the Palestinians, notably Condoleezza Rice’s predecessor, Colon Powell.
While Syrian officials angle for direct talks with the United States and call for a ceasefire, Damascus is preparing to step into the war. Damascus is preparing to step into the war. Syrian information minister Mohsein Bilal warned Sunday, July 23, that Syria will join the conflict if Israeli ground forces in Lebanon approach the Syrian border. But Bashar Assad also prefers to hide behind the back of a proxy. The ruling Syrian Baath suddenly “discovered” Sunday a new organization called the “Front for the Liberation of Golan,” claiming it launched its first attack last Thursday, July 20, on an Israeli army post. It was said to have killed 8 Israeli soldiers and taken two hostages to be held in Syria against the release of Golan Druzes in Israeli jails. The tale is made of whole cloth, but it is a straw that shows which way the wind is blowing in Damascus.
Neither Damascus nor Tehran – and certainly not the Hizballah – have any intention of leaving the diplomatic initiative in the hands of the US secretary of state. They will do their utmost to stay one step ahead of any American-led steps and keep Israeli forces from running away with a victory. The way events are going now, both the Americans and Israelis will soon be confronted with the necessity to cut both Syria and Iran down to size.