The Israeli military has already been surprised by the carefully prepared defenses of Hezbollah, just across the Lebanese border. Their leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, and his Iranian sponsors have clearly not been wasting their time over the past six years. Israel’s military has been facing first-rate defenses that are breaking up the effectiveness of invading Israeli armor with both fixed defenses like mines and IEDs and well-employed flexible defenses like anti-tank missiles. Israeli armor is already responding with a quick fix, like installing belly armor to save their highly trained crews if they can’t keep their tanks from being knocked out.
But a key element in understanding the underlying Hezbollah strategy may be paying attention to the kind of missiles being used up to this point in the engagement. They are almost all short-range area weapons like obsolete Katuysha rockets. Doesn’t that seem very strange indeed, as Israeli forces freely pound Hezbollah targets in the Bekaa Valley and southern Beirut with the most sophisticated laser-guided munitions?
For now, as Israel attacks north, it has to pay a high price for eliminating the least effective missiles in the Hezbollah arsenal. Even assuming Israel captures all of them, there are still an estimated 2,000 missiles out of reach that are far more dangerous.
Has Hezbollah prepared a very clever defense in depth? Will a battered Israeli military move northward, only to find it thought it left things safe behind them — paying a higher and higher price as more modern missiles start reaching out at far longer ranges than the antique Katuyshas? Their range is no longer 25 miles but 155 miles, with missiles that can reach key points in Tel Aviv and elsewhere. And won’t this create intolerable political pressures on the government of Israel?
The United States has already suffered from the propaganda and strategic effect of directed weapons on September 11. What if the first Hezbollah long-range missile attack lands on the Knesset in session?
Mr. Nasrallah has already stated he has a “surprise” waiting for the Israelis. And he isn’t the sort of leader who postures impotently for photo-ops, like Yasser Arafat, while totally lacking the military capability for anything besides harassment. His calm announcement that he had informed the Lebanese government in advance that he intended to kidnap Israeli soldiers had to throw a shock into those still wishing to dismiss him as some out-of-control warlord whose host state would welcome his removal.
It is time to admit that, if this is Mr. Nasrallah’s strategy, it is far too late to interdict his supply lines. He has already installed and hidden all the weapons he needs to carry out this attack. The Israeli military is using its considerable skills to locate them in Lebanon. But if only 5 percent — or even 50 sophisticated weapons — survive to land on effective targets in Israel, what real “negotiated peace” is possible?
Under these circumstances, the Middle East may well be facing another of those interim truces being pressed by the usual clueless international entities that have solved nothing and only ramp up the next level of confrontation. Even if a NATO force moves in to occupy the area south of the Litani River the Lebanese Army couldn’t, or wouldn’t, occupy according to U.N. Resolution 1559 and Israeli forces declare victory and go home, in reality Hezbollah and Iran become more empowered and Israel becomes the most vulnerable it has ever been.
That kind of “solution” may eliminate any useful Katuysha sites, but it also leaves Mr. Nasrallah’s Hezbollah firmly emplaced with its most effective standoff weapon arsenal and the trained forces to employ them no matter what kind of idiotic “demilitarization” clause they agree to and ignore in the negotiated truce. And Lebanon will have made a giant step in undoing its “Cedar Revolution.”
Freed from direct Syrian control, Lebanon will have only moved from the host of a stateless terror group to another failed state politically now under Hezbollah’s direct control. And Iran becomes the real beneficiary of this proxy war against Israel, gaining a stunning victory in its real battle for the leadership of the Middle Eastern Muslim world — without a direct confrontation with either Israel or the United States — that will significantly alter the balance of power in the Persian Gulf.
There has been a controversy for centuries over who invented chess. The leading contenders remain India and Persia, which today is called Iran. As this engagement unfolds, the odds have to be increasing that it was Persia.
But chess depends upon harnessing a limited number of inexorable probabilities, which is why the IBM computer Deep Blue finally was able to beat a chess master. Iran has to be concerned that human beings play other games as well. Israel knows who it is really confronting. Faced with the “solution” above, which for the first time threatens its very existence in a conventional engagement, Israel may well change the name of the game.
Thomas Lipscomb is an investigative reporter and a fellow of the Annenberg Center for the Digital Future.