Monday, December 29, 2008

Quo Vadis, IDF?


As a number of commentators are pointing out, "Operation Cast Lead" has reached a critical point. It looks like the air force is starting to run out of significant targets to hit. Israel has destroyed Hamas's major above-ground military installations and has bombed the known tunnels. The trouble is that rockets are still flying, and with more effect than before the war. Have Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabriel Ashkenazi sufficiently absorbed the lessons of the Lebanon war to maintain the initiative against Hamas? 

If the IDF proves incapable of staying on the offensive, it may as well push for an improved cease fire now. Otherwise, it can only be Lebanon all over again: a tentative ground operation, with many casualties, that fails to make a dent in the enemy's rocket-firing capabilities. Granted, the air force has inflicted significant casualties on Hamas and, at least temporarily, disoriented its leadership and troops. Israel also did well to prepare its citizens for a potentially lengthy engagement, that may see many of them confined to bunkers. 

But the tide can turn quickly. Should Hamas score a major hit against a civilian site, prove successful in defending against Israeli armor, or ambush a reconnaissance platoon, Israel will be drawn into a media contest similar to the one waged against Nasrallah in 2006. 

A ground operation would have to train overwhelming force on strategic sites and persons, and move with rapid speed. The truth is that we do not know Hamas's defensive capabilities. No doubt, the group has carefully studied the Hizbullah playbook. Accordingly, we could expect to see heavy use of anti-tank weapons against armor as well as infantry, and IEDs along the lines of those used to stop the tank pursuing the kidnappers of Gilad Shalit. 

The question is what the objectives - understood in a more limited, tactical sense - of a ground operation would be. What sites can be seized and held with purpose? Does it make sense to land troops from the sea, in addition to entering the Strip with tanks and infantry from the north and east?

More important, of course, are the larger strategic objectives of "Operation Cast Lead." The foolish comment by Haim Ramon, which formulated the objective as "bringing down Hamas," does not bode well. It sets Israel up for failure. 

18 comments:

Critiker said...

Indeed, the air force ran out of land targets and a ground operation may be necessary to halt Hamas’ terrorist activities. A ground operation, however, is always a scary and difficult option for Israel as it involves significant casualties on the side of Israel. Nonetheless, if a ground operation will turn out to be necessary, I cannot help being reminded, once again, that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza was a strategic mistake.
Israel’s removal of Gush Katif from the Gaza strip was accompanied their removal of IDF troops who were there protecting the settlement. Aside from protecting the settlement, the IDF’s presence in Gaza acted as a shield, as a strategic control against the proliferation of terrorist activates. Given the struggle and casualties there, the radius of Hamas’ targets for violence was limited. Now, years after the withdrawal from Gaza, that radius became larger to include civilians in cities within Israel-proper. Now, another ground operation may be required to effectively halt the violence, and return to the state of affairs before the disengagement.

Nobody said...

You should not overestimate the other side. It's true that Hamas is trying to monkey after Hezbollah, but Gaza is a very different terrain. Copy pasting other people methods is no guarantee for success. In practical terms Gaza is a very narrow strip, totally exposed, very easy to track from the air. There are not so many places to hide platforms for short range Katyushas like Hezbollah was doing in the dense vegetation of South Lebanon. Gaza is a very different story.

Finally, the war in Lebanon was a failure but its objective it has achieved. The very fact that there were no solidarity Katyusha launches from the North proves this fact. Of course Hamas will be talking and launching rockets to the last day of the hostilities. We will only know later if the current operation was a success.

Finally the real objective of this operation is to not leave Hamas any chance to achieve any kind of economic and social normalcy. From this point of view what happened in the last three days was a disaster for Gazans. It may take months, if not years, for them to recover. In this sense Israel has already got what it needs.

Ariel said...

the war in Lebanon was a failure but its objective it has achieved. The very fact that there were no solidarity Katyusha launches from the North proves this fact.

I've been wondering about this. Is it possible that Hez calculates a confrontation with Israel isn't worth its while at the moment or that Syria is holding Hez back? It doesn't seem necessarily the case that the Israeli operation in Lebanon was successful in this regard.

Nobody said...

@Ariel

Nasrallah said shortly after the last war that if he knew that Israel would respond the way it did, Hezbollah would have refrained from cross border raids. If he shoots now something and the IDF comes and destroys the feeble recovery they are having there, there would be nothing he can say to Lebanese to explain why he is getting them into another mess.

Aardvark EF-111B said...

why don't Israel follow the same lebanon senario in Gazza

1/ bombardment 4 month
2/ limited land operation to cut gaza cities from one another
3/ press in the security council to put the whole strip under UN supervision (and hamas should accept that after lengthy bombardment, at least because gazan are too sick of the situation

Anonymous said...

I'd like your views on this: In Britain in WWII the RAF's aces like Cats Eyes Cunningham were a source of pride. But who are the Israeli helicopter gunship pilots and the F16 pilots? Could it be that they don't want their wives and kids to know about their child-killing exploits? But a guy who looses a hellfire missile that kills 7 teenagers in a bus queue deserves naming in my view. Who are they? Or is it just the same Israeli maniac who always misses the Arab maniac he was firing at with his "precision guided" weapon? What think you?

Nobody said...

@ef-111b

1) You wanted to say 4 weeks, not 4 months. The war in Lebanon went for a month or something. But the thing is that there is not so much to bombard. All Hamas facilities were destroyed within the first 5 minutes of the attack. Since then it was mostly about running over the same list of targets. There is not so much to bomb in Gaza.

Technically the IDF can try to suppress rocket fire from the air. Gaza is a small place, easy to monitor from drones and so theoretically in a couple of weeks most of their launching crews will be dead unless they start shooting from inside hospitals or something. But it's winter, the visibility is poor. The last couple of days it was raining.

2) Now regarding cutting their cities from one another. It's a bit difficult to do since Gaza is basically a sort of one big slum. They are literally sitting on the shoulders of each other with people making homes on top of cemeteries. Gaza is tremendously overpopulated and is already past the demographic breaking point. Their future is to disperse or surrender themselves to Egypt. It's not sustainable anymore. In particular given the global warming and water crisis. Gaza is doomed. It's a walking corpse.

3) We don't know how much the Gazans are sick of the situation. Right now they are all with Hamas. Usually it takes a couple of months for people to recover psychologically after such a disaster and start thinking rationally. It will take a while before we start hearing voices from Gaza critical of Hamas if this is going to happen at all. But in general Israel despaired of the UN. Hezbollah basically doubled its ballistic arsenal after the war under the nose of UN inspectors. Though Gaza is different in this respect. It's easier to control.

Aardvark EF-111B said...

so, as long as Gaza is easy to be contained, just keep on till all their launcher crews smoken !!!, no matter how long it takes

[[Their future is to disperse or surrender themselves to Egypt. It's not sustainable anymore. In particular given the global warming and water crisis. Gaza is doomed. It's a walking corpse.]]
yes, it is a nightmare waiting to happen!

Nobody said...

@ef-111b

The problem with prolonged operations is that eventually one of the pilots misses the target and a bomb hits a hospital or something. And clearly the longer the campaign the more probability is that one of the bombs ends killing hundreds. At this point the air campaign will have to stop. This probability is increasing also because launching crews are growing reluctant to venture into open areas and start firing closer to neighborhoods. Sometimes they deliberately shoot from residential areas betting that the IAF will refrain from targeting them there.

Another thing, and this is something that I don't understand, is that for some reason their launching crews don't use timing mechanisms or something to do it remotely. I have no idea why they are exposing themselves in this way because 5 minutes after a launch there is already an F-16 over the place. Dunno about Kassams which are a kind of a rude missile with a messed trajectory, but say after they fire a grad missile the IDF usually knows where it came from in minutes, if not seconds. The IDF may have a problem to stop them firing, but to get a crew they usually do. I bet for every two or three launches, there is a crew that the IDF hits.

Anonymous said...

28 children. 40+ women. 2 ambulances destroyed. 6 mosques. 1 university. Parliament, perhaps the most shining symbol of self-governance, destroyed. Are police stations targets? Hospitals? Is Hamas truly the target, or is it the ability of Gaza to self-govern? I cannot help but think those joining militias in Syria and Iran are patriots, defending civilians from a massacre of increasing proportions.

Murder begets murder. You cannot kill enough people to stop people from wanting to kill you. Ask Mugabe. Then consult Mandela. There are 100 families in Gaza, and unknown numbers of friends, who have seen that Israel is willing to sacrifice scores of civilians to accomplish their objectives. I cannot think Israeli leaders foolish enough to think they can truly kill every person willing or able to fire a mortar against Israel. They must be aware with every "collateral damage" civilian comes a sea of volunteers to fight what becomes a more legitimate cause. So what is the root cause? What purpose to the bombings? Simply a show of military might? To leave Gaza and Gazans a shambles unable to self-govern? To garner support for a February election? To get some shots in before Jan. 20, before the US again has a true leader?

There is an easy solution to violence at this point. End the checkpoints in the West Bank. Their government has problems, but they come to the bargaining table. People in Gaza will then be able to draw a dichotomy. Hey, our government got us crushed, and the West Bank is now better off because of theirs.

How many people must die before the Israeli government stops? We now have a hundred civilian deaths, will a thousand stop them? 10,000? When will they turn the eye they have cast so critically upon Hamas on themselves? Hamas has killed less than 20 civilians this past year, in what they no doubt consider "collateral damage" in their country's fight. Israel 100.

Nobody said...

Murder begets murder. You cannot kill enough people to stop people from wanting to kill you. Ask Mugabe. Then consult Mandela.

Anon

Who do you think you are teaching here? This country spent decades in a region that was trying to destroy it. We don't need to hold consultations with Mugabe or Mandela. Maybe you can't kill enough people to stop people from wanting to kill you, but you definitely can kill enough people to stop them from killing you.

People in Gaza will then be able to draw a dichotomy. Hey, our government got us crushed, and the West Bank is now better off because of theirs.

And what these people will do? They will have elections to vote Hamas out? Never mind that these people used their last elections to vote them in. But people like Hamas are once in, never out. It's the Middle East, honey.

Aardvark EF-111B said...

so, if all options leads to a dead end, why operation launched the first place???

otherwise low rate bombardment & negotiate on better terms of appeasement

Nobody said...

@ef-111b

The immediate purpose is to stabilize the border. It should be quiet just as the border with Lebanon is now quiet. In this sense maybe Israel can already end the operation. Of course they will shoot the last rocket before a ceasefire, but I expect them to then stay quiet for a long time to come.

But of course more is involved here and not only for us. No wonder that Egypt is keeping low profile while keeping its part of the border closed. Because if we don't stop this cancer in Gaza, it may end metastasizing all over the Middle East and even beyond.

Aardvark EF-111B said...

yes, israel is in the front line facing Islamized Nihilism

Ariel said...

Nobody,

Nasrallah said shortly after the last war that if he knew that Israel would respond the way it did, Hezbollah would have refrained from cross border raids. If he shoots now something and the IDF comes and destroys the feeble recovery they are having there, there would be nothing he can say to Lebanese to explain why he is getting them into another mess.

Hezbollah basically doubled its ballistic arsenal after the war under the nose of UN inspectors.


These statements don't seem to correspond, unless I'm missing something. When, by the way, did Nasrallah say that? The only context in which I can imagine him saying something like this is in defending Hezbollah to other Lebanese, i.e., deflecting criticism that Hezbollah was responsible for the destruction wrought by the IAF. In which case, again, it may be that Hezbollah is keeping quiet at the moment for tactical political purposes, not because it lacks the capabilities. The situation could change at any moment, and then maybe the North will find itself under bombardment too.

Amos said...

Ariel,

Hizbullah has certainly increased its arsenal, but it does seem to be more hesitant about using it. I think that was what Nobody meant. That's still not a great situation and it could change at any moment, as you imply.

Here is a post with the remarks by Nasrallah that Nobody was referring to.

Anonymous said...

The IDF airforce is not out of targets as can be seen from the news (what are "land targets"?).
Much of the bombing is done from drones, not by planes. There are drones over Gaza all the time.
There will be a ground operation by the IDF. More reasons for that than can be stated in a blog.
It is all basically also a test of Arab set of mind. Egypt has made it clear, very clear, that Egyptians are not going to die for Palestine. Not unless the Muslim brothers take controll. This is important.
Nasralla has made it clear that he will fight till the last drop of blood, Pal. blood. So it is clear now that Nasralla and his people have learned their lesson from the last war. And he is talking about victory, Do the pepole of Leb. belive him? On the west bank? well there are more demonstrations by Israeli Arabs than in Nablus, Jenin or El-Halil (Hebron) make you wonder why?
As for the opinions of the Gazan, Amira Hess, probably one of the last honest reportets, and she is as pro Pal. as one can get, and others with connections there are telling us that the people there are sick and tiered of the Hamas, but they are afraid of the terror justice.
One will have to wait and see, as was said, there will be a ground operation.

Nobody said...

Amos said...

Ariel,

Hizbullah has certainly increased its arsenal, but it does seem to be more hesitant about using it. I think that was what Nobody meant. That's still not a great situation and it could change at any moment, as you imply.


I would rather say that it confirms the old Lebanese suspicion that he is simply an Iranian stooge.