Wrong weapons, wrong targets
Thursday August 10, 2006
For a country whose military reputation was made by defeating three armies on two fronts in seven days, this month-old conflict is not turning out as expected. Hizbullah seems as strong and determined as ever, commanding support from an ever increasing base of outraged citizenry. Conversely, the Israeli population seems to be showing signs of doubt and frustration at the slight effect its military might is having on Hizbullah.
The problem is that regular tactics and weapons are of little use in counter-insurgency. In a conflict where enemy fighters are also civilians, bombs and artillery do little to distinguish which role they are in at any given moment. When the insurgent moves among the people, you must move in those same circles.
Furthering doubt and frustration is the announcement that the Israeli military is sending a new commander to take over in southern Lebanon. Major General Udi Adam is seen as a man who "just put out fires instead of taking the initiative". It is perhaps for this reason that it is felt that he is not the commander to see this conflict through to a swift and acceptable conclusion. It is also possible that the Israeli government, after initially not allowing the military to pursue the strategy it wanted, has realised it should leave military matters to the military.
Whatever the case, this change will also have far-reaching effects. First, a country proud of its military prowess will be shaken by the perceived failure of its commanders against a lesser enemy. Secondly and more importantly, this will be a boost to the Hizbullah fighters. They will perceive this to be a sign of weakness in their enemy.
With a renewed offensive involving deployment of an additional 30,000 troops pushing up as far as the Litani river, Israel is unlikely to adapt its tactics and will attempt to overpower Hizbullah with military might. This will be playing into Hizbullah's hands. If it can draw Israeli forces further into a messy ground war there might be disastrous consequencesfor Israel.
Insurgent groups do not own or hold ground, they move through it. Hizbullah is able to fight Israeli forces anywhere in Lebanon. If Israeli forces are still chasing Hizbullah fighters up to and beyond the Litani when the UN comes to an agreement and replaces them with an international force, then Israel will have lost. For Israel, this new offensive is a race against time.
· Amyas Godfrey is an Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute