Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Lessons of the Israeli-Hizbollah War


Now that the smoke is cleared, the blockade ended by Israel and the peace keepers are supposedly taking their places, it seems foolish to waste much time arguing about who was right or wrong in this brief war, or who started it. No one is going to convince supporters of either side that they are wrong, and it will not help stop another one. For one thing, it is unlikely anyone with a strong opinion will be swayed by any contrary one.

What matters most is what the war tells us about what is in store for the Western Alliances in upcoming wars. What I mean by Western Alliances are those countries who have treaties or understanding among one another in which the United States is a central figure, and which, however imperfectly executed, have a determined preference certain enlightenment values such as free expression, democratic government, religious tolerance, etc. This includes, in varying degrees, not only countries actually in the Western Hemisphere, such as the USA, some of the EU and British Commonwealth, but also Eastern Hemisphere countries which seem to have adopted these same set of values, like Japan and Israel. The plural “alliances” is used because not all of the countries are allied with each other, although the United States seems a center for most, if not all of them. Were there ever a third World War in the near future, these countries will be allies.

Some important tactics developed during this war that have been somewhat overlooked in importance. The significance of this war is obvious for Israel, but also for these other loosely allied countries countries. This post considers the impact of the war upon the Western Alliances.

Who won the war?

It is not so foolish to argue about who won, although that might appear petty or competitive to some. If one side wins, it has an impact on whether the other side would want to fight again, or how soon, and effects how other countries treat the combatants.

Both sides in this war claimed victory. The victory” claimed by Hizbollah now seems diminished in the aftermath of the burials and awesome reconstruction tasks, not to mention Nasrallah’s admission that given the consequences he would not have taken the prisoners.

The “victory” claimed by Israel also seems somewhat hollow in considering the perceived loss of martial prowess and the even loss of good will in the world community, deserved or not.

However, it would seem by conventional standards of what “winning” means, that Israel won a decision, to use the boxing term, and by an undeniably substantial margin. It caused far more missile damage, killed and injured far more people, caused far greater economic and social havoc, plus invaded, blockaded and occupied Lebanon, not visa versa. It left on its own terms, when it was ready. In fact, although it stayed months later than many believed it should have, Hizbollah has not dared to continue to fight the occupiers.

If Hizbollah won, as even many in the Western media claim, then it was a quintessential pyrrhic victory, as “one other such would utterly undo" them to paraphrase Plutarch. That this is true is evident from Nasrallah’s belated admission that he incorrectly predicted Israel's response.

Many American pundits were of the opinion that Israel lost, because it did not accomplish its stated goal of freeing their two captive soldiers. This clearly was a mistake on their part, and not just in retrospect. At any time Hizbollah could have easily killed the captives and claimed it was from Israeli fire. The soldiers were more valuable as hostages, and survived. However, they were possibly spirited out of the country beyond Israel’s reach. Had they been killed, Israel would have to come up with another rationale other than deterrence.

Why was this war different?

The message that the Western Alliances should be hearing is that conventional warfare may not be dead, but is so fundamentally altered that the advantages they have had in power is already greatly diminished, and will permanently be so unless we alter some of our strategies, tactics, and more importantly, our approach to maintaining our values while actually winning something. One of the main reasons for this is purely in the hands of the Western Alliances.

The main reason for needing this change in tactics is that there will be no more battlefields in the manner there used to be. Even when the “coalition of the willing” invaded Iraq, the blistering pace set by the troops in racing through the country and taking Baghdad was due to the lack of real resistance on a battlefield. The West's enemies understand the balance of power and all of the tactics must change when we stop moving.

After Gulf Wars I and II, the Serbian War in the 90s and even the almost forgotten Britain/Argentinia War, less technologically able countries are simply not going to wage face to face battle with one of the powers unless they have no other choice. Guerilla warfare has gone from being an occasional resistance tactic to now a couple along with aggressive terrorism (attack on civilians) as a main strategy in warfare. This has first appeared in great force in this short and limited war. It has great growth potential.

This is because guerilla or irregular warfare has fundamentally changed. There are two main reasons.

The loser can now more easily kill the winner.

This war is a landmark in that never before has guerrilla warfare been combined with weaponry that can reach the much more powerful invading country and wreak havoc. This was not true of the Revolutionary War, Somalia, Algeria, Vietnam, Afghanistan or even the first Israel-Lebanon War, all engagements where irregular tactics were used. The battle was on the invaded country's turf and it stayed there, even if the attack failed, as with Vietnam. This latest war demonstrated the change in that important factor as the use of only a fraction of Hizbollah’s reported missile arsenal so ably demonstrated.

This does not mean that countries or groups haven’t committed sabotage in other countries before. The IRA for example, did so in Britain. That’s not news. The difference now is that man and machine can fly and are virtually unstoppable. And its not just for the big boy countries anymore. Now smaller countries and irregular armies like Hizbollah or Hamas (whether or not they control the Palestinian Authority legislature) have more and more access to missiles with greater range and more powerful explosives.

Although the effect of this transference in dangerous weaponry to less advanced countries or groups is dramatic, it was to be expected and should be factored into our understanding as a given in the future. In every generation the more advanced civilization or country attacked a less sophisticated people with more powerful weapons. Eventually, those same weapons would inevitably end up in the hands of the less advanced people, sometimes when the more powerful group had moved on in in technologically, or sometimes even because the weapons were given to the weaker group by the more powerful one through trade or a brief alliance.

One older example of this is the American Indians obtaining guns from the European-Americans who they were fighting. Other more ancient examples are the dispersal of iron weaponry at the end of the Bronze Age, the use of chariots as weapons, and even the stirrup and the saddle.

This transference of technology is already being accomplished in our own times not just with missiles, but with high powered nitramine explosives, unmanned aerial vehicles and nuclear weapons, sometimes wielded by nations that would have been thought to have been incapable of creating or obtaining them only a few years ago, like Pakistan and North Korea.

Like everything else in this last half century, the pace of weaponry transference has quickened. Thanks to the internet, modern digital and satellite communications, and the acceptance of foreign students in Western schools, these technologies, no matter how secret, will be shared or discovered faster than ever.

Anyone who disagrees with this should be put to the proof of demonstrating any valuable technology that that did not eventually proliferate throughout the world. Nor does it matter one lick if is achieved by hook or crook. When they got it, they got it.

You might think then that it is simply a matter of staying one step or more ahead in weapon development. Not so. At some point the destructive power of these weapons becomes so great that it matters little whether one side is more advanced or not than the other. The weaker group, using the last generation of weapons, can kill enough of the stronger group to make any thought of war too painful to bear. We know that this is true since the advent of nuclear weaponry, but it is now becoming true with conventional weapons, and exponentially so. The Korean border is a perfect example of this development. No longer will mutually assured destruction be applicable only to nuclear weapons.

None of this is to suggest that every effort at non-proliferation should not be taken. In fact, it should be heightened.

Winning and liking it?

The second advantage modern guerilla warriors now utilize is to couple traditional hit and run tactics with a great weakness of the Western Alliances. This weakness has grown by leaps and bounds in a few generations, and is now a major weapon in the hands of guerilla fighters. Perhaps first seen in the Vietnam War as self restraint by the West and not particularly understood at the time, it is now fully comprehended as a weapon by the West’s enemies. I am talking about the value we put on human life and our seeming reluctance to actually win.

As we saw Hizbollah do, and we will likely see more of in Iraq, irregular fighters mesh with the civilian population, giving Western forces the choice of killing civilians or not fighting that hard.

The tactic works even when actually admitted by the enemy. When Israel attacked Hizbollah it inevitably killed civilians. The Lebanese, even those who did not favor Hizbollah, and much of the rest of the world, roared in anger at Israel. Only the United States did not condemn it. It did not matter at all that Hizbollah deliberately used this tactic by hiding among the Lebanese, intentionally tried to kill Israeli citizens, or that Israel tried not to kill Lebanese civilians, even using its own small resources to warn them, even at the risk of giving up the element of surprise. The West's aversion to killing civilians was greater than their revulsion of Hizbollah's tactics.

Hizbollah’s actions, though condemned, were not as vociferously criticized -- at least not after Israel struck back hard. Hizbollah wasn't a country and does not appear at the U.N. to take their diplomatic lumps. Using non-governmental organizations to fight wars, much like the Hessians of old, is coming back.

It is hard to see why, in an objective world, that Israel should have been criticized at all. Consider the Lebanese government and people in this war. It is not a surprise that any people, including the Lebanese, will take the deepest offence as being attacked, regarless of fault, and side with anyone who will defend them. The difference here is that the people of Lebanon and the government decidedly supported Hizbollah even though Hizbollah openly used civilians as shields and a propaganda tool.

There is little doubt that many Lebanese would prefer if Hizbollah disarm and nothing resembling this war occurs again. But they made a choice, by not taking the terrible sacrifice to disarm Hizbollah themselves (which they would have likely failed at) of letting Israel face the consequences, and then supporting the terrorist group. It can be argued that the U.N. made this same choice.

Many Israel’s citizens and even its government and military forces, with enlightenment values, obviously felt for the Lebanese who were being killed by Israeli missiles and airplanes despite Hizbollah’s tactics and the Lebanese people's support of them. According to a former Israeli Prime Minister, Israel even allowed overflights of its territory for humanitarian purposes for Lebanon during the heat of the conflict. Israel's own self doubt as to how hard to fight and hesitation in execution, worked greatly to Hizbollah’s advantage in delaying Israel’s victory and allowing the U.N. to stop the war before a more decisive victory.

The opposite of the approach taken by Israel, the United States and other powers in the Western Alliances, is that taken by groups like Al Quaeda, in adopting religious and legal theories legitimizing the killing of non-Muslim civilians and even the killing of Muslim civilians as long as it is in support of Jihad.

These theories should not be analyzed on their jurisprudential merits and it does not matter whether they represent a “legitimate” or “illegitimate” form of Islam. The fact is that it scares the hell out of people. Enemies of Western culture are well versed in our feelings, frailties and fears. Announcing a culture of “death,” however untrue it might be, frightens a lot of people. Western civilization does not now feature a lot of people who even want to have an “enemy” or kill people. We want to go shopping or watch football and bad t.v.

Make no mistake about it, the culture of death is a tactic the same as is hiding soldiers among civilians. You notice that these groups actually get very angry when they are killed, and swear revenge. They know they can not fight us with the traditional tactics we insist on because it is to our advantage, so they fight us with what they have. Terrorism is an essentially psychological tactic, and we need to learn to deal with it better. This psychological warfare may explain some of the seemingly senseless violence over things we see as trivial, like cartoons and speeches.

But, again, these tactics work, especially in Europe, where some countries like France have a fast growing Muslim minority in the millions, many of them angry. The Europeans seem terrified of them and at the same time believe they can appease the most violent of them. You would have thought Europe, of all places, would understand the fault in this. But if there is another successful attack in this country, these tactics will work just as well here.

To summarize, the acquisition of modern technology and a tactic that utilizes Western values is paralyzing us and our allies. We need to take cognizance of these tactics to do something about it.

We need to change our attitudes and fast. That takes introspection, courage and honesty. In a couple of weeks we will talk about how to counter these effective tactics.

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .