July 23, 2006:
Hizbollah's rocket offensive is faltering. While up to a hundred rockets were launched into northern Israel on some days last week, the number has fallen to about 40 a day. Fewer of them are the longer range (up to 40 kilometers, or more). Most are the 122mm rockets, with a range of about 20 kilometers. These have shut down most economic activity in many parts of northern Israel, and killed or injured over a hundred Israelis. This has caused some 80 percent of Israeli voters to back the operations against Lebanon.
Israel's Northern Command can mobilize over 180,000 troops. The Lebanese army has only 70,000 soldiers, so a battle with the Lebanese army is unlikely, despite Lebanese promises to send troops to the assistance of Hizbollah. In addition to its guerrilla fighters, Hizbollah has a couple of brigades armed and trained for conventional operations. These may be the best trained "regular" troops in the region, barring those that Israel isn't likely to fight (Jordan, Egypt, Turkey), and it's believed that Hizbollah hopes that they could take on Israeli troops in a conventional battle. To that end, sending Israeli ground forces into southern Lebanon is intended to draw Hizbollah's conventional forces out, in anticipation of an invasion. In that way, Hizbollah might lay its conventional forces open to air and artillery attack, and probably selective ground and commando action.
The Lebanese Christians are probably more enthusiastic about fighting Hizbollah, than Israelis, and the Sunnis probably not much less so. But Israel has to be careful to avoid open clashed with Lebanese regular troops. Israel has always maintained communication with the various factions in Lebanon, either directly (as with the Christians) or indirectly. In this way, discussions, sometimes heated, have taken place over what to do with Hizbollah. It breaks down like this. To most Lebanese, the Shia (about 35 percent of the population), sold out to foreigners (Syria and Iran) in order to increase Shia power in Lebanon. The Shia had long constituted the poorest segment of Lebanese society, but this has changed since Syrian troops moved in during the 1980s, and assisted in the establishment of Hizbollah. This turned the Lebanese civil war (which began in 1975) into a deadlock, and led to a peace deal in 1990. But that didn't end the civil war, it just brought about a cease fire. The Christian and Sunni majority put up with the Syrian occupation of the country until last year, when a popular uprising led to the Syrian withdrawal of their troops. But Hizbollah, which was supposed to disarm as part of the 1990 "peace" deal, continued to control the southern third of the country. Worse, many in Hizbollah, inspired by their Iranian patrons, talked about how great it would be if all of Lebanon were an Islamic republic, just like Iran.
Many Lebanese see the Hizbollah attack on Israel as a way for the Lebanese Shia to avoid a resumption of the civil war, over the disarmament of Hizbollah. Lebanese Shia remember what it was like to be at the bottom of the economic and social pecking order, and don't want to return to the bad old days. Hizbollah (which got over $100 million a year from Iran) brought lots of jobs, as did the Syrian army of occupation. The Lebanese Shia see all that slipping away. By causing a war with Israel, the Lebanese Shia see an opportunity to unite all Lebanese behind them. Unfortunately, the Christian and Sunni Lebanese, while angry with the Israeli air campaign, are not enthusiastic about dying to maintain Hizbollah power. Israeli negotiations with the Lebanese agree on one thing; Hizbollah has to go. Lebanon cannot be free as long as Hizbollah maintains its own army, and controls a third of the country. The expulsion of the Syrian army last year was wildly popular, except among the Shia. The Israelis are waiting for public opinion among the Lebanese Christians and Sunnis to go against Hizbollah. This is why there has been no large scale movement of Israeli troops into southern Lebanon. Small units (no more than battalion strength, under a thousand troops) are going in to destroy Hizbollah bunker complexes that cannon be destroyed from the air.
To that end, Israeli orders for American deep penetrators (bunker buster bombs) have been speeded up, and those bombs are being delivered now. Israel already had several hundred of the GBU-24 penetrators, but last year ordered a hundred of the larger (2.5 ton) GBU-28. The GBU-28 can penetrate 100 feet of earth, or 20 feet of concrete. The lighter GBU-24 can manage less than half that.
Israel has watched (from the air, and via spies on the ground) as Hizbollah used lots of its Iranian money to build underground bunkers in the areas of southern Lebanon that Israel withdrew from in 2000. Hizbollah knew about the capabilities of the GBU-24 and 28, and built accordingly. That doesn't make the Hizbollah bunkers invulnerable. The entrances can be destroyed, and if you can get all the access tunnels, you turn the bunker into a tomb. But with some of the bunkers, not all the access tunnels were known. There's only so much that spies and air reconnaissance will tell you. However, the Israelis have had over six years to plan for this sort of operation. Based on past performance, you can expect some clever ideas. It's not smart to underestimate the Israelis. For example, Israel shut down the Palestinian terrorists over the last few years. The pundits had declared this to be impossible. So was the Six Day war, and the creation of Israel itself. So, before you pick a probable outcome here, check the track records of the contenders. On the other side, you have radical Islam, which has accomplished very little. Terror is the tactic of the weak, or those short of better ideas. The Palestinian leadership has a long record of bad decisions and inept performance. Hizbollah succeeded via powerful backers (Iranian cash and the Syrian army). Now the Syrians are gone, and Hizbollah is caught between angry Israelis, and Lebanese fans, most of whom (the Christians and Sunnis) are cheering on Hizbollah through clenched teeth and forced smiles. Most Lebanese are content to see Hizbollah and Israel fight it out. But the Israeli war plan recognizes that, without some cooperation from the Lebanese Christians and Sunnis, Hizbollah will just keep it up. The Lebanese have to decide if they want a future with, or without, Hizbollah. While the Lebanese media speaks of Lebanese unity against Israeli aggression, private discussions in northern Lebanon are more about how to make the most of this opportunity to eliminate Hizbollah.
July 22, 2006: Europeans are talking about ceasefire and the establishment of a "neutral zone" in southern Lebanon. The UN won't be able to do it, as they have a dreadful track record in this department. The current UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon only has about 2000 troops and 500 cops and civilian staff �" hardly sufficient to cope with Hezbollah, even if their Rules of Engagement (ROE) allowed it. UNIFIL is supposed to monitor the border, and has regularly failed at that. So the neutral zone would have to be patrolled by European troops, operating under a "shoot-to-kill" ROE. Most Lebanese (but not the Shia, who back Hizbollah) would support this. The Europeans are pressuring the Christian and Sunni Lebanese to say publicly, what they have been saying privately for decades; Hizbollah has to go.