As I have been saying since the beginning of the Israeli crises with Hezbollah, time is everything. I understand the Israeli leadership wants to take its time so as to limit the number of casualties on both sides. However, as this news story from Fox news shows, they are fast running out of time. Even though we are staunch allies of Israel, we cannot hold the entire world at bay forever. Prime Minister Olmert doesn’t seem to understand this.
In today’s 24/7 media coverage it is necessary to act, as the U.S. military likes to say, inside your enemies decision cycle. In any conflict between a free peoples and terrorists the media is going to be with the enemy of the free peoples. From Iraq, to Afghanistan, to defensive measures in the U.S., the media is relentlessly and needlessly negative. For Israel this means that the negative media coverage will steadily lower support for her around the world and increase calls by foreign leaders for an end to the violence. We saw this effect most notably in Europe where an even worse press than that in the US combined with latent anti-Semitism to cause European governments to call for an end of Israel’s operation in less than a week. What’s worse is an invasion now will be seen as destroying any hopes for diplomacy causing even more outraged press reports and international pressure on us. The Israelis are also one misplaced air strike killing dozens (or even hundreds) of civilians away from a media explosion that will quickly doom its operations in Lebanon. It was foolish for the Israeli government to believe that we could give them as long as they could possibly desire to deal with Hezbollah.
Regarding Lebanon in particular, it was clear from watching the news that early on the news channels were not sure how to report what was happening. Initial news reports were largely favorable to Israel as she had been attacked with no reason by a terrorist organization. It was about a week before the reporters who had nothing else to do in Israel learned about Operation “Peace for the Galilee” and its convenient link to that favorite historical event for the left, Vietnam. As with Iraq, the story then became about wily supermen terrorists confounding the plodding Israeli Defense Forces at every turn. In addition, the media has begun casting Israel and Hezbollah as equal in blame. Leaders of free nations have to understand that they must act within the decision cycle of the puerile adversarial press. Just as the press figured out its angle to the Israel-Hezbollah fight, the Israelis should have had the invasion going to give the press something else to figure out. You have to give the press so much to talk about that reporters cannot just sit back and figure out the most negative light to cast on the issue.
Now if I may engage in a bit of armchair prime ministering for a moment. I’m not saying Israel should have rushed into Lebanon on day 1. Obviously, the military would not have been prepared for a major operation so soon. I had expected the Israelis to begin sending in battalion and then brigade size formations around day 3 or 4 (like the current operation of 2 armor battalions plus some infantry). They would gain a better knowledge of Hezbollah’s locations and any new ambush tactics so as not to repeat a mistake from 1982 when four large columns blitzed into Lebanon and were instantly and unexpectedly ambushed from the hills. I thought by day 7 (when media attitudes not surprisingly began to turn against Israel) the full invasion would have begun.
It took the IDF only 4 days to reach Beirut in 1982 despite the unexpected enemy tactics and difficulties with the terrain. I know the fighting is and will be tough, but part of the current problem is that with only one operational thrust the Hezbollah fighters can gather around it. The Israelis are not taking advantage of their far superior capability at operational maneuver to present multiple shifting thrusts that Hezbollah cannot keep up with. You also need multiple thrusts so that less pressed ones can attack the flanks and rear of Hezbollah concentrations that are resisting other thrusts (I know its hilly to mountainous in Lebanon but the tactics are still possible especially with airmobile infantry).
Granted I don’t know how many ugdot (sort of small divisions with no fixed organization) are in Northern Israel (I’ve heard 3 along with 1 reserve) but it seems as though a similar amount of time would be reasonable to secure Lebanon (except Tyre maybe) up to the Litani River and Marjayoun. From that position Olmert could be looking today at negotiations or a possible second jump to the Awali River and into the Bekaa Valley. Meanwhile the reserve ugdah could be going house to house and mosque to mosque searching for Hezbollah’s weapons in the south. It would make the insertion of an international force much easier as Hezbollah will have been cleared from the south, and Israel can hold withdrawing a bargaining chip in the negotiations with Lebanon.
Whatever the Israelis decided in this situation, they would have held the initiative throughout. At worst, Hezbollah would have been badly bloodied and in no position to cause trouble again for a while. The Israelis could then hold the possibility of repeating this over the heads of the Lebanese to encourage them to stop Hezbollah this time. Whatever happened, it would be better than what were looking at now, a bruised but triumphant Hezbollah, an international force that will do nothing, and a Hezbollah that will quickly be ready for another thrashing of the Jew. Time is everything in these matters. With apparently 10-14 days left there is still time to achieve this, though again with much more media and international outcry. I began wondering on day 3 if Olmert knew what he was doing (his decisions in Gaza were already making me think he didn’t) and nothing since then has indicated that he does. However, I don’t know everything that is going on and he could be pursuing an entirely different strategy as outlined by the orbat.com editor (I don’t know how to link to a certain time or post on his website, its 0230 July 23). The idea was that all Olmert is trying to do is punish Lebanon as an example to the Arab world and get an international force inserted to keep Hezbollah away from the border. If that is his strategy than he is even more foolish than I thought and shows that not only Arabs can miss opportunities.