Sunday, August 06, 2006

Some People Just Never Learn

We are watching Israel get bogged down in Lebanon in much the same way the US has gotten bogged down in Iraq, and the US and its allies have gotten bogged down in Afghanistan. All of this has been predictable for the simple reason that the Israel, the US, and its allies, are fighting one kind of war, and their opponents are fighting another. An op-ed column in Greece's Kathimerini sets out the issue nicely.

If there is anything we can learn from the unorthodox war currently under way in Lebanon, it is that Israel’s military machine is too large to tackle Hezbollah.

No army and no nation-state can effectively take on fighters dressed in civilian clothes who fire off rockets from among the civilian population.

Today’s armies are designed to face each other on the battlefield, with clear targets and measurable results. In an unconventional war, fire power acts as a boomerang. It leads to hordes of dead civilians and political repercussions that are diametrically opposed to those intended. Moreover, the victory of a conventional army is never completely secure. The strategic observation of veteran diplomat Henry Kissinger - Richard Nixon’s secretary of state during the Vietnam War - still applies: “The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose.”

This can be seen very clearly in Iraq. Apart from the fact that soldiers are not trained for complex operations, a conventional army is too cumbersome and unrefined to carry out a policing mission. First of all, military thinking generally dictates “shoot first, ask questions later.” Secondly the structure of an army is such that it can never achieve “surgical precision” in its operations. The aim of conventional wars has always been to wreak the greatest possible degree of destruction upon one’s enemy. However, using a war machine to root out guerrilla groups always has the reverse results from those that were intended, as history has shown.

Hezbollah seems to have realized this and is now exploiting the power of its rival to attain its own results.

That pretty well nails it. I can, however, hear the objections to this analysis already. What is Israel supposed to do? They can't be expected to just sit back while Hezbollah lobs rockets into Israeli towns, or Hamas fighters stroll into Israeli marketplaces with bombs strapped to their bodies. I think the past three weeks have shown that the solution that Israel has chosen (like the solution the Emperor has chosen in Iraq) is simply the wrong one.

Perhaps diplomacy, either through the United Nations or other reasonable third parties, might provide a better avenue to peace. It certainly can't have any worse results than the current approach has shown.


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