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Lebanon

Southern Lebanon: Coalition of the Unwilling

By Steve Schippert | August 16, 2006

The Israeli political leadership is adding to its series of missteps in the war with Hizballah by creating a power vacuum in southern Lebanon in the wake of a withdrawal order issued to the IDF well ahead of the arrival of international forces, let alone the deployment of any significant portion of the 15,000-man contingent of the Lebanese army. An IDF withdrawal is accelerating well ahead of the arrival of replacement forces – other than Hizballah – and, while unnamed Israeli government officials claim otherwise, the pace of the withdrawal is clearly visible.

Only Hizballah Is Faster Than Israeli Withdrawal

With the UN-mandated international force intended for southern Lebanon not even agreed to yet, let alone constituted, it is being reported that the IDF expects to be fully withdrawn in a hasty exit from Lebanon within just one to two weeks, according to a report in The Australian. The article quoted journalistic sources describing the atmosphere in southern Lebanon as confused, “with units of Israeli soldiers very close to Hezbollah fighters, and the chaos heightened by unexpectedly large number of civilians flooding back to the area."

And with this Israeli plan, which can be rightly dubbed ‘Operation Vacuum,’ the Hizballah re-manning and reinforcement of their southern Lebanon positions can and will begin in earnest. To that end, Hizballah terrorists likely already have begun to assume their previous positions under cover of the “unexpectedly large number of civilians" re-entering in waves.

UN Has Hopes, But No Troops

Unfortunately, Israel is well ahead of the United Nations, rarely noted for its alacrity, as the UN ‘hopes’ to be able to field 3,500 troops into the region by the end of the same two-week period. This is barely 10% of the IDF force currently and rapidly vacating the area.

Said UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hedi Annabi, "We hope that there can be an initial deployment of up to 3,500 troops within 10 days to two weeks. That would be ideal to help consolidate the cessation of hostilities and start the process of withdrawing and deployment of the Lebanese forces as foreseen in the resolution."

But the United Nations can do little more than hope, as Annabi cited the obvious in saying that such a force can only be formed from other states "if the political will is there."

There can be little doubt that Hizballah and the Iranian regime – answerable to no public electoral mechanism - have cornered the market on political will. Not even the Israeli government, fighting a long war for its very survival in the face of an enemy dedicated to its destruction, could muster the political will to bring the full brunt of war to those who would incite it.

Lebanon Allows Hizballah to Keep Arms

Already seeking to defy the UN ceasefire agreement, the Lebanese government is working on arrangements to avoid disarming Hizballah by allowing the terrorists to keep their arms so long as they do not display them in public. For its part, the Lebanese army is incapable of standing up to Hizballah alone, a condition engineered long ago by Iran and long-occupying Syria.

But as Lebanon’s UN Ambassador Nahoud Mahmoud made clear Monday, the Lebanese government never intended to use force to disarm Hizballah regardless of the agreed-upon UN ceasefire plan, saying, "Hizballah will just leave the area as armed elements as I understand it, and the Lebanese army will take over the whole region along with the United Nations forces."

The Lebanese government seems to seek the illusion of control within their own territory, furthering the charade that is the UN ceasefire widely touted as the emergence of peace. With no UN forces on the horizon and, for that matter, their collective resolve as yet unknown, the UN ceasefire and the power vacuum created by the unprecedented rapid Israeli withdrawal leaves the weakened Lebanese government effectively cornered.

Olmert Government Denies Rapid Withdrawal

An unnamed official from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said on Tuesday that Israel will resume the war if Hizballah refuses to disarm. But in the face of the current ‘Operation Vacuum’ currently afoot, such words surely strike many with bewilderment.

Hizballah has said that it will not disarm, the Lebanese government has determined that Hizballah will be permitted to keep their arms, and there are no UN-guided international forces near the Lebanese coastline, UN-forces that surely are not going to act in defiance of their host army who will not disarm Hizballah.

What precisely did the Olmert government expect?

Running counter to reports to the rapid Israeli withdrawal, an Israeli official said that “the IDF would not complete its withdrawal from southern Lebanon until the international force was deployed - even if it took months - to prevent a vacuum in Lebanon that could endanger Israeli civilians." But those words do not square with the situation as it appears.

Marjayoun Reveals IDF–Olmert Disconnect

Marjayoun Corridor 2006The most telling indication that the Israeli government has no designs to maintain a presence in southern Lebanon “even if [deployment of international forces] took months" is the vacation of Marjayoun corridor, a key area taken by the IDF at the onset of the 48-hour last-minute push northward into Hizballistan and toward the Litani River.

The Australian incorrectly dismisses Marjayoun and the Marjayoun corridor as insignificant. It notes the Israeli withdrawal from “strategically unimportant territory around the mainly Christian town of Marjayoun, seized during their final push late last week, and this morning were leaving Bourj al-Mulouk, which lies between Marjayoun and the Israeli border."

But a closer look at the map provided reveals why the IDF took the Marjayoun corridor at the very outset of the major ground push to the Litani River. It’s significance is logistical in nature, as with all bridges across the Litani River destroyed, the roads leading through the corridor are the only remaining accessible re-supply routes from Hizballah’s Bekaa Valley resource stores and the ‘Katyusha Brigades’ remaining in place throughout southern Lebanon. The un-bridged Litani River created a natural barrier, the coastline well to the west had been long blockaded and to the east of the corridor lay the Blue Line of Israeli amassed defenses.

No, the Marjayoun corridor was certainly not “strategically unimportant territory."

Taking this strategically important territory was a preparation for what the IDF expected to be at least a month-long fight within the southern Lebanon ‘box.’ Cutting Hizballah terrorists off from re-supply in place would begin to pay dividends in just days and save many IDF casualties in the coming weeks. The IDF likely expected to fully engage Hizballah and clear them and their rockets from the area, and did not expect it to be a quick fight. At minimum, they had at least expected to remain in place for a matter of weeks or more until the ‘international community’ lived up to their end of the agreed-to bargain of an international force to replace them.

Conclusion: Coming Soon To A Theater Near You

What the IDF expected and what the Olmert government has given it has proven, once again, to be more of a disparity than a commonality. The IDF planned to protect itself in fulfilling its mission by cutting off Hizballah supply routes to the southern box completely. The Olmert government has chosen to protect itself by aborting the mission altogether.

The taking of and sudden withdrawal from the Marjayoun corridor – and the rest of southern Lebanon in short order - makes this abundantly clear.

This fight will be resumed once again, likely sooner rather than later. Hizballah is not re-arming for peace, and their actions will determine the time and date of re-engagement. They have effectively increased their status and regained both their territory and the initiative.

If Iran and Hizballah wait long enough, they will have forced Israel not only to engage them among civilians once more, but also through and among the Lebanese army and international forces from around the globe.

As Hizballah swarms to eagerly fill the beckoning void, left in the wake of the rapid IDF withdrawal and ahead of the arrival of any reluctant Lebanese force or as-yet-non-existent international force, Israelis in Haifa and the rest of northern Israel will venture out with an alert eye to the sky.

Already in deep political trouble, the moment a Hizballah rocket revisits the northern Israeli civilian population, the life expectancy of the Olmert government will be effectively measured in hours.

If it survives that long.

8 Comments

If this was a prizefight, you'd score round 1 as 10-9 Israel, round 2 will start shortly.

In the meantime we are now in a propaganda war between Iran, Syria, and the West.

As the UN path has once again proved perfidious, (damaging Condoleeza Rice for 08), I'm thinking we should take 30,000 infantry out of Iraq (that war is won) and insert them into Lebanon. That should please the pacifists who want troops out of Iraq and the diplomacy brigade as well.

Will this immediately ignite a regional war with Syria and Iran?

Probably.

But note that the troops are inserted under cover of a "UN resolution" and since a region wide war is coming anyway, better to get it over with now, before Iran gains any more nuclear warheads.

If Hizballah was a significant threat to the survival of Israel, the Israeli Army and the Israeli public would be prepared to take the losses needed to destroy it. Get real. Sites like yours generate monsters in every direction. If Hizballah ever stepped out of it's bunkers and onto to Israeli soil, it would be destroyed.
The more significant issue is the destruction of so much of Lebanons infra structure and the consequent set back for the forces of democracy in that region. When will people in America stop supporting Israels completely failed policy of military intervention when diplomacy and dialoque is reqired?

R.M.:

First, the Israeli public and the IDF are prepared to take such losses to destroy Hizballah. It is the Olmert-led government leaders who are not, and this is precisely why Olmert's term as Prime Minister is nearing its end.

Second, the destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure has come at the hands of Hizballah. It is far easier to recognize the source of the destruction than the cause.

The cause is clearly the threat posed by Hizballah and its actions, including but not limitted to attacks on the IDF on Israeli soil and missiles raining down on Israeli population centers where no IDF exist.

But, among hizballah supporters, the cause is the mere existance of Israel, which needs to be destroyed.

In this space, that thinking - or veiling it behind disingenuous reasoning - is rejected out of hand.

"a power vacuum in southern Lebanon"

Since hezballah was in control, doesn't making it a power vacuum better? Since it can only mean hezballah isn't in control.

No, plainslow.

To the extent that Israel was to have been successful in pushing out Hizballah and clearing positions south of the Litani (in the 48-hours the olmert government limited them to), by pulling out in rapid succession, there remains no force in south Lebanon willing to engage them in their recovery phase.

Hizballah knows this.

Lebanon has finally (yes, just now) ordered its army into southern Lebanon as Israel threatened to halt its withdrawal.

But...

The Lebanese army will not disarm Hizballah. The Lebanese government has said so. Regardless of the terms of the ceasefire.

They bartered with Hizballah. "You can keep your weapons...just don't let anyone see them. Deal?"

Deal.

No brainer.

This ceasefire - and the combined refusal by both Lebanon and the UN to enforce the very agreed to measures that made it acceptable to Ehud Olmert of Israel (and the Bush Administration) was predicted by virtually all observers with open eyes and a memory of recent (UN/Lebanon) history.

Round 2 begins shortly.

It will be far louder and uglier than Round 1.

And, perhaps, there will be no acceptance of UN Peace Charades to cede further initiative and war prep to the terrorists and their state sponsors.

Sorry, but there are few palatable alternatives with an enemy who seeks your destruction and is driven by religious hatrred and fury.

We'll see how long the Neville Chaimberlain Accord of 2006 holds up in the storm.

Current Vegas Line starts with an over-under of three weeks, I hear.

Steve,
With the recent appointment of Kaplinsky to run the Lebanon front, will his tactics show better than his predecessor? That notwithstanding, Hezbollah also moved Muegininny to the Israeli front. I suspect Round 2 will be sooner than later. Hezbollah has an itchy finger and will be pumped up over the PR win. Hezbollah will lose ground if they don't keep the fight going. Will the Israeli's drop the timidity they had in this fight and do what the world thought they would in Round 2?

RM,
I don't get it - you state that When will people in America stop supporting Israels completely failed policy of military intervention when diplomacy and dialoque is reqired?

When did diplomacy and dialogue ever work with Hezbollah before? The only treaties that are currently in effect are with Egypt and Jordan. Which says that Israel CAN live with it's neighbors.
The Palestinians had a treaty - but it was unceremoniously hijacked by Arafat - with help from his band of terrorists. Israel, intending to let Lebanon grow peaceful, left completely in 2000. For this, Hezbollah has now rearmed and did their version of an invasion - run across the border, kill some Israeli's, capture a few, then run back to the peaceful side of the world in Lebanon and hide like the scared rats they are. What should Israel do at this point? - believe there are no monsters? If it seems like they're all around us, it's because they are. Look.
Unless you don't believe anything that Steve has written.

Tbrd,

I cannot suggest with any authority what Klapinsky's leadership style is or has been. Perhaps a look at the leadership style of those who appointed him may offer a glimpse, but beyond that would be worthless guesswork on my part.

As to your second question regarding Israeli timidity in Round 2, I would expect litle different from an Olmert government. The Israeli people were prepared for war and indeed called for an agressive prosecution of war upon Hizballah. Some even went so far as to say essentially 'Get on with it or get out.'

What they got, after their public pressure (unlike Israelis to criticize a leader to this degree during war), was the in-between they feared.

Would an Olmert government learn from this? Who knows, but they sure were not very good at learning on the fly.

There is now an official Commission in the Israeli government looking into leadership conduct during the campaign.

Olmert may be looking at the clock.

Olmert may well have just done the campaign work for Bebe Netanyahu, finally putting him at the Prime Ministership.

I would suggest that a Netanyahu-led Israel would draw the same rhettoric from the usual suspects - both in the region and in the West - but actions on the ground would take on a far less menacing face.

Netanyahu is - unlike Olmert - a known entity, and he is also - unlike Olmert - not timid under fire and unconcerned with a UN that has historically done little to support Israel since its inception.

I know that's a non-answer, but I also have no crystal ball. I myself was lauding the air campaign expecting it to be the precursor to a ground campaign that never materialized. This was Olmert's failure.

He was more afraid of images of Israeli casualities (for political purposes) than he was of Hizballah casualties. Turns out, he grossly misread the Israeli public and in turn put Israel in a far more difficult and dangerous position.