They cannot occupy

So far, Israel is failing militarily in Lebanon, writes Major General MOHAMED ALI BELAL in Al-Ahram Weekly


To pressure the Lebanese government into adopting a strong stance against Hizbullah
CAIRO (10-16 Aug 2006) - THE Israeli-Lebanese war or, as some refer to it, the war between Israel and Hizbullah in Lebanon, is now entering its fifth week. Yet Israel is no closer to attaining its objective while the Lebanese resistance -- Hizbullah -- not only remains resilient but even appears to grow bolder the longer the fighting continues.

For analytical purposes, we can divide the war until now into four phases, each consisting of a week. This enables us to track the tactical aims of each side, the means they have employed to attain these aims, and the extent to which they accomplished them, thereby allowing us to assess, by way of a concrete overview, the progress of the confrontation.

THE OUTBREAK: According to most analysts, current events began on 12 July 2006 when Hizbullah announced that it had conducted a military operation (code-named "The truthful promise") against Israeli military positions, leading to the death of three Israeli soldiers, leaving 11 wounded and capturing two.

In response, the Israeli cabinet convened an emergency meeting in which it was decided to take military action against Lebanon. In a statement issued following this meeting, the Israeli government declared that its retaliation would be immediate and severe, vowing to prevent by all means attacks against Israel in the future. The Israeli army mobilised a division of 6,000 soldiers and began to penetrate South Lebanon.

Hizbullah, meanwhile, announced that it would only return the two captured soldiers by way of indirect negotiations over an exchange for Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails. Israel responded that it would not negotiate but would take far-reaching action to get its soldiers back.

WEEK ONE: During the first week, Israel defined its aims as follows:

1. To pressure the Lebanese government into adopting a strong stance against Hizbullah, thereby causing that government to fissure (the Lebanese government includes Hizbullah representatives as ministers while others are opposed to it). Israeli forces, meanwhile, bombarded the runways and fuel tanks at Beirut Airport, struck electricity generating plants and mobile phone network booster stations and other infrastructure, imposing also a naval blockade.

2. To arouse popular pressure against Hizbullah and aggravate social divisions.

3. To keep supplies from reaching resistance forces in the south from both inside Lebanon and abroad. Towards this end, Israel concentrated its air and naval assault on roads and bridges connecting Lebanon and Syria and connecting villages and towns of the south with each other.

Although the thrust of the aerial assault was against the towns and villages of the south, there were assorted strikes against selected suburbs of Beirut, ports and coastal roads, as well as against some towns in northern Lebanon. Some villages near the Lebanese-Syrian border were also targeted, delivering a clear warning to Syria.

Also, during this phase, Israeli ground forces waged limited skirmishes across the Lebanese border in order to test resistance forces. In a response that came as a surprise to many observers, the Lebanese resistance fired rockets against towns and settlements in northern Israel. As the week progressed, these rockets attained greater depth inside Israel, reaching Haifa and then Tiberias (at least 32 kilometres away in distance). Resistance forces also succeeded in destroying an Israeli gunboat and in repelling Israeli cross-border raids.

By the end of the first week, the balance stood as follows:

1. Israel had succeeded in destroying most of Lebanon's road and communications infrastructure and claimed a huge civilian casualty toll. However, it failed to provoke a rift within the Lebanese government or drive a wedge into Lebanese society.

2. The resistance had succeeded in catching Israel off-guard by using short and medium range rockets on Israeli towns for the first time in decades. It also succeeded in inflicting considerable material and human loss on the Israeli army. Above all, it demonstrated that it was stronger and more sophisticated than expected, and that it had a highly skilled command capable not only of planning and executing successful operations but of changing operational tactics as the situation on the ground developed.

WEEK 2: This week marked the beginning of the involvement of Israeli ground forces in Lebanon, while Israeli air and naval forces sustained intensive bombardment of Lebanese infrastructure and towns and villages. Resistance forces continued their fight to repel the Israeli advance and to retaliate for Israeli air strikes. Events this week unfolded as follows:

On the Israeli side, sustained aerial bombardment of Lebanese towns and villages, concentrating on the south of Lebanon in order to assist Israeli ground forces in their drive to occupy key strategic positions, was complemented by Israeli aircraft dropping leaflets warning inhabitants to vacate their towns and villages.

Israeli ground forces, backed by huge numbers of tanks and armoured vehicles, began their incursion into the south and engaged resistance forces in ferocious fighting. Israeli forces entered the villages of Maroun Al-Ras and Bint Jbeil.

On 22 July, Israel's chief of staff announced that his forces had succeeded in destroying Hizbullah's capacity for firing rockets into Israeli territory and that he would put into effect plans for a ground assault. The commander of Israel's forces in southern Lebanon announced that Israel had seized Bint Jbeil and had no intention of expanding ground operations beyond 70 kilometres from its northern borders.

Shimon Peres announced that the war against Hizbullah was a battle of life and death between Israel and the Lebanese resistance organisation.

On the Lebanese side, Hizbullah continuing to hold out against the Israeli advance, announcing that its forces were fighting bravely and that Bint Jbeil had not fallen into Israeli hands.

Hizbullah sustained a heavy rocket barrage against northern Israeli towns and villages. On 22 July, it concentrated its attack on Haifa in the wake of the Israeli chief of staff's announcement that Israeli forces had destroyed Hizbullah's rocket firing capacity.

Hizbullah also threatened that it would extend its bombardment of Israeli cities beyond Haifa.

Resistance forces succeeded in downing three Israeli Apaches.

By the end of the second week, Israeli ground forces had failed to make a significant advance into Lebanon despite heavy air support. In an attempt to impress or calm the Israeli public, Israel's command issued optimistic sounding statements and false claims of victories -- such as the capture of Marwan Al-Ras and Bint Jbeil. Shimon Peres' statement -- concerning a life and death struggle between Israel and Hizbullah -- triggered general pessimism.

Hizbullah forces succeeded in conducting battle in a manner that made the Israeli advance extremely slow and at a high cost in terms of Israeli materiel and personnel. In addition to downing three Israeli aircraft, Hizbullah also dramatically exposed the falsehood of Israeli propaganda regarding the resistance's rocket and missile firing capacities.

WEEK THREE: Week three opened with an Israeli admission that it had not captured Bint Jbeil and that a ground battle was still raging in Maroun Al-Ras. Israel also announced that it had suffered severe losses among its forces, soldiers and officers alike. This week also brought a change in Israel's declared strategy, as now it stated that its aim was to occupy and secure a strip of land in South Lebanon rather than to destroy Hizbullah.

Further on the Israeli side, in light of the failure of land forces to achieve victories on the ground, Israel redeployed its forces around Bint Jbeil and staged a tactical withdrawal. As it froze ground operations temporarily, it intensified air strikes. Meanwhile, the Israeli command called up 30,000 reservists, preparatory to launching a new ground offensive.

With the Israeli command in disarray over the situation on the ground, the Israeli air force intensified its aerial assault, striking indiscriminately throughout Lebanon. In the course of this barrage, four UN personnel were killed when an Israeli missile destroyed a UN outpost after hours of it being shelled by Israeli forces and the village of Qana bore witness to an appalling massacre when a building collapsed under Israeli missile fire killing 65 civilians who had taken refuge inside, more than half of whom were children.

On the Lebanese side, resistance forces succeeded in preventing Israeli land forces from achieving their objectives and continued to inflict significant personnel losses. The leadership of the resistance scored a media victory by demonstrating that its statements were more credible than those issued by Israel. Hizbullah sustained its rocket and missile fire into Israel, reaching as far as Afula, 50 kilometres inside Israel.

WEEK FOUR: Characterised by diplomatic activity aimed at containing the situation while various parties attempted to take political advantage and secure gains not necessarily reflective of the situation on the ground, the UN was the scene of intensive backroom haggling between member nations aimed at securing interim situation in tune with US desires -- expressed early and that had blocked ceasefire negotiations until now -- of creating a "new Middle East".

Israeli forces continued their indiscriminate aerial bombardment, in the course of which many farmers were killed near the Syrian border and roads, bomb shelters and hospitals were destroyed.

Resistance forces continued to obstruct the encroachment of Israeli land forces and helicopter landings.

Israel also stepped up its drive to occupy an eight-kilometre wide strip of Lebanese land along its northern border. Its attempts have remained unsuccessful due to stiff Hizbullah resistance.

This week also brought the largest Israeli casualty toll in a single day, when at least 180 Israelis were either killed or wounded by Hizbullah missiles.

CONCLUSION: Israel has the aerial power to attain its destructive objectives, often indiscriminately.

Israeli ground forces have not succeeded in attaining their goals, which have shrunk by week four until they are no more than securing an eight-kilometre wide buffer zone in South Lebanon. Israel hopes to secure this zone ahead of the arrival of an international force to replace Israeli forces, thereby dispensing the need to negotiate with the Lebanese government over that strip of land in the event of any UN resolution that might be issued. A de facto reality is in the making, but resistance continues unabated.



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