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For rich nations, the temptation to substitute air power for ground troops is irresistible. However, as the US occupation of Iraq has shown, air power can only do so much. It can kill civilians and demolish infrastructure, but it cannot bring a territory with a hostile population under control. For that, you need an army with soldiers as determined to conquer territory as the guerrillas fighting them are to defend it.

From the very start of Israel's brutal campaign against Lebanon, the question was: why are they responding so disproportionately? The pretext Israel gave—reprisal for the kidnapping of two soldiers—was given no credence anywhere but in America, with its airwaves saturated as they are with Bush-Israeli propaganda. Since battle plans for this operation were drawn up long before, other, more sinister explanations were proposed: destruction of southern Lebanon to create a buffer zone, weakening of the Lebanese state to reduce any threat it may pose. Now a simpler explanation is emerging: sheer incompetence.

Uri Avnery, "the conscience of Israel", gives an interesting take on Israel's actions today in Counterpunch. Part of the reason for launching a large-scale air assault was "in order to cover up two embarrassing military failures: the Palestinian commando action in Kerem Shalom and the Hizbullah action on the Lebanese border", in which soldiers were kidnapped by guerrillas. Usually, one expects soldiers to be able to look after themselves, so that they don't get themselves into a situation in which they can get kidnapped. "No officer has been called to bear responsibility for them. The ultimate responsibility rests, of course, with the chief-of-Staff." The chief-of-Staff, Dan Halutz, is relatively new, having assumed his position at the same time as the new Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, after the elections in March. What is interesting about both Halutz and Olmert is that they "are complete civilians, without a military background". Although a civilian, Olmert did work for the military, having risen through the ranks of the Air Force, to become the first the first chief-of-Staff to come from that branch of the military.

Given his background, it was natural that Halutz would respond to the embarrassing provocation of the kidnappings by resorting to air power. It was Halutz who pushed the government into this war, with the cabinet barely bothering to deliberate before the go-ahead was given. The fundamental objective of the military actions was first to destroy, and then just to "disarm", Hezbollah. Now, Israel had already spent eighteen years occupying southern Lebanon trying to destroy Hezbollah, finally deciding it could not accomplish that goal and leaving in 2000. Why would Olmert think that aerial bombardment could accomplish what troops on the ground could not? I would say it was a combination of wishful thinking and perceived opportunity. The opportunity was having a US administration that is self-avowedly willing to let Israel do anything it wants and give it anything it wants. (For example, the US quickly replenished Israel's stock of 500 lb. bombs, the kind the US regularly uses to such great effect in Iraq.) The wishful thinking was (1) Well, even if the Americans haven't gotten great results with this, maybe it will work for us. How can you be sure unless you try it? Although we regularly bomb our enemies, usually it is on a relatively small scale, trying to assassinate some Arab political leader. We've never had the opportunity to destroy a country's infrastructure before. (2) Once the Lebanese people see the damage we have inflicted at their country, they will blame Hezbollah "for starting it". They will thus turn against Hezbollah. Without popular support, Hezbollah will be marginalized politically, and no longer able to carry on its military activities with the willing cooperation of civilians. We thus will have achieved our objective.

However, the bombardment has not worked. Although there was initial Lebanese anger at Hezbollah for having brought this upon them, that anger changed to support, once it was seen that Hezbollah are effective fighters—able to, despite heavy bombardment, to continue firing rockets into Israel and to kill Israeli soldiers, forcing them to retreat. The way this war has gone has proved once again the futility of using air power against guerrillas. If civilians are given the opportunity to flee an area before it is bombarded, guerrillas can flee, too. And any time guerrillas are killed, many more civilians will be killed. The anger and outrage that the death of those innocents produces will produce more than enough new guerrillas to replace those that were eliminated.

The effect of the Israeli actions in Lebanon has been a loss for Israel and an increase in prestige for Hezbollah. Hezbollah has shown itself capable of effectively resisting Israel, something that neither Arab armies nor Arab states, working through diplomacy, have been able to do. That makes Hezbollah an object of respect and admiration for all Arabs, and not just the Lebanese. For Israel in contrast, the outcome is that the immense military machine provided to it by the US is of limited effectiveness in fourth-generation warfare—combating guerrillas belonging to independent organizations not belonging to any state—as opposed to destroying traditional armies belonging to Arab states. To have its way in the region, Israel has long relied on being able to project invincibility. Its military machine can indeed level cities and slaughter countless civilians; what it cannot do is suppress independent resistance movements. The Israeli incursion into Lebanon has had the same effect that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has had: a diminution in the perceived power of each country.

The main lesson for Americans from all this is that Bush is no more a true friend of Israel than Tony Blair is a true friend of America. As Jacques Chirac has remarked, true friends hold back their friends from hurting themselves. But an idiot can not be a good friend.

Of late, neither major American party has shown itself capable of being a true friend of Israel. One of the hardest things for one friend to do for another is to tell him that he has a problem, and explain to him the unpleasant truth that will enable him to deal successfully with life again.

[UPDATE 3.8.2006] Here are links to three recent pieces making much the same points:
Tom Engelhardt, Air War, Barbarity, and the Middle East
Alexander Cockburn, Halutz's Bombing War: Hezbollah's Top Ally in Israel
Uri Avnery, War of the Generals: Knife in the Back

Originally posted to Alexander on Fri Jul 28, 2006 at 04:58 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  That's why I favor (0+ / 0-)

    X-ray lasers in space!

    Walking. It's the new driving.

    by Batfish on Fri Jul 28, 2006 at 04:59:55 PM PDT

  •  Funny.. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    At work today I stated:

    Israel must know what they are doing. After all, Operation LINEBACKER worked so well for us in Vietnam.

  •  Regardless of Israel (0+ / 0-)

    Air war has worked for the U.S.--in Kosovo.  Moreover, as the U.S. has occupied Iraq, albeit with insufficient numbers for an occupying force, the U.S. is not and has not been engaged in an air war in Iraq.

    •  Uh, what was 'shock and awe,' Falluja, etc.? n/t (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Alexander, corvo

      Defend the Fourth Amendment And the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1985 from all barbarians, foreign and domestic...

      by Fasaha on Fri Jul 28, 2006 at 05:27:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  yeah (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mickT, Alexander


      1. Hezbollah does not have industrial/commerce infrastructure like milosovic.
      1. we use tons of super expensive precission munition and guided missiles. Israel doesn't exactly have the amount needed. Remember Lebanon/Beirut is BIGGER than serbia/belgrad
      1. an ultimately it's different war. Hezbollah is light infantry who dug deep ready for land conflict. Serbia wasn't.
    •  Did you read the diary? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KB, JayBat, corvo
      Air power worked in Kosovo to the extent that it did in that there was a state whose behavior the US was trying to influence. In its use of air power, the US essentially took the Serbian population hostage, and threatened to kill them bit by bit until Serbia gave the US what it wanted. In fourth generation warfare, the enemy is not a state, but militias and loose associations of individuals not tied to any state. You can't put presure on non-state actors in the same way.

      As for Iraq, the US today is engaged primarily in an air war there. (See Dahr Jamail on the Missing Air War in Iraq.) The US media is simply not covering it.

      Liberalism is the origin and center of American politics. Thus, to reject liberalism is to reject America.

      by Alexander on Fri Jul 28, 2006 at 05:30:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  'Not engaged in air war'???? (0+ / 0-)

      Not an "air war" in the traditional Battle of Britain sense, but an "air war" in the same sense as the "air war" in Kossovo.  USAF missions in Iraq in 2006 are way up from 2005.

      "A review of military data shows that daily bombing runs and jet-missile launches have increased by more than 50 percent in the past five months, compared with the same period last year. Knight Ridder's statistical findings were reviewed and confirmed by American Air Force officials in the region.

      The numbers also show that U.S. forces dropped bombs on more cities during the last five months than they did during the same period a year ago. Air strikes a year ago struck at least nine cities, but were mostly concentrated in and around the western city of Fallujah. This year, U.S. warplanes have struck at least 18 cities.

      The spike in bombings comes at a crucial time for American diplomatic efforts in Iraq. Officials in Washington have said that the situation in Iraq is improving, creating expectations that at least some American troops might be able to withdraw over the next year."

      Their real God is money-- Jesus just drives the armored car. © 2006 All Rights Reserved

      by oblomov on Fri Jul 28, 2006 at 07:24:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We did not learn this lesson in Vietnam (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Alexander, JayBat, corvo

    We failed to learn it there, and indeed we failed to learn it in WWII.  John Kenneth Gailbraith wrote - I'm sorry, I don't remember where - about his experiences doing bomb damage assessment following WWII, and the upshot of his assessment was: it doesn't work.  Destroy a factory, and the enemy simply builds a new one, goes deeper, goes mobile, etc.  Air power is essentially without military value, although it has significant terroristic effects on civilian populations.  Whether the terroristic effects soften the population or radicalize them is another question that I think history has clearly answered.  But we do not appear to learn.

    -7.50 -6.56 | Why is it that those who can remember that those who forget history are bound to repeat it are bound to repeat it?

    by cmanaster on Fri Jul 28, 2006 at 05:54:59 PM PDT

    •  The Strategic Bombing Survey (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cmanaster, corvo
      ... I think it was called, what Galbraith did. Yes, it's deplorable that that was ignored by the people who pursued the Vietnam war. Why should they think that strategic bombing would work any better against a peasant country than it did against an industrialized one?

      Rich countries have lots of capital but relatively little labor. Poor countries have lots of labor and relatively little capital. When they fight poor countries, it's natural that rich ones will try to substitute capital for labor. Unfortunately, war (as opposed to simple mass destruction) is a labor-intensive business.

      Liberalism is the origin and center of American politics. Thus, to reject liberalism is to reject America.

      by Alexander on Fri Jul 28, 2006 at 06:08:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  And the flip side of that is: (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Alexander, corvo

        Poor countries will of course substitute labor for capital; this brings us suicide bombers.  What "they" do is terrorism; what "we" do is moral and righteous and fighting fair.  Just ask the civilians we've killed; you don't hear them complaining, do you?

        -7.50 -6.56 | Why is it that those who can remember that those who forget history are bound to repeat it are bound to repeat it?

        by cmanaster on Fri Jul 28, 2006 at 06:23:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Nice - that should have occurred to me (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cmanaster, corvo
          There's something to be said for this economic analysis thing after all. I hope they'll start using this example in principles of economics textbooks.

          Yes, I've never understood why blowing yourself up next to someone is more "cowardly" than dropping a 500 lb. bomb on them from a plane.

          Liberalism is the origin and center of American politics. Thus, to reject liberalism is to reject America.

          by Alexander on Fri Jul 28, 2006 at 06:33:08 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Its more cowardly because (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            little brown men and women do it.  Just ask the grizzled war veterans who called the 9-11 hijackers "cowards."

            Their real God is money-- Jesus just drives the armored car. © 2006 All Rights Reserved

            by oblomov on Fri Jul 28, 2006 at 07:28:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  But it takes extra Herculian courage to (0+ / 0-)

            shoot a teenager with a machine gun that threw a rock at your tank.

            The economic analysis thing? What about the authoritarian freak theocratic butcher government thing. Please check out this link and listen to Adeed Awisha talk about Arab pride. It restored my love of America and faith in reason a bit, on my way home from work today.

            Also this
            teenager in Tehran

          •  It's cowardly because they target civilians (0+ / 0-)

            That's the argument at least. But a mental paradigm shift is necessary to understand this phenomenon. Here's another link (I love NPR) that provides some insight into tribal perceptions that hold everyone in the tribe accountable for each individuals actions, and everyone in an other tribe accountable for an inter tribal offence. It draws parallels to American follies of ignorance with the Blackfeet Indians via Lewis and Clark and our present follies in the middle east.

            But don't think we ought to understand our "enemy's" way of thinking and certainly not respect it. That would be engaging in "moral relativism" which is short hand for "I'm an ignorant asshole with a gun and you're a 'little brown man'"

            borrowed that from oblomov, ty

            •  If NPR is so great... (0+ / 0-)
              why doesn't it release audio files of its programs in a public, as opposed to proprietary format?

              I can't play any of the audio files you linked to, since I don't run Windows, and I don't see why I should download a proprietary media player like RealPlayer, when there are non-proprietary alternatives that are as good or better readily available.

              What's wrong with mp3 or ogg? What part of "public" doesn't NPR understand?

              If you have an in with them I'd be greatful if you could contact them about this. There making their programs available only in obscure formats stimies the people's discussion of them.

              Liberalism is the origin and center of American politics. Thus, to reject liberalism is to reject America.

              by Alexander on Sat Jul 29, 2006 at 02:16:12 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  a bit off subject but (0+ / 0-)

    there has been a shooting a the Jewish League in Seattle. A man who identified himself as a Muslim American just walked in and started shooting. He said he is doing this as a result of Isreal's attacking innocents. God help us.
    Today has brought me to my knees.

    •  For once, BushCo is prepared (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      They've got Halliburton building detention centers in the US in case this kind of thing gets out of hand. Preventive detention, anyone?

      Just what we needed. I wonder how high the hysteria will get, compared to that anthrax scare soon after 9/11?

      Liberalism is the origin and center of American politics. Thus, to reject liberalism is to reject America.

      by Alexander on Fri Jul 28, 2006 at 06:19:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Except that Hizbullah just may have cracked. (0+ / 0-)


    Hezbollah politicians, while expressing reservations, have joined their critics in the government in agreeing to a peace package that includes strengthening an international force in south Lebanon and disarming the guerrillas, the government said.

    The agreement reached after a heated six-hour Cabinet meeting was the first time that Hezbollah has signed onto a proposal for ending the crisis that includes the deploying of international forces.

    The devil's in the details (the "reservations"), but an agreement for Hizbullah to disarm and for an international force looks like a victory for Israel.

    •  Yes a Victory for Israel (0+ / 0-)

      if it happens, which it may not due to intransigence on both sides.  Israel has already said the UN won't do, but who is there in the world that can appear neutral in this conflict flying their own flag?

      Any deal will include another lopsided prisoner exchange, which was Hezbollah's original goal, and it won't erase the Hezbollah victory gained by withstanding the Israelis for two or however many more weeks it ends up being.

      So it'll be another "draw."  But it will have the advantage of denying Bush a rationale for attacking Syria or Iran.  

      Their real God is money-- Jesus just drives the armored car. © 2006 All Rights Reserved

      by oblomov on Fri Jul 28, 2006 at 07:34:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Disarming Hizbullah and putting a non-Hizb (0+ / 0-)

        force in the south counts as a victory for Israel.  Anything that strengthens the Lebanese government's ability to provide services throughout the country undermines Hizbullah politically in the medium term.  If Lebanese held by Israel are released in the context of Lebanon no longer being a base for attacks on Israel (and the release of Israeli prisoners), that's as it should be.

  •  The missing link (0+ / 0-)

    is an international coalition. Look at Bosnia. Clinton's "War" should have been the model for all future military action. The air war is just phase one to break the enemies logistics back. If the Iraq air war was followed by a real international coalition of land forces, which would have also entailed a restructuring plan or at least a platform for it, the civil strife would have been largely avoided.
    People complain about Bush's inaction in Lebanon but nothing could be better than keeping him out as much as possible. He'd only fuck it up. Israels air war will be followed by a mostly European international land forces that will pacify the population and begin rebuilding. The force will be respected by the population, including Hezbollah and civil strife will be capped.
    Strategically speaking, the lack of a valid international force to follow the war planes into Iraq is the crux of it's failure. But, of course speaking strategically is putting the cart before the horse. There was no valid international coalition because the invasion was an asinine idea to begin with and Bush couldn't lead a shadow to the north side of a tree.

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