Fri Aug 25th, 2006 at 07:35:41 AM EST
Like in the first part, I'm going to explore two issues. This time, I'll focus on the ground war:
- What was the actual scope of the IDF's ground campaign?
- How was resistance organised?
Some interesting conclusions can be drawn that are different from the received wisdom in most of the media.
Update [2006-8-25 5:14:6 by DoDo]: I added a sentence on Christian areas in the explanation of the first map, and to the arguments on the differing Hezbollah+allied casualty counts.
Update [2006-8-27 16:44:30 by DoDo]: Some new additions: update on the IDF occupation, and the IDF's supply problems.
The actual scope of the IDF's ground campaign
The big picture put forth in the news media was:
- the IDF conquered area a few miles behind the front in the first three weeks with 10,000 troops;
- then from the adoption of UN SC 1701 on Friday, 11 August until the ceasefire in the morning of 14 August, 30,000 troops made a big push for the Litani river 30 km to the North;
- then those troops began a slow withdrawal, drawing their feet demanding UNIFIL deployment.
But checking STRATFOR daily report maps
and checking dozens of news reports of what happened in various locations against a map, a different picture emerges. First take a look at this map I drew of areas in which the IDF operated, with red arrows showing the movement of main troop contingents:
The first thing you notice that that big push for the Litani didn't result in much territorial gain. In fact, gains are even less impressive considering Christian areas: Marjajoun in the North, the border regions from where the larger of the two pushes for the Mediterranean started, and the unoccupied parts Southwest of Bent Jbeil.
The second thing to notice is that the IDF went around "difficult places" (in fact leaving pockets of resistance in most villages not drawn on the map), advancing in open terrain. There was a certain reluctance for using infantry:
The Israelis prefer to stay away from those bunkers, the soldiers said, instead calling in coordinates so forces massed behind the border can hit them with guided missiles.
What the map doesn't show is that the IDF has not even held the territories drawn in: troops withdrew after a day's fight and came back later, or units hunkered down isolated on hilltops. Thus when a Guardian reporter travelled the border a week before the ceasefire, he saw:
...few signs of an Israeli presence, let alone success. People in only one village had seen Israeli troops recently. Elsewhere, there was evidence of Israeli failures: burnt-out or crippled tanks...
Driving east through Aalma ech Chaab and Dhaira, reporters could see clusters of antennae and army huts on the Israeli side of the border but no sign of any incursion.
That troops were sometimes hunkered down in isolated spots may explain the supply problem:
"If our fighters deep in Lebanese territory are left without food our water, I believe they can break into local Lebanese stores to solve that problem," Brigadier General Avi Mizrahi, the head of the Israel Defense Forces logistics branch, said Monday.
Mizrahi's comments followed complaints by IDF soldiers regarding the lack of food on the front lines.
[UPDATE 27 August] Even more clearly, according to a Times article:
We had no fresh water as it was too dangerous to ship it to us, Moshe added. Im ashamed to admit we had to drink water from the canteens of dead Hezbollah, and break into local shops for food.
Now look again at the map, at the troop movements! It is quite apparent that the four thrusts in the South weren't broad advances for the Litani, but were aimed to cut off significant Hezbollah holdouts: the two large towns the IDF failed to take (Bint Jbeil and Aita al-Shaab), and the two areas in the East from where Hezbollah maintained its rocket terror bombing of Israel:
The Israeli military has saturation air coverage over southern Lebanon... Yet Hezbollah squads are still firing dozens of rockets a day into Israel from locations lying just a few hundred yards from the border and within full view of the Israeli military.
One such position lies between the villages of Naqoura and Alma al-Shaab. The rocky, uninhabited hillside and deep ravine of 12 square miles is covered in a dense undergrowth of juniper bushes and scrub oak where Hezbollah over the past three years has established an unseen, but clearly formidable, military infrastructure of weapons depots, tunnels and bunkers.
So it appears that the IDF's strategy was to isolate and cut off pockets of resistance, and destroy those with air power, shelling, and waiting for supplies to run out. And it didn't work. It was the IDF ground troops that found themselves vulnerably exposed. For example, during the last push, in the Northwestern sector, on the hills South of the Litani, this happened:
Just like it did in other battles in the war, Hezbollah had prepared well. The force commander's tank was destroyed by a large mine. Ten other tanks were struck by anti-tank missiles. Some went up in flames. Many of the missiles were fired from the rear, from the direction of the village of Adisiye - an area the IDF had said it controlled two weeks earlier. By early Sunday morning IDF tanks had managed to climb the hill and joined infantry forces fighting Hezbollah men in the villages. Twelve soldiers had died: eight in tanks and four infantry troops.
That this failure was realised can be seen from the withdrawal. Robert Fisk observed:
...last night, scarcely any Israeli armor was to be seen inside Lebanon--just one solitary tank could be glimpsed outside Bint Jbeil and the Israelis had retreated even from the "safe" Christian town of Marjayoun. It is now clear that the 30,000-strong Israeli army reported to be racing north to the Litani river never existed. In fact, it is unlikely that there were yesterday more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers left in all of southern Lebanon...
Indeed checking news reports from villages against the map, I find that notwithstanding belligerent rhetoric about not moving until UNIFIL arrives, the IDF already withdrew in the Northwestern sector within days, and much of the areas in the South within a week. What's more, those left are a small number who seem to be in isolated observer positions. On Monday, DPA found:
Some 200 Israeli troops, backed by armoured vehicles, were seen at nine positions along the border, the sources said.
Combining details in that article and STRATFOR's map, I drew my own map:
[UPDATE 27 August] Towards the end of the second week of ceasefure, the situation remains unchanged:
Israeli troops still occupy nine positions in southern Lebanon...
Israeli troops also continue carrying out nightly incursions in border villages, "taking advantage of respect for the ceasefire from the Lebanese side," the Lebanese military official, who did not want to be named, told AFP Sunday. [Yahoo]
The failure of regular troops is rounded off by the failure of what the MSM started to call "daring commando raids".
The first was the attack on a hospital in Baalbeck, which ended with 26 Lebanese killed (almost all civilians, including a pregnant woman), the hospital flattened, and five civilians kidnapped -- from the story of a sixth left behind, all because one of them shared the name of Hizbollah's leader. Hasan Dib Nasrallah, a grocer in his seventies, and his companions were released on Monday after having been kept on a crammed bus for four days.
Another raid targeted Tyre, and in it ostensibly a rocket launching command centre in an apartment block. IDF and Hezbollah accounts of tactical success differ, but there was no reduction in rocket attacks on Israel.
Then came the ceasefire-breaking raid on Bouday, ostensibly to stop weapons smuggling, something airplanes would be better suited for. Indeed locals think the target was a senior Hezbollah cleric. The Lebanese military uniform wearing commandos' Arabic wasn't perfect, thus they were exposed at a checkpoint, and had to withdraw losing an officer.
How was resistance organised?
The War Nerd wrote an article that highlights the winning weapons, tactical and strategical choices of Hezbollah (if you're interested in this, the Guardian's Ghaith Abdul-Ahad's 'embedded' report with Hezbollah fighters also explains a lot). In the article he says:
an Israeli columnist... said, "If a lightweight boxer fights a heavyweight and gets a draw, the lightweight won." Except I'm not sure it was even a draw. I think Hezbollah flat-out won, not just in PR/Propaganda terms but by anybody's standards. They're in total control of the field of battle... Hezbollah may even have had a smaller casualty count than the IDF
So a militia numbering anything from 1,500 to 10,000 survived or even defeated an army of 30,000, as many write? Not really -- I think such analysis has too simple a view of just who fought against the IDF in South Lebanon. Let's start highlighting this theme with a quote from the second linked article on the foiled Bouday commando raid [italics mine]:
About 10 Hezbollah fighters initially confronted the Israelis, but some 300 townspeople heard the roar of helicopters, grabbed their guns and joined the fight.
"All the sky seemed like a cloud of planes, and all -- not only Hezbollah -- fought. All the people in the village brought their guns to fight. Fifteen year-old boys brought guns," said Suzanne Mazloun, 22, wife of Boudai's mayor, Suleiman Chamas.
Not just Hezbollah? Indeed a 3 August NYT article reported:
For the past week, the Israeli Army has thrown everything at Kfar Kila. ...so far the defenders, local fighters with Hezbollah and allied factions, have held on.
"How could you stay silent when you see your land burn and your children get killed?" said Yahia, who said he was a platoon commander with the local defense force. "The whole population here is resisting."
...He is part of the Amal movement...
Pat Lang wrote on 10 August:
"Even I have been surprised at the tenacity of these groups fighting in the villages," Timur Goksel, who served with UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon from 1979 to 2003, said. "They have fought far beyond my expectations and they haven't even committed all their fully experienced troops yet." " London Times
I hear that the Israelis have been engaged so far with "village reserves," and that they have not yet met the standing forces of HA. This echeloning of categories of forces sounds a lot like the Viet Minh/NVA/VC politico-military set up.
From a Washington Post article:
Some residents said it was not Hezbollah that fired on the Israeli troops in Marjayoun, but operatives of a secular, leftist party whose posters still adorn the sides of buildings and telephone poles across the region.
Angry Arab also reports that Lebanese communists were into the fight too. He also writes:
...the right to resist Israeli occupation. This is the factor that allowed leftists and Arab nationalists in Lebanon--people who don't share the ideology of Hizbullah--to support its resistance in South Lebanon...
This connects to the last article to quote, a detailed account of the siege of Aita al-Shaab. This town is right at the border with Israel, the Hezbollah commando that kidnapped the two IDF soldiers crossed the border nearby. Over 30 days, the IDF launched three major attacks on the town but failed to take it (but didn't fail to reduce 80% of it to rubble). The passages summarizing the essential point:
...The vast majority of the fighters were locals, backed by highly trained and well armed guerrillas drawn from across the country.
Across the south the Israelis discovered that instead of facing a few thousand Hizbollah fighters, they were confronted by tens of thousands of armed men.
This was a popular resistance organised in cooperation with Hizbollah or under its leadership. Locals defended villages, freeing up Hizbollah fighters to take the offensive against the invading Israeli troops.
As other Lebanese organisations declared for the resistance, Hizbollah was able to draw on resources well beyond their ranks...
"The Israelis lost the battle because we all became the resistance," said Ahmed. "The left, the Arab nationalists and the locals all worked under the leadership of Hizbollah for the defence of our town."
So it wasn't a small militia vs. a large army. Hezbollah led a meta-army, which beyond their best-trained troops that used the most potent weapons, involved local militias and people from other political directions. (This is in line with how Hezbollah originally organised itself, binding all levels and branches of Shi'a society regardless of strength of religious conviction.) And apparently all of these forces weren't just deployed in a coordinated way, but got tactical training:
"During the final assault, the Hizbollah fighters took up positions around the community centre while we attempted to tie down the Israelis around Moscow Square. We ducked from house to house, firing then changing position," he said.
"For us it was a last stand - we feared they would trap us in a few houses and then call in bombs on us...
One last military issue is the 'kill ratio'. For a guerilla war, 1:10 is said to be standard. Even if we accept the Israeli estimate of 530 Hezbollah fighters killed, against the IDF's 118 KIA, that would be 1:4.5. However, Hezbollah claims losses of only around 80, with allies adding up to some 100. The Lebanese government itself claimed knowledge of 100 Hezbollah casualties, with allies that's still 1:1 against the IDF.
Part of the discrepancy could be down to the IDF counting wounded on the other side whom they saw falling over as dead (this would mostly account for the difference in IDF and local claims regarding the Tyre and Bouday commando raids). Another part could be explained by Hezbollah and allied groups not counting village militias killed. But for the siege of Aita al-Chaab, the figures claimed by the two sides also differ strongly:
I asked if there was any truth to the Israeli claim that over 50 resistance fighters had been killed in the area. He took me to a wake where we met a group of fighters, some of them wounded, drinking coffee. They all agreed that only eight local fighters had died, and pointed to a small trench that was being dug for graves. There was room for 14 graves - eight for fighters and six for civilians.
What might explain the wide discrepancy (and give credence to a lower figure) could be this claim by Ali:
"We would hold a house until the Israelis called in an air strike - we realised that they always pulled their troops back first, so we knew when it was time to set up new positions. Often their soldiers would seize a street, only for our fighters to appear behind them."
It is quite possible that the IDF assumed such airstrikes killed a number of guerillas, without seeing actual dead bodies.