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Monday, January 12, 2009

Why Gaza May Not Be Lebanon All Over Again

As the war with Hezbollah opened, I intially saw an Israeli military offensive that looked like it was on course for an overwhelming defeat. The firepower from the air cut off the airport and isolated certain parts of Beirut from others as well as other parts of Lebanon from the rest of the country. It initially looked as though the Israelis had a two pronged strategy. First, they were going to bomb Hezbollah with overwhelming force, send in ground troops behind the bombings, and quickly dismantle the terrorists. It wasn't meant to be. Instead, the bombing campaign began to drag on and the leadership initially was hesitant to send in the ground troops. Soon, it became clear that the air offensive was bringing in diminishing returns. Furthermore, once ground troops were sent in, the operation was weak and amateurish. Whenever really heavy fighting broke out, the Israelis invariably pulled their forces back before the operation finished. Worse yet, often embedded reporters would report on locations. We only found out afterwards that Hezbollah actually got a lot of intelligence just from watching the news. Then, the Israelis finally got their footing in the ground war only to have it cut short just as it appeared that victory might finally be approaching.

The main reason for this debacle, in my opinion, was that the Israeli Defense Minister at the time, Amir Peretz, served in the Air Force during his long military service. I believe that he fell in love with winning the war in Lebanon mostly through the air. That's what he knew and that's the strategy he devised. Far too often we learn in war that in order to finish off your opponent, you must do the difficult and deadly task of sending in troops on the ground for hand to hand combat. That's what the Israelis learned in Lebanon, and it is a lesson they have taken to heart.

The current Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, also has a long military record however his military record includes plenty of time in ground troops. He has clearly learned the lessons of the Lebanon War. After softening up Hamas through the air, he sent in the ground troops behind them. He cut Gaza into three parts and since the Israelis have been systematically isolating and devastating Hamas from the ground since. Furthermore, it appears that they are gaining all sorts of intelligence from the ground. Several days ago, the media was reporting that Israel had run out of targets from the air. In the last couple days, Israel is again renewing its bombing campaign in earnest. That's likely because ground troops have received new intelligence that has lead to more targets.

Finally, while they are both terrorist groups, Hamas are considerably weaker fighters than Hezbollah. Hezbollah was a well trained military force. They knew the terrain and they were ready for the Israelis when their ground forces entered. Hamas has shown none of that. Hamas is very long on fiery rhetoric but very short on any military action to back up this rhetoric. Whereas Hezbollah could be counted on to give the Israelis a bloody fight that would lead to many casualties, and soon far too many to be acceptable, Hamas has shown none of that fighting skill.

The only constant is Ehud Olmert and he remains a wild card. Will Olmert get weak kneed before the operation is done? Only time will tell but there is no doubt that the military operation this time around is leaps and bounds better than the one two and half years ago.

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