Hezbollah Upgrades Missile Threat To Israel: Echo’s Of 2006 Conflict?

Militants Upgrade Missile Threat To Israel: Echo’s Of 2006 Israel/Hezbollah Conflict?

There is a front-page article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal by Adam Entous, Charles Levinson, and Julian Barnes with the title above. They note that members of Hezbollah — aided by Iran and Syria’s Assad — “have been smuggling advanced guided missile systems into Lebanon and Syria piece by piece to evade;a secretive Israeli air campaign designed to stop them.” “Some components of a powerful anti-ship guided missile system have already been moved into Lebanon; while other systems that can target Israeli aircraft, ships, and bases are being stored in expanded weapons depots under Hezbollah control in Syria,” according to current and former U.S., officials. As many as 12 anti-ship guided missile systems may now be in Hezbollah’s possession inside Syria, according to these same officials. According to the authors, “these arms movements appear to serve two purposes: (1) Iran wants to upgrade Hezbollah’s arsenal to deter future Israel airstrikes on Lebanon and/or Iran’s nuclear infrastructure; and, (2) these arms transfers are meant to induce Hezbollah to commit to protect Syrian President Bashir Assad as well as supply lines used by both his regime and Hezbollah.” According to the authors, Iran’s elite Quds Force has been directly overseeing the arms shipments to warehouses in Syria.

Israeli officials are said to be content — for now — “to watch enemies number 1 and, number 2 — Hezbollah and; Iran on one side, and al Qaeda on the other — kill each other next door.” “It is arguably in Israel’s interest to exploit the chaos without becoming embroiled in it,” said Steven Simon, Executive Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington, and a former Obama administration official.
U.S. officials said they believe Hezbollah has tried to throw off Israel’s high-tech hunt by switching off and on communications and power networks along the border.

This sort of reminds me of the summer of 2006. Numerous Israeli political and military officials had been warning for years prior to Israel’s 2006; conflict with Hezbollah — emphasizing Hezbollah’s growing military arsenal (via; Iran and Syria), infrastructure and sophisticated organizational structure. Israeli military and intelligence officials — at that time — also; knew that Iranian advisers were working with and training Hezbollah; and, Tehran had created a Hezbollah command center for targeting and controlling missile fire with advanced C2 assets, infrastructure (including extensive fiber optic cabling), and links to UAVs. There were also widespread but, unsubstantiated reporting at the time — that Hezbollah had acquired better sniper rifles, night vision devices, and communications assets (such as extensive fiber optic cabling). It was also well understood that Hezbollah had likely made significant technical improvements (likely with the help of Iran) to their improvised explosive devices (IEDs), bombs, and booby traps that were used against the IDF before Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon.

Despite these warning signs, Israel adopted an approach similar to what they appear to be doing now – a more military deterrence policy, limiting their responses to quick air strikes and sending in small special forces detachments into southern Lebanon. This strategy allowed Hezbollah to slowly accumulate its military arsenal and enhance their overall “military” posture in Lebanon.

Israel also had an over-reliance on air power — at the expense of its ground forces. As Ms. Sarah Kreps noted in the Spring 2007, U.S. Army War College Quarterly, “the Israeli leadership’s faith in airpower as an antiseptic, low-casualty answer for modern warfare,” and an asymmetric opponent , “clouded the possibility of other strategies that may have been more effective in achieving its objectives.” Indeed, Israel’s political and military leadership appears to have suffered from the classic “fighting the last war mentality” internalizing the lessons of airpower from DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM and Kosovo as a “cheap” means to defeat Hezbollah. Even in the case of Kosovo however, it was not airpower alone that assured success; but, it was the use of airpower in conjunction with the western threat to use ground forces, Russia’s withdrawal of support for Serbia, and the role of the Kosovo Liberation Army that ultimately ensured victory in Kosovo.

This strategy was a costly mistake and when major conflict erupted, Israel’s political and military leadership apparently had not contemplated the possibility that a major ground force engagement was not only possible — but, likely. As a result, the Israeli political and military appeared weak and indecisive, and Tel Aviv prosecuted the war in a haphazard manner, with fits and starts. Delays in mobilizing and deploying their active and reserve forces were just a few of the many mistakes that were made. With no overall strategic campaign to fall back on — and no Plan B — the war ended up being much more prolonged and costly than they had expected. The Israeli political and military leadership violated one of Clausewitz’s main themes — understanding the adversary. Tel Aviv did not adequately visualize the war they were in, or about to enter. They underestimated their opponent and imaged a war they could win, and avoided visualizing a war that Hezbollah was about to engage them in….the enemy has a vote. The old military axiom remains true, “militaries must train to fight the wars they might have, not the one’s they expect.” Too often, wishful thinking is trumped by reality.

Unfortunately, Israel’s 2006 campaign against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is not the first time that the Israeli political and military leadership has underestimated or, been surprised by their adversary. In the 1973 War, though the Israelis knew the Egyptians had acquired and were training with Russian anti-tank guided missiles, and (at the time) modern surface-to-air missiles, they dismissed the possibility that the Egyptians could use them effectively. Partly this was the result of underestimation of their opponent, partly they failed to see the combined and complimentary effects of the two weapons systems, and partly they failed to anticipate the creative and clever ways these weapons could be employed. Disturbingly, there are parallels between Israel’s miscalculations in 1973 and 2006 and the present.

Napoleon once said “never interfere with your enemy when he is in the process of destroying themselves.” While mostly sitting on the sidelines as al Qaeda and Assad’s forces fight it out — Iran and Hezbollah are using the cover of this conflict to significantly strengthen their military might in Lebanon.Israel’s political and military leadership need to be prepared for a conflict they might get — and, not the one they want. V/R, RCP


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