Morning Report: August 2, 2006

Israel builds momentum, learns from setbacks. Israel's raid on Baalbek, Lebanon, struck a devastating blow to Hezbollah. Analysts agree that Israel's sometimes flawed Lebanon campaign appears to be gaining momentum and direction.

Debka on Baalbek. Debka: 'Israeli commandoes landed by helicopter near Baalbek Tuesday night kill 10 Hizballah operatives, take 5 prisoners and return safely to base. DEBKAfile reports the Israeli force fought its way into the Dar al Hikmeh hospital which Hizballah’s Beqaa commander Muhammad Yazbek had converted into his staff headquarters. This was the deepest Israeli incursion in Lebanon so far, 150km from the border. Yazbek, member of Hizballah`s high council and close to Tehran, was not there. DEBKAfile’s senior military sources report Israel is going all out in an effort to finally overwhelm Hizballah on all fronts and generate conditions for the deployment of a multinational force in South Lebanon. Overnight, Lebanese witnesses reported an unprecedented number of Israeli warplanes over the Beqaa valley Tuesday night and aerial strikes against five Hizballah positions near Baalbek. From the Mediterranean, Israel naval artillery pounded Hizballah rocket sites on the Lebanese shore. Hizballah denies losing 240 men in the three-week Lebanon war. Its Al Manar television station claims the prisoners taken in the Israeli commando operation and the Lebanese killed in Israeli air attacks around Baalbek were innocent civilians. This is a routine claim in its propaganda war. Tuesday, Israeli Arabic broadcasts began reading out the names of Hizballah casualties.' (Debka)

IFTC: Baalbek a spectacular success. 'Late reports indicate the commandos killed at least 10 terrorists and captured five during the raid at Baalbek. The IDF reports that those captured were mid-level to low-ranking terrorists. However, early accounts suggested that one high-level Hizballah official was at the hospital when the IDF teams arrived; at this point, his status is unclear.' In from the Cold notes that
By any standard, the attack on Baalbek was a spectacular success. ...

After weeks of prepatory, "clearing" operations, the IDF would attempt to "fix" Hizballah's remaining forces in place, smash through carefully prepared corridors, and push on to the Latani River. That operation remains the centerpiece of Israel's operational plan.

But yesterday's raid changes the military calculus even more. By striking at Baalbek, the Israelis underscored their ability to target senior Hizballah officials and positions in supposedly "safe" areas. As a result, Hizballah will be forced to keep a number of fighters in reserve, and possibly shift additional units to the Bekka Valley, as a hedge against additional Israeli raids. That means their buddies in south Lebanon can count on fewer reinforcements, giving the IDF an even bigger advantage, in terms of combat power and force ratios. By some estimates, Hizballah has less than 5,000 fighters south of the Latani River, against an IDF contingent that is approaching division-size (15,000) in strength. If those numbers are accurate, the Israel is reaching the minimum, 3-1 superiority deemed necessary for offensive operations.

Contrary to the assessment of some Wall Street Journal columnists, Spook86 argues that "the pendulum is swinging decidedly in Israel's favor". This analysis also speculates that 'Given the lack of reaction from Syria (so far), it seems possible that Tel Aviv has received assurances of its own, namely that Damascus values national survival over its support of Hizballah.' Or as ThreatsWatch observed, 'Israel does not need to roll tanks on Damascus or even drop a few 2000-pounders on military installations. They simply need to convey that it’s just as easy to bank east from Baalbek as it is to bank west. Leave the option to Assad. He likes his palaces. He’ll make the right self-preserving choice.' (IFTC)

Debka critiques Lebanon operation. Debka:
Israel’s audacious commando raid of a Hizballah stronghold near Baalbek more than 100 km north of the border recalled the old panache associated with Israeli military feats in the past. However the 22 days of the Lebanon war have shown an army hampered and slowed down by tactical and intelligence deficiencies which showed up in the costly Maroun er-Ras and Bin Jubeil operations in South Lebanon – and again this week in the Ayta a-Chaab battle. Those three engagements have claimed 17 lives. Between six and eight thousand troops and reservists are now deployed in South Lebanon fighting in Hizballah village-strongholds and positions along the Israeli border and plunging deeper for the mission assigned this week to push Hizballah out of the south as far as the Litani River. More such battles therefore lie ahead.

It is therefore important to heed the senior Israeli officers who tell DEBKAfile that a single successful commando raid is not going to cure the deficiencies hampering its 22-day Lebanon campaign.

The officers direct most of their criticism at the Northern Command’s handling of the war, arguing that the IDF should have kicked off the entire campaign with a series of audacious assaults like Tuesday’s Baalbek operation so as to catch Hizballah off-balance. Without these tactics, the three battles against a tough enemy which refuses to break under sustained battering were bound to end as they did. ...

However, the analysis concludes, there is still time to turn things around:
Nasrallah is fond of boasting that he has surprised Israel and will again. But it must be said that, going back to the Yom Kippur shock, the Israeli army did in fact recover from its early setbacks and turned the tide. It is still early days, and Israel may have surprises of its own up its sleeve. The pressure of war on the country’s borders and their homes under attack has always goaded Israel’s army into flights of improvisation and stimulated its generals into using the war arena as a testing ground for ingenious new ideas. But much depends on Olmert, Peretz and General Halutz, giving them enough rein to succeed while restraining their own pointless and often damaging statements.

Full article at the link. (Debka)

Heaviest day of attacks against Israel yet. Yesterday, Dreams Into Lightning cautioned against premature optimism following a lull in Hezbollah rocket attacks against Israel. Our skepticism proved well-founded: Hezbollah fired some 182 rockets into Israel on Wednesday. (Yahoo)

Commentary. Stratfor (subscription) takes a look at three causally unrelated events yesterday - the exchange of gunfire on the Korean border, the incapacitation of Fidel Castro, and the events in Lebanon, and notes that 'managing three unrelated crises at the highest level of any government stretches things beyond capacity. If these events happened sequentially, they would absorb almost all analytic and decision-making capacity. When they happen together, two would-be crises are subconsciously declared "non-crises" and handled at the lower pay grades -- or actually, not handled at all.'

Indeed. And this points to two aspects of the role of ordinary citizens. Most of us have a lot on our plate as it is, with our daily lives, personal relationships, and what not. Additionally, we may be involved in domestic or local issues that bear no obvious relationship to the war against Middle Eastern fascism.

First, as a function of the "interesting times" we find ourselves living in, we do all have a role in the global picture. If we live in free and democratic societies, we have the ability to influence our governments. Citizens of the United States have - through their elected Government - control over the most powerful armed force in the world. We are compelled to contemplate the consequences of our nation's every action - and incation.

Second, as ordinary citizens with ordinary lives, we sometimes bring to the global scene a different set of experiences and perspectives. For this reason, I believe the role of social liberals in the present war is especially vital. As Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair said, it is a war for global values:
This is not just about security or military tactics. It is about hearts and minds about inspiring people, persuading them, showing them what our values at their best stand for.

Many bloggers have written about the value of the "distributed intelligence" facilitated by the internet, and they are absolutely right. I am not a specialist or an expert, and nothing I write here is likely to provide any American or Israeli stragegic planner with some brilliant new insight for winning the next battle. But what I hope to do is get the information out there and stimulate thought and communication.

But it's not just about the internet, it's about all of us in our daily lives. Us in the "lower pay grades" of free and unfree societies around the world. The worldwide struggle for human values needs all of us. Think locally, act globally.