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THE CRISIS TODAY - An Insider's Briefing (Thursday, July 20, 2006)

Israeli Security Expert Yossi Alpher offers a daily briefing during the elevated crisis in Israel...

Today's Briefing - Thursday, July 20

"Cracks in Israel's Optimism" by Yossi Alpher

The mood in Israel regarding the war with Hezbollah has darkened somewhat in the last two days. In part this is operational fatigue, particularly on the part of more than a million Israelis who have either fled the north or are living in crowded and sweltering shelters. But in part it reflects a series of new insights and revelations regarding the course of the war thus far.

After eight days of Israel Air Force attacks, Hezbollah's rocket attacks on Israel's north continue at more or less the same pace. The IAF appears to be destroying much of Lebanon, but not of Hezbollah. It is clear that IDF Intelligence underestimated the degree to which Iran has, in the course of the past decade, helped the Lebanese Shi'ite organization build deep and sophisticated bunkers, improve communications, and stockpile weapons. It is also clear that once again the effectiveness of air power has been exaggerated.

Consequently, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has begun talking about the possibility of a long war of attrition. To compensate for the Air Force's misses, commando units have commenced search and destroy missions on the ground in southern Lebanon to find rocket launchers. This will produce more IDF and Hezbollah losses and fewer Lebanese civilian losses. There is more learned speculation by ministers and pundits alike concerning possible negotiations for a ceasefire and their ramifications.

An IDF directive to the Shi'ite residents of southern Lebanon south of the Litani River to leave their homes and head north has drawn criticism: the bridges across the Litani have all been bombed, making traffic northward difficult; collective punishment of this sort, to pressure the central government in Beirut, will add ammunition to its claims that Israel is indiscriminately attacking the entire country, whereas the Hezbollah leadership is in any case indifferent to this sort of suffering.

To be fair, the Air Force has a strong set of arguments justifying its strategy of bombing Lebanese civilian and some military infrastructure. Lebanese airports and border crossings have been attacked to prevent Hezbollah from moving its two captive IDF soldiers out of the country, to Iran; bridges and key junctions, to prevent the transport of rockets south where they are fired against Israel. The successful bombing of a cache of Iranian Zilzal rockets--the ones that can hit Tel Aviv-near Beirut three days ago appeared to indicate that Hezbollah had not been able to move them to within firing range.

Coastal radar in Lebanon's ports, as well as several Lebanese Army installations, were attacked after they were placed at the disposal of Hezbollah units. Many civilians and much civilian infrastructure have been hit because Hezbollah uses them for cover for its personnel, command centers and ordnance. Lately, border crossings were targeted to prevent Iranian and Syrian efforts to deliver more rockets. And of course, mistakes have been made, particularly in targeting the wrong vehicles in the south. Bearing all this in mind, the 300+ Lebanese civilians killed thus far is an understandable figure that in no way reflects any Israeli intention to target them deliberately.

Learned estimates put Hezbollah ordnance losses at between a third and a half of the organization's original 12,000 or so rockets, with apparently negligible manpower losses. With US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice scheduled to arrive next week and possibly initiate a serious political process, the coming days will tell whether the ongoing attrition from the air combined with greater use of ground troops will begin to reduce the rate of rocket attacks and raise the number of Hezbollah fighters eliminated. In Gaza, where the fighting has been going on for longer, these combined tactics appear to be paying off. If they do in Lebanon as well, then the public and perhaps the US as well will grant the Olmert government more time. If not, then the diplomatic clock will begin ticking.

The Crisis Today-An Insider's Briefing is a new daily, internet publication of Americans for Peace Now. A new edition of The Crisis Today will be posted every weekday morning by 9:00 a.m. for as long as the current crisis continues.

The Crisis Today is written by Yossi Alpher, whose views do not necessarily reflect those of Americans for Peace Now or Peace Now.

Link to APN's Crisis Resource Page

Links to previous Briefings:

July 19, 2006
July 18, 2006