02 August 2006
Israeli strategy in Lebanon
What is the Israeli strategy in Lebanon after three weeks of war? The only logical answer is that they aim to drive the population north of the River Litani with a campaign of state terror. The depopulated territory may then be handed over to the United Nations; at least that is the plan as announced - it is just as likely that the Israelis would keep it for themselves.
The wonderfully misnamed Justice Minister, one Haim Ramon, has already gone on record as saying that: "All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah". Presumably this means that the population of South Lebanon can be hunted down like so many grouse on a Scottish moor.
Actually, that is what is happening. The Israelis have been targetting not just civilian cars but ambulances and other emergency vehicles, probably because the red crosses on the roofs make them such an inviting target.
Having softened up the population, the Israelis went to part two of their strategy which involved a little local massacre: the town of Qana was the target, and over 60 civilians were the victims. The fact that no Hezbollah forces had used Qana as a base to launch rocket attacks into Israel is neither here nor there: Qana had to be attacked to send a message to the rest of the country. The message is simple: flee north of the Litani or die.
Part three will probably involve a major drive into Southern Lebanon by the Israeli army. The air force will act as the beaters to flush the grouse - sorry, Lebanese civilians - out of hiding and on to the army's guns. The army doesn't have to actually kill all that many; just so long as the population does a runner north of the river.
Will the strategy work? That all depends on how tough and resourceful Hezbollah actually are when the chips are down. If they can inflict heavy casualties on the Israelis, then maybe they can bog that army down in the border areas. Both sides must be aware that sooner rather than later a ceasefire is going to be imposed on Israel by the Americans. The timing of that ceasefire really depends on how much diplomatic pressure is put on Washington by the rest of the world. If that pressure comes through load and clear, then Hezbollah may not have to hold off the Israelis for very long.