This fine analysis is from Stratfor.
Read it carefully, there’s much to ponder. On the whole, I agree with its main points, though I still feel that the world would be a better place without Baby Assad and his vile regime. But I do understand the argument for keeping him in power and avoiding the “law of unintended consequences.”
Hat Tip: Seraphic Friend Lance
We are now in the period preceding major conventional operations. Israel
is in the process of sealing the Lebanese coast. They have disrupted
Lebanese telecommunications, although they have not completely
collapsed the structure. Israeli aircraft are attacking Hezbollah’s
infrastructure and road system. In the meantime, Hezbollah, aware it is
going to be hit hard, is in a use-it or-lose-it scenario, firing what
projectiles it can into Israel.
The Israeli strategy appears to be designed to do two things. First, the
Israelis are trying to prevent any supplies from entering Lebanon,
including reinforcements. That is why they are attacking all coastal
maritime facilities. Second, they are degrading the roads in Lebanon.
That will keep reinforcements from reaching Hezbollah fighters engaged
in the south. As important, it will prevent the withdrawal and
redeployment of heavy equipment deployed by Hezbollah in the south,
particularly their rockets, missiles and launchers. The Israelis are
preparing the battlefield to prevent a Hezbollah retreat or maneuver.
Hezbollah’s strategy has been imposed on it. It seems committed to
standing and fighting. The rate of fire they are maintaining into
Israel is clearly based on an expectation that Israel will be
attacking. The rocketry guarantees the Israelis will attack. Hezbollah
has been reported to have anti-tank and anti-air weapons. The Israelis
will use airmobile tactics to surround and isolate Hezbollah
concentrations, but in the end, they will have to go in, engage and
defeat Hezbollah tactically. Hezbollah obviously knows this, but there
is no sign of disintegration on its part. At the very least, Hezbollah
is projecting an appetite for combat. Sources in Beirut, who have been
reliable to this point, say Hezbollah has weapons that have not yet
been seen, such as anti-aircraft missiles, and that these will be used
shortly. Whatever the truth of this, Hezbollah does not seem to think
its situation is hopeless.
The uncertain question is Syria. No matter how effectively Israel seals
the Lebanese coast, so long as the Syrian frontier is open, Hezbollah
might get supplies from there, and might be able to retreat there. So
far, there has been only one reported airstrike on a Syrian target.
Both Israel and Syria were quick to deny this.
What is interesting is that it was the Syrians who insisted very
publicly that no such attack took place. The Syrians are clearly trying
to avoid a situation in which they are locked into a confrontation with
Israel. Israel might well think this is the time to have it out with
Syria as well, but Syria is trying very hard not to give Israel casus
belli. In addition, Syria is facilitating the movement of Westerners
out of Lebanon, allowing them free transit. They are trying to signal
that they are being cooperative and nonaggressive.
The problem is this: While Syria does not want to get hit and will not
make overt moves, so long as the Syrians cannot guarantee supplies will
not reach Hezbollah or that Hezbollah won’t be given sanctuary in Syria,
Israel cannot complete its mission of shattering Hezbollah and
withdrawing. They could be drawn into an Iraq-like situation that they
absolutely don’t want. Israel is torn. On the one hand, it wants to
crush Hezbollah, and that requires total isolation. On the other hand,
it does not want the Syrian regime to fall. What comes after would be
much worse from Israel’s point of view.
This is the inherent problem built into Israel’s strategy, and what
gives Hezbollah some hope. If Israel does not attack Syria, Hezbollah
could well survive Israel’s attack by moving across the border. No
matter how many roads are destroyed, Israel won’t be able to prevent
major Hezbollah formations moving across the border. If they do attack
Syria and crush al Assad’s government, Hezbollah could come out of this
stronger than ever.
Judging from the airstrikes in the past 24 hours, it would appear Israel
is trying to solve the problem tactically, by degrading Lebanese
transport facilities. That could increase the effectiveness of the
strategy, but in the end cannot be sufficient. We continue to think
Israel will choose not to attack Syria directly and therefore, while
the invasion will buy time, it will not solve the problem. Hezbollah
certainly expects to be badly hurt, but it does not seem to expect to
be completely annihilated. We are guessing, but our guess is that they
are reading Israel’s views on Syria and are betting that, in the long
run, they will come out stronger. Of course, Israel knows this and
therefore may have a different plan for Syria. At any rate, this is the
great unknown in this campaign.
The other unknown is the withdrawal of Western nationals from Lebanon.
We have received very reliable reports from sources in Lebanon who
assure us Hezbollah does not intend to renew hostage taking, which is
deemed an old and nonproductive strategy. These same sources have
reported splits in Hezbollah over how aggressive it should be. We
believe Hezbollah has no current plans for hostage taking. We are not
convinced, however, that in the course of the battle it will not change
its mind, or that with weakened central control elements, elements of
Hezbollah will take hostages as a bargaining chip. Regardless of what
Hezbollah is saying now, hostage taking must be taken seriously as a
The U.S. Embassy in Beirut is now saying plans are being developed in
concert with the U.S. Defense Department for extracting U.S. nationals
from Lebanon. A convoy scheduled to travel from the American University
of Beirut to Amman, Jordan, via Syria, was cancelled at the last moment,
with participants being told that the embassy has other plans.
There are said to be 25,000 U.S. citizens in Lebanon, but many of these
are Lebanese-American dual nationals who actually live in Lebanon as
Lebanese. These are less visible, less at risk and have greater
resources for survival. The most at-risk Americans are those who hold
only U.S. papers and are clearly American, such as employees of
American companies, students studying at Lebanese universities and
tourists. There is no clear count of these high-risk nationals, nor is
there a count on high-risk nationals from other non-Islamic countries.
There are thousands, however, and getting them out will be difficult.
The U.S. Embassy is considering flying them to Cyprus. That would mean
an air bridge from Beirut International Airport, where a single runway
has been opened, to Cyprus, a short flight away. The United States will
not do this while Beirut is under attack, so it will ask the Israelis to
create a safe zone and air corridor during the evacuation. But the
threat on the ground is real, and we suspect the United States will
send troops in to secure the perimeter and surrounding areas against
shoulder-launched missiles. They will also keep the precise timing
secret, although thousands of people in Lebanon — the evacuees — will
know it is coming.
There was a Marine Expeditionary Force on maneuvers in the Red Sea a few
s ago. We do not know where they are now, but they had 2,200 marines
on board — the right number to secure extraction. We suspect aircraft
will be chartered from airlines in the region and that some U.S. Air
Force and allied aircraft might also be used. Doubtless, the United
States is busy organizing it. Given that the United States cancelled
several ad hoc withdrawals, it must be highly confident it has the
process nailed; we would expect this operation to get going sometime
Sunday. Assuming aircraft that can carry any average of 200 people
(purely arbitrary), 50-100 flights could get everyone out. Assuming
that everyone can be notified and can get to Beirut International
Airport. That won’t happen. The remainder who are at risk will probably
be advised to move into Christian areas east and northeast of Beirut and
to keep their heads down for the duration. It is also possible that
discussion of Cyprus notwithstanding, the path will be through Syria,
but we doubt that.
In the meantime, that Israel has not sent major ground units into
Lebanon yet (lots of small units are operating there) but is taking
rocket attacks and hunkering down indicates it does not plan to act
piecemeal. If we were to guess, the main thrust would likely begin late
Sunday night or Monday morning. They will be ready by then. Of course we
are not privy to Israeli operations, so it could be delayed 24-48 hours
to give forces a chance to gear up. But given the Hezbollah
bombardment, the Israelis are under pressure to move sooner rather than
We are in a relatively quiet spell (emphasis on quiet). Both sides have
made their strategic decisions. Both know how the war will be fought.
Hezbollah thinks it can give as good as it will get for a while, and
will ultimately be able to regroup for a guerrilla war against the
Israelis. Israel thinks it can immobilize and crush Hezbollah quickly
and decisively and will be able to withdraw. Both sides know Syria is
the wild card, and neither is quite sure how it will play its hand. One
side is wrong in its expectations about the outcome. That’s the nature