Monday, July 24, 2006

A Symposium: After Hizbullah, What?

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah

If I were paranoid, I’d say, “The fix is in.”

Look at the news stories today. First, from The Baltimore Sun:

International pressure mounted on the Bush administration yesterday to call for an immediate cease-fire in the hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed to the region in search of a long-term solution to the 12-day-old conflict.

With civilian casualties in Lebanon mounting, the United States’ Arab allies added their voices to the calls for a truce. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, met with President Bush in the Oval Office and delivered a letter from King Abdullah II asking him to intervene.

And then there’s this one, from CBS News:

Oil prices dropped Monday after the Saudi oil minister said OPEC wanted to avoid an economically disruptive increase in oil prices and as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to the Mideast to try to find a diplomatic solution to the violence in Lebanon and Israel.

Occam’s razor on rare occasions supports the paranoid explanation for events, and this is one of them. In terms of American policy towards Saudi Arabia, the paranoid theory multiplies the fewest needless entities.

The Despot of the Desert, with a mere flick of a finger, can make Americans pay $10 for a gallon of gas. So, when he yanks the chain of the Bush Administration, Condi goes to Israel to yank Ehud Olmert’s chain, stopping off in Lebanon on the way to pick up the terms of the deal she is required to “craft” with Israel in order to “jump-start the peace process.” Or some similar wording from the State Department Middle East Style Book.

It’s an effective protection racket the Saudis have going. Hizbullah and Iran get too big for their britches: fine, let Israel kneecap them. But don’t whack ’em! No, they come in handy from time to time, so Israel must “show restraint.”

And so the message goes out: Nice little economy you’ve got there. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to it. And then the obedient diplomatic helicopters start landing in the capitals of the Middle East.

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All right, that’s the paranoid explanation. I hope it’s wrong.

And, for the sake of argument in this symposium I’m going to assume it’s wrong.

I’m a neophyte in matters of military strategy, weaponry, and intelligence, so I try to stay informed by reading the Belmont Club, Chester, the Counterterrorism Blog, and Kingdom of Chaos, among other blogs. Those guys know much more than I’ll ever learn; I recommend daily visits to them if you want to keep up to speed on the current crisis.

Assuming that Israel’s chain does not get yanked; here is a general outline of events as they are likely to unfold, drawn from the above sources:

  • Israel will continue to do battlefield prep by air in southern Lebanon, while operating across the border against dug-in Hizbullah assets.
  • The IAF will continue to target the supply lines from Syria to Hizbullah, and the IDF will eventually mount a major incursion to completely cut off the route through the Bekaa Valley to the border with Israel.
  • The major Hizbullah infrastructure in the Bekaa Valley will have to be destroyed in a ground assault. Depending on the military necessities, this may involve some air operations against targets in Syria.
  • Israel will plant forces north of the Litani river, either by airborne drop or via an amphibious landing (the latter a very intriguing suggestion put forth in several blogs).
  • With Hizbullah completely cut off by land, sea, and air, a massive ground operation, taking at least several weeks, will pound the terrorists, their weapons, and their installations into dust.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that something like the above will in fact happen.

What happens next? What will the Middle East look like after Hizbullah?

Sheikh Hassan NasrallahWhat happens to Syria? What does Syria have besides Hizbullah? It’s got some of Saddam’s old WMDs, a lot of sand, and presumably some olive trees and date palms. But on a “Principal Products” map of the Middle East, Syria’s main product icon would be a little picture of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. Take that away, and what does Syria do to hold its head up in the honor-sensitive Arab world?

What happens to Iran? How do they respond to having their best boy whipped? How will they bring their influence to bear in the Maghreb after Hizbullah is gone? Will they drop Boy Assad as an ally once he has outlived his Hizbullah-related usefulness? How will it affect their nuclear efforts?

I’m too ignorant to venture any answers to these questions myself. I invite readers to respond, either here or on their own blogs, and thereby help make up for my lack of expertise.


Fellow Peacekeeper said...

My ten cents :

Very optimistic to write Hezbollah off. Remember - that organization rose to power during the previous Israeli incursion into Lebanon. Tho' their sites may be destroyed, and weapons caches found, and many fighters slain, that is unlikely to do more than set Hezbollah back some years. The source of their power is support from Iran and Syria, and the shiite people of Lebanon. Israel is striking at the head, but the roots are currently inaccesibile. Indeed, like trimming the grass, it may actually grow back more vigorously afterwards. The Israeli actions are hardly endearing them to the players mentioned (not that they have any good will to win, but that it may be spurring them to make efforts they would not make otherwise)

And Hezbollah - do not underestimate it. It is scary. It has been THE premier terrorist organization the last ten years - an innovator with near regular military planning and coordination skills. Driving it out of its homeland into international exile may be more than a little bad for everyone else.

We can only hope they play it dumb, and the IDF wastes them in a stand up fight ..... but Hezbollah has been in that trap before and came out stronger than ever.

I go with William Lind's On war #175 - this is all bad karma.

Baron Bodissey said...

Thanks for the responses, everybody, & for helping to educate me.

Fellow Peacekeeper --

I tend to agree that Hizbullah will not be wiped out. But for the sake of analysis, I want ideas for what the region would look like if Hizbullah were exterminated.

This is a "what-if" proposition. Like "What if we destroyed all the yellow jackets? Would the stinging stop, or would hornets emerge to take their place?" That kind of thing.

Fellow Peacekeeper said...

If Hezbollah was wiped out that would be a major bonus of course. Iran would have lost its favorite catspaw, and Syria would have to back off or show its hand openly. When all is said and done the relationship Israel has with Egypt and Jordan is relatively calm and stable, a similar relationship with Lebanon would be a blessing. It would keep Iran at arms length and Syria may be forced to rexamine its position.

But I think that Hezbollah is merely the most poisonous of a basket of vipers, while zapping it is good (because it is very poisonous indeed), it doesn't solve the root problem or necessarily deter the others (more likely to enrage them). It would allow breathing room while a new (presumably less venemous) viper is grown to take its place.

@DanMyers : Lind needs to be read with a grain of salt sometimes, he has become a prophet of doom since the invasion of Iraq. But IMHO he has consistently got the best read on the murky future consequences of current military actions.

Baron Bodissey said...


I read the Spengler -- very cogent, and I mostly agree with him.

Baron Bodissey said...

Scott --

I hope Starling shows up on this thread to lend his expertise. But...

If I understand economics correctly, the Saudis don't have to cut production massively to have a major effect on the price of oil. If they have sufficient cash reserves to support their actions (and I don't know if they do or not), they can cut production significantly, and it may lower world production by -- say -- 4%.

But the price of oil is controlled at the margin, and that could be enough to treble the price of crude.

Or maybe not. Let's hope Starling is lurking.

Anyway, if I'm right, the Iranians and the Russians could do the same kind of thing. But the Russians, of course, wouldn't have the cash reserves to pull it off.

Thanos said...

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Voyager said...

When the Soviets placed SS-20, SS-21, SS-23 missiles in Europe to intimidate the aim was to detach US strategic missiles from European regional security, and the Loony Left tried to stop the deployment of Pershing II mobile missiles to check the Soviet action.

In the same way the use of Iranian mobile missile launchers in Lebanon is trying to play a strategic game through tactical weapons; unfortunately by firing them Lebanon becomes a battlezone and nowhere in Lebanon can be considered a DMZ within range of one of those missiles

El Jefe Maximo said...

The issue of what the constellation of power will be in the Middle East if Hezbollah (or Hizbollah, pick your poison spelling) really is destroyed itself is built around a ginormous “if.” Based on what I’ve seen so far, I tend to doubt whether we can get to the desired end-state of that “if,” that is “Hezbollah being destroyed.” I would love to be wrong.

Most of the photography I have seen from the Israeli side of the conflict is coverage from the cities. Until yesterday, I had not seen, much, coverage of the fighting that actually got beyond the Israeli gunline behind the border in northern Israel. I’ve seen a lot of photos of M-109 155 mm guns firing support or counterbattery on targets someplace in Lebanon, but precious little of what the Israeli ground troops are actually doing. I’m not a big TV watcher, so maybe I’m missing some. Point is, that the Israeli Defense Force has a very efficient censorship operation. We don’t have a lot of the information we need to evaluate whether the Israelis are REALLY out to wreck Hezbollah, or just spank ‘em pretty good.

If the plan is really to wipe out Hezbollah, I am troubled by the apparent slowness of ground operations in terms of getting troops into Lebanon to clean out the Hezbollah lairs south of the Litani. Bush cannot hold up the diplomats for ever. The Israelis have another week to ten days to play with, and then the diplomats are really going to put the brakes on. The Israelis seem to be relying on air power to do most of the heavy lifting

At bottom, I question whether “destroying” Hezbullah is even possible, given that organization’s political power over the Shiite population in Lebanon and its efforts to enlist the powers of the whole Shiite population. The Israelis can draw the teeth of the snake, but cannot kill it, short of driving the Shiite population north of the Litani, and over a long period of time, building up a rival Shiite political organization, Hezbollah cannot be destroyed, just weakened for a time.

If south Lebanon is not occupied for an extended period, the danger to Galilee will return. Given that none of the putative suppliers of “peace-keeping” forces want to send forces that will actually fight to keep Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard off the Israeli borders, I don’t see an alternative to occupation. In real terms of course, this will not be tolerated for long, and the Israelis will have to, after a reasonable time, accept some sort of ineffective jumped-up UNIFIL.

I will blog on this myself some more when I have time, but the solution to Israel’s Lebanon problem, and to our problems in Iraq, and with, I believe, the Islamic world generally – is in the destruction of the Iranian Islamic Republican regime that supplies, pays for, trains, arms, and most importantly, inspires the terrorists. Like the French revolutionary regime, the simple existence of this government is the font of endless trouble. Once the mullah government is brought down: all other issues: nukes, terrorism, etc., can be settled. But the root of the problem is the existence of the regime in Tehran.

Baron Bodissey said...

"Economics" Scott,

I tend to agree with your analysis. The problem for us is that no elected political leader is willing to bear the necessary pain, because it means electoral suicide.

That's why we bend to the will of the Saudis...

Baron Bodissey said...


If you are right, then why is this administration so embarassingly obsequious towards the Saudis? Why gush over those disgusting thugs? Why does Karen Hughes humiliate herself (and our country) by her supplications? Condi didn't have to call Islam "the religion of peace and love" -- that was optional behavior, and it wouldn't have hurt diplomacy a bit to leave it out.

Why does it take so long to get rid of the Wahhabist chaplains in the military? Why did some of the most odious "charities" retain their White House access long after 9-11? Why no public denunciation of Saudi Wahhabist funding of anti-Semitic and anti-Christian propaganda in mosques in the USA?

Maybe most important: why did the entire bin Laden family get a free ride out of the country on 9/12, with barely a question asked of them?

I know, I know; I'm being paranoid. But this stuff really bothers me. And every time I see Bush holding hands with that murderous *%@!?$#! it sets my teeth on edge.

El Jefe Maximo said...

And I wish it was still 16 carrier groups and 18 Army divisions for the lame duck cowboy president as it was for Reagan. So many difficult problems would look less difficult with that kind of force structure...

linearthinker said...

note to econ scott:

more please...

you really should activate your blog...

is it just that i so strenuously agree, or do your comments have a resounding ring of truth?

i respect your privacy, but would appreciate more of your observations.

Starling said...

Hello Baron

This thread was unfolding just as left Dubai and headed back to the states to commence my summer vacation. I do have a few comments to share which I will give separately. The first regards the state of the Syrian economy. There was a very nicely done report which I saw on MEMRI a few months back. Its title is "The Syrian Economy Under Bashar al-Assad." I wrote a post about it entitled The Road to Damascus is the Road to Serfdom

The report indicates, not surprisingly, that the Syrian economy is poorly managed and basically in shambles. What I take away from this is that even without the current spate of hostilities, Syria is in dire economic straits. Unless the country gets subsidies from its benefactor, it's hard to see how dramatic increases in the price of oil wouldn't hurt them more than it would hurt us and the world economy. I am not sure whether and to what degree this factors into the thinking of those who would raise a finger and by doing so hurt the US economy. Or maybe its a two-fer?

Baron Bodissey said...

Eco-Scott --

Sorry I took out my frustrations with the pro-Saudi policies of this administration on you. You didn't deserve it!

I just wonder, if the price of oil doesn't matter, why the Bushies are always doing the salaam to the KSA...

Baron Bodissey said...

Starling --

Thanks for the input and the link.

But am I right -- i.e., is it production at the margin that crucially affects the price of oil? Can a modest drop in production cause a big price spike?