The Calm Before the Storm?

What to make of the fighting so far  from a military standpoint? 

According to the latest reports, it doesn’t seem that Israeli forces are taking heavy casualties.  Just 7  according to CNN.  So does this mean that Hamas is taking a beating, even “losing?” After all,  the Islamic Resistance Movement faces several geographic and other challenges that Hezbollah didn’t.  From an excellent article at  The National:

there are five important differences between the two conflicts that the Hamas leadership does not seem to have grasped or appreciated.

1. Gaza, only 360 square kilometres in size, lacks the strategic depththat Hizbollah had in Lebanon. So Hamas guerrillas have much smaller and narrower areas of operations than Hizbollah guerrillas had in Lebanon, which gives Israel an advantage.

2. Hizbollah fighters are not members of government, civilian and military institutions such as the police and ministries, so Israeli jets had a limited list of targets. In Gaza they have a large number of easy targetsthat were hit in the first minutes of the attack, killing at least 200 Hamas members in public buildings.

3. Israel besieged Lebanon from air and sea but could never seal off land routes in and out of the country, so Hizbollah had a good supply of arms and supplies. Gaza was completely sealed off fromall sides with the exception of a few tunnels that were mostly destroyed in the first two days of the attack. Now Israeli tanks have cut off Gaza City and the northern part of the Strip from its southern part and completely sealed off all entry points, so Hamas has no access to military supplies.

4. Hamas is much less able than Hizbollah to threaten the Israeli rear. While Hizbollah missile strikes hit dozens of Israeli settlements, towns and cities all over northern and central Israel and can now reach southern Israel, Hamas’s missiles can reach only up to 45km and are mostly ineffective. Missiles fired from Gaza in 2008 killed ten Israelis, while Hizbollah missile attacks on Israel in the 33-day war killed more than 100 and inflicted serious damage to property. So Hamas missile strikes will not be enough to force Israel into new ceasefire talks. Moreover, Hamas’s anti-armour capabilities seem to be ineffective against Israeli tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

5. Hizbollah had much better information, intelligence and counter-intelligence than Hamas. This has been made clear by Israel’s ability to hit many sensitive targets and to dominate the battlespace from the air. Hamas has failed to spring any surprises on the battlefield in the way that Hizbollah did in 2006, confusing the Israeli military command.

Or is HAMAS merely waiting  to set up a strategic ambush or  “spring the street warfare trap?”   If I was the Hamas military leader, recognizing that the IDF has  insurmountable advantages in face-to-face normal fighting,  I would tell the foot-soldiers to sit back, put up minimum resistance, and wait until IDF extends itself all over Gaza. And then go all out in a Stalingrad-type  last stand with a blaze of martyrdom.  

If Hamas is going to go down, then their strategy might be to try and bring down as many Israeli soldiers as possible.   There isn’t any question that Hamas would have the full weight of Arab public opinion behind it in such a battle.  And if Israeli public opinion, suddenly faced with lots of their boys dying combined with a newly inaugurated  Barrack Obama under enormous pressure to get involved…. momentum might start swinging Hamas’ way.

Anyway,  if Hamas supposedly has 15-20 K fighters and the IDF claims to have killed just 150 than these guys are somewhere.  Probably waiting.

Is the “Good War” Worth Fighting?

Former British FSO Rory Stewart has an excellent op-ed in the NY Times framing the coming challenge in Afghanistan.  He starts off by making a critical point: Do we actually have to “win” in Afghanistan?  Or why do we need to “beat” the Taliban to win?  Why can’t winning be defined as something like “not doing anything dumb” and leaving Afghanistan without making things worse?  Would US National Security be damaged if the US simply withdrew from Afghanistan? 

AFGHANISTAN does not matter as much as Barack Obama thinks.   Terrorism is not the key strategic threat facing the United States. America, Britain and our allies have not created a positive stable environment in the Middle East. We have no clear strategy for dealing with China. The financial crisis is a more immediate threat to United States power and to other states; environmental catastrophe is more dangerous for the world. And even from the perspective of terrorism, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are more lethal.

Yes, Afganistan deserves more attention,  but “attention” doesn’t have to be military.  I agree with the author that sending more troops would probably lead to disaster and only make things more difficult. 

President-elect Obama’s emphasis on Afghanistan and his desire to send more troops and money there is misguided. Overestimating its importance distracts us from higher priorities, creates an unhealthy dynamic with the government of Afghanistan and endangers the one thing it needs — the stability that might come from a patient, limited, long-term relationship with the international community.

More troops have brought military victories but they have not been able to eliminate the Taliban. They have also had a negative political impact in the conservative and nationalistic communities of the Pashtun south and allowed Taliban propaganda to portray us as a foreign military occupation. In Helmand Province, troop numbers have increased to nearly 10,000 today from just 2,000 in 2004. But no inhabitant of Helmand would say things have improved in the last four years. Mr. Obama believes that sending even more troops and money will now bring “victory” in Afghanistan. Some of this may be politically driven: a pretense of future benefits appears better than admitting a loss; and because lives are involved, no one wants to write off sunk costs. Nevertheless, these increases are not just wasteful, they are counterproductive.

The only way that sending more troops to Afghanistan is a good idea is if it is some kind of way to threaten the Taliban into making more concessions.  The Taliban may be “winning” but they also can not hold out forever.  The key to getting out of Afghanistan with any kind of desirable result is pushing the Taliban to seperate from Al-Qaeda and enter the Afghani political arena.  Yes, as many people have mentioned, this would not be easy as the Taliban is not a unified movement.  Still, there really is no other possible option.