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Ralph Peters is a regular columnist with the New York Post. Register here for access to the Post's Online Edition.



PETERS Target Hezbollah
by Ralph Peters [author, novelist] 7/30/06

Friday, Israel's government overruled its generals and refused to expand the ground war in southern Lebanon. Given the difficulties encountered and the casualties suffered, the decision is understandable. And wrong.

In the War on Terror - combating Hezbollah's definitely part of it - you have to finish what you start. You can't permit the perception that the terrorists won. But that's where the current round of fighting is headed.

For the Israelis, the town of Bint Jbeil is an embarrassment, an objective that proved unexpectedly hard to take. But the town's a tactical issue to the Israeli Defense Force, not a strategic one.

Ralph Peters - Contributor
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications. [go to Peters Index]

For Hezbollah, it's Stalingrad, where the Red Army stopped the Germans. And that's how terrorist propagandists will mythologize it.

Considering only the military facts, the IDF's view is correct. But the Middle East has little use for facts. Perception is what counts. To the Arab masses, Hezbollah's resistance appears heroic, triumphant - and inspiring. We don't have to like it, but it's true.

So why is defeating Hezbollah such a challenge? Israel smashed one Arab military coalition after another, from 1948 through 1973. Arabs didn't seem to make good soldiers.

Now we see Arabs fighting tenaciously and effectively. What happened?

The answer's straightforward: Different cultures fight for different things. Arabs might jump up and down, wailing, "We will die for you Saddam!" But, in the clinch, they don't - they surrender. Conventional Arab armies fight badly because their conscripts and even the officers feel little loyalty to the states they serve - and even less to self-anointed national leaders.

But Arabs will fight to the bitter end for their religion, their families and the land their clan possesses. In southern Lebanon, Hezbollah exploits all three motivations. The Hezbollah guerrilla waiting to ambush an Israeli patrol believes he's fighting for his faith, his family and the earth beneath his feet. He'll kill anyone and give his own life to win.

We all need to stop making cartoon figures of such enemies. Hezbollah doesn't have tanks or jets, but it poses the toughest military problem Israel's ever faced. And Hezbollah may be the new model for Middle Eastern "armies."

The IDF's errors played into Hezbollah's hands. Initially relying on air power, the IDF ignored the basic military principles of surprise, mass and concentration of effort. Instead of aiming a shocking, concentrated blow at Hezbollah, the IDF dissipated its power by striking targets scattered throughout Lebanon - while failing to strike any of them decisively.

Even now, in the struggle for a handful of border villages, the IDF continues to commit its forces piecemeal - a lieutenant's mistake. Adding troops in increments allows the enemy to adjust to the increasing pressure - instead of being crushed by one mighty blow.

This is also an expensive fight for Israel in another way: financially. The precision weapons on which the IDF has relied so heavily - and to so little effect - cost anywhere from hundreds of thousands of dollars to seven figures per round. Israel has expended thousands of such weapons in an effort to spare its ground forces.

Theoretically, that's smart. But we don't live in a theoretical world. Such weapons are so expensive that arsenals are small. The United States already has had to replenish Israel's limited stockpiles - and our own supplies would not support a long war. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, a relatively easy win, we were running low on some specialized munitions within three weeks.

Precision weapons also rely on precision intelligence. It doesn't matter how accurate the bomb is if you can't find the target. And Israel's targeting has been poor. It even appears that Hezbollah managed to feed the IDF phony intelligence, triggering attacks on civilian targets and giving the terrorists a series of media wins.

The precision-weapons cost/benefit trade-offs aren't impressive, either. Killing a terrorist leader with a million-dollar bomb is a sound investment, but using hundreds of them to attack cheap, antiquated rocket launchers gets expensive fast.

Just as the U.S. military learned painful lessons about technology's limits in Iraq, the IDF is getting an education now: There's still no replacement for the infantryman; wars can't be won nor terrorists defeated from the air; and war is ultimately a contest of wills.

Those of us who support Israel and wish its people well have to be alarmed. Jerusalem's talking tough - while backing off in the face of Hezbollah's resistance. Israel's on-stage in a starring role right now, and it's too late to call for a re-write.

As a minimum, the IDF has to pull off a hat trick (killing Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, would be nice) in order to prevent the perception of a Hezbollah victory - a perception that would strengthen the forces of terror immeasurably.

If this conflict ends with rockets still falling on Haifa, Israel's enemies will celebrate Hezbollah as the star of the Terrorist Broadway (Ayman al-Zawahiri's recent rap videos were an attempt to edge into Hezbollah's limelight). Israel - and the civilized world - can't afford that.

Yes, Israel's casualties are painful and, to the IDF, unexpected. But Hezbollah isn't counting its casualties - it's concentrating on fighting. In warfare, that's the only approach that works.

Israel and its armed forces are rightfully proud of all they have achieved in the last six decades. But they shouldn't be too proud to learn from their enemies: In warfare, strength of will is the greatest virtue. CRO

Ralph Peters' latest book is Never Quit The Fight.

This piece first appeared in the New York Post
copyright 2006 - NY Post

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