Monday, August 14, 2006

Half Time

The guns have gone silent. The rockets haved stopped raining on Israel. For now the cease fire which began at 0500 GMT (the time zone I use for this blog) appears to be mostly holding. Lets look at the some news reports and see if we can tell what might happen next.

Reuters is reporting

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Heavy fighting in southern Lebanon stopped abruptly on Monday after a U.N.-brokered truce came into effect, but reports that Israeli troops killed a Hizbollah guerrilla underlined the fragility of the truce.
The Hezbollah guy was reportedly attacking Israeli forces. How nice of Reuters to leave that out of the lead. They do get to it in the second paragraph. Which for Reuters is more balanced than their usual spin.
Army Radio and the Haaretz newspaper's Web site said the Hizbollah fighter was shot dead after he opened fire on Israeli troops in southwest Lebanon. It was the first reported clash since the ceasefire began.
Here is the first fly in the ointment.
Thousands of Israeli troops remain in southern Lebanon, and they are not expected to withdraw fully until an international peacekeeping force arrives alongside Lebanese troops.
So far the Lebanese cabinent has been unable to agree on a plan for the Lebanese forces to deploy. A cabinent meeting to resolve the issues (deployment, disarming Hizbollah) is expcted today or tomorrow.
Israel said its ban on unauthorised traffic in southern Lebanon remained in place, and that any vehicles on the roads risked attack. An air and sea blockade of Lebanon would also continue, a military source said.
The Israeli armed forces then are continuing the blockade to keep Hizbollah from rearming as provided for in UN resolution 1701.
Under a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted on Friday, Israeli forces must start to withdraw as around 30,000 foreign peacekeepers and Lebanese soldiers deploy in the south. Hizbollah must also pull its fighters out of southern Lebanon.

Hizbollah has said it accepts the U.N. resolution although it regards some aspects of it as unjust. The group has said it will cooperate with the peacekeeping force and Lebanese troops that deploy in the south, but has not said whether it will pull out its forces from the area south of the Litani river.

Israel says it would be entitled under the U.N. resolution to use force to prevent Hizbollah from rearming and to clear guerrilla positions even after the truce took effect.

Western diplomats and U.N. officials said they feared Israel's broad definition of "defensive" actions could lead to a resurgence in large-scale fighting and prevent the swift deployment of the U.N. troops, likely to be led by France.

The truce has not resolved many key issues including the fate of the two captured Israeli soldiers, the issue of whether Hizbollah will disarm and the status of the Shebaa Farms area which is claimed by Lebanon but occupied by Israel.
I think that the issue of Hizbollah disarmament is the second major fly in the ointment. I don't think they can accept this and keep their "honor" or political position in Lebanon.

Y-Net News is looking at a number of possible near futures. Here is the one I think most likely.
Scenario 3: Fire on the northern border will continue even after the ceasefire enters into force. Fire will be renewed even after a few days of quiet.

This situation, as bad as it seems, will give the IDF legitimacy to respond harshly in that Israel can announce that following the lack of respect for the agreement, Israel no longer sees the agreement as binding, and will renew her broadened operations in southern Lebanon. In such an instance, it will be taken for granted that not one soldier will leave the zone and that residents of the north will be forced to live in shelters or with relatives in the center of the country.

As of now, the IDF is giving Scenario 1 a chance, be it with great caution. In the instructions given to the troops that there is no damaging Hizbullah's infrastructure once the ceasefire is applied. Only if fire is opened on the troops, they are permitted to respond.
The current situation (although I believe it to be temporary) is very advantageous to Israel. Hizbollah in the south is surrounded and will not be allowed to resupply. The Israeli Army can bring up biscuits, fuel, and ammunition in preparation for a resumptiion of hostilities.

What has been interesting to me is that despite the fact that Hizbollah rockets would be excellent as anti-troop weapons, none have been used that way. So far they have only been used as terror weapons against the Israeli population. i.e. fixed targets.

This indicates command and control problems for Hizbollah. They cannot target forces on the move except by infantry attacks. The close proximity problem also prevents firing of relatively inaccurate weapons where the forces are engaged.

Y-Net News has another page of analysis.
The first test on the way to stabilizing the region will be in the enforcement of the ceasefire in the coming days. Nasrallah promised that as long as Israel Defense Forces soldiers are on Lebanese territory, they would be attacked by his people.

Israeli officials made it clear that in any case, fire would be answered with fire. But northern communities may possibly be relieved.

"It is definitely reasonable to assume that Nasrallah will not launch Katyushas at Israel, if it should not attack in Lebanon. He is interested in taking advantage of the ceasefire in order to emerge from the fighting and rehabilitate," Prof. Zisser estimated.

And what about a full implementation of Resolution 1701? Here the picture is already more complex.

"A through examination of all the agreements in Lebanon in the past 30 years show that every decision and agreement okayed at the Security Council has either been partillay implemented or not at all," Dr. Erlich noted.
As I said in an earlier piece, Broken Agreement? More War?, Hizbollah, to maintain the fiction of "resistance", must keep fighting. The uselessness of the UN is a given.
"An important factor will the extent to which Israel insist on implementing the agreements and maintaining them. When it withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, we declared that we will respond harshly to any violation, and we have not done so until now. Experience shows that if Israel fails to retaliate – the redemption will arrive, big time.
With a UN force including France such a harsh response is going to be very difficult. OTOH the UN force is at least 7 to 10 days from deploying. The war could be back on by then.
"Nasrallah suffered great blows, maybe not a knockout, but anyway blows. A decision was reached which is not convenient to them, the infrastructure was destroyed. It will take time for the dust to sink. He will lick his wounds and rehabilitate, but it will still be difficult to define him as the 'defender of Lebanon.'"
As I stated above, without that 'defender of Lebanon' mantle his political prospects have been severely reduced.

The Israeli Cabinent expects Hizbollah will break the cease fire
OC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin gave the cabinet a pessimistic report about the chances of Hizbullah abiding by the agreement. Such skepticism persuaded Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz to abstain in a cabinet decision endorsing the cease-fire that passed 24-0. Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) said he voted in favor because he did not believe Hizbullah would abide by it, and then Israel would have international legitimacy to destroy Lebanese infrastructure.
Mofaz was the Defence Minister in the previous government.

The question now is: how long will it take for the fighting to resume?

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