Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

It's a new way of war and we'd better get used to it

By Aussiegirl

It's a whole new world and we are going to have to learn to deal with it.

It's a new way of war and we'd better get used to it, Greg Sheridan

THE war in Lebanon and Israel represents a distinct new stage in military development in the age of terror, and it is a stage that in different intensities we may have to deal with repeatedly in the future. This war will change the way of war.
It is difficult to get past the suffering of the Lebanese and Israeli civilians caught up in the war. These images dominate our television screens. When analysis goes beyond this, it often moves to the grand historical bargain that is required in the Middle East and that remains elusive.

But the more purely military lessons of this war are hugely important.

First is the centrality of missiles. Hezbollah missiles fired into northern Israel were as important to the beginning of this war as the Hezbollah kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah has been able to keep firing missiles despite all the damage that Israel has wrought on Lebanon.

Missiles, like most weapons, are becoming more sophisticated yet, paradoxically, simpler to operate. Thus, Israel has technology that can trace the line of an incoming missile and hit the point from which it was fired. But missile launchers are almost throwaway items now.

[...]The Israel-Lebanon war also demonstrates the power of non-state actors, especially when given some backing by a state. Hezbollah is a political party and a militia. It could never have become as strong as it has politically without Iranian money - which it uses for social works that are genuinely popular - or without Syrian backing. The Syrians, when they were dominant in Lebanon, prevented the Lebanese government, and especially the Lebanese army, from taking control of southern Lebanon. More important, Hezbollah could never have become as strong as it did militarily without supplies from Syria and money from Iran.

Yet it is difficult to hold state sponsors of terrorism responsible for the acts of their proxies. It is never clear-cut how much state sponsorship is involved. Such an assessment always rests in some measure on fallible intelligence. And it is a big step for one state to attack another on that basis. Nonetheless, the US did this in the 1980s with Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. When the Americans finally determined that Gaddafi was a significant backer of terrorism, they bombed his household. This did not lead Libya to launch an all-out war on anyone. Instead it led to Libya pulling back its support of terror. If Israel is convinced that Syria is behind Hezbollah, it may be that Israel would have been far more effective in changing Hezbollah's behaviour by attacking Syria's armed forces and even the headquarters of its President, Bashar al-Assad.

Another lesson of the war is the danger of weak states. Lebanon is a strong society but a weak state, weaker than Israel's other neighbours. Hezbollah-style attacks on Israel could not occur from Egypt, for example, without the direct authorisation of the Egyptian Government. Egypt is a relatively strong state and would prevent an unauthorised militia from growing as strong as Hezbollah has grown in Lebanon.


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