Sunday, August 13, 2006

Michael J. Totten Reporting from the Free-Fire Zone

A must-read.

I wanted to know what he thought of the proposed cease-fire, although I suspected already he wasn’t happy with it.

“It’s probably the best we could get under the circumstances,” he said. “We do not have a lot of leverage right now.”

I told him that I’m not usually pessimistic about the outcome of these things, but that to me it didn’t look good. After all that destruction it didn’t look like much was accomplished. I suspected there would be yet another Lebanon war very soon. “Talk me out of it,” I said. “Tell me if I’m wrong.”

He didn’t want to say much. I could tell from the look on his face that he wasn’t happy with the outcome himself. But he’s an official spokesman and has to be careful with what he says on the record.

“Has anything been permanently accomplished up there?” I said.

“Some things, yes,” he said. “We destroyed a lot of their infrastructure. They had more weapons and more underground bunkers and tunnels than we had any idea. People coming out of there say it’s vast.”

“What do you think about the proposal for an international force on the border?” I said.

“The problem with that,” he said, “is that the force could act a shield for Hezbollah. Hezbollah could fire missiles right over the tops of their heads, and it would make it very difficult for us to go in there and stop them. It needs to be a combat force in Lebanon, not a peacekeeping force. It needs to be authorized by UN Article 7, not 6.”

“Hassan Nasrallah declared victory today,” I said. “What do you think about that?”

He laughed. And of course he would laugh. Everyone in the world knew Nasrallah would declare victory no matter what if he was not in a cage and if he still had a pulse. The Arab bar for military victory is set pathetically low. All you have to do is survive. You “win” even if your country is torn to pieces. The very idea of a Pyrrhic victory doesn’t occur to people who start unwinnable wars with the state of Israel.

“Look at Nasrallah today,” Michael said. “In 2000 he did his victory dance in Bint Jbail. He can’t do that this time. His command and control south of Beirut is completely gone. We killed 550 Hezbollah fighters south of the Litani out of an active force of 1250. Nasrallah claimed South Lebanon would be the graveyard of the IDF. But we only lost one tenth of one percent of our soldiers in South Lebanon. The only thing that went according to his plan was their ability to keep firing rockets. If he has enough victories like this one, he’s dead.”

“Have Hezbollah’s fighting techniques evolved or degraded since 2000?” I said.

“They’re the same,” he said. “They’re good. These guys are very experienced. They have been fighting for a long time. But we’ve killed more than 25 percent of their fighting force. I think they’ll break. All armies break. Killing even one percent of a Western army is a disaster. It’s prohibitive.”

The term, "decimate," refers to killing 10% of your enemy. By this account, Hizb'allah has lost that two and a half times over. And then there are the other losses....


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