I am going to write a completely speculative piece on the fighting in Lebanon. It's born of a need to make sense of events which on the face of it are incomprehensible, though by so doing the post detaches itself from verifiable fact. The reader is warned. Read on if you wish for entertainment but beware that what follows is hypothesis, there aren't even going to be hyperlinks for reference.
The first question that must be answered in divining IDF intentions in Lebanon is what the center of gravity of the Hezbollah is, because that is what the IDF must be aiming to destroy. The two obvious ones are Hezbollah's ability to influence the Lebanese government and the motor of that influence -- the military force that Hezbollah maintains in the south. A step down we can ask, what is the most important component of Hezbollah's power in the south? Again the answer is easy. It is the Hezbollah cadres themselves. Hezbollah's most precious possession isn't Katyushas, long-range rockets, night vision goggles or antitank missiles or electronic equipment. It is the trained core of its military force. Equipment can be replaced but Hezbollah's cadres represent an expensive, almost irreplaceable investment. In them resides the organizational knowledge of Nasrallah's organization. It embodies man-decades of operational experience against Israel. Rockets can be replaced. The stars of Hezbollah's operational force are less expendable.
From this observation I'm going to say that despite the received wisdom of the newspapers to the contrary, the fighting at Maroun al-Ras and Bint Jbeil have been and continue to be an unmitigated defeat for the Hezbollah. The Hezbollah are doing the single most stupid thing imaginable for a guerilla organization. They are fighting to keep territory. Oh, I know that this will be justified in terms of "inflicting casualties" on the Israelis. But the Hez are probably losing 10 for every Israeli lost. A bad bargain for Israel you say? No. A bad bargain for Hezbollah to trade their terrorist elite for highly trained but nevertheless conventional infantry. Guerillas should trade 1 for 10, not 10 for 1.
Reduced to its essentials, the IDF strategy may be ridiculously simple: fix the Hezbollah force in Southern Lebanon while detaching its command structure from the field by simultaneously striking Beirut. One of the great mysteries, upon which newpaper accounts shed no light, is why the IDF should so furiously pulverize Hezbollah's enclaves in southern Beirut, blockade the port and disable the airport. The object isn't to shut down Lebanon. It is to momentarily disorient the Hezbollah headquarters in Beirut, so that in a moment of absentmindedness, the Hezbollah forces in Southern Lebanon will do what comes most naturally: commit themselves against the IDF.
I should add that, although it sounds underhanded, the IDF may have cleverly used their warning to evacuate the Hezbollahland villages to great effect. Nothing so absorbs the energy of states and protostates like Hezbollah than the need to relocate tens of thousands of their supporters while fighting the IDF. Hezbollah's fighters in Southern Lebanon have three tasks they've willy-nilly accepted: to keep the IDF at bay, evacuate their supporters and stay in contact with Nasrallah in Beirut. They will fail in two out of three. What they should have done while they had the chance was run but now it is probably too late. The Hez are fighting the IDF; and moving rockets northward as they can in the belief that these militarily useless weapons are somehow important; relocating their supporters and fighting a diplomatic war at one and the same time. And all this with their offices bombed out. It creates a window of opportunity.
Prestidigitation is defined as "skill in performing magic or conjuring tricks with the hands". From the very beginning the IDF has kept the Hezbollah guessing about its true intentions. Nasrallah made the cardinal mistake of projecting his own estimate by believing that Israel would respond to his abduction of IDF soldiers with a limited cross border raid of their own. The IDF responded by smashing his Beirut headquarters and fixing the Hezbollah main force in the south. Nasrallah, Iran and Syria made a second error in believing that Israel, perhaps reinforced by the diplomaic mummery which encouraged the illusion, would be forced to accept a ceasefire within a fortnight only to discover that neither the international force was forthcoming (no one had the troops to put on the ground) nor would the Bush administration waver in its support for Israel. In reality Israel has been forced to accept nothing. No ceasefire is in sight. And now there is word that the Israeli cabinet is meeting to decide whether to expand its operation further north. Not a ceasefire but a further advance.
The next chimera being dangled before Nasrallah is the idea that Israel is only aiming to establish some buffer zone of about 15 miles in width. It's the conventional wisdom and maybe Nasrallah hopes it's true. But already doubt is apparently creeping into his soul. Sixty or more Lebanese have reportedly been arrested as Israeli spies in Beirut. The Hezbollah see them everywhere. Although subsequently denied, there were reports that Nasrallah had sought refuge in the Iranian embassy. In the meantime Ahmadinehjad and Assad are ceaselessly calling for ceasefires. Everywhere the word "ceasefire" is heard. But never from Israel. Maybe somewhere in his mind Nasrallah's realized that the IDF isn't after some buffer zone: they are after him and his cadre. His cadre they already have: they are fighting to keep real estate they are doomed to lose. Nasrallah himself they may have by and by. But there may be worse to come. Whether accidental or not, the IDF attack on Kiyam raises the specter that it will operate eastward against the Bekaa valley and perhaps eventually against the Beirut-Damascus highway. That would cut off supplies from Syria to his men in the south and to his command element in Damascus. Then where would Nasrallah's influence over Lebanese politics be? And how should he fare against his former adversaries in the recently concluded Civil War? With the onus of all the ruination he has visited upon Lebanon upon him and his forces in stuck in a southern front against the IDF he may find it hard to cut the swath he once did in government circles.
I warned the reader that this post would be pure speculation. No one should treat it seriously. Good night everybody.