Monday, February 04, 2008

Duck and cover

With deep-strike weapons (like terrorist commandos and long range rockets) available even to non-state actors the idea of a "front line" is beginning to vanish. A retired IDF general office told an Israeli radio audience that "The next war will see a massive use of ballistic weapons against the whole of Israeli territory. ... Strikes to the rear must now be taken into account -- that is what will come and we must prepare in a totally different way for this eventuality." In the face of that threat, even those who lived far from the traditional front lines would eventually have to construct "rocket rooms". Bomb shelters in other words.

The World War 2 equivalent of the personal bunker was the Anderson air raid shelter, but it was soon realized that any aboveground shelter offered very limited protection from blast or fragmentation. Getting underground was the best defense. Unfortunately not every family had enough backyard to dig in so relative safety was provided by sheltering in the strongest structural parts of the building. Modern warfare has compounded the problem. Not only must families defend against fragments and blast, they now must guard against gas and possible bacteriological agents by hiding in sealed "safe rooms".

All of this is enormously inconvenient. A country under prolonged bombardment soon begins to lose efficiency as movements are restricted and work is interrupted. When a country enters a period of sporadic, but chronic bombardment a new normalcy eventually emerges but it is rarely better than the old one. While Europe and America are not in any imminent danger of being rocketed, the equivalent of commando raids carried out by suicide bombers on public targets may eventually reproduce a kind of low-intensity but constant threat in every part of the world.

Even before the availability of longer-ranged rockets, Israel's ability to strike back at rocketeers in Gaza and Lebanon was severely constrained by political factors. Now with its civilian population increasingly within rocket range, groups like Hezbollah have in addition begun to acquire a deterrent capability against IDF offensive action in addition to their political protection. Strikes against Israel's enemies must in the future be weighed against the likely cost its public will bear in response.

Without being able to threaten a decisive response, Israel has lost its primary defense against bombardment from beyond its borders. Unlike South Korea, which has built the bustling and modern metropolis of Seoul within range of thousands of North Korean artillery pieces without much in the way of building shelters, Israel cannot threaten to invade and occupy the territory of its tormentors in the event of provocation. While the residents of Seoul can effectively hide behind the threat of massive response in order to go on with their daily lives, Israelis must resort to the much less effective and strategically weaker riposte of burrowing underground and taping up their windows. No one believes Israel will strike back decisively against those who fire on it. And so they will fire on it.

Israel's right to self-defense has been gradually delegitimized by the political fashions in the West. The process will continue to the point where either Israel loses the right of self-defense altogether or reasserts it in a spasm, an event which will shake the region to its foundations. Perhaps the real significance of Israel's population centers coming within terrorist rocket range is that it will leave it with no room to retreat. The last "give" will have gone from the system and it will be an accident waiting to happen. While Israel's enemies may imagine themselves ascendant, objectively speaking their combat power vis-a-vis the IDF is surpassingly small. They may unwittingly take themselves past the limits lulled by the past into thinking the future will always be more of the same. And like a man who imagines that a startled tiger is retreating before him out of fear of his puny muscles, many unpleasant surprises may be in store.

Until international diplomats can find a way to repeal the laws of physics and the human desire to survive, building peace in the Middle East will depend not only on guaranteeing the existence of Palestine but also the existence of Israel.



32 Comments:

Blogger eggplant said...

People don't like to admit it. What was seen in that recent war of the Israelis versus the Hezbollah was a classic example of technological surprise, e.g. what the British did with long bows to the French in the Battle of Agincourt. The Israeli Merkava tank was supposed to be the world's best main battle tank. However the Merkava was rendered useless by Koronet anti-tank missiles. It was once true that the Israelis could always rely on their Arab enemies being armed with semi-obsolete weapons (Not anymore!). All those petro-dollars sloshing around in the Islamic world can now purchase very sophisticated armaments.

The Israelis need to do some serious thinking about how they're going to fight their next war. Also, it'll be important that the Israelis control the next war's initiative and not the Iranians (Is this even possible under the Olmert government?).

Another Middle Eastern disaster scenario (among many) is for Israel to lose a conventional war and be forced to use its nuclear weapons as a last ditch defense. We may not be far from seeing this.

2/04/2008 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

"However the Merkava was rendered useless by Koronet anti-tank missiles."

I think it's a safe bet that the Merkava's armor system is now being upgraded to handle Kornets.

2/04/2008 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger Rodney said...

Wretchard,

More precisely, this is what happens when the customary laws of warfare are not enforced. Israel is allowing the cheaters gambit to triumph, and the cost is accruing with interest.

2/04/2008 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Mətušélaḥ said:

"I think it's a safe bet that the Merkava's armor system is now being upgraded to handle Kornets."

No doubt, the Israelis are upgrading the Merkava's armor. However the main battle tank maybe in the same situation as the WW-II battleship versus the dive bomber. The Japanese battleship Yamato was a magnificient ship and appeared indestructable (the deck had 20 cm thick steel armor). However American dive bombers made short work of the Yamato in the Battle of Okinawa.

Arguing whether the Merkava is a better tank than the M-1 Abrams makes for good dinner-time conversation. The M-1 tank (like the Merkava) has state-of-the-art composite armor including reactive armor to defend against shaped charged missiles. Despite this, a Koronet-E missile destroyed an M-1 during the Iraq War.

My guess is the Israelis will have to devise a defense not based upon main battle tanks. Perhaps(?) Israel should be buying lots of attack helicopters and/or wart hogs. For sure, the Israelis need to be thinking outside of the box.

2/04/2008 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger Elijah said...

Interesting that the perspective and narrative regarding Israel has changed to one of it being surrounded by enemies, fighting for survival; as opposed to the picture of a palestinian youth hurling a stone at a Merkava.
.................

The success of Hezbollah employing swarming tactics with anti-tank missiles was very much dependent on the utilization of complex bunker and tunnel systems in southern Lebanon.

2/04/2008 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Well, as a general observation about what I've seen of Israeli fighting/survival capabilities, the Israelis are basically the first exhibit in the Dirty Bastards Hall of Fame.

They've HAD to be. Their intelligence services and military have had CONSTANT real-world practice of every kind, with every sort of nastiness pointed at them for decades now. They've survived, and even thrived after a fashion. I don't know how many peoples, including Americans, would have been able to pull that off.

However that may be, by now the Israelis are psychologically hardened to this sort of thing. They'll survive. At least, I hope so. Because if they don't, then neither will many of their neighbors.

2/04/2008 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

eggplant,

On the next attack by Lebanon on Israel, Lebanon better have a lot reconstruction money promised to it.

2/04/2008 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Triton'sPolarTiger said...

Dan said:

"However that may be, by now the Israelis are psychologically hardened to this sort of thing. They'll survive. At least, I hope so. Because if they don't, then neither will many of their neighbors."

Considering the islamists' apparent congenital inability to peacefully co-habitate... even with themselves... one wonders if the arabists among our political elite truly appreciate the carnage they'll initiate if they continually force Israel into an ever smaller box.

Box gonna go !BOOM! sooner or later...

2/04/2008 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

..a lot ^of reconstruction money..

2/04/2008 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

And think, just 20 years ago it was considered by some to be EVIL to devise a method of defending yourself against such weapons by knocking them out of the sky.

No one doubts the wisdom of missile defense today, not even those who both publicly spoke against it and also quietly sabotaged it in a myriad of ways.

Wisdom is spotting something obvious. Genius is spotting it decades ahead of anyone else.

And today probably even the saboteurs that went after SDI wish we had not only done it, but done it better.

2/04/2008 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger Utopia Parkway said...

However the Merkava was rendered useless by Koronet anti-tank missiles.

This is of course an exaggeration. Some tanks were damaged and others destroyed by anti-tank missiles but that didn't make them useless.

My reading of the Israeli press indicates that they have improved their tank tactics. Things as simple as more use of smoke and increased maneuvering of the tanks makes them harder to hit. In addition there were reports shortly after the war that the IDF was beginning to install anti-missile systems on their tanks that would automatically shoot down incoming anti-tank missiles. See Trophy. I haven't heard any recent reports on the progress of this.

Even today the terrorists in Gaza fire anti-tank missiles at Israeli tanks and almost always miss. These are not magic weapons.

IMHO Israel's mistakes were strategic and not so much tactical in the Lebanon war. In almost all the reported battles the Israelis inflicted more casualties than were inflicted on them. The leadership didn't send in the ground attack in the first week like it should have and it was impossible to stop the enemy missiles completely from the air.

Exactly how much Israel's deterrence has been affected in the past couple years is hard to know. I expect that the next major conflict will be in Gaza.

2/04/2008 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

If anything Wretchard is too sanguine. Iran has opened a Space Center and hopes to launch satellites very soon.

What can be used to launch satellites can also be used to launch nuclear missiles onto anyplace in the US. Iran could easily gamble that a "first strike" against the US would produce total collapse. Obama and Hillary and even McCain encourage this thinking.

If Iran *DID* hit the US with nuclear missiles and then demanded US withdrawal from say, the Gulf, the response they would get would be an end to the Iranian people. However it's unlikely that more than thirty years of appeasement and surrender to Iran have led Iran's leaders to expect anything other than pre-emptive surrender by the US in response to aggression.

Israel is in a huge bind. Hezbollah/Iran can attack at will with rockets including those armed with chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons. Positions in Lebanon mean no effective missile defense (flight time too short) and civilian human shields prevents any real attempt to stop them. This is what happened in the Lebanon War.

Military ground and air forces can't stop dug in Hezbollah from firing missiles.

Leaving one alternative -- nuclear missiles.

An Israeli civilian population suffering say, a million casualties will certainly demand that. Israel if pressed will simply have to kill most Lebanese (and Syrians also) to survive. If everyone in Lebanon is dead, no more missiles will come to kill more Israelis.

I believe this is quite likely to happen.

2/04/2008 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger Arthur Dent said...

Dan said,
'...However that may be, by now the Israelis are psychologically hardened to this sort of thing..."
-------

I'm not convinced that is true.

Israel reflects the confusion of America and Europe. The free world is a coin toss away from abject defeat.

That Israel seems confused about where to step next, worries me.

Until the enemy becomes serious about true peace, settle the West Bank. Land for war.

Settle and make bloom 'x' acres for each missile thrown. Remove 'y' number of bricks from the wall (the 1948 UN boundary wall, which too many Israeli's seeks to run back to) until those who kill for sport have no wall to hide behind.

Giving away Gaza was a good idea to the extent that Gaza is obviously a complete wreck. No one cares that Gaza is a wreck.

Let them keep Gaza. Settle the West Bank.

2/04/2008 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Of course, Iran is likely to attack with nuclear weapons mounted on missiles if the Israelis counter a Hezbollah attack that kills significant portions of Israeli people.

So Israel may also have to attack with nuclear missiles Iran pre-emptively.

Conventional forces won't work against Hezbollah and Iran dug in at Lebanon or sheltered by distance. Therefore Israel should build as many missiles as possible to hit Iran and Lebanon/Syria.

Like their grandparents before them, Israelis will have to kill lots of other people in order to live. Nothing new.

2/04/2008 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Oops. And it's nothing new either for America. We killed millions in Germany and Japan, we'll have to do it again in Muslim nations like Pakistan and Iran.

For thoughtful people, Iran's Space Agency and plan to launch satellites is a direct threat to the US.

We can afford a lot more losses than the Isrealis (and under A Dem we will get more losses). It was nice seeing NYC before the nukes.

2/04/2008 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger Triton'sPolarTiger said...

"It was nice seeing NYC before the nukes."

Used to visit NYC once a year w/Mrs Triton before we had kids - used to walk around Manhattan past midnight, felt perfectly safe - this was during the Guiliani Era, of course...

Don't know when we'll get back there... hope when we do, there's still something left to get back to...

2/04/2008 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger Utopia Parkway said...

Israel reflects the confusion of America and Europe. The free world is a coin toss away from abject defeat.

I'm not sure it's that dire. We're winning in Iraq. I heard McCain say that he'd get bin Laden, given the chance.

However, after the Leb war I did read reports that during battles, once the Israeli troops started to take casualties the military objectives were forgotten in favor of removing the casualties from the field. This is of course not the way to win a war.

There also were reports that the military objectives were often unclear and contradictory so maybe that had something to do with it. No point in dying in a pointless battle.

Israel is in a huge bind. Hezbollah/Iran can attack at will with rockets including those armed with chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons.

HB and Syria are mostly configured for defense. The missiles serve to deter Israel from attacking them. Syria knows that in any real conflict with Israel it will just be a matter of time before the Merkavas are motoring down the boulevards of Damascus. Syria has developed a poison pill defense where they can hurt Israel, maybe a lot, with missiles but I don't believe that they can really win. If they use their chemical weapons Israel will likely go nuclear.

Even in a conflict between Israel and Iran I'm not certain that Syria would openly confront Israel. They have too much to lose if Israel goes medieval on them. They prefer to act through proxies, which is safer I guess.

While it's impossible to credit anything said by a terrorist leader, after the war Nasrallah did say that he miscalculated and didn't expect Israel to respond as it did. During the war HB didn't fire long range missiles against Tel Aviv, which it could have done. It was deterred from doing so because of fear of Israeli escalation.

Iran is a different story. I'm sure they will be happy to fight to the last Syrian and last Hezballanaut and last Hamasnick. They are far away and Israel can't hurt them easily. There was a report by Tony Cordesman in December that analyzed a nuclear war between Israel and Iran. See Analysis: A Mideast nuclear war? and US institute: Israel could survive nuclear war. The short description is that Israel has much bigger nukes than Iran could have in the near future (1 Mton vs 100 Kt) and Israel has anti-missiles as well. The result of a nuclear war would be a complete annihilation of Iran, and perhaps of Syria and Egypt, in exchange for only a partial destruction of Israel. 20 Million Iranian dead vs 800000 Israeli dead. Of course the destruction of the world economy would be a side effect.

Things may not be as bleak for Israel as they appear. The Iranian economy seems to be accelerating off a cliff lately and maybe they will go the way of the Soviets.

2/04/2008 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger exhelodrvr1 said...

Utopia,
"In almost all the reported battles the Israelis inflicted more casualties than were inflicted on them."

That line of thinking is a recipe for Israeli disaster. By how much are they outnumbered? The Germans inflicted more casualties on the Soviets than were inflicted on them. Look how well that turned out. (From a German perspective.)

2/04/2008 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger RDS said...

The Iranian economy seems to be accelerating off a cliff lately and maybe they will go the way of the Soviets.

Indeed. The GDP of Iran is less than half that of New York City proper!

Here's another interesting map: U.S. states, named as countries with similar GDPs.

2/04/2008 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

I earlier commented:

"However the Merkava was rendered useless by Kornet anti-tank missiles."

Utopia Parkway said:

"This is of course an exaggeration. Some tanks were damaged and others destroyed by anti-tank missiles but that didn't make them useless."

The following article from a Russian military website says the following:

"It appears that non-modernized second generation anti-tank guided—missiles produced in the 1970s (Fagot, Konkurs, MILAN, TOW) were used in battle. The Kornet-E and Metis-M systems, with their much higher level of effectiveness, were clearly present in very small numbers, but accounted for the majority of Israeli losses. This allows one to conclude that Israel made an issue of the possession of these new systems by Hezbollah mostly for political, rather than strictly military, reasons. On the other hand, if Hezbollah had a large number of Kornet-E and Metis-M systems, the Israeli tank attack in Lebanon could have been completely repelled. Modern Russian weapons proved to be quite effective against the newest Western equipment."

It remains to be seen whether the Israelis can improve the Merkava MBT to withstand the Kornet anti-tank missiles. Of course the Russians will also be improving the Kornet and selling their most advanced versions to the Iranians and Syrians.

2/04/2008 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Israel is laboring under a huge strategic liability. It's a small Jewish state surrounded by gigantic, rich and hostile countries. That it exists at all is near-miracle. But it can neither find any natural friends nor gain any significant buffers. Its position will be that of an intruder upon the ummah, where merely staying is an exhausting process.

Yet why does it still live? When all the strategic advantages of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah are considered, they look less like jihadi geniuses and more like dolts who are taking fifty years to eat a spoonful of oatmeal.

But if you are really looking at a poison pill defense, arguably Israel is the single biggest quagmire in Arab military history. They have distorted their entire societies, driven themselves into a pathology, spent untold billions to rid themselves of a threat which seems maddeningly impossible to eradicate. So small! Yet so intractable. Look at Israel from the Arab point of view. It's so worthless, so miniscule, so poorly populated that surely only black magic could have kept it alive. And yet there it is.

So like the desperate cartoon character who tries increasingly larger amounts of force to open a nut, first a mallet, then an axe, then a saw, then dynamite and now -- missiles -- Hezbollah will try again. One day they will finally fire a nuke at Tel Aviv. Then there will be joy in the Arab world for exactly 20 minutes before the skies go white.

It's a tragic obsession. Israel is the Muslim quagmire.

2/04/2008 05:38:00 PM  
Blogger Utopia Parkway said...

W,

In reality most of the Arab countries have realized that Israel is here to stay. They may not like this but they accept it. The real problem is Iran.

Without Iranian oil money and weaponry Syria would behave better, HB would be quiet, and Hamas would be much weaker. It might even be possible that without Iran's interference Israel-Arab peace would have a chance. The irony is that Iran's reason for being so belligerent to Israel seems to be just to gain credibility and influence in the Arab world.

During the Leb war the Sunni Arab states were more supportive of Israel than HB, the Iranian proxy.

The thing is of course that with the kinds of tyrannical rulers in the Arab world they have to have a distant enemy to take the minds of the people off their miserable daily lives. Israel has served that purpose well.

It would certainly be a better world if the Iranian rulers were removed from power.

2/04/2008 06:07:00 PM  
Blogger Red River said...

Iran is broke, only it does not know it yet.

And its the kind of broke that will take a generation to fix.

2/04/2008 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger Red River said...

Isreal did a head-on attack with troops who were not well-trained excuting a poor plan.

In the future, that will not occur.

2/04/2008 06:23:00 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

I agree with Arthur_Dent. Let Israel settle the West Bank and thumb their noses at the U.S., EUrabia, Russia, Iran, Syria, and the U.N. None of those actors will defend Israel. And with either an Obama or Clinton presidency in November, the United States becomes even more hostile than it already is to Israel's survival.

But, Israel's survival is really more a matter of overcoming the Leftist defeatism and self-destruction of its own society. If the Israeli people can reverse this process of decline, their chances of survival increase immeasurably. But first, Olmert and his government have to go.

2/04/2008 06:50:00 PM  
Blogger RKV said...

"No one doubts the wisdom of missile defense today, not even those who both publicly spoke against it and also quietly sabotaged it in a myriad of ways."

Sorry, but that is wishful thinking at best.

The Swimmer adds "hate crimes" amendments to defense appropriation bills (Oct 2007) and Carl Levin's web site says "developing and deploying such missile defenses could reduce – rather than increase – our security."

2/04/2008 08:00:00 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

The presence of Carl Levin in the U.S. Senate, along with a few dozen luminaries from both parties, makes this Senate one of the worst ever in U.S. history. I would not even call it a mediocre Senate. Pretty shameful, if you ask me. The world's most exclusive deliberative body comprising of men with no vision: only an endless supply of cleverness and lust for power.

A real national disgrace.

2/04/2008 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger davod said...

"No one doubts the wisdom of missile defense today, not even those who both publicly spoke against it and also quietly sabotaged it in a myriad of ways"

The Congress cut missile defense funding last year.

2/05/2008 01:09:00 AM  
Blogger slimslowslider said...

still surprised that there is not a massive bomb shelter program going on in israel right now. especially considering the nature of their next possible conflict. Mat, what do you know about this?

2/05/2008 05:50:00 AM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

"Mat, what do you know about this?"

No funding for such frivolities.

2/05/2008 08:14:00 AM  
Blogger slimslowslider said...

sounds negligent, especially in the face of a clear and present danger.

2/05/2008 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

If it's not an absolute emergency, it wont be done.

2/05/2008 08:56:00 AM  

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