July 29, 2006

World War III ... Not

Despite the frenzy among much of the punditariat in the U.S., the fighting In Lebanon is playing out more like a 1970s squabble, such as Israel's 1978 incursion into Lebanon, than as something on the scale of August 1914 or June 1941.

Israel is hamstrung by the typical problem civilized nations run into when invading more backward countries, just as we have in Iraq: the most reliable way to defeat urban guerillas is to flatten their whole city, but the invaders would prefer not to. The War Nerd has observed that the reason you don't hear much about urban guerillas before the 20th Century is because conquerors weren't that civilized. If a city rose up, it was put to the sword. End of story.

As I pointed out in my review of "Black Hawk Down" in 2002, the basic dilemma facing a top dog like America or Israel is whether you go in light with infantry, and get a lot of your boys killed in fair fights (as happened to us in Mogadishu in 1993), or go in heavy, with tanks and armored bulldozers, and risk crushing civilians in their own homes. At Jenin in the West Bank in 2002, the Israelis started out light, took heavier causalities than they could tolerate, and ended up going in heavy with armored bulldozers. This proved militarily effective, but looked bad on TV.

The hoped-for third way is to use pinpoint bombing, missiles, and artillery, but that depends upon having good intelligence. Judging by their failure to diminish the rocket attacks despite pounding a lot of sites in Lebanon, Israel doesn't have good moles within Hezbollah.

Hezbollah's rocket barrage of northern Israel hasn't proven terribly lethal -- about 1.2 Israeli civilians have been killed per day since July 12, far below the civilian deaths Israel has inflicted on the Lebanese -- but the economic toll of temporarily evacuating the north is expensive. Worse, it's worrisome for the future, since improvements in guidance are inevitable over the years. This could have unfortunate effects on capital investment in Israel.

I would think that it's not beyond Israeli technical capacity to come up with a fire suppression system that tracks ballistic missile launches back to their point of origin and drops an explosive payload on that site within 30 seconds.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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