Thursday, July 20, 2006

And Now, A Ground War

Focusing exclusively on the Lebanese front, as the major media outlets have tended to do, is to give only a partial picture of the regional situation. On both the southern PA-Israel front, and the northern Hizbollah-Israel front, the clear indication is that Israeli ground troops are now being added to what has been primarily an air campaign. It is as if the Israeli Army is taking a direct lesson from the American playbook.

Given the military censorship and spin control that is part of any modern military plan, it is hard to know just how big the current Israeli mobilization effort has become. Today's Haaretz reports a call-up of 1,000 soldiers. The mobilization command, also known as "Order 8," can be delivered by private phone directly to the soldier, or by mass media. To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a broadcast message of "Order 8" and so it seems that the Israeli mobilization has been rather selective and relatively limited - but a mobilization extending beyond the Air Corps has certainly been happening. As an indication of the steady ramp-up, yesterday marked the beginnings of notable ground campaigns in both Gaza and South Lebanon, which are continuing today.

In Wednesday's Haaretz Uzi Benziman wrote of a war game conducted in 2004 by the IDF which played out a confrontation with Hizbollah: "The way the war is being run now is a precise implementation of the scenario played out in that simulation: the escalation intensifies and spreads over all Lebanese territory and Israel's home front. A catch emerged at the end of the exercise: Israel was not victorious, despite its military superiority. In order to bring an end to the violent confrontation with real diplomatic gains, it had to utilize Syria's services by coming to terms with it, and making the necessary territorial concessions."

So added to Condoleezza Rice's plate will be much more than exchanging abductees for prisoners, establishing missile-free zones, extending Lebanese sovereignty into places the Lebanese Army hasn't seen for years, concocting an international policing force -- there will now be two added issues: withdrawal of Israeli ground forces from Gaza and Lebanon, and brokering an agreement between Israel and Syria. This overflow of interrelated issues is a daunting agenda, certainly far beyond anything Condi has dealt with heretofore, and may make the cessation of fighting an elusive target. I've seen it before: high expectations for the imminent arrival of an American SecState, and then once all the players meet her in person on their playground, the formerly all-powerful, all-knowing SecState begins to look like just another bit player. Just ask Madeleine Albright and Warren Chrisptopher.

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