Breaching Hezbollah's Siegfried Line

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"We're going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line," sang the British Tommies in WWII as they marched to war. In fact, they were bloodied in North Africa, along with the Americans, and then pursued the painful campaign through Sicily to Italy, before even touching the soil of Western Europe. There the Siegfried Line awaited them, bristling with mines, heavy artillery, tanks and bunkers with concrete walls six feet thick. Today the Israelis face similar obstacles in the Lebanese hills and mountains.

The Western media line is that Hezbollah is the designated victim and Israel the sneered—at victor, but that outcome is by no means certain. All Hezbollah has to do is to survive, and the worldwide media will proclaim it the winner. The Israelis have to inflict a decisive defeat, and do so within weeks rather than months.

But the defense has the advantage in these cases, especially when they can use human shields from Maronite Christian villages. Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian sponsors have had at least six years to build a Siegfried Line in depth, dug deep under the hillsides, in some case using old East German multistory nuclear bunkers. Those can be knocked down with enough high explosive, but if they are equipped with secret escape tunnels it is still possible for the bad guys to escape and fight again. That is what Nasrallah apparently did when his headquarters bunkers — some thirteen stories deep — were hit with Israel's bunker—buster bombs.

Debka is not usually the most reliable source, but they can be presumed to have good IDF sources in this war. On June 20, it reported

"Israel tries a short cut for ending the war as it entered its second week — and fails

A dozen Israeli fighter—bombers dropped 23 tonnes of ordnance, including bunker busters, on a subterranean system at the edge of Beirut's Burj al Barajne Palestinian camp Wednesday night, Day 8 of the war. Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah and his top command were reported to be holed up there. Hizballah later claimed none of its leaders were harmed, and — to show how poor Israel intelligence is — added that the target was no bunker but 'a mosque under construction.'

So Nasrallah got away, just as Osama and Sheikh Mohammad got away from the Americans in the high mountains of Afghanistan. Instead, according to Debka:

The group fled their Beirut HQ Saturday night, July 15, and went to ground in the emergency staff bunkers prepared in advance of their July 12 attack on Israel.

After failing to prevent the top Hizballah leaders' escape from Beirut, the Israeli air force headed north Monday morning, July 17, and is clobbering the Hermel region.

DEBKAfile adds: The Hermel drug—farming pocket bordered north and east by Syria is the haunt of smugglers who use the remote, strategically placed region to move fighters, weapons, cash and drugs across Syria into Iraq and as a staging post to other parts of the Middle East. The smuggling gangs' overlord is Mughniyeh, a triple Hizballah—Iran—al Qaeda agent and terrorist executive, who has figured high on the US wanted terrorist list for more than two decades. On his orders, the smugglers recently relocated their main operation from the Syrian—Iraqi border to the Syrian—Lebanese border in preparation for the new warfront against Israel. In the last 48 hours, Iran has used this illicit route to beat the Israeli air, sea and land blockade and pump quantities of rockets, anti—air and anti—tank missiles and other advanced weapons systems to Hizballah for a fresh escalation.

On July 19, Debka reported that the first full—scale battle was developing in the Lebanese hills just opposite the 14th century Israeli town of Safad, a dwelling of Jewish mystics for centuries. This is not Israel's favored form of warfare. The IDF and IAF excel at maneuvre and surprise, neither of which are easy to find in static, almost hand—to—hand war fighting in the Lebanese hills.

Israel never engages in massed human assault waves if it can be avoided. They do not like static warfare, the kind that Saddat tricked them into at the Suez canal. They are a small country, and every dead soldier is a personal blow to a lot of people. The Hezbollah and Iranians are fervent seekers of martyrdom. There are Iranian Al Quds brigade Islamic Revolutionary Guards mixed in with them, though they have not exposed themselves so far. If they did, it would be to launch accurate long—range rockets at Tel Aviv and even the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. But that might elicit a strategic strike against Iran and Syria.

So the fighting at this point is extremely difficult. Both sides may be reduced to gruesome small—unit tactics, along with Israeli air control, which is of limited utility against well—fortified bunkers, with Hezbollah playing a shell game.

Israeli special forces could conduct an Afghanistan—style campaign, laser—designating targest for JDAM drops on Hezbollah concentrations. Such tactics can be very effective for an feckless enemy like the Taliban. It will be much less effective against heavily protected suiciders. This is Iwo Jima all over again.

Still, over a period of a month or two the Israelis can no doubt wear down the Hezbollah fortifications. One big question is whether they will have that amount of time, or whether international pressure will build up to stop the attack. The result would be de facto victory for Iran and Syria, and a defeat for Israel, Lebanon and America. What we are seeing in Lebanon is also a rehearsal for any military attempt to destroy Iran's nuclear industry next year.

The Israelis simply cannot tolerate 13,000 rockets right across the border, even if most of them are terrorist area weapons. So far, optimistic estimates are that half of Hezbollah's rocket force has been degraded, leaving the most accurate longrange missiles in the hands of the Iranian Guards.

Like it or not, Israeli battles have long been proxy fights to test American arms against Soviet, and now against Iranian tactics and equipment. In 1982, in spite of advanced new Syrian anti—aircraft SAMs, the IAF was abe to shoot 80 Syrian Migs out of the sky, a decisive battle in the Cold War. Israel fought on the ring of fire, so that Americans woud not have to. That is why the Cold War stayed (fairly) Cold.

The same kind of proxy battle is going on today. Victory is by no means assured. It never is, but in this case the enemy has fortified itself as never before. Iran has anticipated this very batte for six years and prepared accordingly.

But there are big prizes to be won, if the Israelis make progress. The first is protection of their Northern border, and the safety of hundreds of thousands of civilians. That is absolutely essential for normal life in Northern Israel.

The second objective is to make a Hezbollah come—back difficult or impossible. That is less likely, though Hezbollah may be beaten down for some years, thereby allowing Israel to turn to the real masters of terror in Tehran.

A third objective is to prop up an independent Lebanon, and keep them free from Syrian and Iranian interference.

A fourth, and very important objective, is to capture Iranian Al Quds Guards, as sources of intelligence on Iranian methods and strategy. This could be done with high—risk special ops raids.

A fifth, and crucial goal, is to gain control for some time over the Bekaa Valley, and find out once and for all which of Saddam's WMD's may be stored there.

A sixth objective is to capture Iran's best missiles, to analyze their technology and identify counter—measures. The US Navy will be most interested.

Some of these objectives can be gained without the others. But the matter of perception is foremost. If Israel fails to drive out the Hezbollah suiciders from the Lebanese hills, they will be declared the losers. Iranian propaganda will be blaring their "victory" for years to come.

Most important: Just as Hezbollah is Iran's proxy, so Israel is ours. They use American equipment and tactics. They reflect American values in war and peace. Whatever intelligence they gain will be used in coming battles between the US and Tehran. Whatever Iranian weaknesses they expose will be useful; and whatever strengths they find will be mounted against us as well.

We therefore have a big national investment in a rapid, clean, and decisive victory for Israel. That outcome is by no means guaranteed at this time.

With Iran building up nuclear capacity, the stakes are high indeed.

James Lewis    7 21 06

"We're going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line," sang the British Tommies in WWII as they marched to war. In fact, they were bloodied in North Africa, along with the Americans, and then pursued the painful campaign through Sicily to Italy, before even touching the soil of Western Europe. There the Siegfried Line awaited them, bristling with mines, heavy artillery, tanks and bunkers with concrete walls six feet thick. Today the Israelis face similar obstacles in the Lebanese hills and mountains.

The Western media line is that Hezbollah is the designated victim and Israel the sneered—at victor, but that outcome is by no means certain. All Hezbollah has to do is to survive, and the worldwide media will proclaim it the winner. The Israelis have to inflict a decisive defeat, and do so within weeks rather than months.

But the defense has the advantage in these cases, especially when they can use human shields from Maronite Christian villages. Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian sponsors have had at least six years to build a Siegfried Line in depth, dug deep under the hillsides, in some case using old East German multistory nuclear bunkers. Those can be knocked down with enough high explosive, but if they are equipped with secret escape tunnels it is still possible for the bad guys to escape and fight again. That is what Nasrallah apparently did when his headquarters bunkers — some thirteen stories deep — were hit with Israel's bunker—buster bombs.

Debka is not usually the most reliable source, but they can be presumed to have good IDF sources in this war. On June 20, it reported

"Israel tries a short cut for ending the war as it entered its second week — and fails

A dozen Israeli fighter—bombers dropped 23 tonnes of ordnance, including bunker busters, on a subterranean system at the edge of Beirut's Burj al Barajne Palestinian camp Wednesday night, Day 8 of the war. Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah and his top command were reported to be holed up there. Hizballah later claimed none of its leaders were harmed, and — to show how poor Israel intelligence is — added that the target was no bunker but 'a mosque under construction.'

So Nasrallah got away, just as Osama and Sheikh Mohammad got away from the Americans in the high mountains of Afghanistan. Instead, according to Debka:

The group fled their Beirut HQ Saturday night, July 15, and went to ground in the emergency staff bunkers prepared in advance of their July 12 attack on Israel.

After failing to prevent the top Hizballah leaders' escape from Beirut, the Israeli air force headed north Monday morning, July 17, and is clobbering the Hermel region.

DEBKAfile adds: The Hermel drug—farming pocket bordered north and east by Syria is the haunt of smugglers who use the remote, strategically placed region to move fighters, weapons, cash and drugs across Syria into Iraq and as a staging post to other parts of the Middle East. The smuggling gangs' overlord is Mughniyeh, a triple Hizballah—Iran—al Qaeda agent and terrorist executive, who has figured high on the US wanted terrorist list for more than two decades. On his orders, the smugglers recently relocated their main operation from the Syrian—Iraqi border to the Syrian—Lebanese border in preparation for the new warfront against Israel. In the last 48 hours, Iran has used this illicit route to beat the Israeli air, sea and land blockade and pump quantities of rockets, anti—air and anti—tank missiles and other advanced weapons systems to Hizballah for a fresh escalation.

On July 19, Debka reported that the first full—scale battle was developing in the Lebanese hills just opposite the 14th century Israeli town of Safad, a dwelling of Jewish mystics for centuries. This is not Israel's favored form of warfare. The IDF and IAF excel at maneuvre and surprise, neither of which are easy to find in static, almost hand—to—hand war fighting in the Lebanese hills.

Israel never engages in massed human assault waves if it can be avoided. They do not like static warfare, the kind that Saddat tricked them into at the Suez canal. They are a small country, and every dead soldier is a personal blow to a lot of people. The Hezbollah and Iranians are fervent seekers of martyrdom. There are Iranian Al Quds brigade Islamic Revolutionary Guards mixed in with them, though they have not exposed themselves so far. If they did, it would be to launch accurate long—range rockets at Tel Aviv and even the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. But that might elicit a strategic strike against Iran and Syria.

So the fighting at this point is extremely difficult. Both sides may be reduced to gruesome small—unit tactics, along with Israeli air control, which is of limited utility against well—fortified bunkers, with Hezbollah playing a shell game.

Israeli special forces could conduct an Afghanistan—style campaign, laser—designating targest for JDAM drops on Hezbollah concentrations. Such tactics can be very effective for an feckless enemy like the Taliban. It will be much less effective against heavily protected suiciders. This is Iwo Jima all over again.

Still, over a period of a month or two the Israelis can no doubt wear down the Hezbollah fortifications. One big question is whether they will have that amount of time, or whether international pressure will build up to stop the attack. The result would be de facto victory for Iran and Syria, and a defeat for Israel, Lebanon and America. What we are seeing in Lebanon is also a rehearsal for any military attempt to destroy Iran's nuclear industry next year.

The Israelis simply cannot tolerate 13,000 rockets right across the border, even if most of them are terrorist area weapons. So far, optimistic estimates are that half of Hezbollah's rocket force has been degraded, leaving the most accurate longrange missiles in the hands of the Iranian Guards.

Like it or not, Israeli battles have long been proxy fights to test American arms against Soviet, and now against Iranian tactics and equipment. In 1982, in spite of advanced new Syrian anti—aircraft SAMs, the IAF was abe to shoot 80 Syrian Migs out of the sky, a decisive battle in the Cold War. Israel fought on the ring of fire, so that Americans woud not have to. That is why the Cold War stayed (fairly) Cold.

The same kind of proxy battle is going on today. Victory is by no means assured. It never is, but in this case the enemy has fortified itself as never before. Iran has anticipated this very batte for six years and prepared accordingly.

But there are big prizes to be won, if the Israelis make progress. The first is protection of their Northern border, and the safety of hundreds of thousands of civilians. That is absolutely essential for normal life in Northern Israel.

The second objective is to make a Hezbollah come—back difficult or impossible. That is less likely, though Hezbollah may be beaten down for some years, thereby allowing Israel to turn to the real masters of terror in Tehran.

A third objective is to prop up an independent Lebanon, and keep them free from Syrian and Iranian interference.

A fourth, and very important objective, is to capture Iranian Al Quds Guards, as sources of intelligence on Iranian methods and strategy. This could be done with high—risk special ops raids.

A fifth, and crucial goal, is to gain control for some time over the Bekaa Valley, and find out once and for all which of Saddam's WMD's may be stored there.

A sixth objective is to capture Iran's best missiles, to analyze their technology and identify counter—measures. The US Navy will be most interested.

Some of these objectives can be gained without the others. But the matter of perception is foremost. If Israel fails to drive out the Hezbollah suiciders from the Lebanese hills, they will be declared the losers. Iranian propaganda will be blaring their "victory" for years to come.

Most important: Just as Hezbollah is Iran's proxy, so Israel is ours. They use American equipment and tactics. They reflect American values in war and peace. Whatever intelligence they gain will be used in coming battles between the US and Tehran. Whatever Iranian weaknesses they expose will be useful; and whatever strengths they find will be mounted against us as well.

We therefore have a big national investment in a rapid, clean, and decisive victory for Israel. That outcome is by no means guaranteed at this time.

With Iran building up nuclear capacity, the stakes are high indeed.

James Lewis    7 21 06