Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Today's Reading Assignment

Ralph Peters, on "Why Hamas Won," in today's edition of the New York Post. Lt Col Peters hits the nail squarely on the head when he observes:

"...Fanatics with guns beat liberals with ideas."


"Faith is the nuclear weapon of the fanatic. And there's not going to be a religious "nuclear freeze." It doesn't matter how many hearts and minds you win, if you don't defeat the zealots with the muscles."

Now, of course, the question is what Israel--and the West--will do about the Middle East's newest terrorist state. There is already speculation that an Israeli incursion into Gaza is inevitable. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is now running the Defense Ministry, after the incompetent Amir Peretz was forced out over the weekend. Mr. Barak, a former general, is viewed as a steady and competent hand, sent in to fix the damage incurred during Peretz's tenure as defense chief.

But Barak's ambitions go clearly beyond the defense ministry. He would certainly like another crack at his old job, but that will require resolution of the daunting security challenges now facing Israel. As Anshel Pfeffer of the Jerusalem Post observes, the first obstacle Barak faces is Gaza, with Hamas now firmly in charge. Israel's embattled Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, is said to favor a multi-national peacekeeping force for Gaza, and some European nations have privately pledged troops for that plan--provided that Israel can reduce the threat posed by the terrorists and their weapons stockpiles.

Which brings us back to Israel's new defense minister. There will be obvious pressure on Mr. Barak to send the IDF into Gaza, but that campaign would be protracted and bloody; intense house-to-house fighting in one of the most densely populated areas on earth. Moreover, in the wake of last year's conflict in Lebanon, there are legitimate questions about the IDF's ability to handle such a campaign. The Lebanon War exposed a number of deficiencies in Israeli strategy and tactics, from an over-reliance on airpower, to poorly-led small unit operations.

One U.S. Army analyst, who has detailed knowledge of the ground war in Lebanon, paints a picture of leadership breakdowns within combat units--in some cases, battalion commanders leading platoon-sized engagements against Hizballah positions. That suggests serious leadership issues among junior officers (who normally direct smaller formations), and field-grade leaders, who are supposed to orchestrate the efforts of subordinate companies, platoons and supporting elements.

Obviously, any incursion into Gaza would be built around small unit operations, relying heavily on the expertise of company-grade officers and senior NCOs. While the IDF does not lack skilled officers and non-commissioned officers, the Lebanon debacle raises clear concerns about leadership problems within the Army, and how those issues can be resolved. The recent Winograd Commission report suggests that Mr. Peretz did little to solve problems at the highest levels of the Defense Ministry, one reason he was forced out of the post. If the senior ranks of the IDF are in turmoil, we can only wonder about conditions at the unit level.

While Gaza poses the first operational challenge in Mr. Barak's plan to regain the premiership, he also faces the more immediate--and pressing--concern of preparing the IDF for what lies ahead. And until those concerns are addressed, Barak and the Army may be hard-pressed to execute clearing operations in Gaza that minimize friendly casualties and collateral damage. That task will be made infinitely more difficult by the urban terrain, and an enemy that is entrenched, well-armed--and prepared to die for his cause.

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