Monday, July 31, 2006

Incriminating Photos

Kudos to Drudge for providing a link; cheers to Australia's Herald Sun for publishing photos that show how Hizballah wages war. The weapon that appears in two of the photos is a ZU-23 anti-aircraft gun, mounted on a truck. You'll note that the "crew" is attired in civilian clothing. The photographs were in a suburban area, where (presumably) the weapon had been firing at Israeli aircraft and/or UAVs.

The first rule of air defense is that weaponry is deployed around equipment, installations or other high-value targets that may be susceptible to air attack. So, it stands to reason that the terrorists have something of value in that neighborhood--perhaps weapons stored in ordinary homes, schools or mosques, similar to what the IDF has encountered in south Lebanon. The pictures in the Australian paper were apparently taken in a Christian area east of Beirut. Needless to say, there aren't very many Lebanese Christians who belong to Hizballah, but that wouldn't stop the terrorist group from appropriating homes and businesses in Christian areas, with no concern for the suffering their takeover will inevitably produce.

The only other possibility is that Hizballah put its anti-aircraft gun in a civilian area to protect it, believing that the IAF wouldn't risk collateral damage by attacking the weapon in a crowded residential area. And, if the IAF did launch a strike, Hizballah could always trumpter the "deliberate targeting of civilians" and point out that the "victims" were wearing civilian attire. Never mind that the deceased might have been firing at IAF jets a few minutes earlier. This is a perception war; Hizballah is doing its best to control the images, and the western media are willing accomplices.

These photographs had to be smuggled out of Hizballah-controlled areas, according to the paper. But the real question isn't why Hizballah is trying to manipulate media coverage, using fear and intimidation tactics when necessary--that's hardly a surprise. The real question is why other western press outlets refuse to run photos that reval Hizballah for what it is, and how it operates.

A One-Sided Cease Fire

How did Hizballah respond to Israel's temporary suspension of airstrikes into southern Lebanon. By firing more than 140 rockets into northern Israel, of course, setting a one-day record for the current conflict.

Small wonder that the Israeli Air Force quickly cut short its bombing pause, and resume combat missions against Hizballah. It's a little difficult to sustain a cease-fire when the other guy keeps shooting.

I wonder if the IAF would be interested in "leasing" some B-52s and AC-130 gun ships. Nothing like a little strategic carpet bombing (from the BUFFs) to empty out those Hizballah enclaves. And, "Spooky" might be just the answer for those nighttime Katyusha attacks. It's tough to set up your rocket launcher when the gunship is showering the area with 25mm and 40mm cannon fire, with 105mm rounds thrown in for good measure, and all delivered with precision accuracy.

Israel (Nearly) Blinks

It was a bit reassuring to hear that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has resumed air strikes in south Lebanon, less than 24 hours after announcing a halt to the bombing. The announced pause was in response to that deadly Israeli attack in the Lebanese village of Qana, which reportedly killed 34 children and 12 women. However, Israel reserved the right to resume the attacks to support its troops on the ground, or in the event that the inquiry was concluded early.

From an objective, military perspective, there really isn't much to conclude. Qana has been a Hizballah stronghold for decades, and a site for "manufactured" collateral damage incidents in the past. In 1996, an Israeli artillery strike on the village (in response to Hizballah provocations) killed at least 100 "civilians." Unfortunately, that term can be applied only loosely in regards to Hizballah and its followers. While the western press was careful to highlight the suffering of women and children in Qana, Lebanese officials offered no breakout of the dead civilians, to include the number of fighting-age males that may have been among those killed. Careful readers will note that the number of dead women and children are mentioned in most media accounts; yet the number killed at Qana totaled 57. Who were those other, eleven victims. I'd also like to know how many of the dead were buried with Hizballah funds, another indicator of the number of fighters and sympathizers who may have died in the strike. While innocents were likely killed at Qana, there is also no doubt that the village was a legitimate military target and Hizballah's use of the town as an operational base invited the Israeli attack.

Then, there's the question of why it took so long for the building to fall and what may have (ultimately) caused the strucutre to collapse. According to the IDF, the IAF strike in Qana took place between midnight and one a.m., local time; the building collapsed almost eight hours later, possibly because of exploding Hizballah ammunition that was stored in the building. IDF spokesmen note that the Israeli air strike was directed at targets more than 400 meters from the building that collapsed. I'm not a weaponeer, and certainly the "shock" from heavy bombs could have caused minor damage to the building, but it's difficult to see how those explosions caused the structure to fall more than eight hours later.

Also unanswered is the issue of why so many civilians were present in the building. The IAF had dropped leaflets in the area for several days prior, urging non-combatants to flee, and warning that strikes would follow. Given that warning, it seems quite possible that the victims were Hizballah supporters who elected to stay in place, or civilians who were ordered to stay behind by the terrorists. On FNC this morning, a Fox reporter interviewed a Meronite Christian from South Lebanon whose brother was forced from his home when Hizballah decided to use it as a rocket launch position. A few hours later, the home was destroyed by an Israeli air strike--after Hizballah had moved on--leaving the Meronite and his family homeless. Based on these accounts--and that curious sequence of events in Qana--it seems quite likely that Hizballah is up to its old tricks, manufacturing collateral damage incidents for the benefit of the western press, and hoping to generate enough public outrage to force Israel into a cease-fire.

This strategy was hardly unexpected. That's why it was surprising when Israel (briefly) blinked and announced a temporary halt to the bombing. That announcement likely triggered some heated exchanges at the cabinet level, and I wouldn't be surprised if some Israeli ministers and senior IDF officer offered their resignations if the bombing pause wasn't modified.

On the other hand, there's also the remote possibility that the halt was something of a ruse, used by the IDF to (a) diffuse the public relations crisis triggered by the Qana incident; (b) reassess its bombing campaign, and (c) gear up for the next phase of the offensive. By calling a temporary halt (and showing some degee of regret for "civilian" casualties), the Israelis were able to dampen some of the international outrage over the incident, making it easier (in turn) for the U.S. to veto anti-Israel measures at the U.N., and give the IDF more time to continue its mission.

The pause also gave the IAF a bit of a breather to rest its crews, work on its aircraft, and marshal munitions for the next phase of the air campaign. The Israeli Air Force has been on a combat footing for more than three weeks, with some aicraft flying four (or more sorties) a day. While the IAF can sustain high-tempo operations for some time, that level of effort comes at a price, in terms of increased maintenance problems and exhausted pilots and ground crews. Scaling back ops for even 24 hours can have a catharic effect on line squadrons and their maintenance units, giving personnel a chance to rest, and giving ground crews a chance to get more jets back in service.

Additionally, the limited pause will allow the IDF to reassess the effects of its bombing campaign in south Lebanon. There is a perception in the west that the Israeli air effort (so far) has focused more on bean-counting than operational effectiveness. When the IAF struck a Hizballah command bunker in the early stages of the war, IDF spokesmen were quick to trot out statistics on the tons of bombs dropped on the complex. Trouble was, the bunker was largely vacant by the time the IAF arrived; senior Hizballah leaders had fled, a tactic that has repeated itself across southern Lebanon. In fact, the IAF reportedly ran out of "fixed" Hizballah targets days ago. The IAF is now concentrating on "pop-up" targets that emerge (and disappear) quickly in a fluid battlefield environment. The brief respite after the Qana incident will give the IAF a little time to determine what's working (and isn't working) in its efforts to destroy fleeting terrorist targets. The IAF will emerge from the "pause" with more jets in the sky and refined tactics for going after Hizballah; the Israeli pilots can only hope that their political leaders don't blink again, before the job is done.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Insufficient Force?

Despite its brutality, war is--at least for some western nations--a delicate balancing act. Use of excessive force often brings international condemnation, potentially under-cutting support, both at home and abroad. On the other hand, insufficient force may please the politicians and diplomats, but it can cause severe headaches on the battlefield.

We beginning to hear that sort of claim in Israeli military circles. Some soldiers returning from the hard fighting in Lebanon have accused their leaders of committing insufficient military power to the battle. They have complained that Israeli airpower has been used sparingly, and the IDF should have leveled any buildings used by Hizballah fighters--after civilians had been warned to leave the battle area.

Are the Israelis being over-cautious in their operations against the terrorists? At this point, it's probably too early to tell, and a few background points are in order. First, it's quite common for soliders returning from the battlefield to complain about tactics they perceive as poor, or problems in military planning. Seeing your friends die in combat tends to have that effect. Talk to a U.S. veteran of Kasserine Pass, Anzio, or Tarawa, and you'll hear justifiable complaints about ineffective planning and incompetent leadership that resulted in unnecessary casualties. No military has a shortage of commanders who develop bad plans, or wither under fire. That may not be the case in south Lebanon, but Israeli soldiers are expressing frustrations that are common in combat.

Secondly, the Israeli military has always allowed a degree of candor in the ranks that some Americans would view as undisciplined or even insubordinate. In that regard, many IDF units maintain an atomsphere akin to U.S. special forces teams, where members of all ranks are encourage to speak their minds, in order to improve overall performance. That tendency is reinforced by Israel's heavy reliance on reserves. As citizen soldiers, Israeli troops are less concerned about the demands of career, or achieving their next promotion, making them less timid about sharing their frustrations.

It's also worth noting that Hizballah is not exactly the terrorist "C" team. At least one U.S. military analyst has described them as "some of the finest light infantry in the world." I'm not sure I concur with that gushing assessment, but the typical Hizballah fighter is better trained than his Palestinian counterpart in Gaza, or Al Qaida terrorists in Iraq. Hizballah's battle "skills" are further enhanced by other factors, including fighting on familiar terrain, years of battlespace preparation (including extensive construction of fortifications) and the indiscriminate use of civilians (and protected facilities) as shields for their operations. Describing the battlefields of southern Lebanon as complex would be an understatement.

Finally, it's sometimes difficult in the heat of battle to see the bigger picture, and understand how the fight for tactical objectives serves wider operational and strategic purposes. If you're an Israeli paratrooper, caught in a Hizballah ambush, your over-arching concern is your short-term survival, and that of your comrades. Beyond that, you begin to worry about immediate tactical objectives, with less regard for how the current firefight is part of a larger plan to prepare the battlefield for follow-on engagements, using more Israeli units. Before more IDF brigades can be committed to the battle, its necessary to clear entry corridors and eliminate terrorist strong-holds--the very type of fighting that is going on right now. The struggle for a particular village--or even a few blocks within a village--is actually a prelude to a larger campaign, assuming that Israel actually decides to expand its offensive. Earlier today, the Israeli government officially decided against that action, while approving the call-up of more than 30,000 additional soldiers. If I were Hizballah, I wouldn't pin my hopes on Israel sustaining this apparent level of restraint.

As we've noted previously, the IDF will eventually carry the day. The only questions are how long it will take, the price Israel is willing to pay, and the political willingness to see the mission through.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Hard Slog

Reports out of South Lebanon indicate fierce fighting between Hizballah and Israeli forces in the town of Bint Jbeil, 2.5 km from the Lebanese border. By various accounts, between eight and 13 Israeli soldiers have died in combat over the past 24 hours, and more than 30 have been wounded. Some of the fighting has occurred at extremely close quarters, with Hizballah terrorists blowing themselves up as they engage Israeli troops in combat.

It should be noted that none of these casualty totals are official. One terrorist spokesman claimed that 20 Israeli soldiers were "burned alive in their tanks on our soil." Such claims are dubious; even with a significant arsenal of anti-armor weapons, it is doubtful that Hizballah destroyed enough tanks or APCs to inflict that many casualties. Additionally, many of these reports are coming from media outlets (such as Dubai TV) that are vehemently anti-Israel, and will print or publish terrorist claims without blinking. Readers will also note that none of these dispatches mention Hizballah casualties. At least one media report indicates that the organization's #2 commander has been killed by Israeli forces, suggesting that Hizballah is also suffering significant losses.

Sadly, the IDF will lose more of its heroes in the day to come. Hizballah has had years to prepare the battlefield of southern Lebanon, creating scores of ambush sites and booby traps that must be neutralized as Israeli troops advance. Eventually, the IDF will overwhelm the terrorists--and Hizballah understands that. The question is: how high a price is Israel willing to pay to recapture the land between its northern border and the Latani River.

And, quite frankly, that's what the terrorists are counting on. By Hizballah's calculations, Israel remains psychologically scarred by its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon, and (like the U.S) remains sensitive to combat losses. Inflict enough casualties, the logic goes, and Israel will eventually agree to some sort of cease-fire that allows Hizballah to retain a presence in Lebanon, rearm, and live to fight again.

It's a daring gambit, but only time will tell if Hizballah has calculated correctly, or grossly overplayed its hand. Late today, a senior Israeli general indicated that the incursion into south Lebanon will continue for at least several weeks, indicating that Tel Aviv is more than willing to press its attack, and suffer the losses that will inevitably occur. Yet, on the other hand, PM Olmert suggested today that Israel would accept some sort of settlement that would create a two-kilometer security zone beyond its northern border. Creation of that zone would, according to Olmert, prevent terrorists from launching rockets into northern Israel and contacting IDF patrols in the border region.

The size of that security zone seems rather small, given Hizballah's recent acquisition of longer-ranged rockets, and the inability of existing peace keeping forces to keep terrorists away from the border. Of course, the Israeli calculus may be predicated on the eradication of Hizballah, and the eventual deployment of a capable, NATO-led security force. But those events are still weeks (perhaps months) away. Until then, Israel faces a tough slog through Bint Jbeil and other terrorist strongholds. We should only hope that Israel's latest test by fire hardens their resolve, and makes them more determined to finish the job, whatever the cost.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Solution for the Katyusha Problem?

Hizballah's continuing rocket offensive against northern Israel will probably speed deployment of the Skyguard rocket defense system, offered by Northrop-Grumman. Skyguard is essentially an updated version of the THAL (Tactical High Energy Laser) system, developed over the past decade by U.S. and Israeli researchers.

Jonathan Repka at provided some interesting details of THAL's history just as the current crises developed in the Middle East. As he notes, THAL showed great promise in tests at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. But its operational deployment was eventually slowed by operational and logistical concerns. Generating the laser energy needed to zap incoming rockets and artillery shells required hundreds of gallons of toxic chemicals.

And, if that weren't enough, early THAL models were extremely bulky. One version was housed in eight, 40-foot shipping containers. Imagine trying to move a system that size around a battlefield, or across the rugged terrain of northern Israel. Eventually, the Israeli government dropped out of the program and the U.S. put THAL on the backburner, in hopes that solid state electrical laser technology would solve the environmental and logistical problems.

So far, the solid state lasers haven't really panned out, and (in light of the Hizballah threat), THAL/Skyguard suddenly has a new lease on life. Northrop-Grumman representatives recently met with Israeli officials, and have proposed a slightly scaled-down version of the laser system, at a cost of $200 million, plus $1,000 a shot. The contractor is currently pursuing an export license for the system, which the Pentagon is almost certain to approve. The IDF's push into south Lebanon will mitigate the current rocket problem (to some degree), but Israel needs a long-term, technology-based solution. Skyguard may not be the ultimate answer, but it can provide a much-needed, short-term defensive capability against the Katyusha threat.

Meanwhile, Back on the Southern Front

A hat tip to Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters for this story, which has gone virutally unreported in the MSM. According to Haaretz, all Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip are ready to make a deal with Israel, which would include a cease-fire, cessation of rocket attacks into Israel and the release of captured IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit--all in exchange for the future release of Palestinian prisoners held by the Israelis.

So far, Hamas officials have not confirmed the "offer," but (as Ed notes) if it goes through, it would represent a stunning victory for Israel. It now seems like ancient history, but the kidnapping of Corporal Shalit actually triggered the Gaza crisis, which (in turn) became a prelude to the wider war in Lebanon.

Why is Hamas ready to make a deal? Fact is, the terrorist group and its fighters have fared badly in recent operations against the IDF, a situation made worse by Israel's ability to effectively cut off the Gaza, making it almost impossible for Hamas to bring in additional weaponry and reinforcements. Additionally, Israel's interruption of basic services--including electricity and water--made The conflict may also be undermining Hamas' popularity at home; there is a growing sense in the Middle East--even among Palestinian constituencies--that the terrorist groups caused this latest crisis, and the vaunted "Arab Street" has been slow to rally to the cause. And while Iran remains solidly in the corner of Hamas and Hizballah, other Hamas benefactors--particularly those in the Persian Gulf region--may reduce future support for the group. Hence, the need to cut a deal.

If this is bad news for Hamas, it's (potentially) even worse for Hizballah. If hostilties come to a rapid conclusion in the south, some of those IDF battalions currently assigned to the Gaza could shift north, providing more ground troops for operations in southern Lebanon.

Monday, July 24, 2006

C-802 Post-Mortem

Austin Bay has posted an interesting analysis of the Hizballah missile attack against that Israeli Saar-5 corvette, as dissected by a pair of military analysts, Kirk Spencer and Trent Telenko. While Mr. Spencer and Mr. Telenko disagree on a few minor points, much of their analysis dovetails with what we previously posted.

They also offer some new insights into the Israeli navy's operational posture prior to the attack. Concerned about potential fratricide, the corvette was apparently on "weapons tight" status, suggesting that the vessel could not employ its on-board missiles to engage the incoming C-802. Spencer and Telenko also believe (as we do) that Hizballah gunners--and their Iranian advisors--were able to "template" Israeli naval operations off the Lebanese coast, allowing them to launch the missile at an optimum time.


...that's the best word to describe John Kerry's latest comments regarding the Middle East Crisis. Even for a guy who demanded a Purple Heart for a battle scratch in Vietnam (Mr. Kerry served there, in case you haven't heard), the Massachusetts Senator managed to reach a new low in public discourse over the weekend.

Campaigning for Michigan Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm, Kerry said if he had been elected President back in 2004, the current "crisis wouldn't have happened." He then took a predictable potshot at President Bush, describing him as "absent" on diplomatic efforts which could have (presumably) prevented the on-going conflict between Israel and Hizbollah.

Naturally, the reporter from the Detroit News who filed the story (Valerie Olander) didn't bother to challenge Mr. Kerry on his statements, and their basis in fact or reality. Let's begin with the call for diplomacy. Democrats apparently believe that multi-lateral talks are the best way to solve any international problem save North Korea, where only one-on-one negotiations will do. In fact, Mr. Kerry opined that the next administration--presumably, a Democratic one--will have to "make up a lot of ground" in mending diplomatic fences allegedly destroyed by the Bush White House. It goes without saying that Mr. Kerry hopes to lead that administration; God save the republic.

But I digress. Exactly whom would Mr. Kerry negotiate with in the Middle East? Syria? There's a trustworthy bunch, and I suppose we're going to reward them for supporting insurgents in Iraq, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip? What about talks with Iran's fellow-traveler in the axis of evil, Iran? Well, it may have escaped John Kerry's attention, but the U.S. has actively supported European diplomatic efforts, aimed at ending Tehran's nuclear program. Since those efforts began about three years ago, Iran's nuclear program has marched steadily forward, and Tehran has increased its support for Hizballah, culminating in the current war in south Lebanon.

Ms. Olander also failed to ask Mr. Kerry if he's proposing direct talks with Hizballah and Hamas. That would represent a sea change in U.S. diplomatic policy; by my count, at least five U.S. administrations, dating back to the 1970s, have refused to negotiate with terrorists, and with good reason. It's a bit difficult to conclude meaninfgul agreements with groups that are officially committed to the destruction of other negotiating parties, in this case, the state of Israel. You can also make a convincing case that Israel's efforts to talk with its enemies have precipitated the present crisis; lest we forget, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was completed about a year ago, apparently emboldening its terrorist enemies.

Actually, Senator Kerry apparently doesn't favor negotiations with Hizballah. In the span of the same interview, he states that Hizballah must be destroyed. The IDF and many Americans enthusiastically support that goal, but I'm sure that the group's patrons in Damascus and Tehran--the very folks Kerry wants to talk to--would have major heartburn with that.

Bottom line: you can't have it both ways, particularly when it comes to the Middle East. I'm sure that Israeli leaders must shudder at the prospect of a future Kerry Administration; with JFK (Lite) at the helm, the Israeli government would be dragged into negotiations with anyone and everyone deemed relevant by the State Department, and "offered" more land-for-war swaps on the scale of the Wye River proposal. When those agreements inevitably fail, Kerry would allow Israel to defend itself--assuming there's anything left to defend, and only if Israel shows the necessary level of restraint.

Kerry's idiotic comments reflect the wisdom of the American electorate back in 2004. We should be equally wise in rejecting Kerry's next bid for the White House in 2008.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Earlier this week, we reported that Hizballah's successful missile strike against that Israeli corvette was the result of several factors, including poor intelligence and limited reaction time. The impact of those factors have been partially confirmed by Israeli press reporting.

My guess? The final after action report on this incident will be ugly. Lots of folks screwed up, and plenty of blame to go around.

Hat tip: Eaglespeak.

In Praise of Detention Camps

The first waves of western "evacuees" from Lebanon have begun arriving in the United States and Europe, raising serious--and legitimate--questions about how many Hizballah operatives might be in their midst.

As Diana West and Debbie Schlussel have noted, while the returnees carry U.S. or European passports, many have lived in Lebanon or the Middle East for much of their lives. And, their allegiances are clearly with Hizballah. As Ms. West observed in today's Washington Times, the large Shia community in the Dearborn, Michigan area celebrates Israel's 2000 withdrawal from south Lebanon as a "liberation day," and support for the terrorist organization runs deep. Never mind the fact that Hizballah was responsible for murdering more Americans than any other terrorist group before 9-11. And never mind (as the Counterterrorism blog reminds us) that Hizballah has long history of illict activities in this country, designed to facilitate their murderous goals.

Against this backdrop, thousands of American expats are returning to this country, yet no one has publicly asked the most essential question: what--if anything--is being done to identify potential terrorist operatives and facilitators that may be among them. The MSM carefully focuses its coverage on evacuees that were apparently trapped by sudden events--such as the young mother who went to Lebanon to adopt a son, only to find herself in the middle of a war zone. We hear nothing about Americans who have elected to live in Hizballah enclaves, may have "joined the cause," and are willing to further the jihad upon reaching their homeland. Thanks to Ms. West, we know that the British Home Office is screening evacuees en route to the U.K., but (to my knowledge) the Bush Administration hasn't said a word about our own security precautions. In a post-9-11 world, we have the right to know what being done (or, perhaps what isn't being done) to protect our safety.

Most of us are familiar with the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, but few have heard that thousands of German-Americans and Italian-Americans suffered a similar fate, highlighting the fact that the program was much more extensive, and not restricted to a single ethnic group. Of course, the internment is now viewed as a dark chapter in U.S. history; American citizens, being denied basic rights because of their ancestry. But while many--particulary Japanese-Americans--were treated unfairly, the passage of time (and revisionist history) ignores the valid security concerns which provided the foundation for the policy.

At this point, I'm not proposing the prolonged internment of American evacuees returning from Lebanon. But profiling techniques should be used on the returnees, to help identify those which might pose the greatest risk. And, those evacuees should be placed in some sort of detention facility until they can be fully screened and carefully vetted. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration shows no sign (at least publicly) of taking such an aggressive stand. While profiling works, political correctness has made it a dirty word. And the ACLU would file suit at the mere suggestion that high-risk returnees might be detained.

The administration's timidity in such matters was on display earlier this week. When the evacuation from Lebanon began, the State Department suggested that returnees pay the equivalent of an airline ticket from Beirut to Cyprus (roughly $150), to help offset the massive costs of the air and sealift operations. When the evacuees and civil liberties groups objected, the administration quickly backed down. If the White House and Foggy Bottom are willing to retreat on such a trivial matter as the "return fee," how can we expect them to make the really hard choices in screening--and if necessary, detaining--evacuees who may pose a genuine security threat.

Expect Calls for a Cease-Fire... begin in earnest, with preparations for an Israeli invasion of Lebanon clearly underway. AP reports that Israeli troops and armor are massing along the northern border, in preparation for an invasion Lebanon.

As we noted when this crisis began, an Israeli invasion of Lebanon would come only when the IDF had mobilized sufficient numbers of reservists to carry out the operation. The Israeli Army relies heavily on reserves to flesh out its ranks in wartime; their mobilization process is quite efficient, but it still takes time to call activate and deploy the number of battalions and brigades needed for the Lebanon operation.

If Hizballah follows the usual script for Arab-Israeli Wars, their next major ploy will be the expected call for a cease-fire. As their military capabilities steadily erode, Hizballah will attempt to preserve what's left of its rocket arsenal, and its fighters in the field. Terrorist propaganda may talk about a "fight to the death," but Hizballah does not want to suffer the crushing blow that would come with an Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Iran and Syria will also press for some sort of negotiated settlement. Their war-by-proxy has created serious problems for their arch foe (Israel), at no cost to Damascus and Tehran. If the diplomats can work out something soon, both Syria and Iran can claim a significant victory over Israel, and reaffirm their leadership of the state-sponsored jihadist movement. From their perspective, it's time to consolidate their gains in the diplomatic and propaganda wars--and avoid a major defeat for their terrorist allies who are actually fighting the Israelis.

If this pattern sounds a bit familiar, it should. Arab leaders began calling for a cease-fire almost from the start of the 1967 Seven-Day War, largely because the Israeli blitzkrieg caught them by surprise, and crushed their military forces. Similar calls were made in 1973, but only after the tide of battle shifted. When the Israeli Army counter-attacked across the Suez Canal (trapping an entire Egyptian Army), and pushed back the Syrians on the Golan Heights, Cairo and Damascus were more than happy to let the diplomats do their job.

As the diplomatic planets begin to align, the Bush Administration should continue to avoid this easy trap. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice has shown remarkable restraint by not rushing to the region, and making an early effort at shuttle diplomacy. She apparently understands the pattern of recent regional conflicts, and appears willing to let the Israelis take the necessary military steps, including a major incursion into Lebanon, creation of a new buffer zone, and denial of potential rocket launch sites to Hizballah. As the conflict enters a potentially decisive phase, both Washington and Tel Aviv must be careful, and avoid substituting a premature "settlement" for a military victory.

Distressingly, Washington now seems to be bowing to international pressure. Latest media reports suggest that she will travel to the Middle East as early as next week, and unveil a U.S. peace plan.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Stuck on Stupid

Since returning to the CNN airwaves, Lou Dobbs has reinvented himself as something of an all-purpose pundit. No longer confining himself to only business matters, Mr. Dobbs now tackles all matters of subjects, offering opinions that range from conservative (he was one of the first to call for real border security) to liberal (check out this 2004 commentary on "outsourcing jobs) and sometimes, just plain stupid.

Unfortunately, Dobbs's latest effort falls in that latter category. He questions U.S. policies in the current crisis in the Middle East, resurrecting the tired talking point that the U.S. gives too much aid and support to Israel, while ignoring other countries in the region. The implication of course, is that anti-American sentiments in the Middle East are exacerbated by our alliance with Tel Aviv.

While the United States provides about $2.5 billion in military and economic aid to Israel each year, U.S. aid to Lebanon amounts to no more than $40 million. This despite the fact that the per capita GDP of Israel is among the highest in the world at $24,600, nearly four times as high as Lebanon's GDP per capita of $6,200.

Lebanon's lack of wealth is matched by the Palestinians -- three out of every four Palestinians live below the poverty line. Yet the vast majority of our giving in the region flows to Israel. This kind of geopolitical inconsistency and shortsightedness has contributed to the Arab-Israeli conflict that the Western world seems content to allow to perpetuate endlessly.

Let me get this straight. Following Dobbs's logic (or lack thereof), the U.S. could improve its posture in the area--and possibly, decrease the violence--by simply giving more aid to other Middle Eastern countries, and being more even-handed in our dealings across that troubled region.

It sounds nice, but there are more holes in Lou's argument that the proverbial block of Swiss cheese. Let's begin with his figures on foreign aid. True, Israel receives more U.S. aid dollars than any other country (roughly $2.7 billion a year), but he ignores the fact that the #2 ,#3 and #4 recipients of our foreign aid largesse are Muslim nations, Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, 6 of the top 10 countries on the aid list are Muslim, or have a significant Muslim population. Add the combined receipts for these countries, and you'll find the aid total more than matches our annual allocation to Israel. Not that anyone should object; Egpyt, Afghanistan and Pakistan are key allies in the War on Terror, and the U.S. has important partnerships with other Muslim nations on the top 10 list.

Dobbs also ignores the fact that much of our aid to Israel is used for defense programs. He would probably argue that such aid is irresponsible, since Israeli weapons are being used to kill Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, thus perpetuating the constant cycle of violence. But he fails to mention that the U.S. has a vested interest in Israel's ability to defend itself. Some of the programs funded with American dollars are devoted to joint projects (namely missile defense) that can save American lives as well.

But most glaringly, Dobbs seems to believe that a more balanced approach will win friends and influence people in an always-voliatle region. Once again, the numbers disprove his claim. In the late 1990s, the Heritage Foundation compared the voting records of countries that received the most foreign aid from the U.S. Their study revealed that 74% of U.S. aid recipients voted against us a majority of the time in the U.N. Among the ten nations that received the most aid, six of those voted against the U.S. more than half the time. So much for buying friends.

Finally, there's the question of what exactly we would get for increased aid to Lebanon. The nation was dominated by Syria (a candidate member of the Axis of Evil) for more than 30 years, until the "Cedar Revolution" of 2005. Even today, Damascus exerts an inordinate influence on Lebanese affairs, so it's a good bet that increased aid for Lebanon would wind up in the hands of Syrian proxies, or (worse yet) factions aligned with their terrorist friends from Hizballah.

Dobbs also notes the suffering of the Palestinian people, most of whom live in poverty. Gee, Lou, do you think 40 years of corrupt leadership under Yasser Arafat had anything to do with that. His "widow" resides in opulence in Paris--wonder how many U.S. aid dollars were used to feather her nest? And, do you think that the "new" Hamas-led government would be a better steward of U.S. aid dollars?

Mr. Dobbs believes we're not very smart when it comes to our dealings in the Middle East. I disagree--in fact, when it comes to Mideast policy, it looks like CNN's general-purpose pundit is stuck on stupid.

If you want similar words of wisdom, hold your nose, and check out the latest offering from that closet anti-Semite, Patrick J. Buchanan.

Blind Spots

Today's edition of The New York Times contains a somewhat predictable article, with U.S. and Israeli officials expressing "surprise" at the sophistication and power of Hizballah's rocket and missile arsenal, now being employed against targets inside Israel.

According to the Times U.S. intelligence officials (and their Israeli counterparts) "had no idea" that the terrorist group had C-802 anti-ship missiles, until one of those weapons struck an Israeli corvette last Friday. Likewise, there was no prior indication that Hizballah had obtained long-range Zelzal rockets--capable of reaching Tel Aviv--until an Israeli fighter destroyed one on the ground on Monday. The Times believes that these belated discoveries reveal "blind spots" in the intelligence capabilities of both the U.S. and Israel. That is something of an understatement.

The real question, of course, is how did Iran (and Syria) manage to slip these weapons into Lebanon without being detected? The answer lies in something as old as warfare itself--the effective practice of denial and deception (D&D) techniques. Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese philosopher-general, observed that "all warfare is deception" more than 4,000 years ago. Since then, virtually all militaries have employed deception to some degree. A number of countries, including Russia, China, and even Syria, have institutionalized D&D into all aspects of military operations. Obviously, no deception program is fool-proof (nor completely effective), but if you at least consider D&D as a part of routine operations, it makes it easier to ship arms across international borders and conceal them before use.

Denial and deception encompasses a number of strategies and techniques, ranging from underground bunkers and camouflage netting, to operations security and activity scheduling. Syria, for example, has been working on a vast network of underground bunkers and storage depots for more than a decade; many of these facilities are large enough to hide long-range rockets and anti-ship missiles. It's a strong bet that some sort of underground facility was used to house these weapons during transshipment from Iran, and when it was stored by Hizballah in Lebanon. Sophisticated camouflage netting, designed to blend with surrounding terrain and vegetation, can also be use to conceal equipment, or the entrance to tunnels or underground bunkers where weapons are stored. This type of netting is readily available on the world arms market, and offers protection against visual, radar and thermal detection.

As for how the missiles made it to Lebanon, it's a strong bet that Iran and Syria used a technique called activity scheduling. Both Damascus and Tehran understand that the U.S. and Israel rely heavily on overhead platforms (read: satellites) and UAVs to detect adversary activity. Unfortunately, there's now a wealth of information on spy satellites and their predicted orbits on the internet, making it easier for rogue states to determine when a U.S. or Israeli spy platform is passing overhead. With that information, our adversaries find it easy to schedule their sensitive activities (say, the loading of C802 missiles on a Damascus or Beirut-bound transport) during gaps in our satellite coverage. UAVs are tougher to predict, but careful observation can reval potential operating patterns, and provide clues about the best time to carry out sensitive activity.

Analysis of our "blind spots" in Lebanon is likely to reveal an effective enemy D&D program, calibrated to known operations and surveillance patterns by the U.S. and Israel. There is a slight irony in acknowledging the effectiveness of Iran's deception efforts in this affair. For many years, intel analysts have ridiculed Tehran's D&D efforts, particularly at the operational and tactical levels. In hindsight, it seems that Iran was merely following its long-established pattern for deception activity. Historically, Tehran has reserved its best D&D efforts for its most important activities, in this case, the transfer of sophisticated weapons to its allies in Lebanon. Apparently, Iran wasn't really concerned about a lack of camouflage netting at its air defense or nuclear sites; they had more important operations in the offing, and they managed to conceal them quite well. The result was a surprise off the coast of Lebanon last Friday, and a near-surprise for Israelis who might have been on the receiving end of that Zelzal rocket.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Iran's Gambit

It remains the $64,000 question in the current Middle East conflict? What is Iran up to, and why did it "suddenly" send its proxies from Hamas and Hizballah into war against Israel.

More than a few analysts, including Edward Luttwak, believe that Tehran is looking for a diversion. With a looming deadline to respond to western proposals on its nuclear programs, Iran decided to change the subject, by launching large-scale attacks against Israel. Presto, the international community is now focused on events in Israel and Lebanon, and Iran's nuclear efforts are out of the spotlight, at least for now. This diversion may coincide with a particularly important phase of the nuclear program, which means that western ISR assets normally allocated for Iran are being diverted to cover the Levant region. Less coverage of Iranian targets means a greater probability that Iran could complete (or conceal) sensitive activities, with less chance of detection.

But Iran's motivations go beyond creating a sideshow or diversion. By formenting conflict in the Levant, Tehran is attempting to affirm its credentials as the logical hegemon in the Persian Gulf region and beyond. Sending Hamas and Hizballah on their murderous missions, Iran is demonstrating its ability to launch potentially crippling attacks against Israel, something that massed Arab armies were unable to do in four major wars. And, by giving major weapons systems to the terrorists, Iran has created a mechanism for striking at the heart of Israel, a development that has serious security and psychological implications for the relatively new Olmert government.

More importantly, the Iranians (and, to a lesser extent, the Syrians) have seemingly placed themselves beyond Israel's reach, at least for now. Despite western media hysteria about collateral damage, the IDF response (so far) has been somewhat restrained--a sharp contrast to the indiscriminate volleys of rockets aimed at civilian targets in Israel. While Jewish towns, cities and communities are under rocket attack, Damascus and Tehran remain unmolested. That (again) is a major departure from past conflicts, where cities like Haifa were relatively undisturbed, while the IDF rained destruction on terrorist targets outside Israeli borders. While Hizballah steadily loses military assets (and capabilities) in the field, its stature as an anti-Israeli force has grown. Ditto for the credentials of Tehran and Syria, for developing (and facilitating) a system for taking the fight to the Israelis.

This message is also being aimed at U.S. audiences. Earlier today, an Iranian official warned that his country's Hizballah affiliate was prepared to launch terrorist strikes against U.S. and western targets around the world--while (presumably) the war continues in the Levant. His comments are designed to reinforce perceptions that U.S. (and Israeli) military power are incapable of dealing with the threat posed by radical Islam, in Iraq, in Lebanon, and even in our own backyard.

That message, Iran believes, will produce a number of desired reactions. The western Europeans, who depend heavily on Iranian oil, will increase their calls for diplomacy, and prove even more willing to accomodate Tehran on its nuclear issues. The Iranians expect a similar reaction from their neighbors in the Persian Gulf who have little use for Tehran, or its terrorist proxies. But, the the gulf states sense weakness from the west, they will have little chance but to fall in line, and toe the Iranian line. Our gulf allies are clearly no fans of Ahmendinejad and his terrorist allies, but they need security assistance and guarantees in the event that Iran and its partners set their sights closer to home. And, with the U.S. preoccupied in Iraq, there is palpable regional concern about Washington's willingness to deal decisively with Iran.

The current Middle East conflict is far from over, and the Israelis will largely crush Hizballah's military capabilities in the coming days. But that triumph may be little more than a pyrric victory; as movements, Hizballah and Hamas will survive the destruction of their military arms, and (with help from Damascus and Tehran), live to regroup and fight another day. Meanwhile, Syria gets a measure of revenge against an implacable foe--without firing a shot, generating more support for Bashir Assad within his own Baathist movement, and securing his hold on power. That will ensure continuation of the Syrian conduit between Iran and Lebabnon, allowing Teharn to sustain its proxies in their war against Israel. That, in turn, will enhance Ahmedinejad's stature both at home and abroad, as a force to be reckoned with, and one capable of striking Iran's arch-enemies, with little fear of reprisal.

It's quite a gambit for Iran, and so far, it appears to be working.

Today's Reading Assignment

...from Consider all the mischief Iran is now creating in the Middle East. Then consider the specter of a nuclear-armed Tehran, pursuing its current policies.

As the Journal's editorial writers remind us, the ball is now squarely in our court. And this is not the time for weakness.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Hard Lessons

It has been said that combat is the most unforgiving teacher. The margin for error is virtually non-existent, and the price for mistakes is often paid in human life. The history of any nation's military is, to some extent, a history of past mistakes and lessons learned from those errors.

Israel's military is no exception. The history of the IDF is remarkable in many respects; surrounded by hostile neighbors, the Israelis have triumphed again and again, using surprise, advanced technology, superior training, and innovative tactics. Left unrestrained by politicians, there is little doubt that Israel could crush Hizballah and Hamas, although the subsequent, required occupations of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip would invariably result in additional casualties and tie up elements of the IDF for years to come.

But the current conflict has also highlighted Israeli military mistakes, most notably, the Hizballah attack against an Israeli Saar-5 class frigate last Friday that killed four IDF sailors and left the ship out of action indefinitely. We have already discussed this incident in some detail; employment of the C802 anti-ship missile surprised both Israeli and U.S. intelligence officials. Despite the long-standing alliance between the terrorists and their patrons in Damascus and Tehran, there was no suspicion that Iran had transferred such a weapon to Hizballah. That slightly myopic view changed in the span of less than 15 seconds, the time required to launch the C802 against the Israeli corvette.

While the surprise attack was clearly the product of careful planning and skillful deception by Hizballah and their Iranian "advisors," it was also the result of Israeli overconfidence, and an (apparent) breakdown in their intelligence system. Late last night, I received an e-mail from an Israeli contact I've known for several years; during our "spook" days, we participated in several U.S.-Israeli exchanges, and struck up a friendship. Like your humble correspondent, the Israeli source is now retired (he spent more than twenty years in the IAF), but has a large number of contacts in Israel's military and intelligence establishment.

"We screwed up," is his blunt assessment of the attack on the Israeli vessel. He tells me that Hizballah operated the surveillance radar associated with the C802 for more than 24 hours before the missile was launched. The radar's signal was detected by Israeli SIGINT platforms, but somehow, the information was never relayed to the ships enforcing the blockade off the Lebanese coast. The corvette's anti-missile defenses were active as it patrolled off Beirut, but my source questioned whether the crew was fully prepared for the missile strike. "They weren't in the proper frame of mind for an attack," he complained. You can draw your own inferences about the ship's readiness posture from his statement.

A retired U.S. naval intel specialist believes the corvette had "up to 15 seconds of warning" between the time the missile was fired, and the moment it impacted the ship. That may not sound like much, but in an era of automated missile defenses, the crew still had a shot. Officially, the Israelis haven't revealed if the ship launched chaff, maneuvered, or attempted to engage the missile with its CIWS. From what I'm told, the missile struck a glancing blow to the large "helicopter" barn on the ship's stern, and bounced off, detonating in water nearby. The barn area was thoroughly scorched by a subsequent fire, and this is the area of the ship where the four crew members died. As we've noted previously, the ship was lucky that it didn't take a direct hit from the C802; the missile is more than capable of sinking much larger vessels.

The impact in the ship's helicopter "barn" is also signficant, since its rectangular shape provides the largest (and best) return for the missile's targeting radar.
and that raises another question: did the Hizballah gunners time their launch carefully, to coincide with a turn (when the barn would be most visible), or was the ship's captain attempting to maneuver after his missile warning system sounded, and inadvertently exposed the helicopter hangar, faciliting missile lock-on. If the terrorist gunners timed their launch for a predicted turn, then the corvette was probably being too predictable in its maneuvers. Additionally, there is also the possibility that the ship's position may have masked its Close-In Weapons System (CIWS), which can engage anti-ship missiles at ranges out to one mile. One more lesson learned the hard way.

The IDF has proven adept at learning from past mistakes. Surprised by Egyptian and Syrian SA-6 SAMs in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the IAF developed tactics and electronic countermeasures that erased their adversary's advantage in the Bekka Valley campaign in the early 1980s. Deployed Syrian SA-6 sites were destroyed on the first day of the campaign (thanks to effective UAV employment), and from that point on, the IAF owned the skies. In the weeks that followed, the Israeli Air Fore shot down 82 Syrian MiGs without losing a single aircraft. It remains one of the most lop-sided victories in the history of aerial warfare.

Likewise, Israel's navy will learn from mistakes made in last Friday's missile attack. Hizballah and their Iranian chums should enjoy their "victory," because they won't get another free shot at an Israeli warship. At last report, IDF naval assets were still enforcing the blockade of Lebanon, but outside the range of the C802. Israel also scored a major success on Monday, when it estroyed a long-range Zelzal rocket (also made by Iran) before it could be launched. As with the C802, there were no prior indications that Hizballah had obtained the Zelzal. Israeli efforts to destroy that missile on the ground suggest that the the IDF is addressing problems in its ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) efforts, and timely information is reaching combatant commanders in a more timely manner. The Israelis are clearly learning from their early miscues, and that's bad news for the terrorists-and those who support them.

Hizballah's Surprise

Without a doubt, the biggest surprise (so far) of the current Middle East conflict was Friday's partially successful missile attack against an Israeli Navy corvette. We saw "partial" because the Israeli vessel (the Ahi-Hanit) survived the attack, despite moderate damage, and the loss of four crew members. Early speculation suggested that the missile might have suffered a partial malfunction, or that the Israeli vessel might have been partially shielded by an Egyptian merchant ship, which was also struck by a missile at about the same time. However, later analysis revealed that the two vessels were miles apart at the time of the attack, and both ships were clearly targeted by Hizballah gunners and their Iranian "instructors."

The fact that the corvette managed to limp back to port is a credit to Israeli ship-handling and damage control skills. The missile used in the attack, an Iranian-built C802, carries a large warhead and is more than capable of sinking even larger vessels. Available reports indicate that the Ahi-Hanit was targeted by at least two C802s; the first apparently missed; the second struck the corvette near its aft helipad, igniting a large fire that was later brought under control. Israeli military commanders believe that the missile may have actually been fired by an Iranian crew; Tehran has a sizeable inventory of Silkworm-series anti-ship missiles, and a number of personnel who are proficient in their use. Additionally, Iran's intelligence service (the MOIS) and Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) maintain a continuous presence in Lebanon, providing a mechanism for smuggling missiles and crews into the country.

What's surprising about the attack is that Hizballah and/or Iran managed to pull off the strike, despite a heavy Israeli ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) presence. In support of air strikes in Lebanon, the Israelis are using significant numbers of UAVs and intelligence collection aircraft. Yet, these assets failed to detect preparations for the attack, including establishment of firing positions, and (possibly) radar emissions that may have preceded the strike. In most cases, the C802 utilizes a sea surveillance radar for target acquisition, helping the crew sort through local sea traffic. The surveillance radar gives the crew an initial "line of bearing" for launch; once fired, the missile has its own on-board radar to lock onto the target, and guide it to the ship.

If an acquisition radar was used, Israeli ELINT collectors should have detected it, and provided some sort of threat warning to vessels in the area. If an acquisition radar was not used, there's still the question of how Israeli surveillance drones missed the movement of the missile to coastal areas, launcher set-up, and other preparations. While a skilled crew can complete these tasks in only a few minutes, the Israelis pride themselves on their employment of UAVs and ability to maintain persistent surveillance over the battlefield. Obviously, the Israeli ISR system failed on Friday, and there will almost certainly be an inquirty to find out what went wrong. There are a number of potential explanations; in some cases, information developed in ISR channels doesn't always flow to the operators in a timely manner. Additionally, there's the very real possibility that the launcher was effectively concealed prior to the operation, and may have been camouflaged until just before the launch. If that was the case, it would suggest that Hizballah (and the IRGC) are much more adept at camouflage that previously believed.

Friday's missile attacks have clear implications for the U.S. With a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) getting underway in Lebanon, U.S. vessels will have to move closer to the Lebanese coast, possibly within range of the C802. American naval vessels are well-equipped to defend themselves against a missile attack, but with the large numbers of U.S. citizens and dependents scheduled for evacuation (25-70,000, by some estimates), commercial vessels--such as cruise ships--may be used. Saying that cruise ships would present an inviting target is an understatement, to say the least. On the other hand, keeping those huge ships out of missile range would mean longer flights for helicopters, and a longer evacuation process.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Can Israel Strike Iran?

That's the question Powerline posed today, prompting a flood of e-mails and links from readers. Actually, we answered that question in some detail a few months ago. While Israel has more than enough F-16Is and F-15Is to mount a strike against targets in Iran, the real limiting factor is the number of KC-707 tanker aircraft in its inventory. The KC-707s are necessary to provide pre and post-strike aerial refueling for the fighters. By most estimates, Israel has only 5-7 KC-707s in the IAF inventory, enough to support the type of strike we described.

Additionally, Israel has an unknown number of Jericho II medium-range missiles. However, the missiles lack the accuracy that Tel Aviv would likely desire in an initial strike against Iran. But, in responding to an Iranian missile attack (using WMD), the Jerichos are more than sufficient to strike area targets, including Iran's population centers.


According to the AP, U.S. security teams have arrived at our Embassy in Beirut, the first step in a massive non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) of 25,000 Americans and dependents from Lebanon.

Any operation of this type is extremely complex--and made more so by on-going combat operations in Lebanon. The upcoming evacation from Lebanon will be one of the biggest NEOs in U.S. military history, and the number of U.S. citizens and dependents who leave the country will likely exceed original estimates. In the NEO business, the experts at the State Department and the Pentagon use the "rule of three" in planning the evacuation. Put another way, if there are25,000 "known" Americans, there are many more the State Department isn't aware of. Using the rule of three, the final number of U.S. citizens and dependents evacuated from Lebanon could top 70,000.

Getting those folks to safety is a massive logistical and security undertaking. First, U.S. diplomats will establish rally points, where evacuees can gather. From there, they will move by overland convoys to departure points, probably the Port of Beirut. With the city's airport currently closed by Israeli airstrikes, the job of picking up the refugees will likely fall on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps helicopters, operating from amphibious vessels and aircraft carriers in the eastern Mediterranean. If conditions permit, smaller vessels (such as landing craft) will move evacuees directly from piers, or even the open beach.

The NEO will take place literally under Hizbollah guns in Lebanon--and that's where the process becomes dicey. Despite likely "assurances" that U.S. citizens will be allowed to leave peacefully, I have little doubt that terrorist "gunners" would like nothing better than taking potshots at departing Americans. If that happens--and more assuredly, it will--the U.S. should make one thing perfectly clear: if U.S. citizens or dependents are killed by hostile fire during the evacuation, Hizbollah and its patrons in Damascus will be held completely responsible.

To reinforce that point, it's time to forward deploy some B-52s from Barksdale and Minot to RAF Fairford. Nothing like a threatened carpet bombing of the Bekka Valley, south Beirut, or Bashir Assad's summer villa to get the bad guys's attention.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Israeli Strategy

Media pundits, not always the most reliable information source, have expressed surprise at how quickly the the Israeli crisis has escalated.

Perhaps the only real surprise (so far) is that Israel hasn't launched an incursion into south Lebanon, in an effort to crush Hizballah. That will come, perhaps in a matter of days. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) began calling up reservists a couple of days ago; as the Army mobilizes and deploys additional units, Israel will quickly marshal enough combat power to launch a major strike across its northern border, aimed at crushing the terrorist infrastructure in southern Lebanon, and reducing the rocket threat to northern settlements and cities. Each of the measures are part of long-standing (and carefully developed) plans, designed for this type of contingency.

As a part of their overall strategy, the IDF is implementing steps to isolate its enemies and limit their military options. The highly-publicized strikes against Beirut International Airport serve a two-fold purpose: first, to prevent the air transfer of captured Israeli soldiers to Iran, and secondly, to cut off the "air bridge" from Damascus and Syria, used to move supplies and reinforcements to Hizballah units in the Bekka Valley and southern Lebanon.

With the airport now closed, Israeli jets are now concentrating on choke points along the Damascus Highway, the major east-west supply route between terrorist sponsors in the Syrian capital, and their operatives in Lebanon. Latest media reports indicate that the IAF has struck at least five major bridges along that route, attempting to cut off the primary land route between Syria and terrorist bases in central and southern Lebanon. An Israeli naval blockade has been imposed off Beirut, isolating the city from the sea.

In the next phase of the operation, Israel will likely expand their attacks in southern Beirut (where Hizballah) has created a substantial infrastructure, as well as the Bekka Valley, another terrorist stronghold. At this point, Israel faces a greater chance of a direct confrontation with Syria, given their continued military presence along the Lebanese border. Syrian air defense sites east located of the valley could potentially engage Israeli aircraft in the area, raising the possibility of engagements between Syrian SAMs and the IAF.

Interestingly, Syria has built a number of bunkers at its forward air defense sites in recent years, underscoring that (a) Damascus understands the growing threat from Israeli PGMs, and (b) the Syrians may adopt a "hunker down" approach--if the Israelis come calling--trying to shelter and preserve equipment, vice actively engaging the IAF. Syria has long memories of the 1982 Bekka Valley campaign, where the IAF shot down over 80 Syrian jets (with no losses of their own), and destroyed a good chunk of Damascus's ground-based air defenses. In other words, terrorist groups operating in western Syria (and even the Damascus area) can expect little protection from the Syrian Air Force.

With the skies over Lebanon and the Golan secured, Israel can shift its focus to eliminating the rocket threat from southern Lebanon, with a combined air and ground campaign. I'm guessing that Israeli Apache pilots will be very busy in the coming days, targeting anyone who remotely resembles a terrorist rocket crew. The bad guys have light AAA and shoulder-fired SAMs for protection, but they're no match for Israeli attack helos and tactical fighters. As of early this morning (14 Jul), there had been only one additional rocket attack into northern Israel, suggesting that IAF targeting efforts are having an effect. Rocket attacks will decrease even more as the Israeli Army returns to southern Lebanon.

Mitigating the threat on the northern front will allow the Israelis to return to their original focus--dealing with Hamas in the Gaza, and securing the release of that captured corporal. At this point, Israeli feels relatively secure that the captured soldier remains in the Gaza area, and their recent detention of senior Palestinian officials gives the Olmert government a powerful bargaining chip. Some sort of exchange deal appeared to be in the works before the northern border erupted. Once the Lebanon situation stabilizes, the bulk of Israel's military effort will shift southward, depending on the tactical situation. However, the IDF is more than capable of fighting a two-front war, and the search for the missing solider in Gaza will continue, along with persistent surveillance of the region, and occasional strikes against Hamas targets.

There are, of course, some wild cards in the equation. The sudden execution of one (or all) the Israeli soldiers would prompt an even greater escalation by the IDF, and a possible expansion of its area of operations (think airstrikes against Damascus). Then, there's the Iran factor. Tehran has already indicated that an attack against Syria would be considered an attack against the wider Muslim world, suggesting that it would come to the aid of its ally. Iran's threats aren't entirely hollow, but it's military options are limited to (1) more terrorist attacks, (2) missile strikes against Israel, or (3) a long-range airstrike, using F-4 or SU-24 aircraft. The potential damage from these attacks would be limited (except if WMD were used), but the long-term consequences for Tehran would be exceptionally grave.

Admiral Shanahan Gets it Wrong

Retired Navy Vice-Admiral Jack Shanahan is out with an op-ed (in the Austin American-Statesman) , calling for termination of the Air Force's F-22 fighter program. Shanahan, who once commanded the U.S. Second Fleet, views the F-22 as a Cold War relic, no longer relevant for a long war against terrorism.

Admiral Shanahan now chairs the military advisory committee of the Priorities! campaign, run by a group called Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities. Established in 1998, the group apparently believes that the nation's defense spending actually jeopardizes national security, by wasting money that could be spent on more productive pursuits, such as education and alternative energy sources. From the group's website:

"Top American businesspeople believe that the federal government's spending priorities are undermining our national security. Advised by retired admirals and generals, Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities' 650 members include the present or former CEOs of Bell Industries, Black Entertainment Television, Goldman Sachs, Men's Warehouse, and Phillips Van Heusen - as well as Ted Turner and Paul Newman."

In other words, the usual, liberal suspects. On the military side, (along with Admiral Shanahan), the "advisory committee" includes former CIA Director Admiral Stansfield Turner, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Korb, who served in the Reagan Administration. Next to the website description of the military advisory committee, there's a flashing bar chart that compares U.S. defense spending to that of our adversaries, and the paltry amounts spent on the group's favored programs, in contrast to the Pentagon budget.

It's ridiculously easy to pick apart the group's "arguments." Admiral Shanahan and his committee fail to mention that over half the DOD budget goes toward personnel costs, including military pay, retiree pensions and sky-rocketing health care costs for active duty personnel, retirees and their dependents. Additionally, the advisory committee fails to mention that the defense budgets for other nations are only estimates--and probably poor estimates at that. In the case of China, for example, much of the military spending and resources are hidden in the various commercial enterprises and front companies controlled by the People's Liberation Army. Factor in funding for those establishments, and the PRC's defense budget rises by another 20-40%. In that regard, the "gap" cited by the committee isn't as large as they'd have you believe and it's closing, as China increases its annual defense spending by double-digit margins.

You've also got to question the "priorities" championed by the group. $10 billion for renewable/sustainable energy programs? Never mind that most of these efforts are technical pie in the sky, and that some of these schemes--such as ethanol--will supply only a fraction of our energy needs, even if full production is realized. How about $10 billion for new schools? Sounds good, but if the schools aren't meeting their educational mission--and many aren't--it doesn't matter how new the building is. Besides, many of the policy goals cited by the group have a long history of wasting taxpayer dollars, with far less to show for the effort than military weapons programs.

But Admiral Shanahan devotes most of his op-ed to the F-22, and I'll address my comments to his critique. He says the F-22 was developed to provide a stealth capability against improving adversary air defenses, but a funny thing happened: their air defenses stopped improving.

What a crock. As with many of his claims, Shanahan carefully cherry-picks the data, ignoring relevant facts. Truth is, air defenses in Russia and China have dramatically improved over the past decade, with the introduction of modern, long-range SAM systems, such as the SA-10/20 and the SA-12. Both are at least equal (and in some ways, superior) to the U.S.-made Patriot and pose a serious threat to the current generation of "legacy" fighters (F-15/F-16). These advanced SAMs are now being marketed around the world, and will eventually wind up in countries like Iran and Syria.

In the air, those "unbeatable" F-15s and F-16s face an increasing threat from the latest generation of Russian and European fighters, equipped with advanced radars and air-to-air missiles. As we discovered during recent COPE INDIA exercises with the Indian Air Force, a late-model SU-27/30 FLANKER, in the hands of a skilled pilot, is more than a match for an F-15 or F-16. To ensure air dominance--a linchpin of our overall military strategy--we need a platform that widens the gap between our capabilities, and those of potential adversaries. Enter the F-22. As we've noted before, the Raptor's blend of stealth and supercruise will guarantee air dominance for decades to come. On the other hand, sticking with the F-15 and F-16 will make it more difficult to sustain control of the skies, and force more expenditures in other areas, notably ground-based air defenses. Afterall, if the Air Force can't dominate the skies, then the Army will need more SAMs on the ground.

It's easy to say the F-22 is irrelevant in a war against terrorists. But military planners cannot focus exclusively on that threat. Beyond the struggle against Islamofacists, the Pentagon must also field forces capable of dealing with more conventional threats, on both a regional and global level. By the end of this decade, China alone will field close to 300 FLANKERs, with dozens of SA-20s for ground-based air defense. Those systems are also expected to be deployed in the Middle East and even the western hemisphere. Against that threat array, America needs an advanced fighter, capable of "kicking down the door" against evolving air and ground-based threats.

Admiral Shanahan is entitled to his opinions, but his depiction of the threat--and the air assets needed to defeat it--is completely distorted and unrealistic. Maybe that's the result of hanging out with Ted Turner and Paul Newman. In the case of Admiral Shanahan, we should be thankful that he's on the retired list, and no longer in a position to influence defense policy. His ideas on national security are far more threatening than the "wasteful" and "irrelevant" F-22.

Today's Reading Assignment actually the text of a recent speech, given by Marine Corps Major General Mike Lehnert to a community group in the San Diego area. In a very profound (and often, very moving) address, General Lehnert contrasts his son's recent graduation from Stanford, to the sacrifices made by his fellow Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is their service and dedication to duty, he reminds us, that allows us to pursue the American dream.

As an example of their dedication, General Lehnert recounts Marine efforts to recover a captured sniper rifle, taken by insurgents when they ambushed and killed four members of a USMC sniper team two years ago. With the weapon still in use by terrorists, the Marines made it their goal to retrieve the weapon, and settle a score with the terrorists. A few weeks ago, the Marines made good on that vow; a Marine sniper killed two insurgents attempting to use the weapon against a a passing patrol, and recovered the rifle. Not surprisingly, General Lehnert sees striking parallels between this current crop of combat leaders and the generation that fought in WWII. Like the "greatest generation," Lehnert believes that members of today's armed services will become future Congressmen, CEOs, university presidents and civic leaders.

On a more distressing note, General Lehnert also observed that California-based Marines have faced significant quality-of-life issues at home, affecting their morale and their plans for the future. Many residents want the Marine base at Miramar closed, despite the military advantages the installation offers. Meanwhile, many of the Marines at Mirimar live in barracks that date back to World War II, and (making matters worse) many have found it more difficult to access off-duty or post-service educational opportunities. California is one of the few states that doesn't offer a veterans preference for former service members, making it more difficult for them to enter college and universities in the Golden State. To his credit, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is trying to educational system to veterans. A better question is why such obstacles were created in the first place.

Read the speech and be inspired. We are fortunate to have men like General Lehnert--and his Marines--wear the nation's uniform.

Hat tip: Powerline.

Addendum: Are the educational barriers cited by General Lehnert the result of bureaucratic indifference, or an effort by liberal academics (and university administrators) to discourage enrollment by current or former service members? Sadly, veterans have faced similar barriers in the past. When the GI Bill was first proposed, a number of prominent educators, including University of Chicago President Robert Hutchins and Harvard's James Conant, opposed it, fearing it would undermine cirricula, and in Hutchins's words, transform the nation's universities into a "hobo jungle." Hutchins was later forced to admit his mistake, after the WWII generation transformed the nation's universities, and with it, the nation as a whole. Sixty years later, the young men and women who fought in Fallujah and Ramidi deserve the same access to the classrooms of California's university system.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Meanwhile, Back at the U.N.

World powers have agreed to refer Iran back to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions, saying that Tehran shows no signs it will negotiate seriously about its nuclear program.

Of course, the real issue is what happens when the matter lands back at the UNSC. While Russia and China agreed to today's referral, they still oppose meaningful sanctions against Iran.

At this point, Tehran has little to fear, but watch for another round of nuclear rope-a-dope in the near future, just to keep the diplomatic process in motion.


When North Korea attempted to launch its TD-2 ICBM on 5 July (local time), we speculated about the potential presence of foreign scientists or dignitaries. Now, South Korea's semi-official Yonhap news service is reporting that at least 10 Iranian missile engineers attended the failed launch attempt, and may have participated in preparations for the test.

The reported Iranian presence is hardly suprising. North Korea is Tehran's primary source for ballistic missile technology, and Israeli intelligence reported earlier this year that Iran had acquired BM-25 intermediate range missiles from Pyongyang. The BM-25 would allow Tehran to potentially strike targets as far away as southern Europe, and is more adaptable as a nuclear weapons delivery system.

There is also talk that Iran may have developed the third stage for the ICBM version of the TD-2. At a minimum, the presence of Iranians at Tapeodong underscores continued Iranian interest in North Korean missile technology (no matter how unreliable it might be), and a desire to acquire long-range missiles. Couple this report with Tehran's active WMD programs, and you've got compelling reasons to deal with the Iranian problem, sooner rather than later.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Leadership Begins at the Recruiting Office

Former Army Private Steven D. Green has entered a not guilty plea to charges of rape and murder in connection with the deaths of a young Iraqi girl and members of her family. The crimes allegedly occurred in March of this year, when Green was serving with the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. Green was honorably discharged from the Army in May, apparently after being diagnosed with an "anti-social personality disorder." Four other soldiers, still on active duty, face similar charges in the case.

According to media reports, Green served for about a year on active duty before being discharged for psychiatric reasons. The Army hasn't divulged Green's diagnosis, but his discharge has all the elements of a "rush job," someone who was hustled out of the service because mental health professionals determined he was a risk to himself, and other soldiers. Over my 20-year-military career, I witnessed a couple of similar incidents; in a bureaucracy not designed for speed, it was amazing how quickly the military could get rid of someone when it became necessary.

It's unclear if Green's sudden discharge was related to the reported crimes in Iraq. But in the era of the "strategic corporal" and the "three block war," it's worth asking why Green was allowed to enlist in the military. Admittedly, recruiters and drill instructors can't catch every bad egg that winds up in a military uniform, but it is disconcerting that Green not only finished basic training, but wound up in a combat unit, carrying a loaded weapon. And, when his problems became obvious, the Army hustled to get him out of uniform, and back on the street.

Obviously, Mr. Green deserves his day in court, but the system that allowed a mentally ill individual to enter the U.S. Army deserves renewed scrutiny. And, more distressingly, the alleged massacre in Iraq is not the first time a mentally disturbed individual has killed unsuspecting victims. Back in 1994, the U.S. Air Force had a similar episode, with equally murderous results.

On June 20, 1994, former Airman First Class Dean Mellberg entered the hospital at Fairchild AFB, near Spokane, Washington. Mellberg was upset after being discharged from the Air Force for psychiatric reasons and went on a shooting spree, killing five persons and wounding 23 others. The rampage finally ended when a base security policeman, on bicycle patrol, shot Mellberg dead in the hosptial parking lot.

During the subsequent investigation, it was determined that Mellberg had long aroused suspicions from co-workers and supervisors. There were serious concerns about his behavior during Mellberg's first assignment at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, where he served as a maintenance specialist in the early 1990s. But rather than getting Mellberg out of uniform--and into a treatment program--the leadership at Cannon decided to pass the buck, and arranged a transfer to Fairchild. Apparently, there were concerns that discharging Mellberg from his squadron at Cannon would make the "unit look bad," and besides, it was easier to arrange a transfer than initiate the documentation for a psychiatric discharge. That process was finally concluded at Fairchild, but once again, there was little concern for what Mellberg might do, once he was booted from service. The answer to that question became painfully obvious on that June day in 1994.

While I have nothing but respect for military recruiters and those who train new recruits, the Green and Mellberg cases illustrate that we can do a better job in screening those entering the military. As Chief Buddy once observed, military leadership really does begin at the recruiting office. Even with increased pressure to meeting recruiting and training quotas, the military must be willing to make the first quality cuts at the front door, and bar admission for those who aren't qualified, or exhibit symptoms of severe psychiatric disorders. When the book is finally closed on former Private Green, we wil probably discover that his problems were evident early in his military career, but no one bothered to do the right thing--until it was too late.

Examining the Options

Deeply concerned over last week's North Korean missile tests, the Japanese government is reportedly studying its own constitution, to determine if a pre-emptive strike against Pyongyang's missile sites would violate Japanese law, which bars the use of force in settling international disuptes.

Rattled by North Korea's recent launch of seven missiles, several Japanese officials have openly discussed measures for improving the nation's defense, including creation of a legal framework that would allow pre-emptive attacks against DPRK missile facilities. As Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe recently observed:

"If we accept that there is no other option to prevent an attack ... there is the view that attacking the launch base of the guided missiles is within the constitutional right of self-defense. We need to deepen discussion," he observed.

Obviously, such talk will generate renewed concern among Japan's neighbors, who suffered greatly at the hands of Tokyo's military forces during World War II. But such fears are exaggerated, at the very least. The Japan of today bears no resemblance to the militaristic society of the 1930s and 40s. Japan's post-war constitution, partially drafted by General Douglas MacArthur's JAG staff, contains strict limitations on the nation's military, including the prohibition on offensive attacks.

These legal measures, coupled with Japan's own war experiences, have created a strong pacifist streak within Japanese society that is reflected in its military. Tokyo has mounted only one troop deployment since World War II, a small, support mission to Iraq that will end in the coming months. The deployment was largely unpopular with segments of the Japanese public, which viewed it as inconsistent with the post-war constitution. Japanese military units are referred to as "self-defense" forces, and their equipment and doctrine reflects a true defensive orientation. Development of even a modest offensive capability would require several years, an investment of billions of dollars--and convincing the Japanese public to support such a plan.

Still, Japan's mere willingness to examine potential "offensive options" underscores Tokyo's growing frustration with the North Korean missile tests, and a perceived lack of support from its neighbors in the region. China and Russia are unwilling to back draft UN resolutions on the missile issue, and South Korea (in a nod to domestic politics) has accused Tokyo of inflaming the situation.

That, of course, leaves the U.S. in a difficult position. The Bush Administration has been trying to develop a regional consensus on the issue, and Tokyo's support has been both valued and welcome. But increasingly, the U.S. and Japan find themselves isolated on the issue, with little tangible support from Moscow, Beijing or Seoul. If North Korea continues its missile and WMD programs, Japan has every right to expand its military forces and consider potential offensive options--a prospect that will clearly infuriate the Chinese, South Koreans and Russians. In that scenario, what would President Bush (or more likely, his successor) do? Undermine a critical alliance with Japan, or risk antagonizing key trading partners in the region?

While Japan weighs its military options for the future, the missile episode has (if nothing else) provided a dramatic wake-up call for Tokyo. Facing a growing missile threat from North Korea (and China's own, massive military build-up), Japan has come to the sobering realization that it lives in an increasingly dangerous part of the world, and responsibility for its defense begins not in Washington, but in Tokyo. The Chinese, Russians and South Koreans won't be happy, but Japan (and the U.S.) will be more secure if Tokyo improves its military capabilites to deal with regional threats.

On the Rocks

Kim Jong-il must be chuckling right about now. Almost a week after his provocative missile tests, there is still no regional consensus on what should be done about North Korea, thanks (in part) to South Korean domestic politics, and a renewed fondness for Japan-bashing in Seoul.

More on that in a moment. On the diplomatic front, China was, at last report, pressuring North Korea to abide by its previous commitments. A Chinese delegation, led by Vice Premier Hui Liangyu, is reportedly in Pyongyang for talks. However, both China and Russia remain opposed to tougher sanctions against North Korea, and could veto any UN Security Council resolution offered by the United States and Japan.

Meanwhile, the government in Seoul is also signaling that it prefers more deferential treatment for North Korea. In fact, some ROK government officials have been more critical of Tokyo than Pyongyang, accusing the Japanese of using a "shrill" voice to push for new sanctions against the North.

To most Americans, such comments sound a bit odd. Afterall, South Korea has the most to lose from North Korean militarism. Efforts to reign in Pyongyang would certainly benefit Seoul, which must sustain a huge defense budget to offset the DPRK's massive military, which is concentrated along the DMZ that seperates the two Koreas. South Korea's Presidential mansion, the Blue House, lies within range of North Korean artillery along the DMZ. Based on that sobering reality, you'd think that Seoul would welcome any effort to help mitigate the DPRK threat.

But it depends on who's making that effort. Hatred of the Japanese remains endemic in South Korea, based on Tokyo's brutal occupation of the peninsula from 1910-1945. During that time, the Japanese plundered Korea's natural resources, and forced thousands of Korean women into prostitution for the Imperial Army. And despite the passage of time, tales from the occupation remain vivid in the Korean psyche, and ROK politicians manipulate those sentiments on a regular basis.

For example, the current ROK President, Roh Moo Hyun, is currently locked in an increasingly bitter dispute with Tokyo over the Liancourt Rocks, a pair of tiny islets in the Sea of Japan, located equidistant between the two countries. While the Japanese and Koreans have disputed control of the islands for centuries, Roh has pressed the issue in recent months, partially to deflect public attention away from a corruption scandal, which resulted in his impeachment in 2004. The impeachment was later overturned by South Korea's highest court, (and Roh was reinstated as President). Despite that favorable ruling, Roh's term has been highlighted by failed initiatives and political missteps, making him one of the least popular chief executives in South Korean history.

Meanwhile, the "Japan issue" has provided a welcome diversion for Roh. Speeches critical of Tokyo's claims to Liancourt Rocks have given him a temporary boost in the polls, and Roh has tried to keep the issue on the front-burner. Additionally, Mr. Roh favors a "Sunshine" policy toward North Korea, continuing the overtures begun by his predecessor, Kim Dae Jung. Roh reportedly wants some sort of diplomatic agreement with the DPRK before he leaves office, in hopes of salvaging something from his presidency. Achieving that goal explains why Seoul is willing to go easy on Pyongyang--while simultaneously bashing Tokyo for being too harsh. Even in South Korea, all politics are local.

Unfortunately, Roh's political salvage operation comes at the expense of a regional consensus on North Korea and the missile crisis. By opposing tougher sanctions against Pyongyang, Mr. Roh may actually create more serious issues for future occupants of the Blue House. Last week's North Korean "test" generated actual fear in Japan, which lies within range of hundreds of DPRK missiles. There is a growing demand within Japan for increased defense spending, discussions about the acquisition of offensive weapons, and even the development of WMD, as a hedge against the growing North Korean threat.

South Korea will, of course, view any Japanese military build-up with alarm. In a post-North Korea environment, Seoul has long viewed Tokyo as its major adversary, a point that has been emphasizsed in various defense white papers over the past decade. But it is slightly ironic that an emerging "Japanese threat" would be partly the result of Mr. Roh's refusal to follow the lead of Tokyo (and Washington) in getting tough with the DPRK.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Weekend Reading Assignment

From the 7 July edition of Opinion Journal. Daniel Henninger opines that the U.S. military needs to launch a p.r. counter-offensive against a media obsessed with alleged war crimes in Iraq.

The Summer of Haditha, as we termed it, is alive and well.

Friday, July 07, 2006


When it comes to North Korea may do next (in terms of additional missile launches), stick with the blogosphere for reliable, accurate information.. This AP story manages to contradict itself between the headline and its opening paragraph. The headline suggests Pyongyang may have another long-range missile at the Taepodong test site, indicating that a second launch in the offing. But, in the lead paragraph, the wire service notes (correctly), that the other TD-2 is hardly ready to be fired.

Here are some compelling reasons that North Korea won't launch a second TD-2 in the coming days. First, as we noted previously, Kim Jong-il can't afford another colossal embarassment, given his desire to sell the missile to other nations. Secondly, the processing of stacking (or assembling the missile), conducting pre-launch checkouts and fueling the TD-2 would likely take several weeks, although it could be accomplished in a matter of days (if the DPRK really wanted to). In light of this week's disaster, North Korea has reason to be cautious, when--and if--it tries again.

But here's the biggest reason you won't see a TD-2 launch over the next week. Apparently, the AP bureau in Seoul doesn't understand that typhoons generally prevent missile tests, due to the high-level winds they generate at the surface, and in the upper atmosphere. According to meterologists, a typhoon will pass across the Korean peninsula between 9-11 July, creating unfavorable conditions at the North Korean missile test range.


A Little Perspective

Various Japanese media outlets are reporting that North Korea's failed Taepodong-2 missile was on a trajectory that would have carried it near Hawaii, had the missile completed its test flight.

At this point, a little perspective is in order. Given the missile's short flight duration, we can't say with any certainity where it was aimed. According to missile analysts I've spoken to, the TD-2 had apparent guidance and control problems from almost the moment it left the launch pad, meaning that it's flight trajectory was highly erratic, at best.. Radar tracking data from U.S. and Japanese naval vessels--cited in Japan media reports--should be taken with a large grain of salt, because the missile (in all likelihood) wasn't following its intended trajectory before it failed, roughly 45 seconds into flight.

Additionally, the azimuth assessment for the TD-2 was revised several times before the launch, based on the best available information. Early projection suggested the flight path might carry it toward Hawaii, but later estimates suggested an azimuth that would carry it further away from the islands.

From what I can judge, the Japanese media reports are speculative at best, and not necessarily supported by available information.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Our Friends in Beijing (and Moscow)

Less than 48 hours after the North Korean missile launches, our erstwhile freinds in Beijing and Moscow are (predictably) being less-than-helpful on the issue. When the U.N. Security Council took up the matter yesterday, both Russia and China quickly reiterated their opposition to tough action against Pyongyang.

Beijing, which has long been North Korea's closest ally and biggest trading partner, issued a statement that avoided direct criticism of Kim Jong-il regime. Instead, China appealed for "calm" (apparently, the required first statement in any official PRC announcement on any global crisis), while expressing "serious concern" about "what had happened." (Yawn).

The language from Moscow was equally benign. Russia's UN envoy, Valery Churkin, called the missile tests a "deplorable development," but stopped short of supporting new sanctions against North Korea. Instead, both China and Russia reportedly favor a U.N. presidential statement on the issue. Presidential statements are non-binding, and are considered even weaker than UNSC resolutions. I'm sure the boys in Pyongyang are positively quaking in their boots at that prospect. Lest we forget, a long line of dictators, thugs and despots have ignored scores of U.N. resolutions against their regime. Given the likely "impact" of such toothless actions, a U.N. presidential statement literally isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

Meanwhile, countries in the line of fire from North Korean missiles have more useful ideas on what ought to be done. South Korea has suspended humanitarian aid to Pyongyang, a move that may have more impact than first thought, since much of that assistance winds up in the hands of the North Korean military. Japan has responded by proposing tougher financial measures against the DPRK, and is pressing for immediate development of a ballistic missile defense system to protect the Japanese homeland.

In the interim, the U.S. has agreed to deploy advanced Patriot PAC-3 missiles to U.S. bases in Japan, and Aegis-equipped U.S. naval vessels already operate in Japanese waters. Both systems can provide a limited defensive capability until the Japanese system is fully operational. The Japanese Navy already has Aegis-equipped destroyers, and in the wake of Wednesday's North Korean missile test, it seems likely that the U.S. will approve the transfer of SM-2 Block IV missiles and the software upgrades to give the Japanese vessels an advanced BMD capability.

Japanese cooperation on financial issues can have a more immediate impact on Pyongyang. Millions of ethnic Koreans still live in Japan, including members of the Chosin Soren, a group with close ties to Pyongyang. Members of the Chosen Soren funnel millions of dollars to North Korea every year; crackdowns against the group and its quasi-legal activities will deny Pyongyang badly-needed revenue. Japan can also play a useful role in cracking down on North Korea's counterfeit activities, which net the DRPK an estimated $100 million a year. Hat tip: Captains Quarters.

Russia and China could take similar steps within their borders, but there's no indication that Moscow or Beijing will play ball. The reason? For starters, their "tolerance" of North Korea and its antics give both countries additional leverage with the U.S. If Washington wants Russian and Chinese support against the DPRK, then the U.S. has to reciprocate on trade and economic issues. The U.S. will soon discover (if we haven't already) what it will "cost" to gain Moscow's and Beijing's support for even diluted sanctions against North Korea.

Secondly, North Korea offers military advantages for both Russia and China. With its large Army and expanding WMD capabilities, Pyongyang still ties up a substantial chunk of U.S. military power, including an Army division (the ROK-based 2ID), a Marine division on Okinawa, four USAF fighter wings (two in Korea, two in Japan), and a Japan-based carrier battle group. If the North Korean problem disappeared, much of that combat capability could be re-directed against other threats, most notably China. As long as North Korea exists, the U.S. must prepare for that threat as well, to the tune of billions of dollars a year.

Finally, by challenging the U.S. and even being rewarded for past bad behavior, Pyongyang can make Washington look weak. That, in turn, helps advance the agendas of both Russia and China, who are quick to point out the Superpower's flaws, including the inability to effectively deal with a rogue state like North Korea.

The Bush Administration is correct in pursuing a "regional solution" to the North Korean problem. When the DPRK collapses (and it will, eventually), the ramifications of that event will be felt throughout Northeast Asia, and directly impact every country in the region. But until that happens, we shouldn't expect much help from our friends in Russia or China. They still have something to gain by keeping Kim Jong-il in power, and on a confrontation course with the U.S.