Wednesday, July 19, 2006

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.

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