Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Quick Hits

Your humble correspondent is on the road (again). Here are some headlines that caught my eye:

Gas prices keep falling. Duh. They've been falling for the past three weeks, and Larry Kudlow predicted that oil prices could fall to $40 a barrel later this week. BTW, I bought gas for $2.36 a gallon along I-70 this morning. Another example of the MSM "withholding" good news until the last possible moment. Wouldn't want the administration to get any credit (as if they deserve any).

Live from the bathroom. CNN's Kyra Phillips gets caught with her skirt up and her mouth open.

Is this any surprise? I'm sure the U.N. is already drafting a "strongly-worded statement," asking Iran to stop. An Air Force general (who shall go unnamed) recently said that "carpet bombing" is the only answer to the Iranian problem.

See you down the road.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Usual Spin

On a tour of the Pacific Rim, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld offered a cautious assessment when asked if U.S. missile interceptor (recently installed in Alaska) could actually knock down a North Korean ICBM. Rumsfeld said more extensive testing is needed before he will be fully persuaded that the system works as advertised:

According to the SecDef, "A full end-to-end" demonstration is needed "where we actually put all the pieces" of the highly complex and far-flung missile defense system together and see whether it would succeed in destroying a warhead in flight.

"That just hasn't happened," he said, adding that some elements of the missile defense system are yet to come on line, including some of the radars and other sensors used to track the target missile.

The MSM is spinning Rumsfeld's comments as a less-than-ringing endorsement of ballistic missile defense, which the press often depicts as a boondoggle that is doomed to failure, despite the investment of billions of tax dollars. However, Rumsfeld's remarks were less a critique of the system that a mere statement of fact. Ballistic missile defense is an extremely complex system that relies on equally complex sub-systems. Some of those elements are now deployed--such as the interceptor missiles that Rumsfeld saw in Alaska. Others are still in development and a few are still on the drawing board. An overall assessment of the system's performance really can't be made until it is fully deployed, integrated and tested--events that are still somewhere down the road.

Readers will note that the AP story carefully omits the major strides made by missile defense over the past two decades. Deployment of those interceptor missiles, tracking radars, and space-based sensors represent a major technological feat. Ditto for recent tests of shipborne missile interceptors which validated the ability of the Aegis system to provide long-range, sea-based missile defense. Collectively, these systems have given the U.S. (and its allies) an initial capability against limited enemy missile attacks. The system is hardly fool-proof or perfect, but it has advanced far beyond the early experiments of the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan's dream was widely derided and scoffed. Reading the AP story, you'd almost believe that it was 1985, and those missiles at Fort Greely were part of a system that will never work. Thankfully, that it not the case.

If you're genuinely interested in BMD, make a visit to the Missile Defense Agency homepage. True, MDA is a bit biased on the subject, but no more than the AP's Robert Burns, who wrote the wire service report.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Kim Jong-Il's Calculus

After North Korea's embarassing TD-2 missile failure in July, Pyongyang fell strangely silent, and the "Dear Leader" (Kim Jong-il) essentially vanished from public view. There is no doubt that both moves were carefully calcuated; any of North Korea's usual boasts or taunts after the TD-2 launch could be rebutted by western accounts of the missile failure, a reminder that Kim Jong-il's technology (so far) cannot sustain his global ambitions.

More recently, there has been speculation that North Korea is contemplating a nuclear test, a sure-fire device for refocusing world attention on the hermit kingdom, and generating more pressure for direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang. ABC News reported last week that U.S. intelligence has detected activity at a site in North Korea which may be connected to the nuclear program. While indications of a potential test remain vague, some of the preparations observed in North Korea are similar to those seen prior to nuclear tests in other countries, raising fears that Pyongyang is about to test one of its devices. North Korea is believed to have a small arsenal of nuclear weapons, or the components required to assemble such an arsenal. According to some estimates, Pyongyang may have developed its first nuclear weapon as early as the mid-1990s, but it has never tested a nuclear weapon.

But North Korea's desire to test a weapon--and confirm its status as a nuclear power--may be tempered by domestic concerns. Recent flooding has devastated Pyongyang's already-struggling agricultural sector. One recent USDA estimate indicates that severe flooding (the worst in more than 20 years) has cut North Korea's rice harvest by at least five percent, and the actual reduction may be much higher. Making matters worse, South Korea suspended food aid after the recent North Korean missile tests, eliminating a source of rice--and other staples--that the North has increasingly relied on to feed its population.

A nuclear test in the coming weeks would probably cause other donors to cut off food aid, creating more problems for Pyongyang. And while Kim Jong-il has demonstrated his willingness to let his people starve to achieve other goals, that choice may not be as easy as it was in years past. Anti-regime graffitti has been seen (and photographed) in Pyongyang over the past year, a remarkable event in a country that tolerates absolutely no internal dissent. The appearance of that graffitti suggests that Kim's hold on the populace may be slipping just a bit, and his stranglehold on power isn't what it once was. Additionally, there are recent reports that Kim has recently ordered the release of emergency food stockpiles and the revamping of food distribution systems, measures designed (in part) to placate the public and tamp down potential dissent.

Against that domestic backdrop, a North Korean nuclear test might not be as likely as some might think. But on the other hand, Kim may believe that such a provocative act is just the ticket to get the international community reengaged on his agenda. Afterall, Pyongyang's bad behavior has been rewarded before, most notably in the "Agreed To Framework" of 1994, which gave North Korea security assurances and fuel oil from the U.S. and a promise of nuclear reactors from South Korea, in exchange for a promised suspension of Pyongyang's nuclear program. And we all know what happened under that agreement.

If I had to guess, I'd say any North Korean nuclear test will be a mid-term, rather than short-term event. Kim can easily stretch his preparations out over a period of months, while gauging reaction from the west. If Washington and Seoul respond favorably to his saber-rattling, a nuclear test might not be required. On the other hand, if the U.S. and ROK take a harder line, Pyongyang can exacerbate the tensions (as required), to force some sort of reaction from his adversaries. Extending test preparations will also allow Kim to get a better feel for his domestic situation. If this year's harvest is as bad as expected--or worse--he can manipulate the situation to secure a resumption of food aid, by alternately playing the good guy or bad buy card.

One final note: since early July, there has apparently been a careful readjustment in North Korea's rehtorical blasts. Prior to the missile test, Pyonyang repeatedly emphasized its nuclear capbility; since then, there has been virtually no mention of its purported nuclear arsenal. The change in languge may be part of a run-up to a planned nuclear test; on the other hand, it could represent a deliberate softening on North Korea's part, aimed (in part) at securing a resumption of food aid before the onset of winter.

Having it Both Ways for 2008

If there was any doubt that Arizona Senator John McCain will seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, those concerns were forever erased this morning. Campaigning in Ohio for fellow Senator Mike DeWine, McCain accused the Bush Administration of "misleading" the American people on the War in Iraq. The chattering class (and congressional Democrats) will hail McCain's comments as another example of the Senator's "straight talk," but in reality, it was little more than a political move, designed to give McCain a little distance between himself and the administration, and avoid being labled as a White House lackey in the '08 campaign.

“I think one of the biggest mistakes we made was underestimating the size of the task and the sacrifices that would be required,” McCain said. “Stuff happens, mission accomplished, last throes, a few dead-enders. I’m just more familiar with those statements than anyone else because it grieves me so much that we had not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be.”

Those phrases, of course, have been uttered at various times by administration officials, and used (often out of context) by critics of President Bush and his Iraq policy. Senator McCain--predictably--ignores warnings from those same officials of potentially tough times in the GWOT, most famously illustrated by Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld's "hard slog" memo from October, 2003. If Mr. McCain were interested in being fair--or accurate--he would point out that administration officials have often gone out of their way to avoid painting an overly-optimistic or rosy picture of conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He would also note that substantial progress has been made in both countries, despite the best efforts of terrorists to drive out coalition forces.

Unfortunately, there's little room for fairness or accuracy in modern presidential politics. To make a go of it in 2008, McCain clearly believes that he must distance himself from the administration and drive toward what he sees as the "political center." Ditto for his Nebraska colleague (and fellow White House aspirant) Chuck Hagel, who was out with his latest Iraq critique over the weekend.

McCain actually wants it both ways on Iraq. He has cautioned against a premature withdrawal from Iraq, warning of the dire consequences such a move might bring. That, of course, gives the Arizona Senator a little distance from the "cut and run" caucus of Senate Democrats. It's all a carefully calibrated political dance, designed to carve out a space for Mr. McCain somewhere in the middle, where (presumably) he can attract the support of "moderates" and those elusive "undecided" voters.

Ironically, McCain's calculations might actually open him up to serious questions and even political attacks--if other politicians and the chattering class were so inclined. Questions about current policies in Iraq are actually rooted in administration decisions--and congressional votes--made in the 1980s and 1990s, when Mr. McCain was a prominent member of Congress. For example, how did the Senator vote on Clinton-era measures that denied full funding for intelligence programs, and cut four divisions from the active-duty Army? Such short-sighted decisions are a major reason for "the lack" of troops and intelligence deficiencies in Iraq, and I'm guessing that McCain went along with those decisions with nary a peep. In that sense, we need some "straight talk" about McCain's own voting record in the 1990s, and the role he played in "shaping" the military forces and intelligence assets being employed in the GWOT. Mr. McCain may ultimately discover that he can't have it both ways on Iraq.


Ace at Polipundit has a quote from President Bush from 2003 that echoed Rumsfeld's cautions on Iraq. Apparently, Senator McCain's research staff missed that one, too.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Reminder

Kudos to Tim McLaughlin of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for Monday's article on the continuing threat to commercial aviation from shouder-fired surface-to-air missiles. As Mr. McLaughlin reminds us, U.S. airlines are literally one missile attack away from a financial meltdown that could result in a $1 trillion hit to the American economy.

Despite that obvious threat, the U.S. government--and the airline industry--haven't committed to spending the billions of dollars needed to retrofit thousands of commercial aircraft and business jets with anti-missile systems. At upwards of one million dollars per airliner, it's a daunting proposition; but, amortized through ticket sales, the cost would add about $3 to a roundtrip ticket between New York and Los Angeles.

As we pointed out months ago, it's a small price to pay for a required measure of protection. One of the experts quoted by Tim McLaughlin compares terrorists to electricty--they take the path of least resistance. Given the ready availability of shoulder-fired SAMs (and the target rich environment offered by western airports), it's just a matter of time before Al Qaida quits tinkering with hair gel bombs, and moves on to something that's much more feasible--and deadly--like a MANPAD attack.

Today's Howler

Iran ready to enter "serious negotiations" over its disputed nuclear program.

See our previous on Tehran's "nuclear rope-a-dope" here.

And here.

And here.

And here.

And here.

We've been down this dead-end road before. Here we go again. But watch the striped-pants set and the MSM hail this as "progress."


Author's note: this is another delayed post, composed during my travels last week. As it turns out, it is an effective retort to a recent column by Fred Reed in the Washington Times, heralding the "delusion" of airpower.

I recently heard a senior intelligence officer express frustration over the lack of information on the conflict between Israel and Hizballah. As he noted, we’re basically getting one side of the story (from the Israelis) and you’ve got to take their information with a huge grain of salt.

For example, consider the Israeli claim that it destroyed 70% of Hizballah’s rocket inventory and most of its launchers. That assessment seems a bit hard to believe, considering that the terrorists launched their heaviest rocket barrage against Israel on the day before the “cease-fire” went into effect. Perhaps it was Hizballah’s “last hurrah,” but the number of reported rocket attacks on Sunday suggests that significant portions of the terrorist group’s arsenal—or, at least their Katyusha inventory—was still intact when the firing stopped.

Having dropped out of a laser-based rocket defense project a few years ago, Israel had to rely heavily on its Air Force to track down and destroy enemy rockets and launchers in Lebanon. From what I’m told, the IAF averaged more than 300 combat sorties a day during the Lebanon operation, with many of those devoted to the counter-rocket mission. All told, the IAF logged more than 9,000 combat sorties during a month of high-tempo operations, with the capability to launch even more sorties, if directed by political and military leaders. BTW, the sortie count includes totals for both “fixed wing” fighters (F-16s, F-15Cs, F-15Is), and attack helicopters (AH-1s, AH-64s). Sorties by reconnaissance and targeting drones were counted separately; by one estimate, Israeli UAVs logged more that 700 flights during the Lebanon campaign.

The numbers of munitions employed were equally staggering. One source tells me that the IAF exhausted its limited JDAM supplies early in the conflict, and required an emergency resupply from the U.S. By the end of the conflict, IAF stockpiles of Paveway II laser-guided bombs were also depleted, forcing Israeli planners to use “dumb” bombs instead. The effectiveness of the Israeli bombing campaign is a matter of conjecture; while the IAF shut down all major airfields in Lebanon--and destroyed virtually every bridge between Beirut and the southern border—Hizballah survived to fight again another day, allowing it to claim “victory” against the region’s most powerful military.

Results of the Lebanon campaign, coupled with the on-going war in Iraq, will re-ignite the debate over the limits of airpower. According to some pundits, western nations have become over-reliant on advanced aircraft and precision weapons, tools that are (supposedly) of less value in a global War on Terror. The Air Force’s F-22 fighter program has become a symbol of this debate; while critics acknowledge that the Raptor is a technical marvel, they argue that buying even limited numbers of the stealthy, air superiority fighter makes little sense in conflicts that require large numbers of “boots on the ground.”

But those arguments ignore other, equally salient facts. Ground forces still require air support, even in low-intensity conflicts. From tactical airlift to ISR operations, Army, Marine Corps and special forces units are heavily dependent on the air arm. In Iraq, for example, convoy operations are often accompanied by surveillance UAVs—operated by the Air Force. The hunt for insurgents and IEDs are aided by a variety of airborne platforms, including U-2 and RC-135 intelligence platforms; E-8 surveillance/battle management aircraft, various strike fighters and of course, the ubiquitous UAVs, all Air Force assets and linked together through battle management and intelligence nodes “owned” and controlled by the USAF. Increasingly, these are platforms that ground commanders say they cannot live without—and they are only available through the employment and application of airpower.

As for those expensive F-22s, they also offer needed capabilities for the ground commander, namely the ability to dominate the airspace and penetrate enemy air defenses. Admittedly, Hizballah or Al Qaeda don’t have much in terms of air defenses, but other potential adversaries (namely North Korea, Syria and China) certainly do. And, those air defenses will grow increasingly complex in the years to come. China has already acquired the advanced SA-20 SAM system—equivalent to the U.S. Patriot---from Russia, and Moscow is selling TOR-1M (SA-15) missiles to Iran as well. With such systems protecting adversary ground forces, the U.S. and its allies will need advanced aircraft to ensure air superiority and deliver the precision attacks required by military commanders and political leaders.

Airpower by itself cannot defeat terrorists. But it is wildly inaccurate at best—dangerous at worst—to completely dismiss the effectiveness of air systems in supporting the GWOT. And it is equally reckless to ignore the growing air and air defense threat from adversaries like China, a threat which mandates development (and deployment) of advanced air systems. Critics like Mr. Reed are little more than misguided and misinformed.

Israel's Leadership Crisis

Writer's note: this entry was created on 14 August, in the aftermath of Israel's acceptace of the cease-fire in Lebanon. At the time, I was traveling, and lacked internet access to post these remarks on Israel's lack of resolve/leadership at a critical juncture in the nation's history.

As Israeli troops begin their withdrawal from southern Lebanon, the second-guessing and finger-pointing are well underway. Speaking before the Knesset on the eve of the cease-fire, former PM Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a stinging rebuke of the Israeli war effort, and the leadership of the current Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. Israel’s former UN Ambassador, Dore Gold, told a U.S. radio audience on Monday that an official Commission of Inquiry will be appointed to review war planning and execution.

Clearly, such criticism and investigations are warranted. As we noted yesterday, Mr. Olmert literally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Less than 48 hours after announcing expanded IDF ground operations in Lebanon—and a planned march to the Latani River—Mr. Olmert meekly accepted a cease-fire brokered by the U.S. and France. From the Israeli perspective, that deal should have been rejected as untenable; Mr. Olmert has entrusted his nation’s security (or at a minimum, the security of northern Israel) to an “enhanced” U.N. peacekeeping force that, like its predecessor, seems unlikely to take on Hizballah, as first step toward securing south Lebanon. In fact, if recent history is any indicator, it’s probably just a matter of time before reconstituted terrorist units set up shop outside peacekeeper camps, with the Hizaballah flag fluttering alongside the U.N. banner. .

Mr. Olmert is also showing inordinate faith in the Lebanese government and its so-called “army,” which will share security responsibilities in the south. The Israeli Prime Minister blithely ignores the fact that various Lebanese officials have praised Hizballah for “defending” Lebanon, and that the terrorist organization is a major influence in the current government. Lebanon’s defense minister has already announced that his forces will “not do Israel’s job” by disarming Hizballah. If anything, the proposed security force for southern Lebanon may emerge as a terrorist protection organization. It’s little wonder that Hizballah’s leadership is already crowing about their “victory” against Israel.

Trying to put the best face on a bad situation, the Israeli government (and President Bush) have tried to highlight the IDF’s operational and tactical successes against the terrorists. And their praise is valid—up to a point. True, IDF units fought well, and won every engagement on the ground. Israeli troops also proved adaptive in fighting against foes who were well dug-in and used civilians as human shields. On several occasions, IDF commandos were dispatched on high-risk missions to minimize collateral damage. When Hizaballah tried to overcome Israel’s advantage in armor (by using advanced anti-tank missiles at long range), the IDF sent in sniper teams to eliminate terrorist gunners, allowing Israeli armor to punch through.

But those “successes” carry little weight in a conflict largely defined by media coverage and a lack of political willpower within the Israeli government. When the IAF was accused of killing “innoncent” civilians in the Lebanese town of Qana, the Ohlmert government ordered an immediate halt to the bombing, while an “investigation” was conduced. Never mind that the “civilians” apparently died hours after the bombing; nor that their building wasn’t struck directly by Israeli bombs, nor that the IAF destroyed another rocket launcher in one of Qana’s “civilian” neighborhoods a few days later. By that time, the Israeli template of timidity and hesitation had been established, and Hizballah ruthlessly exploited Tel Aviv’s wavering resolve, aided and abetted by a compliant western media.

If Israeli claims of victory sound a little hollow, they should. In fact, they’re a bit reminiscent of U.S. post-mortems in Vietnam, where success was often quantified by the numbers of bombs dropped, or the weekly, enemy “body count.” Years after the war, U.S. strategist Colonel Harry Summers met with the legendary North Vietnamese commander, General Gaip, and reminded him of American successes on the battlefield. “We won every battle,” Summers remarked. “That is true,” Giap replied, “but it is also irrelevant.” At the end of the day, it was the U.S. that left Vietnam, while the North’s tanks rumbled into Saigon.

Thirty-one years later, it is Israel that is leaving south Lebanon, after barely one month of combat operations. Stunned at the sudden reversal of events, some returning Israeli soldiers are mounting a petition drive to continue the war effort, which they believe was halted prematurely. Their anger is shared by many ordinary Israelis; though surprised by Hizballah’s resistance and targeted by daily rocket barrages, they were willing to see the conflict through, whatever the cost.

Instead, they have been left with a doomed cease-fire, a residual terrorist menace across their northern border, and an ineffective U.N. security force to deal with the problem. It’s a combination that will send political shockwaves across Israel, and (hopefully) put a quick end to the government that created this debacle. Though it sounds cruel, some Israelis are openly speculating over who will expire first: Ehud Ohlmert’s Kadima-led coalition, or the party’s comatose founder, Ariel Sharon.

Like Sharon, Mr. Olmert viewed the Kadima movement as something of a “third way” in Israeli politics, uniting elements of the left and right. After defeating the latest intifada, Mr. Sharon believed he had the political capital—and security presence—to give back the Gaza Strip and make additional concessions to Israel’s enemies, with little more than vague promises in return. When Sharon was felled by a stroke earlier this year, Mr. Olmert inherited leadership of the party--despite a stunning lack of military experience--and won an electoral victory, with the pledge to continue his predecessor's policies.

It is doubtful that Mr. Sharon, a retired general and genuine military hero, would have waged such as fitful campaign against Hizballah. But, it fairness, it should be noted that Olmert inherited Sharon’s security team, including the generals he appointed to lead the IDF, including current Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Dan Halutz. Collectively, the brightest minds of the IDF put together a plan that failed to accurately assess the Hizballah threat, over-estimated the effectiveness of Israeli airpower, and was implemented haltingly. It was a recipe for strategic defeat that negated the IDF’s victories at the operational and tactical levels.

In recent weeks, there has been much speculation as to whether current events more closely resemble 1938, when the western powers, so anxious to avoid another world war, made every effort to appease Adolf Hitler, and found themselves in that very type of conflict a year later. Others argue that 2006 looks more like 1914, when the nations of Europe stumbled blindly along the path to World War I.

But from a military and political perspective, Israel’s inept Prime Minister and his security cabinet seem similar to another group of politcians and generals, who ran Great Britain in the decade before World War II. In 1931, future British PM Stanley Baldwin announced that his nation would put its money on strategic airpower as a deterrent, claiming that “the bomber will always get through.” In 1936, as the occupant of #10 Downing Street, Mr. Baldwin got a chance to test his theories, when Hitler and his fledgling military machine marched into the Rhineland. Mr. Baldwin, of course, did nothing, and was eventually turned out of office, leaving it up to his protégé—Neville Chamberlain—to try the politics of appeasement with Herr Hitler.

One reason Mr. Baldwin failed to act in 1936 is because his 1931 claim was largely an idle boast. As a USAF historian later noted, few nations ever embraced the “cult” of offensive airpower with the fervor of Great Britain, and few did as little to give the air arm the personnel and equipment needed to develop strategic capabilities. The RAF of 1936 was a largely hollow force, just as it had been in 1931. While probably sufficient to support ground troops in stopping Hitler in 1936, it was not the decisive instrument of power that Baldwin described five years earlier.

Seven decades later, the problem in Israel is just the opposite. Israel has the military capabilities required to defeat its enemies, but the resolve of its leadership remains very much in doubt. Given the choice between continuing a protracted conflict and accepting a fatally flawed cease-fire, Olmert chose the latter, postponing the task of dealing with Israel’s mortal enemies, and emboldening Hizaballah to continue its campaign of terror and death. Paraphrasing Churchill's famous remarks on Baldwin's protege, Neville Chamberlain, the Israeli Prime Minister had a choice between war and dishonor. He chose dishonor, and he will certainly have war again, after an illusory cease-fire. Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Chamberlain, meet Mr. Olmert.

The Next Threat

A senior Israeli official is warning his countrymen that they should prepare for a possible missile attack from Iran.

Rafi Eitan, a former intelligence chief who now serves as part of Prime Minister Olmert's decision-making inner cabinet, told Israel radio that the Jewish state would likely be attacked first--if the nuclear standoff between Iran and the West deteriorates.

We are liable to face an Iranian missile attack. The Iranians have said very clearly that if they come under attack, their primary target would be Israel," said Eitan.

Iran could fire missiles at the Jewish state "therefore we must prepare for what could come, and prepare the entire country for a missile strike attack, to prepare all the civilian systems so they are ready for this," Eitan said.

The radio said Eitan meant that Israel should prepare its bomb shelters to protect against a possible Iranian attack.

"Prepare its bomb shelters" is a carefully calibrated term for precautions against chemical or biological attack. Israeli bomb shelters are already capable of handling conventional attacks, as demonstrated during the recent Katyusha strikes by Hizballah. However, additional preparations would be required for chemical or bio attacks, similar to those observed before the first Gulf War back in 1991. Implementing those steps--including distribution of gas masks to the general populace, or installing chem/bio "barriers" in shelters--would be a good indicator of how seriously Israel is taking the Iranian threat.

Emboldened by Hizballah's recent victory in Lebanon--and its own refusal to meet the U.N.'s nuclear demands--Iran is probably more willing to strike at Israel than in the past. But Israel is not defenseless against an Iranian missile attack. The Arrow II missile defense system was deployed specifically for that purpose; it is more than capable of defeating Iran's medium-range missile, the Shahab-3, and U.S.-built Patriot batterys provide redundant capabilities. The missiles launched by Iran last week were short-range models and provide no threat to Israel. Tehran's last test of a Shahab-3 occurred months ago, and was only partially successful. However, the missiles have been declared operational by the Iranians, and could be launched with minimal warning. Given that capability--and a resurgent Iran--advance preparations certainly make sense.

One final thought: given its recent setback in Lebanon, Israel is perhaps less likely to use force against Iran--at least for the short term. There's a lot of finger-pointing going on in Israel right now, as generals and politicians try to pin the blame for what went wrong against Hizballah. In that environment, the Israelis might be less willing to mount a bold strike against Iran's nuclear program, unless they had clear proof that Tehran was about to get the bomb--and they could pinpoint the weapons (or final assembly) to a few, targetable locations.

At this point, Israel desperately needs a change of government--and new leadership of its defense apparatus.

Curing the Code C Disease

In recent months, we've posted on a couple of occasions about the military's struggle with Coe C personnel. Code C is a classification used for individuals with medical problems that prevent them from deploying to places like Afghanistan or Iraq--usually because "sufficient" medical facilities aren't available. As a result, someone else has to go when it's time for a Code C soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine to go down range.

The rationale behind the Code C program is simple and understandable. Sometimes, healthy, fully-qualified military personel develop medical conditions that prevent them from going to locations where the right medical care isn't readily available. Personnel classified as Code C are monitored and treated while on profile, then returned to "worldwide" deployment status once the problem is corrected. For personnel with more serious, long-term or permanently debilitating conditions, a review board is eventually convened, and they are often medically retired, with a partial pension and medical benefits--if the condition can be linked to military service.

It's a fair and equitable system--or, at least it used to be. Unfortunately, Code C has also become a hiding place for malingerers and deadbeats who don't want to deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan, or other "garden spots." Predictably, these goldbricks often know the profile regulations as well (or better) than their doctors and commanders, allowing them to manipulate the system to their advantage. And sadly, the chain of command is often unwilling to press the test. So, Capt Deadwood or Sgt Deadbeat remains on active duty, but can't deploy to any locale that isn't within driving range of the "right " doctor or hosptial.

How serious is this problem? A retired Chief Master Sergeant, with decades of experience in personnel issue, estimates that about half of the Air Force's Code C personnel fall into the malingerer category, using the system (to some degree) to dodge unwanted deployments or remote assignments. A few of these slackers are open about their little "con," almost daring the service to call their bluff.

Here's a classic case in point, relayed by a young Captain who began her career at a base in southern Europe during the late 1990s. She had a Master Sergeant (E-7) in her section who was classified as Code C for mysterious back and knee ailments. As it turned out, the base had one of the few Air Force orthpedic doctors in the region, and the surgeon believed that the problem could be cured with minor surgery. Not surprisingly, Sergeant Deadbeat cancelled the operations before he could go under the knife. His condition did improve when it was time to re-enlist--you can't sign up for another hitch if you're on Code C--but once he had re-upped, the knee and back problems returned, and Deadbeat was back on profile, just in time to dodge a remote assignment. Never mind that Sgt Deadbeat was observed (by co-workers) whizzing down the slopes at a military ski area on at least two occasions; when it came time to deploy, he retreated behind his Code C profile and stayed home.

Deadbeat made no bones about his scheme; he even openly bragged about his plan to ride out his career on Code C status, and get the necessary surgery just before he retired. The young Captain (then a Lieutenant) pressed her supervisors to get rid of the goldbrick; the chain of command seemed willing until they learned that the involuntary separation package required the signature of the Secretary of Defense. At that point, she began hearing comments about "what a good guy" Deadbeat was, and his "many years of service to the Air Force." Translated: we're not willing to press the test because it might make us look bad as supervisors and commanders. As Chief Buddy would say, a classic case of chickenship versus leadership.

If you listen closely, you can probably hear the faint laughter from a retired Air Force Master Sergeant who "gamed" the system all the way to retirement. The fact that this character is getting a retirement pension is bad enough; more disturbing is the reality that other NCOs had to spend time away from home and family to cover deployments and remotes that rightfully belonged to Sgt. Deadbeat.

As for the cure, I hear that senior AF leadership is proposing new rules that would give commanders more authority in deciding who can go, and who will remain home on Code C status. That's a step in the right direction (IMO); currently, the docs have most of the say, and many are too willing to give their patients the benefit of the doubt. Commanders tend to be more dispassionate about such matters, and with a mission to meet, they should be able to get some of the goldbricks back in the game--or, out the gate for good.

There's a hard reality driving this policy change. By one estimate, only about half of the AF's personnel have deployed since 2001--a figure that's roughly comparable to the other services. Unfortunately, many of the personnel in that 50% category have deployed multiple times, while others have managed to stay home, including some of the Code C con men (and women).

Adding another thousand or so airmen to the deployment rotation may not sound like much, but if you're an airman, NCO or officer facing your third or fourth long deployment in the past five years, a little relief is certainly welcome news. More importantly, the new rules will, hopefully, send a clear signal to the malingerers and slackers who hide behind vague illnesses and afflictions. The game is finally up, and not a moment too soon. Get yourself cured and get downrange, or meet a medical retirement board, and have a happy civilian life.

ADDENDUM: This is not an indictment of all personnel on Code C status. As we've noted before, the majority are on profile for legitimate medical reasons, and many return to "worldwide" status after prescribed treatment. Medical profiles must remain an option for those personnel. But we've got to close the loopholes that allow deadbeats to manipulate the system for their own benefit--and at the expense of someone else who inevitably replaces them in the deployment line. The fact that Master Sergeant Deadbeat was allowed to remain on active duty speaks volumes about his chain of command at that European base back in the late 90s. If they had managed to acquire a set, they might have done the right thing, and set an example for anyone else planning to follow Deadbeat's lead.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Defending the High Frontier

Drudge has a link to a timely warning from General Kevin Chilton, a former astronaut who recent took the helm of the U.S. Air Force Space Command. Speaking at an annual missile defense conference in Alabama, General Chilton emphasized the need to more quickly identify space payloads launched by other countries, and determine if they pose a threat to U.S. platforms and capabilities.

"We need to know what the intent of that launch is," he said, including whether an object could jam or otherwise harm satellites or spread micro-satellites that could do so.

Chilton said his goal was to learn all this in the object's first orbit of the Earth so the United States could take unspecified actions "before an adversary can cripple us."

As General Chilton indicates, the potential threat in space is very real--and growing. Potential adversaries--most notably China--are well aware of our reliance on space-based intelligence and communications platforms, and are investing in technology that could degrade our satellites, destroy them, or simply prevent us from using them. The PRC's anti-satellite (ASAT) programs have grown almost geometrically over the past decade, and Beijing is actively pursuing both space and ground-based weapons that could be employed against western platforms. Hence, the need to identify--and quickly react to--space payloads that may represent a threat.

As we noted a couple of months ago, the growing challenge on the high frontier is receiving increased attention from both the White House and Capitol Hill. But providing the resources to counter that threat is a different matter altogether. Developing more viable space defenses is a costly proposition, and it will entail more than the situational displays and analytical tools that General Chilton referred to. The U.S. needs defenses for its space platforms, and a resurrection of our ASAT program.

I used that term because we once had a viable ASAT weapon (launched from an F-15 fighter), but we shelved it more than a decade ago. Bowing to international pressure to avoid "the weaponization of space," the U.S. ASAT effort was cancelled, while our adversaries pressed ahead with their own programs. At the time, the U.S. could (at least politically) afford to put its ASAT deployment on hold, since we held a substantial technological lead over other countries.

Unfortunately, much has changed since those days, and the U.S. can no longer afford such an egalitarian position. Our advantage has largely dissipated, and we now face growing threats to space systems that form the backbone of our military and economic infrastructures. The real question is: will the administration and Congress actually follow through and adopt a more realistic policy toward space defenses, before it's too late? Reading between the lines of General Chilton's remarks, it's clear that the time for that decision is now at hand.

Say What?

This blog has been a long-time supporter of the Bush Administration, and its efforts to fight terrorism around the globe. We've defended Mr. Bush and his national security team on numerous occasions, recognizing their willingness to tackle the hard jobs of defeating global terrorism and promoting democracy in the Middle East. Accomplishing those goals takes time and considerable patience, and we've been willng to give the White House the benefit of the doubt in pursuing those necessary aims.

But even our support has its limits, and we've been deeply disturbed by the administration's recent handling of the Lebanon crisis, and its analysis of the conflict between Israel and Hizballah. On Monday, for example, Mr. Bush announced that the Israelis had "defeated" the terrorists, without qualifying his remarks. The President's remarks suggested that the IDF had achieved a decisive victory over Hizballah, despite ample evidence to the contrary. What Mr. Bush should have said is that Israel met many of its operational and tactical goals, inflicting severe losses on terrorist forces in south Lebanon. That may sound like Clintonian parsing--and it probably is--but it would be a more accurate assessment than the President's "blanket" victory statement. In reality, Hizballah gained a strategic victory simply by going toe-to-toe with the region's most powerful military for more than a month, and will emerge from the conflict with greater influence than ever in Lebanon and beyond.

If that weren't bad enough, Secretary of State Condolezza Rice followed Mr. Bush's remarks with a rather astounding statement of her own. In an interview with USA Today, the secretary stated that it is "not the job" of the U.N. peacekeeping force to disarm Hizballah guerillas in south Lebanon. Dr. Rice also opined that the 15,000-member U.N. force "will keep the peace" and enforce an international arms embargo against the terrorists."

Say what? Secretary Rice has clearly been spending too much time with our European partners, because such inane comments are worthy of the French foreign minister, or perhaps, his German counterpart. In the span of less than two weeks, the U.S. Secretary of State has signed on to a "cease fire" that jeopardizes Israeli security, and endorsed a peace-keeping plan that ignores the fundamental requirement of disarming Hizballah.

Attempting to explain her position, Dr. Rice noted the difficulty of "disarming" a militia. If Hizballah resists calls to disarm, the secretary suggested that the arms embargo and international pressure could produce the desired effect. She even suggested that the terrorist group would find itself "increasingly isolated" from European and other nations, if it fails to lay down its arms.

Excuse me for a moment.


This is a joke, right? Does Secretary Rice actually believe that a more "robust" peacekeeping force will be any more successful at keeping the peace than its predecessor, which allowed Hizballah to camp next to U.N. positions in south Lebanon? Does she really believe that a terrorist group will voluntarily give up its arms, just to make the Europeans happy? Does she think the presence of Lebanese Army will make a difference? Never mind the fact that Lebanon's vaunted fighting force hasn't been in the area in more than a decade, and it represents a government that includes Hizballah ministers and is heavily influenced by the group. And finally, just for grins, does our Secretary of State believe that anything short of military action can actually stop the flow of arms from Iran and Syria, to the terrorists in Lebanon?

Obviously, the U.S. had hoped that Israel could defeat Hizballah quickly and decisively. That didn't happen, forcing Mr. Bush and Dr. Rice to put the best face on a bad situation. But if the United States government views the current cease fire and "disarmament" plan as an effective policy to deal with a major crises, then the smart boys and girls at the White House and Foggy Bottom are sadly mistaken. Admittedly, the Bush Administration couldn't support indefinite Israeli military operations in Lebanon, but forcing Israel into an ill-conceived "cease fire" and endorsing a fatally flawed security plan suggests that the Bush Administration may be losing its mettle, at the very time that courage and determination are needed in international policy, perhaps more than ever before.

Pardon the Interruption

Back on the road (again), so blogging has been non-existent for the past few days. Monday was your typical back-from-vacation-with-million-e-mails-to-answer hell, followed by a Delta Day on Tuesday. Delta Day is, of course, named for the airline that everyone loves to hate. I spent most of Tuesday afternoon on an airport ramp in the eastern seaboard, due to thunderstorms in Atlanta (okay, I can't blame the weather on the airline). But, by the time I finally arrived in Atlanta, traffic in/out of the airport was totally screwed up. And, making matters worse, my ASA puddle jumper was in the barn for unspecified maintenance problems. Waiting for the problem(s) to be fixed took another two hours, so I arrived at my destination around midnight.

Thankfully, today isn't a travel day, and I actually have a little time for the blog. You have been warned. But tomorrow's another day, with another trip on Delta. Pass the pretzels.

Monday, August 14, 2006

While We Were Away

Back from a few days in Faulkner Country; the heat was unrelenting, but the region still has its charms, despite a daytime heat index that hovered around 110. Unfortunately, I had little time for sightseeing or a trip to Rowan Oak; this was a working vacation, devoted to painting and landscaping around the family home. Between various chores, I kept monitoring developments in the Middle East--describing them as dramatic would be an understatement. History will record that Israeli PM Ehud Olmert literally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and we will all pay a price for his transgressions. More to follow.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Score One for the IAF

The Israeli Air Force has again demonstrated why it has few peers in aerial combat. On Monday, an IAF fighter shot down a Hizballah drone that was packed with explosives, and apparently enroute to an Israeli city, perhaps Tel Aviv. Israeli media reports indicate that the drone was over Israeli coastal waters at the time of the intercept; the drone--probably an Iranian Mojaher-class UAV--was detected crossing the border from Lebabnon and was tracked by the IAF until it was knocked out of the sky.

As we've noted in the past, shooting down a UAV is no mean feat. Drones are typically small in size, with a minimal radar return, making them difficult to acquire and track with radar. Additionally, many UAVs cruise at slow speeds--often slower than many helicopters, which further compounds the tracking and intercept problems. Target engagement radars (like those on fighters, or associated with surface-to-air missiles) often look for changes in doppler shift to pinpoint hostile threats. In some cases, the UAV simply flies too slow to be detected by engagement radars; adjusting the radar's "doppler gate" may help a bit, but that also introduces more clutter into the display, making it difficult to spot the UAV.

And, if that weren't enough, the small size of a UAV or drone makes them difficult to acquire visually. During the days of no-fly zone enforcement over Iraq, attempts by Saddam's air force to engage U.S. Predators were usually good for a laugh on a slow day. More often that not, Iraqi radar operators could never find the target; on the rare occasions when they could, the fighter pilots under their direction failed to complete the intercept. Even at close quarters, it was extremely difficult for the Iraqi MiG driver to maintain visual track on an American UAV.

Shooting down a UAV with a fighter is equally problematic. Without radar tracking, more advanced missiles (such as the U.S. made AIM-120 AMRAAM) are largely useless. Infra-red air-to-air missiles (such as our own Sidewinder) may be a better choice, but only if you can acquire the target, l0ck onto the UAV, and maintain that lock. UAVs have a small IR signature, and that problem is compounded by "other" elements (such as clouds) that reflect IR energy, and may cause the missile to break lock. If all else fails, pilots can attempt a gun pass, but that's easier said that done, given the speed of the fighter, the much slower velocity of the UAV, intercept geometry, and the limited rounds available (a "fully loaded" F-16 has less than 1,000 rounds of 20 mm ammunition for its on-board cannon, enough for about 3-4 seconds of burst time. If you're going to use the gun, make the first shot count--you probably won't get another one.

But a skilled IAF pilot made his shot count on Monday, knocking down the UAV before it could deliver death and destruction to an Israeli city. So far, the IAF hasn't provided a lot of details about how it was able to successfully track and engage the drone--and with good reason. Before the current conflict, Hizballah had twice embarassed the IAF, flying UAVs over Israeli territory on two occasions, with no response from the Israelis. The IAF has clearly been working on the UAV problem in recent months, and those efforts paid off on Monday. Hizballah's attempt to score a major political and propaganda victory wound up on the bottom of the ocean.

I've only seen a video clip of the intercept, which was apparently sanitized by Israeli censors. If I had to guess--and it's only a guess--I'd say that the Israelis used a variety of measures to handle the drone threat. IAF UAVs may have provided initial indications of the operation, along with SIGINT platforms. Once the UAV was detected, an IAF AEW or AWACS platform likely vectored fighters to the area; the drone's over-water flight path probably aided in its detection and tracking, eliminating much of the clutter associated with overland radar coverage.

As for what knocked down the UAV, my choice would be an Israeli Python-5 IR missile. The Python-5 is the most advanced IR air-to-air missile in the world, with an advanced seeker and outstanding maneuverability. More importantly, the Israelis use the Python-5 with a helmet-mounted sight; the pilot has a sighting reticle in front of his eye that "slews" the missile seeker to whatever he's looking at outside the cockpit. As long as he could maintain visual on the missile--tough, but not impossible, the Python-5 could see the target as well. After launch, the missile honed on the UAV's heat sources, and knocked it from the sky.

One final note: MSM accounts have emphasized Hizballah's past use of UAVs in gathering intelligence. There are a couple of problems with that scenario, particularly in context of Monday's shootdown. First of all, use of the UAV to provide real-time intelligence requires the use of datalinks and ground support stations, which can provide tipoffs to the Israelis, and allow them to target Hizballah C2 centers more effectively. Secondly, the inaccuracy of the terrorists's weapons of choice (Katyusha rockets) makes targeting support unnecessary and ineffective. "Precision" information is of little value for an area weapon like the Katyusha. Additionally, Hizballah lacks the UAV infrastrucure and operational experience to take full advantage of such systems; as a result, UAV flights will remain a rarity in this conflict, and reserved for Hizballah efforts to strike deep against "untouchable" Israeli targets.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Paul Eells, RIP

This item crossed my desk as I was heading out the door the other day, and I've been meaning to post on the untimely death of sportscaster Paul Eells. The long-time voice of the Arkansas Razorbacks died last Sunday in a car crash, at the age of 70. He had been the play-by-play announcer for "Hawg" broadcasts for the past 28 years; before that, he was the voice of the Vanderbilt Commodores, and play-by-play man for his alma mater, the University of Iowa.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Eells, although we had mutual friends in Arkansas broadcast circles. To a person, they describe him as a true gentleman in a business often known for its egos. Similar sentiments were expressed by those who knew him from his TV and radio appearances (he was also sports director of Little Rock TV station KATV for almost three decades).

Paul Eells was, by all accounts, a thorooughly decent, honorable and compassionate man. He was also an outstanding sportscaster. It is fitting that most Arkansans will remember him more for his personal qualities than for his many memorable calls as the "voice of the Hawgs."


Back to the Blog

I've made a less-than-startlng discovery: back-to-back trips and a late summer virus aren't conducive to blogging. But, with a little help from the makers of Advil, I'm back in the saddle again.

More Bluster from Damascus

Syria--with the backing of Iran--is feeling rather full of itself at this juncture in the Lebanon War. And for obvious reasons. As the "hand-maiden" between Hizballah and its Iranian patrons, Damascus has been able to bring death and destruction to its hated enemy--at no cost to Syria.

Speaking with reporters during a visit to Lebanon, the Syrian foreign minister rejected a plan brokered by the U.S. and France that would implement a cease-fire, as a first step in a wider peace deal. According to the Syrian official, Walid Moallem, the proposed deal "only represents the Israeli point of view." He also underscored Syria's support for Hizballah, saying that "he hoped to be a soldier in the resistance." Careful readers will note that Mr. Moallem (so far) hasn't visited a Hizballah recruiting station, so his "support" will apparently be restricted to diplomatic channels.

Moallem also stated that Syria's armed forces are prepared for a "wider regional war," a claim that should bring laughter from any serious observer of armed forces in the Middle East. So far, Damascus's military activity has been purely defensive in nature, with many units dispersing outside of garrison to avoid possible Israeli air attacks. To date, there has been no detected mobilization within the Syrian ground forces, and no indications of offensive activity by air force units, either. In other words, Moallem's claims are little more than bluster, typical of what we've come to expect from Damascus during almost any crisis that threatens to envelop Syria.

In fact, one Middle Eastern wag once suggested that "Syria was always prepared to fight to the last Egyptian," a reference to the alliance that Damascus relied on in four major wars against Israel. Egypt's large army created a second front for the Israelis, forcing them to divide their combat power. When Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David accords in 1979, Damascus lost its most reliable ally, and watched the IDF concentrate more of its forces toward Syria. The often-cited Bekka Valley campaign (1982) was the first major conflict that pitted Israel squarely against Syria, and resulted in an over-whelming victory by the IAF.

A quarter-century later, Syria's military readiness has hardly improved, and neither has the strategy of the Assad government. The Baathists in Damascus have found a new proxy, and are quite willing to fight until the last Hizballah terrorist dies in Lebanon. Fortunately for the Syrians, Hizballah fighters are more than willing to die for the cause, so Damascus is prepared to keep the fight going--as long as there's no price to pay.

Memo to P.M. Olmert: assuring Syria that it won't be attacked is the wrong strategy. Damascus views such assurances as signs of weakness, making it more eager to keep Hizballah in the battle. Israel should make it clear that it holds Syria responsible for supplying and supporting Hizballah, with the very real threat of military action if Damascus continues such policies. Even with an ongoing conflict in Lebanon, Israel still has more than enough military power to deal with Syria as well--and that message needs to be communicated to Bashir Assad, in no uncertain terms.

P.S.--The U.S. could help in this matter by concentrating one of our Iraq-based brigades on the Syrian border.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Today's Reading Assignment

Michelle Malkin's most recent column, on what happened in Qana, and the lack of answers for lingering questions.

Another Case for Term Limits

...from today's edition of The New York Times. Seems that members of the World's Most Exclusive Club don't like riding on Capitol elevators with us ordinary folks.

Israel Goes Deep

Amid worries and hand-wringing that "Israel is losing the war," the IDF demonstrated why it should never be underestimated--or written off--on the battlefield. Late yesterday, as its armored and mechanized forces poured into south Lebanon, Israel also mounted a daring commando raid, sent members of an elite unit deep into enemy territory, targeting the terrorist stronghold of Baalbek, near the Syrian border. It was Israel's deepest penetration of enemy terrority (to date), and reminiscent of bold, decisive IDF operations in the past, such as the hostage rescue mission at Entebbe, Uganda, or the raid on Saddam's nuclear facility in 1981.

The raid was reportedly aimed at a Hizballah hospital, where senior terrorist operatives were holed up. Details on the mission remain scant, but some reports suggest a combined heliborne/paradrop mission. One account, cited on FNC last night, said the sky around Baalbek was "ablaze" with parachute flares, probably fired by Hizballah guerillas in a vain effort to target Israeli commandos. The terrorists originally claimed that they had trapped the Israeli force in the hosptial, but claim was later dropped, after it became clear that the IDF operatives had left the area. Late reports indicate the commandos killed at least 10 terrorists and captured five during the raid at Baalbek. The IDF reports that those captured were mid-level to low-ranking terrorists. However, early accounts suggested that one high-level Hizballah official was at the hospital when the IDF teams arrived; at this point, his status is unclear.

By any standard, the attack on Baalbek was a spectacular success. As we noted in this space yesterday, the IDF was planning to test the depth of Hizballah offensives. At that time, we speculated that the "test" would resemble something out of Guderian's panzer playbook. After weeks of prepatory, "clearing" operations, the IDF would attempt to "fix" Hizballah's remaining forces in place, smash through carefully prepared corridors, and push on to the Latani River. That operation remains the centerpiece of Israel's operational plan.

But yesterday's raid changes the military calculus even more. By striking at Baalbek, the Israelis underscored their ability to target senior Hizballah officials and positions in supposedly "safe" areas. As a result, Hizballah will be forced to keep a number of fighters in reserve, and possibly shift additional units to the Bekka Valley, as a hedge against additional Israeli raids. That means their buddies in south Lebanon can count on fewer reinforcements, giving the IDF an even bigger advantage, in terms of combat power and force ratios. By some estimates, Hizballah has less than 5,000 fighters south of the Latani River, against an IDF contingent that is approaching division-size (15,000) in strength. If those numbers are accurate, the Israel is reaching the minimum, 3-1 superiority deemed necessary for offensive operations.

Additionally, the raid on Baalbek provides an important morale-booster for the IDF, at a time when its tactics and strategy have been questioned by so-called "experts" around the world. The IDF has made its share of mistakes in the present conflict, but (as yesterday's raid demonstrates), the Israelis are without peer in the Middle East, both in terms of military capabilities and old-fashioned derring-do. Contrary to what some WSJ columnists may think, the pendulum is swinging decidedly in Israel's favor.

One final note: there wasn't even a military peep from Syria, in response to the Israeli raid. Given Baalbek's proximity to the Syrian border, it's doubtful that the IDF would have mounted the operation if there was a chance that Damascus would have responded militarily. But with Bashir Assad's armed forces in the "hunker down" mode, the IDF had little to worry about, and pressed ahead with the raid. Israel has been criticized for "coddling" Syria by assuring Damascus that it will not be attacked, in conjuction with operations in Lebanon. Given the lack of reaction from Syria (so far), it seems possible that Tel Aviv has received assurances of its own, namely that Damascus values national survival over its support of Hizballah.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Losing the War

In today's Opinion Journal, Bret Stephens offers an unusually pessimistic assessment of the Israeli campaign in south Lebanon. From his perspective, the verdict is siimple: Israel is losing this war.

According to Mr. Stephens, Israel is heading for defeat (at least in part) because it can't quite define its military objectives, while increasing the timeline for meeting thoes goals. As he observes, the stated Israeli strategy has changed several times since the conflict began; we've noted the same thing, particularly in terms of the shrinking security zone that Israel plans to establish in south Lebanon. At one point over the weekend, an Israeli spokesman spoke in terms of a two-mile buffer zone, a goal that made little sense in terms of preventing rocket strikes into northern Israel, one of the paramount goals of the Israeli campaign.

Stephens also cites the intelligence failures and political missteps that have hindered the Israeli military effort so far. He believes the Israelis have squandered much of the advantage they enjoyed when the war began more than three weeks ago, getting bogged down in a protratced conflict that its key patron (the United States) cannot support indefinitely.

There's more than an element of truth in these accusations. To be sure, Israel has made significant mistakes in the conflict so far. It began the war with inadequate military force on its northern border. Early air strikes seemed more pre-occupied with bean-counting, rather than effects-based operations that would actually degrade Hizballah's military capabilities. In a recent posting, we theorized that Israel's brief bombing halt was more than just a public relations and diplomatic effort--it was also designed to give the IAF a chance to re-evaluate its strategy and fine-tune for a renewed air campaign. And, of course, Prime Minister Olmert's overall strategy seems to be a work in progress.

But there are also hopeful signs that Israel has adopted a vitable plan, and is moving smartly to execute it. Within the last 24 hours, the Israeli security cabinet approved a plan to extend the security zone north to the Latani River--virtually eliminating the rocket threat to northern Israel. Occupying that region will require at least a division-sized force, and there are clear indications that Israel is mobilizing the necessary resources. More than 30,000 reservists have been called up, and roads in norther Israel are lined with tanks, APCs, and trucks, all heading for the Lebanese border. As we recently pointed out, the IDF remains heavily dependent on reserves to execute its combat missions; ground commanders have been awaiting the arrival of more troops before entering Lebanon in force. Yesterday's approval of the "Latani River Plan" suggests that Israel now has the required combat power to meet its mission objectives.

At the same time, there are also indications that Israeli efforts may be having their desired effect. The number of rocket attacks against northern Israel has dropped dramatically over the past 24 hours; a deal is reportedly near to end the Gaza Crisis (Hamas has apparently had enough), and the IAF struck targets near the Syrian border, sending another signal to Damascus. Mr. Stephens seems to think that Bashir Assad is getting off scot-free in the current crises, but he fails to note that Syria is already in a defensive crouch. One reason that Israel may be going to lengths to avoid antagonizing Damascus is that Syria has demonstrated that it won't cross the line in support of Hizballah.

Thirty years from now, the war colleges won't cite the Israeli campaign in Lebanon as a textbook example of modern military operations. But it won't be viewed as a military disaster, either. More than likely, history will record this latest war in south Lebanon as an example of a military power--in this case, Israel--overcoming early, avoidable mistakes, and eventually achieving its military goals. Israel hasn't covered itself in glory (so far), but it's not exactly losing the war, either.

Invitation to Disaster

In response to expanding IDF operations in southern Lebanon, Syria is reportedly increasing its military readiness. Citing Israel's "barbaric war of annihilation," Syrian President Bashir Assad said he had directed his nation's military to increase its alert level. Assad claims that Syria will not abandon support for Lebanese (read: Hizballah) resistance against Israel.

From what I can gather, Syria's preparations (so far) appear to be largely defensive in nature, including increased dispersal activity among key units. Having been suprised in the past--and mercilessly hammered by the IAF--the Syrians are apparently taking no chances this time around. Besides, even Bashir Assad understands that his military is no match for the Israeli Defense Forces, even with on-going operations in Lebanon. True, Syria could cause some problems for the IDF (particulary with its ballistic missile arsenal), but Damascus would pay a severe price for such a misadventure, far more than Assad can afford.

Expect Syria to continue the "heroic" rhetoric--while quietly continuing efforts to protect key military systems for Israeli attack. Challenging Israeli militarily is an invitation to disaster, hence the emphasis on "hide and cover."

Expanded Plans

Israel is now planning a significant expansion of its proposed security zone in southern Lebanon. After a late-night cabinet meeting, Israeli officials announced their intention to send troops as far north as the Latani River, nearly twenty miles inside Lebanese territory. Previously, Israeli government spokesman indicated that the security zone might be only two miles wide, covering a narrow strip along the border between Israel and Lebanon.

Does this represent a change in Israeli intentions and planning? Yes and no. When the conflict with Hizballah began about thre weeks ago, Israeli planners talked in terms of an extended security zone--stretching from the border to the Latani River. However, those plans were apparently curtailed when IDF troops encountered stiff resistance in cross-border raids against terrorist positions. As recently as last weekend, at least one Israeli spokesman spoke of a down-sized security border, prompting more than a few western analysts to scratch their heads. With Hizballah now using longer-ranged rockets against Israeli targets, a two-mile boundary seemed hardly worth the effort. There were even whispers that the IDF was "losing the war."

But such assessments were premature, for a variety of reasons. First, Israeli reserves were not available in sufficient quantities to expand operations across the border. Now, with more reservists available for duty, the IDF has the necessary force to expand its operations in Lebanon, deploying the division-size force required to push towards the Latani River. Secondly, many armchair analysts confused immediate objectives with longer-term goals; that two-mile security zone was a short-term goal, aimed at keeping Hizballah away from the immediate border region, slightly reducing the number of rocket attacks, and making it easier for IDF units to marshal on the Israeli side.

Additionally, the initial assessments failed to account for potential Israeli disinformation and perception shaping efforts. Facing an entrenched enemy in south Lebanon, the IDF high command realized that rooting out Hizballah would require an extended fight, over a period of weeks, even months. There would not be a quick victory in southern Lebanon, so it became necessary to recalibrate the Israeli public expectations for a longer conflict. On the other side, concerns about "stiff resistance" may have been intended (in part) to embolden Hizballah, enticing them to launch increased attacks and expose more of their fighters--particularly, their rocket launch crews--to Israeli counter-strikes. There has been a dramatic decrease in terrorist rocket attacks against Israel in the past 24 hours, suggesting that IDF strikes are having an impact, or (at the least) Hizballah is signalling its willingness for some sort of deal.

Finally, the Israelis are displaying the sort of operational flexibility needed to fight--and win a modern military campaign. As conditions on the ground improve (and more IDF units move into Lebanon), Israel is prepared to capitalize on the situation, and extend their security zone well past its northern border. That was probably the plan all along, but the Israelis understand that war is a fluid business. Sometimes, it's necessary to temporarily adjust operational goals, and create a little fog on the battlefield to boot. In the days to come, it will be interesting to see if Hizballah took the Israeli "bait," committing much of its forces to the border battles, and leaving insufficient force to deal with deeper Israeli thrusts. We'll soon discover if Hizballah is acquianted with the concept of "defense in depth."