This is the start of a Stratfor analysis I received today:
An extraordinary thing happened in the Middle East this month. An Israeli army faced an Arab army and did not defeat it — did not render it incapable of continued resistance. That was the outcome in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982. But it did not happen in 2006. Should this outcome stand, it will represent a geopolitical earthquake in the region — one that fundamentally shifts expectations and behaviors on all sides.
It is not that Hezbollah defeated the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). It did not. By most measures, it got the worst of the battle. Nevertheless, it has been left standing at the end of the battle. Its forces in the Bekaa Valley and in the Beirut area have been battered, though how severely is not yet clear. Its forces south of the Litani River were badly hurt by the Israeli attack. Nevertheless, the correlation of forces was such that the Israelis should have dealt Hezbollah, at least in southern Lebanon, a devastating blow, such that resistance would have crumbled. IDF did not strike such a blow — so as the cease-fire took effect, Hezbollah continued to resist, continued to inflict casualties on Israeli troops and continued to fire rockets at Israel. Hezbollah has not been rendered incapable of continued resistance, and that is unprecedented.
The beginning implies, and the rest of the text states outright, that Hezbollah had the military strength to resist total defeat (something it did with Iran’s and Syria’s backing, of course). The whole thing pivots on military strength and on Israeli and Hezbollah military tactics.
I think, though, that the Stratfor analysis misses a matched set of facts that did not exist in prior wars between Israelis and Arabs: (1) the fact that modern weaponry is capable of targeted strikes, which makes broad strikes appear unethical; and (2) Hezbollah’s willingness to hide behind civilians — and even to use them as bait to score propaganda victories.
Things were different in prior wars. In the old days, bombs were sort of generally aimed, and landed wherever they landed. No one expected an army to target its missiles to the millimeter so as to avoid all or most civilian casualties. That civilians were hit was considered an ordinary aspect of war, a misfortune, but not a sin.
The other thing that has changed is that the Arabs never before intentionally put their civilians in the line of fire. For example, in 1948, the Arab armies expressly warned the civilians to get out of the way of the fighting, with the promise that, when the fighting ended, they could return to rape and pillage to their heart’s content. (And so were born the refugee camps.)
These two new factors make it virtually impossible for a country with a conscience to fight an effective war — especially one played out in a public eye hostile to that country in the first place. If Israel could have played by the old rules — rules that allow you to drop big bombs wherever the enemy and its weapons are — it would have won this war in the first few days, I think. However, it couldn’t do that. It was expected to target its fighting around civilians, and Hezbollah made this ever more difficult by integrating itself more and more into the civilian population. This forced Israel to withhold her full firing power and, when even her restraint and military sophistication couldn’t stop civilian deaths (especially if the bodies were carted in for effect), it exposed her to virulent and increasing world censure.
In other words, the new asymmetry of warfare between a country with very sophisticated weapons and a conscience, on the one hand, and a country with fairly sophisticated weapons and no conscience whatsoever, on the other hand, rendered Israel’s greater military might almost useless.
Again, this is not just about Israel. This is about the asymmetry of all modern warfare. It’s about living in a time when war is no longer considered a fact of life, and when large countries that go to war are also believed to be acting on immoral impulses. The modern dream of warfare, as swift, surgical incursions with minimal damage, and complete victory, is a chimera. It turns out that, as long as the other, weaker side is willing to take the hits, it has the advantage, provided that it can use the West’s own standards and morality against it.