Israel's security cabinet today approved the expansion of ground operations
in Lebanon, although it seems that this does not mean that the IDF is cleared to go in right away. The plan, as reported, is to drive to the Litani River - about 20 miles to the North - and then clear Hizbullah out of South Lebanon. According to the Jerusalem Post, there are about 40,000 IDF troops
waiting on the border to advance. If implemented, this is the ground campaign that should have been waged from the very beginning.
Such an invasion would be classic IDF fighting doctrine, as opposed to what has been going on for the last 3 plus weeks. The idea would be a fast move up to the Litani, surrounding but bypassing Hizbullah strongholds to get to the enemy rear. This could be accomplished in a week, according to one IDF general. After that, it would take 4-6 weeks to clear out the Hizbullah strongholds and remove, or at least reduce, the Katyusha threat. The clearing out operations will be difficult and exact fairly high casualties on the IDF (estimates are between 100 and 200 dead). Stratfor's
(subscription required) analysis:
Hezbollah presents both the complexities of fourth-generation warfare that the United States faces in Iraq and the intractability of a deeply entrenched enemy. In the course of engaging positions as well-camouflaged and heavily fortified as Hezbollah's, there are stages of the engagement where an attacker must absorb casualties while inflicting zero casualties on the defender. The purpose of defensive fortifications is to force the attacker into these positions for the longest amount of time to maximize attackers' vulnerability to the defender's established and covered fields of fire. There are also shoulder constraints, restricting the number of attacking troops that can effectively mass inside of these defensive constraints. Thus, a successful assault is not always a matter of how many troops or how many casualties an attacker is willing to take, but rather a function of the tactics used. Hezbollah has so far seemed able to deal effectively with smaller incursions by the IDF composed of an infantry escort for a platoon of three or four tanks.
It seems to me that this is exactly the reason that Israel is hesitating in enacting this plan. More than simply an operational plan, Israel is trying to pressure the "international community" to come up with a viable diplomatic solution so that it will not have to carry out such an invasion. This is a losing proposition. It's doubtful that the UN will come up with a Resolution acceptable to Israel, and waiting another few days while continuing to bomb will only bring more comments like this
from the US (comments from European and Arab countries are not really important at this point).
By waging the war as Israel has waged it for the last 3 weeks - that is to say poorly - Israel has put itself in a horrible position. At this point, it is hard to see what kind of outcome will not allow Hizbullah to claim victory and to enhance its reputation and prestige - as well as control of Lebanon. Hizbullah has been able to withstand the aerial bombardment as well as the assaults of the IDF - assaults that have up to now been reminiscent of the poorly planned IDF armor charges against the Egyptians in the first few days of the Yom Kippur War. Israel has thus been forced into the position of not being able to lose, no matter what the casualties are. Outside of this they need to accomplish something dramatic like killing Nasrallah or freeing the two kidnapped soldiers, neither of which seems likely at this point.
Overall, this war has been incompetently managed by Olmert, Peretz, Halutz and OC Northern Command General Adam. The best that Israel can hope for now is a tactical victory where it kills a large number of Hizbullah fighters and destroys Hizbullah's infrastructure in south Lebanon. But at this point, a strategic victory over Hizbullah seems out of reach. The seeds of the next regional Middle East war have been sown.