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Totten On Lebanon: Closer To Perry

Amplifying the interesting germ of a discussion below, in which Michael Totten and Mark Perry are held as holding opposing views, are Totten's latest posts re Israel and Lebanon:
What should the Israelis have done instead? They should have treated Hezbollahland as a country, which it basically is, and attacked it. They should have treated Lebanon as a separate country, which it basically is, and left it alone. Mainstream Lebanese have no problem when Israel hammers Hezbollah in its little enclave. Somebody has to do it, and it cannot be them. If you want to embolden Lebanese to work with Israelis against Hezbollah, or at least move in to Hezbollah's bombed out positions, don't attack all of Lebanon.

Israel should not have bombed Central Beirut, which was almost monolithically anti-Hezbollah. They should not have bombed my old neighborhood, which was almost monolithically anti-Hezbollah. They should not have bombed the Maronite city of Jounieh, which was not merely anti-Hezbollah but also somewhat pro-Israel.

Israelis thinks everyone hates them. It isn't true, especially not in Lebanon. But they will make it so if they do not pay more attention to the internal characteristics of neighboring countries. "The Arabs" do not exist as a bloc except in the feverish dreams of the Nasserists and the Baath.

Folks, that's not that far from Perry's key policy point, and one of the reasons I've asked him to engage me in a discussion here on the blog. I have a tentative "yes" and will try and firm things up in the next day or so.


Folks, that's not that far from Perry's key policy point ...

Maybe you or Perry could spell that "key policy point" out a little more clearly.

If it involves more money for Hamas, recognition of Hezbollah, and rewarding terrorism with diplomatic status while Israel drowns in blood, then I think Michael Totten might have a few points of difference with that.

In practice what consists being anti-hizballah? I see many lebanese being allied to Hizballah when convinient and then a couple of months latter doing the contrary.

The attack aganst the Israeli ship off coast couldnt have been achieved without Lebanese army help. (showing once again their levels of incompetence Israel didnt targeted coastal radars before it)

25% of lebanese population voted for Hizballah (why mr. Totten dont use Hizballah denomination since it's the Party of God), 2 cabinet ministers are there, many units in the army are shites alied to Hizballah.

Why giving an alibi to Lebanon Governemet to use deniability and allow them play a dual card.
Calling Hiballah to Governement and then saying it is not anything with them.

I just think that Lebanese arent serious.

My guess is that Israel plans a post war Lebanon that does not include Hizbollah and its supporters.

I also think that an Israeli initiated regime change in Damascus will lessen the animosity towards Israel.

In addition it seems that the strikes have a military purppose. Probably a case of military necessity over ruling political considerations.

The war will include Syria and Iran before it is over. Israel has been given the green light. Bush's rhetoric re: Syria is indicative.

“The Israeli strategy appears to be designed to do two things. First, the Israelis are trying to prevent any supplies from entering Lebanon, including reinforcements. That is why they are attacking all coastal maritime facilities. Second, they are degrading the roads in Lebanon. That will keep reinforcements from reaching Hezbollah fighters engaged in the south. As important, it will prevent the withdrawal and redeployment of heavy equipment deployed by Hezbollah in the south, particularly their rockets, missiles and launchers. The Israelis are preparing the battlefield to prevent a Hezbollah retreat or maneuver.”

and Hizbollah’s

Hezbollah’s strategy has been imposed on it. It seems committed to standing and fighting. The rate of fire they are maintaining into Israel is clearly based on an expectation that Israel will be attacking. The rocketry guarantees the Israelis will attack. Hezbollah has been reported to have anti-tank and anti-air weapons. The Israelis will use airmobile tactics to surround and isolate Hezbollah concentrations, but in the end, they will have to go in, engage and defeat Hezbollah tactically. Hezbollah obviously knows this, but there is no sign of disintegration on its part. At the very least, Hezbollah is projecting an appetite for combat. Sources in Beirut, who have been reliable to this point, say Hezbollah has weapons that have not yet been seen, such as anti-aircraft missiles, and that these will be used shortly.

Published at

Found at Big Pharoah's

If Israel's road leads to Damascus, then the pain of the Lebanese will probably be overshadowed by more pain. But I don't think so, the Israeli Ambassador has been speaking to America about a short punitive operation against Hezbollah, to criple its capabilities and allow Lebanon to take over.

You hate to Monday morning quarterback a war that Israel was justified in pursuing, but when actions don't appear conducive to the stated strategy, then its worth pointing out.

luckylucky: "why mr. Totten dont use Hizballah denomination since it's the Party of God ..."

The sloppy phonetic jumble "Hezbollah" has been around for a long time and is probably the most frequent spelling used by the English-language media, so people use it simply for clarity.

You are absolutely right that "Hizballah" is a much better transliteration, which preserves the meaning of the name: Hizb (Party) of Allah. I wish everyone would adopt it.

Maybe the literal spelling is offensive to Hizballah's western friends, who like to pretend it's a sort of Lebanese Neighborhood Watch full of misguided liberals.

M. Simon, #4:

Note that what you quote was quoted in turn by DefenseTech, but was originally published at

A.L, #0:

While I agree that Israel will not win friends in Lebanon by bombing north of Hezbollah territory, there is a military reality that drives the Israelis. If Stratfor is correct in the snippet that M. Simon reposted, and in general, that Israel's goal is to eradicate or at least cripple Hezbollah, then they absolutely must attack Hezbollah's transport infrastructure to prevent escape or reinforcements.

Problem is, Hezbollah's transport infrastructure extends into northern Lebanon, into Syria, into the sea by way of Lebanese ports, and into the air by way of Lebanese airports.

It is the nature of a good strategy to provoke the enemy into doing something he otherwise might not prefer to do. Israel would probably prefer not to attack norther Lebanon, but having been maneuvered into this war (and having, admittedly, helped manuever themselves there) they are committed to those infrastructure attacks.

In tht sense, Hamas, Hezbollah, and like-minded groups have always had "a good strategy," in that they can craft situations where Israel does things it would otherwise prefer not to do. The critical question in this activity is whether Israel will do enough damage to Hezbollah to effectively destroy it, or whether they will damage it but only to the point where it will come back just as strong five years down the road.

> Hamas, Hezbollah, and like-minded groups have always had "a good strategy...

An excellent strategy. What is actually meant by generalizations such as "destroy" or "incapacitate" Hezbollah is completely unclear to me. At any time, a militia fighter has the option of changing into civvies, ditching the AK-47, and becoming a regular Lebanese citizen. What will Israel do when such a young man tries to pass through a checkpoint--shoot him? imprison him (and then what?) What would be acceptable grounds for doing anything but letting him pass through? "Acceptable" meaning 'to Israelis,' 'to anti-Hezbolla Lebanese,' 'to the vaunted international community,' or for that matter, to you, the reader.

So with a modicum of common sense, the trained cadre of fighters and support personnel gets through this intact.

As far as the weapons, Hezbollah loses them, lots of them--but so what? Iran sees Hezbollah as a foreign policy investment; one source put the annual tag at $100 million. And crude oil prices are up. That kind of dough buys a lot of first-rate replacements. Does Israel propose keeping Beirut's airport (etc.) inoperative for months? For years?

Perhaps there are factors on the Israeli side that I'm not seeing?

I think Lair has an interesting counterpoint to Totten's position. The question of how to deal with governments that are or plausibly claim to be too weak to control an externally-supported terrorist element is probably going to be the key diplomatic problem of this century, and there are no easy answers.

> [...] Mainstream Lebanese have no problem when Israel hammers Hezbollah in its little enclave [...]

Which "little enclave" would that be? The south half of the country, and of Beirut?

AMac, #8:

What does it mean to destroy Hezbollah? Really good question, and I'm not sure I have the answer. But a tentative answer includes:

First, the destruction or capture of all heavy equipment which Hezbollah uses. Granted, they don't have tanks and armored divisions, but they do have heavy equipment. Those missiles they're using to attack Haifa with (and beyond Haifa, and "beyond, beyond Haifa"-- still have to admire the rhetorical skill) aren't exactly field kits. They've also got transportation equipment, and even those shoulder mounted munitions they've been bragging about aren't exactly feather-light. This is where destruction of transport infrastructure plays in-- it is more difficult, although not impossible, to slip across the border to Syria when all the roads are destroyed. Certainly it's a hell of a lot harder to take all your big toys with you.

Second, the death of as many senior members as possible. Hezbollah is not a bunch of guys out in pickup trucks doing whatever seems locally best at the moment. That's more the (current) al`Qaida mindset where bin Laden and his top level guys promulgate general goals, and other fringe people pick it up and run. Hezbollah is (at least as far as I know) a much more geographically concentrated and geographically organized group. They have leaders, and planners, and coordinators, and infrastructure. They have a chain of command, although it may not rival that of a real western style army.

I try not to underestimate the importance of those leaders. The very top tier are certainly known to Israel by name, face, and perhaps even location. The top of the middle tier may or may not be known (depending on what magical, godlike abilities one ascribes to Israeli intelligence) but are probably in close proximity to the groups out in front. Again, the blockading of the coastline and ports, and the bombardment of airports is probably meant to make escape as difficult as possible. If there is a successful or near successful decapitation of Hezbollah, that would also degrade their effectivity.

Third, there is the destruction of direct Hezbollah infrastructure. And here, I don't mean Lebanese facilities that they are using parasitically, like roads, etc. Here I mean dedicated planning and coordination facilities. They do exist.

Fourth and finally, there's always the low level manpower grunts themselves. The area is not that large. If they all go to ground, well, there's going to be a lot of people gone to ground in one area. If they do slip away, they've neglected to take their toys with them. I suspect that they may actually try to stand and fight when the Israelis come at them with ground forces, though, or they will have lost a great deal of street credibility as a resistance movement. A resistance movement has to, you know, resist after they've picked a fight.

Any and all of these things will reduce Hezbollah's effectivity and require a lesser or greater period of restructuring. A key question to my mind is, can they be degraded so far as to be made effectively useless for long enough that Lebanon can secure its territories? If so, then to a large degree, Hezbollah could be considered "destroyed." Unless it did they same thing to Syria.

Look at it from this perspective. If the Lebanese government is going to allow Hizbollah to operate from its territory, that pretty much makes them enemies of Israel by itself. (If they're too weak to exercise their sovreignty over the area, they need to do something about that, by asking for international assistance [read, US] or by renouncing their claim to the territory. If they can't do that politically, then they're screwed; if you don't want to get in a war you can't win, don't paint yourself into a political corner that gives you no choice!)

In that vein, it makes sense for Israel to hit some infrastructure targets in Lebanon. Not only does it help keep Hizbollah assets pinned in southern Lebanon, but it lets the Lebanese government know that they're in the game whether they like it or not. Either they come in and mop up Hizbollah once Israel's done, or they join the target list themselves...

With all due respect Totten is wrong. Non-Hezbollah Lebanon has allowed a foreign supported terror group to join the Lebanese political system and arm itself on Israel's border. If Israel limited its attacks to strictly known and obvious Hezbollah targets this would let non-Hezbollah Lebabon off the hook. That would reward the idea that a sovereign state can allow a terror group to become legitimized in its political system and use its territory for attacks without paying any price. Israel does not treat Hezbollah-land as a separate country because it is NOT a separate country.

Lebanon cannot dodge its responsibility. If you allow groups to arm themselves and use your nation as a launching pad then you will pay the price, not just them.

"With all due respect Totten is wrong."

With all due respect, Totten is at least half-right. Granted, MT and his friend are responding out of well understood and justifiable anguish at the violence being done to the country that they love. Any criticism of what they cry out should be tempered by an understanding of what they are going through.

I think Israel has focused more strongly on Beruit than was absolutely necessary, and I think MT is well positioned to provide that sort of intelligence. However, it was absolutely necessary to hit Beruit. What I think MT neglects is that under the degree of pressure Israel is planning on bring on Hizballah, must bring on Hizballah, its unavoidable that the rest of the country suffer some. The problem is Israel has is if the rest of Lebanon is too weak to curb Hizballah, then they are also too weak to prevent Hizballah taking what it wants in a crisis. The rest of Lebanon has never done anything to give the Israeli's any sign that they are strategicly important. That is to say, they've never done anything since the Israeli withdraw to suggest that they can be trusted actually risk anything in a struggle with Hizballah. They acted strong before Syria, but they've largely been protrast on the Hizballah issue.

The failure of imagination that Israel seems to have is that it would have been better to wait until Hizballah actually played its hand and took the rest of the country captive.

But the extent to which MT is correct depends on details of the following:

"Israel should not have bombed Central Beirut, which was almost monolithically anti-Hezbollah. They should not have bombed my old neighborhood, which was almost monolithically anti-Hezbollah. They should not have bombed the Maronite city of Jounieh..."

It's my impression watching the news that Israel hasn't taken to wholesale bombardment of residential areas. If it has, and its bombing the houses of ordinary non-Shite Lebanese, that's about as disasterous mistake as it could make. If on the other hand, its 'bombed the neighborhood' in the since that a target of strategic importance happened to be in that neighborhood (and apparantly the Israeli startegy rightly or wrongly is treating all gasoline stockpiles in Beruit as having strategic importance) then complaint is much less strong.

But like I said, what Israel should have really waited on was Hizballah to openly turn to banditry before taking these steps.

"The Arabs" do not exist as a bloc except in the feverish dreams of the Nasserists and the Baath.

Pan-Arabism is dead because Israel blew it away in the 1967 war. A war which, like this one, was the result of Israel's sovereign neighbors allowing terrorists to operate from bases on their soil, using them to fight a proxy war against Zionism.

It's the same old story - the Arab states have all the rights; Israel has all the responsibilities. The Arab states, and their apologists, roll out an endless litany of grievances, entitlements, and threats; but when asked to take any step themselves they fall back on the image of the poor helpless Arab frustrated and victimized by rich, clever Jews and their imperialist allies. Israel, on the other hand, is assumed to be a uniquely illegitmate state which is allowed only one policy: paralytic "restraint".

Even at the height of Nasserism, the Arab states shamelessly betrayed and undermined each other. The fact that Shi'ites, Sunnis, Baathists, pseudo-Marxists and Arab National Socialists all hate each others' guts is small comfort to Israel, which has endured generation after generation of conflict. Because as Mr. Perry well knows, they gladly set aside their petty hatreds in favor of the greater hatred.

So Israel must endure a lot of ridiculous lectures right now, in addition to the usual bombs and rockets.

Avatar is correct in stating that Israel has no moral imperative to spare the rest of Lebanon.

At the same time, there may be a valid strategic argument that says a sustained strategy aimed at crippling Hezbollah's capabilities, while widening the rift between it and the rest of Lebanon, is the best course of action. Weaken Hezbollah, widen the rifts, and set up a situation where the Lebanese are tempted to either go after Hezbollah as the threat they are - or block them off in the south and wash their hands, thus clearing the way for open warfare.

That seems to be where Totten is coming from, and he does so from a position that recognizes Hezbollah for what it is (something Perry does not do, which is why they are not in fact 'closer' to one another).

I'll add that even if one agrees with the above strategy, there's still room for argument about the best concept of operations (CONOPS) to match that strategy.

Again, however, none of this is where Perry is coming from.


Weaken Hezbollah, widen the rifts, and set up a situation where the Lebanese are tempted to either go after Hezbollah as the threat they are - or block them off in the south and wash their hands, thus clearing the way for open warfare.

Totten's position is self-defeating. He believes that the Lebanese are too weak to confront Hezbollah, so therefore Israel should limit their attacks to the Hezbollah controlled south - so that maybe the Lebanese will help them confront Hezbollah!

That's absurd. The premise is totally flawed. If the Lebanese were too weak to confront Hezbollah, then all of Lebanon become supply lines for Hezbollah. The Lebanese will neither go after Hezbollah, nor block them off in the south. They will keep their heads down and let Hezbollah do what they want just as they always have. The Lebanese will not confront Hezbollah in any way. Period. Israel has no choice but to attack Hezbollah AND their supply lines.

Totten's argument is a bit like saying we shouldn't have launched the D-Day invasion because we would alienate the French "resistance."

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