Sunday, May 18, 2008

War in the Middle-East imminent (REGULARLY UPDATED!)

Following the recent shameful debacle of the Three Stooges it now looks like the (expected) blame shifting and finger pointing game is in full swing amongst the various components of the USraelian Empire and its Lebanese puppets.

The latest story coming out of the region is that Israel was poised to strike at Hezbollah on May 11 but reneged at the last second. This story was first broken by Franklin Lamb in Counterpunch and it has been confirmed by DEBKAfile, a propagandistic website close to the Israeli "security" establishment. Franklin Lamb's detailed account is very well written (I have no idea who the men is, but he knows the region and he cleary has first rate access to information). The DEBKA story, in contrast, is full of rather bizarre holes. According to Lamb the plan was to bomb Beirut for 48 hours in support of the Three Stooges and their militias:

The plan involved Israeli air strikes on South and West Beirut in support of forces it was assured would be able to surprise and resist Hezbollah and sustain a powerful offensive for 48 hours.

Also presumably disturbing to Israel was the report it received that Hezbollah "had once again in all probability hacked its "secure" military intelligence communications and the fear that the information would be shared with others.

The Hezbollah rout of the militias in West Beirut plus the fear of retaliation on Tel Aviv, ruining 60th anniversary celebrations, forced cancellation of the supportive attack.
Makes sense. I would just add that whether Hezbollah can hack into the Israeli C3I or whether Hezbollah has excellent HUMINT from Israel or its allies makes no fondamental difference here.

In contrast, the DEBKA story is filled with truly silly statements:

US and military sources disclose the arguments Washington marshaled to persuade Israel to go ahead: Hizballah, after its electronic trackers had learned from the Israel army’s communication and telephone networks that not a single troop or tank was on the move, took the calculated risk of transferring more than 5,000 armed men from the South to secure the capture of West Beirut.

This presented a rare moment to take Hizballah by surprise, Washington maintained. The plan outlined in Washington was for the Israeli Air force to bombard Hizballah’s positions in the South, the West and southern Beirut. This would give the pro-government Christian, Sunni and Druze forces the opening for a counter-attack. Israeli tanks would simultaneously drive into the South and head towards Beirut in two columns.

1. The western column would take the Tyre-Sidon-Damour-Beirut coastal highway.

2. The eastern column would press north through Nabatiya, Jezzine, Ain Zchalta and Alei.

First, this account overlooks the fundamental nature of the order of battle of Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a deeply localized and decentralized force whose main strength is that is fights locally. Simply put - Hezbollah does not move forces around. Hezbollah has plenty of fighters inside Beirut, more than enough to take on the militias of the Three Stooges. Lastly, moving forces out of the south would leave the entire defensive infrastructue of Hezbollah in the south exposed and defenceless.

Second, Hezbollah does not even have 5'000 fighters in south Lebanon. Its core fighting force is about 1'000 people supported by a large amount of local volunteers. So which was Hezbollah suppose move up to Beirut?

Third, moving 5'000 men along just a couple of highways would have presented the Israeli Air Force with a "dream come true" target, something like what Saddam gave the USAF on the so-called "highway of death" at the end of Desert Storm. Unlike Saddam and his minions, the Hezbollah Shura Council is not composed of a mix stupid self-worshiping egomaniacs and obsequious sycophants. They would never have taken such a stupid decision.

Fourth, the idea of the IDF racing towards Beirut is something too insane even for Olmert to contemplate. The idea of IDF tanks actually *entering* Beirut is beyond crazy. I don't know what the folks at DEBKA are smoking, but they really should run their stories by some of their military collegues before writing such nonsense.

Fifth, the Isarelis perfectly understand how pitiful, unreliable and otherwise worthless the Three Stooges are and they would never risk their hides to rescue them.

Still, what does all this tell us?

That a USraelian intervention was in the making and that somebody, most likely the Israelis, got cold feet, and with very good reason: according to both stories, Hezbollah could lauch about 600 missiles per day on Isarel in case of war. In other words, Hezollah could literally paralyze from about one third to one half of Israel within a couple of hours following an attack and sustain this offensive for quite a long while (as they did in 2006). While the bone-headed US Neocons might have cooked up such a stupid plan of attack on Hezbollah, I just don't see the Israeli military agreeing to trying an almost exact repetition of their plan of attack of 2006. The Israelis wisely told them Americans "thank you, but no thank you" and they probably added that if they like that plan so much they should do it themselves. And that might just be in the making right now.

According to UPI (quoting DEBKA) the USS Mount Whitney (see photo) has been placed off the coast of Lebanon:

The U.S. Navy has positioned its advanced communications flagship off the coast of Lebanon ahead of a larger mission, an intelligence report says.

U.S. Navy spokesman Lt. Patrick Foughty said the the USS Mount Whitney, a 620-foot command and control flagship for the U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet, is in the region "to support additional communications requirements for our ships already underway," Israel's military intelligence reporting service DEBKAfile said Sunday.

The naval destroyer USS Cole and the Nimitz class supercarrier USS Harry Truman patrolled the waters of the Mediterranean near Lebanon last week.

DEBKAfile sites unnamed military observers saying the naval buildup is part of a short, specific U.S. naval operation. Foughty said there are no plans to keep the Mount Whitney near Lebanon for very long.

While the folks at DEBKA can make up some stuff, I don't think that they would make up an official statement by a USN spokesman. This time, I think that thiw story is for real (and so does UPI).

Anyone familiar with the American combat doctrines can easily predict what this is all about. The Americans believe in the short and overwhelming application of force. In the case of Hezbollah, this would mean doing the following:

1) placing 24/7 combat air patrols over Lebanon and inserting bombing strike groups under this cover to immediately bomb any location with a missile detected either before or after launch.

2) a continuous 24/7 bombing operation over Beirut and the rest of Lebanon aimed destroying as much of the Hezbollah infrastructure as possible.

While this might sound like what the Israelis did in 2006, but it is not: the Americans can put many more aircraft in the Lebanese skies and they can keep them there almost continuously meaning a much shorter reaction and strike time as anything the Israelis could have done.

All this would serve a double purpose: first to protect Israel as best can be during a simultaneous air and missile strike campaign against Iran (Israeli anti ballistic missile capabilities are, in reality, non-existing) and, second, to try to inflict as much damage on Hezbollah as possible.

The Israelis will, I guess, mainly limit themselves to an intelligence support role (they could, if needed, also provide an extraction force for any downed pilots (whether due to fire, or just to mechanical failure).

My guess is that the Americans are planning on a short high-intensity campaign simulteneously taking place over Iran and Lebanon. The goal would be to "send a message" (don't mess with cowboys) and wreck the Iranian economy as much as possible.

It will most likely begin with a very small and limited couple of strikes on alledged "Quds bases" in Iran to "defend out troops in Iraq" and, as soon as Iran responds, it would be followed up by a massive bombing campaign. Should Hezbollah fire as much as a firecracker across the border, the same would happen in Lebanon.

What is the best possible response of Iran to such a plan?

To ride out the first pinprick attack and do *nothing* at all and let the political fallout of this folly (not to mention the price of crude) put enough pressure on the Americans to "declare victory" and back off. Should that not be enough, a short but massive missile attack on the Green Zone would probably send the Americans in a total panic mode, in particular of followed by a clear warning that the rest of CENTCOM's high value targets in the region are next.

I am hoping that the Isarelis do quietly recognize that Iran has no nuclear weapons program and that while Iran does present them with a painful headache to deal with, an open shooting war with Iran is simply not in Isarel's best interest. If the Israelis start dragging their feet or openly revolt at the crazy plans of the Neocons, and if the rest of the planet does not want to pay 200-300 bucks for a baril of crude, this war could still be avoided I suppose.

But now time is really running out. We are now days away from the moment when the ball we get rolling and nobody will be able to stop it any more.

I have to conclude this by issuing a formal warning to my readers:

I estimate that we could be days away from a massive war in the Middle East (this does not mean that the actual visible attack is days away, only that the point of no return is about to be reach at which point the attack becomes inevitable).


* Of all people, now even Nancy Pelosi is beginning to (demurely) raise the alarm over what is going on. For her to make this kind of statement means she definitely knows that something is going on. Still, she concluded by saying that "nothing was off the table" (except impeaching the Moron, I suppose). In other words, she does not have the courage to oppose anything, but she does not to endorse it either.

* Iran's foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, says that Iran will not negotiate with the USA until the USA changes its policy over Iraq. In other words, all negotiations have now been stopped.

* At the Sharm el-Sheikh World Economic Forum Dubya has appealed to all the countries of the region to "confront the enemy of a free Lebanon (...) Hezbollah terrorists, funded by Iran, who recently revealed their true intentions by taking up arms against the Lebanese people".